Reviewed: May 21, 2006
Released: March 27, 2006
Pandemic’s sequel to their outstanding military simulation has been a long time coming, but after two years we finally get to play Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers. Maybe it was the length of the wait or the rising anticipation, but for many reasons this game was sort of a letdown for me.
To know where I am coming from you need to know that I’ve served in the Army for more than 25 years as both a soldier and a trainer. I’ve even tested and provided input on the real-life military counterpart to this game, Full Spectrum Command, which is targeted toward higher level officers and larger numbers of men.
Pandemic has changed things up a bit, not just in gameplay, but with a much more engaging story for those that need a reason to kill people. The core story is broken down into smaller “scenes” and those are scrambled and told from the perspectives of multiple strike teams. So while you see the entire story unfold rather quickly, you don’t get the whole picture until you’ve completed the game.
When I reviewed the original back in 2004, I was impressed that any game could actually capture even a portion of what the military was using to train their men, and Full Spectrum Warrior was not only authentic, it was fun and challenging. It was also so original that many gamers couldn’t deal with the lack of hands-on action.
Ten Hammers tries to remedy that situation by giving you more direct control over your men. It also allows you to control more teams and even break down the traditional four-man group into pairs. But even with all of these new controls you still don’t get to really shoot anybody. This is still a game about strategizing and issuing orders.
With more to do there are now more commands to master and the game can often get caught up in its own complexity at times. The Xbox fares betters in this department and was much more enjoyable to control and play than the PC.
The missions, while a bit more diverse and made more unique by cycling through various military factions and new teams, are still limited in their scope and objectives and entire missions even start to seem familiar longer before this operation is over.
What Pandemic has done to improve the franchise is tweaked the AI, thus ramping up the difficulty significantly, and added a powerful tank to your arsenal of tricks. Levels are much more complex and buildings now have multiple levels, but the biggest improvements are definitely in the added controls and abilities of your men.
The basic control scheme is still intact but you now have the ability for precision fire, where you can take control of an individual soldier and fire by manually targeting the enemy. This allows you to nail the occasional headshot or even fire through holes or openings in your current cover. The downside to this is that the longer you take to aim the longer you are exposed to enemy fire.
Even basic movement has been enhanced and you now have the ability to move your team with limited stealth capabilities using the new “Tight” mode, giving you the previously unavailable ability to surprise the enemy. You can also scout with a single man and if it’s all clear the rest of your team will join him. And finally, you can move “Hot”, which will hustle your team to their destination in double-time.
Another major new feature, but not necessarily an improvement, is your ability to control both teams (or three or four if available) all at once without having to switch to them first. It’s a slow and awkward process that works for setting up strategic positions, but when you start trading bullets it falls apart. There are a few instances in the game that are designed around this new ability, but you’ll probably just forget about it.
We all remember the relative safety of your men when they were behind non-destructible cover. Well, now Ten Hammers takes the strategy into three dimensions so don’t be surprised to find your men taking headshots from enemy snipers positioned in upstairs windows.
Of course, you can use this new verticality to your advantage as well by storming buildings Rainbow Six-style, and assuming you own sniper vantage points. This offers a whole new level of realistic strategy, especially combined with the new split-team ability. Now you can send in two men with excellent cover fire from above.
But how about that AI. Pandemic has really outdone themselves this time. As you probably remember, the first game was entirely scripted so the enemy played by “rules” and once you learned the rules you could exploit them in your favor. It also made the game predictable, linear, and not much fun to replay.
In Ten Hammers the AI is reactionary, and the enemy will continually try to outthink you during combat. Don’t be surprised to see them laying down suppressive fire while they try to flank your position. This really helps turn Ten Hammers into something more than an elaborate chess game.
Of course this new AI also comes with its own set of problems. The enemy will always be faster than you since they don’t have to muddle through the complicated “issuing of orders” process. This certainly gives them an unfair advantage, especially in close and surprise encounters.
Another new feature I really didn’t like was the unrealistic spawn points (safe houses) that turn the game into some sort of military Gauntlet. Now you have certain doors in the levels that will spawn infinite soldiers until you destroy them. This definitely tilts what was a simulation into the action genre.
The final new addition are vehicles, tanks mainly, that you can move around with the same remote-control command style as your own men. They can move in all four directions and have dual weapons; a primary cannon and a powerful machine gun that can cut a path through enemy soldiers. The cannon will obliterate anything in its path including your sub-woofer if you aren’t careful – probably the best sound in the game. The tank even provides its own cover with smoke grenades that protects you from soldiers with RPG’s and can even give you the element of surprise.
The entire campaign spans 12 large and challenging levels spread evenly across four chapters. Once again you’ll be working with Alpha and Bravo teams on loan from the UN Coalition – you’ll even see a few familiar faces from the first game.
After each mission you are ranked and scored based on your performance. Ribbons and medals are awarded for outstanding achievements, and demerits will punish you for civilian casualties or the collateral damage of historic or cultural landmarks.
There are some marginal improvements to the graphics engine but not nearly as much as you’d expect for two years of development. The Xbox offers some richer colors than the PC but the PC obviously runs at higher resolutions and surpasses the console versions in overall detail and quality. The lighting and shadows on the Xbox are almost identical to the PC.
Whereas the first game was a lot of browns and oranges, the textures and overall design are now much more rooted in earth tones. I was reminded of some of the earlier Ghost Recon titles. I was surprised at several visual glitches on both the PC and Xbox version (more so on the Xbox) with visible seams in the architecture and lines in the textures. Jaggies are also a problem on the Xbox, even with progressive scan.
Character animation is excellent as are the complex models used to create each of the soldiers. These guys look and move just like real soldiers, using all the proper stances for moving, taking cover, and even carrying their weapons in the proper “ready” position.
The movies still use the game engine so there is no distinct jump between movie and gameplay. There are even some cinematic effects like slow motion and freeze frame effects to highlight specific moments in the game.
The sound package is merely adequate. The music is minimal and cues to the action, but compared to the last game it’s just not as engaging. It does offer a few interesting cultural themes.
There is a surprising amount of conversations and idle chatter but it all gets repetitive really quick. Some of this is cinematic and other dialogue is heard throughout the game to try and get you involved with the characters, but you just never do, even when reading the bios of fallen comrades.
The sound effects are where Ten Hammers really shines. Each of the weapons makes a distinct and realistic report when fired and when explosions are involved the results are thunderous. Air strikes remain one of the most powerful sounds in any game ever, but the new tank comes in a close second. There are plenty of other subtle environmental effects to bring the levels to life and a Dolby Digital mix puts them all in real 3D space.
Multiplayer is greatly enhanced with Xbox System Link support and new online cooperative modes, plus head-to-head and objective-based missions. Xbox owners will enjoy game modes that support up to eight players while the PC is relegated to six and the PS2, four.
Multiplayer modes include all new maps for versus and object-based game modes. System Link play is finally added to the game for those who can make use of it. Personally, I do all my gaming online and found the new versus modes to be great fun if you can find people who know how to play. You’d be surprised how many people try to play this game like it was Battlefield. The cooperative mode is also interesting but without any split-screen option you end up fighting for control of the screen rather than the enemy.
OpFors are the new opponents for the versus mode and they feature superior weapons and a faster move rate but are more easily killed. This gives them a whole new dynamic when you play as them, forcing you to keep moving and perform quick-strikes rather than digging in for large battles.
Pandemic did everything they were supposed to do with a sequel, and Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers is a great game and a great follow-up to the original. Tanks are a blast (literally) and the new ability to occupy vertical structures adds a whole new dimension to your tactics. The new reactionary AI is excellent but offers a few problems mostly because you can’t keep up with the impossibly slow and cumbersome controls. And those safe houses have to go.
Ultimately, Ten Hammers has lost a bit of its simulation edge, almost as if its been tweaked to appeal to the action crowd, but the controls just don’t support the pace of the game, so you end up getting mixed signals. It’s still great fun if you have the patience and desire to master all the subtle intricacies, and the online play finally surpasses the solo portion guaranteeing you will be playing this for months to come.