China and Russia Together…Again
While the future isn’t clear, Kaos Studios, the developers of Frontlines: Fuel of War, have their own take they’d like to share. Imagine a world torn apart by the need for natural resources such as oil, and with two factions, the Red Star Alliance, a group formed around an alliance between Russia and China, and the Western Coalition, which is a grouping of Western European and North American nations, fighting over what remains. As a member of the Stray Dogs, an elite infantry group of the Western Coalition, it is up to you to take on the hardest missions of the war and win victory over the Red Star Alliance.
The single-player campaign is composed of eight different large-scale missions, each with its own sub-missions and objectives. When you begin the campaign, you’re given the low-down of what has happened to the world from the perspective of an embedded press reporter. What would normally seem like a rather bleak and scary take on future events comes off rather unemotional and uninteresting. The characters are predictable and the player will not only find himself not caring about who just got killed, but wondering who it even was. On the other hand, the unique and artistic cutscenes that help unfold the story are a nice touch, but not enough to make the player feel immersed. And while Frontlines’ story isn’t all that unique, obviously borrowing from other games such as Battlefield 2142, which is based around the events of another ice age and the forming of two warring alliances, its realistic and political spin on the future may be appealing to some. The campaign can be completed in less than five hours easily, which could be more of a blessing for many.
While the premise for Frontlines isn’t anything new, the game still attempts to bring a large amount of ambition to the table. The “frontline” concept of the game, while sounding fresh, is more of a cosmetic addition than a gameplay tweak. Once a mission begins, the player will be given several objectives placed throughout the map. These objectives are represented by small dots, which then connect to each other, forming a line-the frontline. Then, as these objectives are captured, the player receives new ones, causing the lines to redraw, forming the next frontline. The only noticeable way this affects the gameplay is through the enemy A.I., which will react to your capturing of an objective by retreating to the next one. Moreover, on occasion and only during certain missions, the enemy is scripted to counter attack. It is during these moments where the player can see the A.I. actually attempting to retake objectives. Unfortunately, even if they do retake an objective, as soon as the majority of the counter attack has been repelled, the mission will end, despite the enemy holding one of the objectives. Other than that, the frontline system just helps the player remember where he has been and where to go next, a part most developers let the gamer manage.
The acclaimed open world environment feature of Frontlines is another ambitious endeavor that falls short and may be misleading to many. While the levels are broken down into different objectives, which seem non-linear on the surface, the player’s options are still very limited. For example, when a level begins, the player isn’t given the option of storming the final base first. Instead, the player is only given maybe 1-3 objectives, and until they are complete, the remaining objectives won’t even be available. Therefore, rather than getting to move freely over the map, the player’s choice boils down to the order in which to complete the objectives. So while Frontlines does give the player some freedom to progress through the story, at its foundation, the game is still very linear and script-driven, which any seasoned PC gamer will be able to immediately recognize.
The destructible environments are a nice touch, but they aren’t easily identifiable. At first, the player will have to spend some time figuring out exactly what kinds of concrete walls can be destroyed and what kinds cannot. Unfortunately, destroying a small building actually takes longer than just running by the windows and killing the people inside, so there really isn’t much of a need to even do it. Nevertheless, Frontlines does provide the player some with satisfying moments like collapsing a building on some enemy soldiers, but this isn’t anything someone who has played Half-Life 2 or Crysis will be particularly impressed by.
Frontlines also brings an interesting twist to combat with its remote controlled weapons called “drones.” There is a variety of drones available to the player, from small RC cars that detonate to small flying helicopters that fire rockets. The drones even have a wireless signal range that players must learn to judge, which keeps players from sitting at the beginning of a level and completing the entire thing with a drone. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, using the drones where available actually takes more time, so while it’s cool to drive a little remote-control tank into a building and shoot your enemies, it would just be easier to walk in and do it yourself.
Visually, Frontlines is on par with other FPS titles that came out within the past year. Unfortunately, the quality of the game’s environments is a hit or miss situation. Some levels are detailed and look great, embodying the war-torn look, while others just seem much too clear and clean to fit. Character models are fleshed out well, but the lack of variety will leave a bad taste. Once the player has killed one Red Star Alliance solider, he has killed them all. And, even when the game throws the Red Star Alliance militia at you, their A.I. behaves and reacts the same way as the regular soldiers, making the militia nothing more than soldiers in different clothes.
Overall, the music is one of the redeeming aspects of Frontlines. The game blends a combination of rock-style music with the more traditional war-themed soundtracks, often times resulting in added immersion. However, there are several moments where the soundtrack seems to fall a little flat, which is noticeable especially when the player is supposed to be in a high-intensity situation. The sound effects, much like the game’s environments, are either good or not so good. None of the weapons really sound like they pack much of a punch, especially the rockets fired from the flying drones. At times, it feels more like the drone is firing the equivalent of roman candles rather than anti-vehicle rockets. The voice acting is what you’d expect from a military FPS game. And, while the voice acting itself isn’t terrible, the dialogue will have you either shaking your head, rolling your eyes or just plain laughing. This isn’t helped by the presentation of your standard, stereotypical characters of military shooters: the rough-and-tough leader, the quiet guy in the corner, the emotional one, and the wise-cracking one.
Frontlines’ multiplayer component has a wide range of issues from the start, most of which are noticeable before the player joins his first server. The browser that lists the available servers is too simplistic and buggy. For example, to join a server, a player must select the server from the list and then click the “Launch” button rather than just simply being able to double-click the server in the list. Worse even is the total lack of a server information option, making it difficult to determine how the server is setup, who is playing on it, and what the IP address is. This is made even more nonsensical by the inclusion of an “Enter IP” feature that would work just fine if players could actually retrieve server information without the need of third-party software like Xfire.
Once in a server, the game plays much the same as it does in the single-player campaign. The player chooses between the Red Star Alliance and the Western Coalition; picks his loadout, which determines his weapon configuration; and then picks his combat role, which determines his secondary abilities. There are eight loadouts including Assault, Heavy Assault, Sniper, Anti-Vehicle, Special Ops, and Close Combat, each of which is given a different primary weapon. The four combat roles include Ground Support, which gives the player the ability to do things like repair vehicles and provide ammo; EMP Tech, which allows players to disable enemy vehicles and drones; Drone Tech, which lets players deploy a variety of faction-specific drones; and Air Support, which allows the player to call down air support. Each combat role comes in three tiers which are unlocked as the player progresses, opening up new strategies. Unfortunately, picking your weapon and special ability is the limit of your character customization, which seems rather simplistic compared to the customization abilities in games like Battlefield 2142 and Call of Duty 4.
In the end, Frontlines: Fuel of War takes a real-world and political approach to the FPS genre. However, with many of its ambitious features falling short, it is difficult to notice what little the game does well. And, while it isn’t the worst FPS to come out for the PC in recent years, it also doesn’t stack up against already popular and much older titles.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Visuals are hit and miss with the occasional appealing environment. 2.5 Control
Lacks the precision PC gamers have come to expect. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Decent music but lackluster sound effects and corny dialogue difficult to overlook. 2.5 Play Value
Same game mechanics that become boring quickly. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.