When it comes to large-scale military-themed multiplayer action, EA's mighty Battlefield series rules the roost. THQ is taking aim at the Battlefield franchise with Frontlines: Fuel of War, a game that will feature multiplayer battles of at least 32 players (on all platforms) armed with both weapons and vehicles. And unlike the Battlefield games, Frontlines will also feature a single-player campaign, and we got to see both in action at E3.
Frontlines is set in the near future, as energy resources have dried up and sparked a global war for the remaining sources of fuel. On one side is the Western Coalition and on the other is the Red Star Alliance. The single-player will take place from the perspective of the Western Coalition, but you can play as either side in multiplayer. Since it's set in the future, Frontlines features a lot of weapons and technologies that are on the drawing boards today. You'll have advanced versions of today's weapons, as well as cool technology like battlefield drones that you can employ in battle.
The single-player campaign will take place on large battlefields, and you'll be tasked with accomplishing a series of objectives. For instance, you'll need to figure out a way to blast open the gate to an enemy compound, advance through the compound and the building, and then move on to assault the enemy fortress behind it.
To get the gate open, one thing that you can do is call upon your helicopter drone, which is a model-sized piece of equipment you can hold in your hand. Just toss it in the air and you have full control of it, which means you can fly it around the battlefield and have it act as a scout. There are a couple of caveats, though. You can't have the drone fly too far away from you, as the signal strength decays, and while you're piloting the drone your character is vulnerable to anyone who comes up to him--so make sure there are no bad guys around. The drone also has a nifty little ability to detonate on command, so to open the gates to the compound, just have it fly into the security room of the enemy building and detonate near the gate controls.
Once the gate is open, your computer-controlled teammates will storm the compound. You can join them, or you can have fun with the gun drone. Like the helicopter drone, it's a small vehicle that you remotely control, but this one is armed with a machine gun, so you can use it to charge into a dangerous area. The drone can be destroyed if it takes too much fire, but it does allow you to scout ahead or deal with a dangerous threat without exposing yourself.
There are also vehicles such as tanks and helicopters that you can use in a pinch. The levels are designed so that you have multiple ways of dealing with objectives. For instance, in order to charge the enemy fortress you have to destroy the tanks defending the front. You can do so by jumping into the helicopter or the tank. The controls are not unlike that of Battlefield, so you don't need to have a pilot's license in order to fly the helicopter effectively.
The single-player promises to have a plot that explains the conflict, but if you don't want to mess with that you can jump into multiplayer for online fun. All versions of the game will support at least 32 players on 10 different maps, and the PC version is currently planned to support 64. Frontlines will support computer-controlled bots in single-player, but there won't be bot support in multiplayer.
The action in multiplayer is similar to that of single-player, though you do get to choose a class and a role in the game. The class you choose determines your basic weapons and equipment load out, so the special forces class gets a carbine or submachine gun and explosives that can be used to blow stuff up. Other classes include assault, heavy assault, sniper, anti-vehicle, and close combat.
Then there are roles, which further specialize your character. These determine what kind of support you can call into action. There's ground support, counter measures, drone tech, and air support. So for drone tech, you get three types of drone. There's the helicopter drone, the gun drone, and then a mortar drone for the Western Coalition, while the Red Star Alliance gets a fast helicopter drone, a ground drone that can drive under a vehicle and explode, and another type of helicopter drone armed with rockets. Or the air support role can call in a precision airstrike, a carpet bombing, or a fuel-air explosive.
Frontlines will offer a mix of fast-paced infantry and vehicle action along with high-tech warfare, and it has the potential of becoming a popular multiplayer game. It's scheduled to ship in January.