Frontlines: Fuel of War may very well be the first Xbox 360 game that comes close to capturing the sheer madness and wild nature of the famed Battlefield games on the PC. That's because the matches in Frontlines can go all the way up to 50 players instead of being limited to just 16 or 24 players. We know this because we had a chance very recently to play in some multiplayer matches against the testers at THQ. We also have to report that we got a lot of kills, died a lot of times, and saw a lot of really cool things on the screen.
We played with the same version of the game that was sent to submission approval at Microsoft. Frontlines can have such a high player count because THQ will host dedicated servers for the game; most Xbox 360 games rely on one player to serve as the host. While the matches that we played had about 55 to 56 players at a time, we're told that THQ plans on capping the limit at 50 when the game launches. That's mainly due to testing and the fact that while the maps are big, they aren't that big.
The game is set several decades in the future when a brutal war for dwindling resources erupts between the Western Coalition and the Red Star Alliance. The three battles that we waged let you play as a member of either faction, and you can form squads to work as a team to help your side prevail.
Considering that the developers at Kaos Studios previously worked on Battlefield 2 and the popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942, it's not surprising that Frontlines feels quite a bit like--surprise!--Battlefield. However, it benefits from the larger player counts in the server. Battlefield 2: Modern Combat for the Xbox 360 never captured its cousin's sheer sense of wall-to-wall chaos, Battlefield 2, on the PC. However, Frontlines does capture that chaos because common sense dictates that the more people you have running around with assault rifles, rocket launchers, tanks, helicopters, and jets in a given area, the hairier the said area will be in battle. During the battle, we had all sorts of crazy things going on around us: helicopters exploded in midair and jets lawn darted into the ground right in front of us. Tanks and wheeled transports also careened around at high speed, with gunfire getting thick and heavy at times.
The action was almost a bit too heavy at times, though we were playing with slightly more players than that of the final population cap. And frankly, having to choose between empty battlefields versus battlefields with stuff going on everywhere, we'll choose the latter nine times out of 10.
The first map we played was called Invasion. It's a nighttime map where the Western Coalition has to conduct an air assault on a Red Star base. So the Westerners jump aboard their various futuristic helicopters and helicopter gunships to try to seize objectives, as well as blow up surface-to-air missile installations on the ground. The Red Star troopers have to stop them. This makes for a pretty intense battle with helicopters overhead, tanks and antiaircraft guns maneuvering on the ground, and small-unit battles for objective points.
Next, we played the Runabout map. It's an outdoor, daytime map set in a small valley where two bases oppose one another. We died quite a bit more on this map than we did on Invasion probably because both sides can open up on each other almost immediately. The Western Coalition doesn't have to helicopter in at the start of the match. The middle of the map consists of a killing zone, with long fields of fire letting snipers have fun, but machine gunners can just open up too.
The third and final map that we played was also the wildest. It's called Solar Farm, and it's a playground for aerial combat. There are jet fighters, as well as helicopter gunships galore on this one, and you can have fun engaging in some wild air-to-air battles. There's also plenty of action on the ground as the two sides battle for control of objective points. The geography on this map is really memorable, with giant solar collectors (they look like radio satellite dishes) providing bowls in the ground in which to fight. Our best moments occurred while serving as a gunner aboard a helicopter gunship. The chain gun is useful in air-to-air battles, as well as for mowing down opponents on the ground. Your lifespan can be measured in seconds, though. It seemed that helicopters and jets were blowing up constantly throughout the match.
Like we noted previously, these large-scale multiplayer battles come close to Battlefield 2's 64-player slugfests. The key difference is that the maps are not nearly as sprawling as they are in that PC game, but they're still big. Frontlines offers up some of the most frenzied online warfare that we've seen in a console game, which bodes well. It'll ship for the Xbox 360 and PC near the end of this month.