Frontlines: Fuel of War Updated Hands-On

We shine up our boots and fire off a few hot rounds in this latest hands-on with upcoming resource-themed shooter Frontlines: Fuel of War.


We've had a chance on a couple of occasions in the past to play Frontlines: Fuel of War, and we've been suitably impressed by what we've seen each time. This week, we sat down with an exclusive Xbox 360 build of the game to play through the first four levels of the single-player campaign and to check out the latest multiplayer build from Kaos Studios.

The Frontlines universe and backstory are centered on the struggle and war over fuel in a world depleted of natural resources. While the game is set in 2024, the opening cinematic includes current world political figures such as President George W. Bush. Information on the war, and its causes and consequences, is conveyed through an embedded reporter who tags along explaining updates as new intel comes to light. You take on the role of a Western Coalition soldier charged with fighting the enemy. In this case, the enemy is the Red Star Alliance, a future grouping of Russia and China. The two join forces in the hopes of securing the last available oil deposits in the Caspian, and naturally the United States and the European Union get together on the counteroffensive to make sure that if anyone gets the oil deposits, it will be them (and yes, this does smack of Cold War Part II).

Too lazy to walk? Take one of the game's many drivable vehicles.
Too lazy to walk? Take one of the game's many drivable vehicles.

With the scene set and the lines drawn in the sand, the campaign opens with you and your team--the "Stray Dogs"--relieving Alpha Team at an oil refinery in Turkmenistan. Hostiles shoot your chopper down, and you're forced to defend its charred remains and what's left of your squad. Once that's completed, you're given the choice of one of two new missions: locate and destroy a SAM (surface-to-air missile) site on a rooftop, or capture an enemy armory. You will need to finish both to progress through the level, but you are given the choice of the order you'd like to do them in. In some cases you may also find that completing one objective over another gives you an advantage by supplying you with a vehicle or weapon that makes the next part easier. Choice plays a big role in Frontlines, and while the first level is quite linear and your objective options are limited, past here you're often given up to six or seven tasks to complete in expansive environments at your discretion.

Level two--titled Captains of Industry--sees you infiltrate a town before needing to capture and hold multiple points. Here your skills will diversify slightly. You'll need to not only secure ammo supply points, but also hack a computer to gain access to Red Star Alliance tank blueprints. After destroying another SAM site, you'll be airlifted some armoured tank support, which can be used to destroy enemy vehicles blocking your way. Once they're eliminated, you'll move on to secure and disable a tank manufacturing factory, stemming the flow of war machines. You're free to make the trip on foot should you choose to ditch your tank for something a little speedier and portable (such as a shoulder rocket), although obviously you'll be slightly more vulnerable.

Your next scenario sees you parachute into a mountainside village complete with grassy hills and mud huts and swarming with bad guys. Unfortunately, it's not an interactive cutscene, but later you do get the ability to deploy a chute when making jumps from a great height, which saves your legs as the ground rapidly gets closer. Like in all levels, you're given the option of outfitting your soldier with the best tools for the job, and with so much open space and so many guard towers, the sniper rifle is a good choice. Gadgets play an important role in this level, and the unmanned stealth drone is perfect for throwing out and navigating to a high point you're looking to scout out. Once it's in place, targets are clearly marked on your HUD, and you can follow their movements before you stick your neck out. Provided the drone isn't spotted and shot down, you can switch back to your primary weapon and sneak closer for easy kills before the enemy knows where your shots are coming from. Once both guard outposts are secured and the targets are neutralised, you'll move to an area with more huts. Despite their prevalence, mud huts aren't the best hiding spots, particularly around rocket launchers, because they tend to crumble. On the plus side, you can clear your own path by lobbing grenades and traveling through buildings. Late in the level, a five-minute timer begins, and you'll need to secure and retain two buildings in the zone at once. We were overrun and lost one building just as the timer ticked out, but the clock simply restarted, and we didn't fail the mission. The second time we were able to hold both for the duration and move on.

Drones will become your best friends for finding and blowing up your foes.
Drones will become your best friends for finding and blowing up your foes.

We also got the exclusive chance to play the fourth level of the single-player campaign--Graveyard--which begins with your team suffering a tactical nuclear weapon strike. Naturally, the first thing you do is jump into a tank and head towards your attackers, even if you can't get out of your vehicle because of the radiation levels. The game is still undergoing balancing and tweaking, but we found tank driving to be one of the harder things to do. Even with the tank turbo button--which gets you moving a little faster--steering was heavy, and it was hard to navigate around some of the boulders strewn in the environment. After defeating waves of enemy tanks, we found ourselves needing to destroy three mobile artillery units, although we were able to do this part on foot. Here it's a case of clearing to the target, holding the X button to initiate the explosive charge, then placing it and getting out of there before the explosion. After you've done this, you'll need to survive an attack-chopper gauntlet, thin its soldier ranks, and destroy a nuke launch site that was no doubt aimed straight for you and your team.

When it comes to multiplayer, at this stage we're told that the console versions of Frontlines (that's the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) will ship with 32-player support, and the PC version is still aiming for 64. The main mode in Frontlines multiplayer sees you in either of the game's two factions battling to control checkpoints in order to move the aforementioned "front line" deeper into enemy territory. This gives Frontlines a decidedly more action-packed focus compared to some other shooters, since sneaking around to capture undefended checkpoints or remote objectives simply isn't included. Because all the checkpoints in this game are literally on the front line between the two factions' controlled territories, teams will be forced into firefights and confrontations to capture or defend. A THQ rep has told us that more modes are planned for the game's ship date, although they won't be disclosed for some time yet.

As in other modern shooters, you'll get the opportunity to choose a specific "class" before heading out into the field, although Frontlines takes a somewhat different approach since it lets you mix up your weaponry with class-specific abilities (or as they're called in the game, roles). While you can choose classes such as assault, heavy assault, sniper, antivehicle, special ops, and close combat, at the end of the day they're really just different loadout options. From there, you'll have to choose a role, which grants you specific abilities that can be upgraded as you progress through a match. The ground support role, for example, gives you perks such as the ability to repair vehicles or deploy turrets. The air support role lets you call in surgical air strikes initially and eventually levels up to large-scale cluster bombing. The EMP tech role can hide you from radar and will allow you to disable enemy vehicles, while the drone tech role lets you use Frontlines' many mini remote-controlled vehicles to scout, attack, or disable enemies.

Play online multiplayer skirmish matches with up to 64 players.
Play online multiplayer skirmish matches with up to 64 players.

In Frontlines you are free to mix and match classes and roles at every respawn. The tank-busting antivehicle class, for example, can be assigned an EMP tech role for greater stopping ability or can be given drone tech for better scouting prowess. Snipers can be assigned the complementary drone tech role for long-range recon, but can also be paired with the air support role for increased lethalness. During our play session, we found ourselves continually swapping class and role combinations to see which would best suit us, something we're sure many players will initially do before settling on one or two favourites.

In our most recent multiplayer session, we played on two maps: the large Solar Farm map and the mid-sized Village. Solar Farm looked to be set in some long-ago-abandoned energy facility and came complete with airstrips, large warehouse-style buildings, and dilapidated steel towers. Due to its size, Solar Farm was most definitely a vehicle-focused map, with a range of jets, helicopters, tanks, and light assault vehicles available for use. The vehicles themselves were initially tricky to maneuver, but those experienced at driving vehicles in other console shooters, like Halo 3, should have no problem quickly adjusting.

The smaller Village map was probably the more fun of the two we played, but possibly that's because the small number of players we had for our multiplayer session didn't feel like enough in the larger Solar Farm space (although we can see it being a 32-player favourite). Village is set in--you guessed it--an abandoned village, and it was an ideal place to unleash our favourite class combination so far: the sniper with a drone tech role. This allowed us to find secluded spots to pick off enemies, while at the same time using our specialty drones to take out more serious threats such as the occasional light assault vehicle. It was especially fun using the little tiger runner assault drone on the Red Star Alliance side. The drone--a small four-wheeled vehicle--packs a hefty amount of C4 explosive within its tiny frame and was great for driving directly into enemy vehicles or soldiers for some instant carnage.

Every time we see a new build of this game, it has come along by leaps and bounds. Frontlines is a great example of a next-generation console and PC hardware workout--blades of grass sway in the breeze, explosions look great, and vehicles, with their smoke trails and heat exhaust fumes, all look spot-on.

Frontlines: Fuel of War is showing huge potential in its visuals and gameplay as well as its fun. With a few months to go before the game hits shelves, the final polishing is really starting to show off how good the underlying concept and technology behind the game are. Check GameSpot early in 2008 for a full review.

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