Frontlines: Fuel of War Updated Impressions - Single-Player
We get a closer look at THQ and Kaos Studios' near-future action game about large-scale warfare.
EA has its Battlefield games, and Activision recently shipped Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Now THQ is looking to get into the large-scale multiplayer action genre with Frontlines: Fuel of War. What distinguishes these games from regular first-person shooters is the scale; while a typical shooter features infantry combat only on smallish maps, a game like Frontlines will allow up to 64 players to fight it out on large levels using a mix of infantry and vehicle combat. (The console versions of Frontline will support up to 32 in a game.) Frontlines will be the latest of these games, and its designers know something about the genre, as they previously worked on Battlefield 2 and the popular Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat.
Frontlines is set in the year 2024, just far enough into the future to have today's prototype weapons in service. In the game's fiction, oil reserves are depleted around the world and the Red Star Alliance (a coalition of Russia and China) battles the Western Coalition for the last major oil fields, which are located around the Caspian Sea. You'll play as part of the Star Dogs Division, a Coalition unit that's sent into the battle, and you'll go from the Caspian all the way to the gates of Moscow in the game's single-player campaign. That's right, Frontlines will have a single-player story that revolves around you participating in these large-scale battles alongside computer-controlled allies and opponents.
The single-player battles are designed to be open-ended combat arenas where you have multiple objectives, and how you pursue those objectives and in what order are up to you. One mission requires you to take out air defenses in a town, as well as seize blueprints for a high-tech tank and seize ammunition depots. You can attack this mission in any number of ways. A straight assault through the streets, or get some elevation and maneuver on the many rooftops in the town, or maybe blowing up a wall and opening up some room to flank the enemy. In multiplayer battles, the maps will have various objective points on them that must be captured. However, Frontlines gets its name from the way the battle flows. You can only capture objectives that are on the current "front line." The old Battlefield tactic of sneaking deep into enemy territory and capturing a completely undefended rear point doesn't work in Frontlines. To help you figure out where the front is, the game draws the line on the map, adjusting it depending on what objectives are in play.
Multiplayer is handled a number of ways. On the PC, a dedicated server can support up to 64 players. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games will support up to 16 each if you host the game yourself. THQ and Kaos will also set up separate, console-dedicated servers that will allow up to 32 players.
At your disposal are "next-generation" weapons and equipment, like air-bursting grenades that explode after they fly a preset distance, and little gun drones that you drive around the map. (Make sure that you do so in a secure area, because while your face is focused on the little remote control screen any bad guy can walk up and kill you easily.) The vehicles are all advanced versions of today's tanks and helicopters. As we noted previously, there is an amount of environmental damage that you can do in the game. You can knock down certain walls to open up previously inaccessible paths, but we'll see how far the developer can run with this idea.
Frontlines doesn't support the idea of dedicated player classes, at least, not in the Battlefield sense. For instance, in Battlefield 2 if you want to be an antitank player, you'll get a submachine gun and an antitank missile, but your role is pretty much confined to that. The class system in Frontline is a lot more flexible, as your choice of weapons is separated from your role. For instance, you can be assault, heavy assault, sniper, antivehicle, special ops, or close combat, and that determines the weapons that you start out with. However, after you select that, you also choose whether you want to be ground support, an EMP tech, a drone tech, or air support. Ground support lets you repair vehicles and place down emplacements like sentry guns. The EMP tech is hidden from radar. The drone tech has access to the many robotic death machines. And air support lets you call down air support in the form of bombs, fuel air explosives, and even a gunship that you can direct.
The end result of all of this is a game that potentially has even more depth than Battlefield or its predecessors. The frontline nature of the game helps focus the combat, while access to drones and other high-tech equipment can make every soldier incredibly lethal. There are lots of tiny refinements and evolutions that gamers will likely appreciate as well. For instance, bunny hopping, or the annoying act of constantly jumping to throw off an enemy's aim, is gone. Jump repeatedly and you get slower and slower (jumping with all that gear on is tiring), and your aim is going to suffer, as well. Or if two players are in a single tank, with one acting as the driver/gunner and the other as the machine gunner, the latter can easily designate targets for the former to shoot at next.
Visually, Frontlines has evolved considerably since when we saw it at E3. The amount of detail in the levels and textures is sharp, and there's a wide variety of terrain that we saw, from desert environments to the steel canyons of an urban landscape. Perhaps the most impressive level is a completely war-torn cityscape that has gutted skyscrapers everywhere. Even more startling is that you can actually get into some of these towering husks, which gives you an incredibly high perch. While that might seem a bit unfair, keep in mind that there are many ways for other players to get at you, such as the remote-controlled air drones that can fly up and shred you with guns or rockets. We can only imagine how crazy this level will be with up to 64 players battling on it. We'll have to wait to see that, though, as Frontlines will ship in February.