Frontlines: Fuel of War Review
Written : Monday, April 07, 2008
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
When politics and games mix, the end result is usually somewhat ambiguous as it’s often hard to get across a serious message in the midst of all that shooting, running and mushroom stomping. I may have drifted off point but you get the idea. Frontlines focuses on a potential real world issue and tries to imagine the consequences; that being that a global energy crisis is taking place in the near future and the world superpowers have banded together in a bid to make a grab for the last resources available on the planet. Obviously it’s an issue that could potentially become a problem within our lifetimes but it’s also one that has to be presented in an entertaining way.
From first impressions it seems that a lot of attention has been lavished on the multiplayer aspect while the single player seems to run as a kind of glorified training session in preparation for online warfare. Considering developer Kaos Studios were originally involved in working on Battlefield (in various forms) then it comes as little surprise that they’ve chosen a similar route to that illustrious series, whereby the crux of the game is team based combat rather than a solo experience. That’s not to say that the single player game doesn’t offer some fun, just that if you want to get maximum entertainment from this game then you’ve got to be prepared to jump online. If you’re ready to sign up for that, soldier, then strap yourself in and we’ll begin.
While the game isn’t especially original considering it seems to borrow most of its ideas from its Battlefield forefathers it still has plenty to offer, and the fact it is one of the few 360 games to offer massive online battles is a real plus. It’s always nice to run over your friends with a big virtual tank, but now you can do it to fifty of them should you so desire. Good times. The problem was always going to be transferring that sense of scale and fun into a solo campaign that would deliver excitement and satisfaction, and here the game falls down badly.
Rule one – do not annoy a tank with a peashooter.
The single player campaign sees you as a grunt in the Western Coalition, made up of the generic alliance of the U.S. and Europe (honestly do we always go to war together?) as you bid to secure the last known resources by force from the diabolical clutches of the Red Star Alliance (maybe they are just misunderstood?). Each level requires you to capture strategic control points, the titular Frontline, in a bid to push the enemy back and allow access to the next control point that needs taking. The more points you control the more weaponry you’ll have access to and the closer you’ll get to winning the battle. Not all of the points need capturing, as some require you to destroy an installation or similar, but the general mechanic is so similar that it is hard to stretch it over an entire campaign without repetition creeping in.
While the game has never aspired to be a great story driven epic it’s still hard to choose this over recent additions like Bioshock, Rainbow Six Vegas or even Halo 3, all of which offer much more compelling offline action. It’s not that this game doesn’t have its moments as you repel vast armies over a shattered apocalyptic landscape, but it just feels like a multiplayer game played with stupid drones rather than smart (or stupid, but fun to kill) human opposition.
If you don’t have Xbox Live then this review is pretty much over and done with, put the game down now and look elsewhere. On the other hand if you are prepared to jump online, hopefully with a few friends in tow, then things are about to drastically improve. As with a FIFTY player multiplayer mode on offer you are in store for some fun moments indeed. Though for anyone who has struggled to get even eight people together on Gears of War you’ll know that such a number of people in the same game is hardly guaranteed. Still not many games have the potential for so much action to take place and it means that you can truly aim to have a gripping back and forth tussle going on that people can jump in and out of.
Robot Wars nerds finally come good in real life.
The main strength of the game is also the main weakness as there is only one mode available to play and that’s the Frontlines one itself, so playing the same style of game over and over again may well get boring for some but give it a chance and you’ll soon be won over as no two battles are ever the same. Obviously with the number of players that will potentially take part in each battle the game is run on dedicated servers so there is no chance of running your own battles, it’s a shame in one sense but when you consider the amount that could be going on at any one time it makes perfect sense in order to have things running smoothly.
Unlike Battlefield only a few points on the map can be captured at any one time, as the map is divided by a frontline and once either side has grabbed the available points this line is pushed back deeper into enemy territory with more points then available to capture. Push the line back to the enemy base and you have a chance to take it over and win the game. Sounds simple but games can often last for up to an hour, or as little as five minutes if the opposition is especially skilled. This style of play means that even when you aren’t playing with friends you will always know what is going on and roughly where you should be headed. That being said it does mean that there is often large portions of the battlefield that have nothing going on, if you do sneak behind lines for some spawn killing (you evil ne’er do wells) then you really aren’t benefiting your team in any way. Other than having them hear your maniacal laughter that is. It’s also a pain that you can’t communicate with your entire team, as players are broken down into four man squads that you’ll need to join. The logistical aspect of having 25 players taking at once is a nightmare but it’s a shame nonetheless.
Flash gits in their jets – plus the cure….
When you jump into battle you can choose between six different classes to suit your own game style, with the usual suspects of snipers, assault and heavies nicely balanced by anti-vehicle, special operations and close combat units. All of which can come in handy in a well balanced squad. You can then also choose to tailor yourself further by choosing one of four roles that can add another variety of special skills to your repertoire – want to control combat drones: can do, appear invisible on the map: not a problem. The four roles add a nice tactical aspect to the game that can come in handy on the battlefield. The drones in particular are a lot of fun, and sending an exploding robot to kill some camping snipers is highly satisfying. The better you do in battle the more powerful your specific role abilities will become which can soon turn the tide of combat.
I’ve got this far without even mentioning the array of vehicles and weapons on offer, as you can pretty much use and drive anything in sight. The controls on some of the vehicles take a bit of getting used to, with jets being especially fiddly, but it’s worth it when it all finally comes together and you are strafing your opponents with machine gun fire from the air. It’s also nice to see a game that hasn’t stuck to the two weapon formula, as you can carry an abundance of death dealing equipment at any one time, though you’ll find yourself using one or two guns at the most for a lot of the time. Overall the online mode is one that offers the chance for adrenaline packed battles on a massive scale, but don’t expect to get even half the available number of players in most games.
At times the graphics on offer are appalling, with pop up taking place far too often and glitchy landscapes all too frequent. While it can be forgiven in a massive multiplayer battle it’s certainly not acceptable when you’re playing solo and just seems like lazy programming. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that such poor effects can sit side by side with epic vistas and magnificent raging battles and explosions. On the plus side the sound effects department seem to have been given a much better budget and everything sounds spot on, as you let rip with the heavy machine gun or scream overhead in a jet then you’ll soon know what I’m talking about.
The achievements on offer are strangely stacked with only seven of the thirty on offer pertaining to multiplayer, a decision made especially puzzling considering the fact the single player experience is so shallow and secondary. The single player achievements are pretty mundane too and can be achieved by completing levels, doing them without dying and doing them in a fast time. Most of them are fairly easy and all of them other than the completion achievements can be acquired on the easiest difficulty if you’re really struggling. The online achievements can be easy boosted in a player match, with only three requiring ranked play. Even those should be fairly easy to arrange, as long as you can get the minimum number of people in a game to help you out. A pretty poor list really, but also a fairly easy 1000 points if you are fairly persistent.
Spot on sound effects that help to keep combat loud and gung-ho, the cut scenes on offer aren’t exactly great but this game was never about story anyway so it doesn’t detract too much.
An extremely mixed bag on offer here with the good and the bad mixed together seemingly at will, sadly when it’s bad it’s REALLY bad and it just drags the whole thing down.
Make sure to play the single player mode first as once you go online you won’t bother going back, once you’re online though there is plenty of fun to be had and assuming you get a big enough game going you could be fighting back and forth for hours..
A poor offline game tagged onto a very good online game. The single player can’t compete with similar games in the genre and the multiplayer may well find itself ignored in favour of recent class-A titles. Which is a shame because there’s plenty of depth and variety to be found.
A poor list on the whole with too many generic single player achievements and too few (won’t say that very often, but this game is pretty much online only) online ones. The online achievements are also pretty easy to knock off in a few hours so don’t require too much planning and effort.
A rental at best if you are stranded offline but worth picking up for online play, sadly the community isn’t as big as it could be and with a new Battlefield game on the horizon that may well stay that way. Despite the lack of originality there is plenty of online fun to be had but try and drag some friends along for the ride.