On the Frontline
Built on the now ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3, Frontlines
didn’t exactly bowl me over when I first saw it. There was a group of us journalist types sat around a cluster of PCs set up for a simple LAN match while, at the front of the room, Art Director Luis Cataladi went through the process of explaining exactly how first-person shooters work.
After five minutes, I was getting a little bored and was eager to jump in and start playing. After ten minutes though Luis got on to some of the more interesting stuff and I found myself keenly listening.
Fortunately for you I’ll be missing out all the boring stuff and just getting down to the good stuff – that’s why they pay me the (semi-)big bucks after all.
Frontlines: Fuel of War
as a multiplayer game seems fairly rudimentary at first. You chose from one of six available classes on one of two teams and then jump into a map that is mostly just different shades of brown, proceeding to go tête-à-tête with the other team until an arbitrary objective is met. On the surface, it’s all fairly uninspiring.
Where it gets surprisingly deep is when you take a closer look at the classes, weapons, vehicles and their ties to modern day technology. Rather than base the gameplay on existing tools and military hardware or just filling the maps with futuristic laser guns and death beams, Kaos chose to base the game around real weapons that are currently being researched or are not yet in mass production.
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It’s pretty fitting when you see that the game is set just a few years in the future, with a story that pits the Western Alliance (the US and Europe) fighting against the Red Star Coalition (China, Russia and Korea) in a to-the-death resource war for the last remaining oil fields. It also makes the gameplay fantastically balanced whilst also being fairly neo-realistic and is an awesome way to free players up to use laser weapons, while still keeping the whole real-life edge.
Players are given fancy weapons, like Railguns, but these weapons are grounded in reality and, in the case of Railgun, don’t appear as easy-to-carry rifles with unlimited ammo. Instead, the Railgun is a slow-firing, tripod mounted cannon which fires a high-energy beam for occasional one-hit kills.
The setting also excellently explains the type of gameplay being enforced on players in both the multiplayer and the eight-level singleplayer campaign. Because the entire war being fought is geared towards the idea of salvaging resources intact with as little effort as possible, a lot of the game is spent with players running around on foot or using light vehicles. It would be easier to just drop a nuke on the enemy, but the story prevents that in order to accelerate the gameplay mechanics.
Still, just because fuel is a scarce resource in the game, it doesn’t mean that players don’t get a chance to try a whole load of different transport types. There’s an array of 60 different vehicles to try, ranging from light jeeps and APCs, to tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.
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Impressively, every single vehicle is multi-user too so that there’s always room for an extra person. Sometimes this is fairly limited and basic—having an extra gunner or bomber in your helicopter for example—but it can also get fairly extensive as there are tanks and APCs that can hold about ten people.
The players themselves are also fairly interesting in their ability to be customised – sure, the actual weapon loadouts are as generic as they comes (assault, heavy assault, sniper, special ops, anti-vehicle and close combat), but players also get the chance to choose one of four roles on the battlefield.
Roles are something which I had conflicting feelings about in Frontlines
however. As a premise it’s easy enough to grasp since a role is basically a player’s specialty or power-up set and each role gives players additional abilities that they can then level up over time.
There are some fairly interesting roles – notably the Drone role which lets players use automated and controlled drones to recon the immediate environment from above, also using them as piloted missiles. This role upgrades to include wheeled drones which can get underneath vehicles to destroy them, though to be honest since I played mostly as a sniper they were never a threat to my team. It was never hard to spot them coming and to then take them out with a sniper round or two.
More interesting to me was the Air Support role that lets players call in different air strike types. The basic attack is a single precision bomb that the player targets with a pair of binoculars, but it quickly upgrades to a carpet bomb attack and finally a chaingun strike which mows down everything in the area. The attacks have a small delay on them, making it difficult to spot moving targets with, but I found it quickly broke the game as all that was really required was a smartly placed carpet bomb to render a fortified location little more than a pile of rubble.