First Impressions: This game wants to give you gas.
Imagine a time in the not so distant future where the planet's oil reserves have been sucked dry (and you thought gas prices were high now!). Think of the economic, political and social chaos that would engulf the world and how the oil-starved superpowers would react. That's the frightening scenario that developer Kaos Studios will explore in their inaugural project, Frontlines: Fuel of War.
Frontlines is a squad-based first-person shooter but before you roll your eyes and groan that these games are a dime a dozen, know that Kaos is adding several interesting elements that will make it stand out from the crowd. Heck, Kaos themselves stand out; although they are a relatively new division of THQ (they were founded in 2005) the team consists of many highly experienced game development vets, including the former heads of Trauma Studios (who created the immensely popular Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat and led R&D for Battlefield 2) and people who worked on Doom 3, F.E.A.R., Company of Heroes, Madden and Medal of Honor. Wow.
The story takes place 20 years in the future as two superpowers ? the US and European Union led Western Coalition (WC) and the Red Star Alliance (RSA) of Russia and China ? battle for control over the last drops of oil. The really scary thing is that the story and battle scenarios are based on actual projections of what would happen if (or when) the world finally does run out of oil.
Kaos wanted to keep things as realistic as possible so even though the game takes place in the future, you won't see sci-fi fantasy things like laser guns or giant mechs. Instead, the game's 60 weapons and vehicles will be realistically evolved versions of their modern contemporaries but with a nice high tech flavor. For example, you will still have assault rifles, sniper rifles and RPGs, along with cool things like the Javelin rocket that can lock onto targets and allow you to safely fire from around corners or crouched behind cover. You will also be able to use remote controlled air and ground drones for reconnaissance or to deliver some explosive presents to your adversaries. Vehicles will include tanks, jeeps, APCs and helicopters, and in keeping with the realistic theme, their armor will be tougher on the front and sides ? which means you'll have to aim for the top or rear to take them out quickly.
Each faction will be distinct from one another not only in appearance, but also in the attributes of their weapons and vehicles. For example, the WC will use high tech equipment while the RSA will take the brute force heavy iron approach, which should add a nice variety playing for each side.
The 10 single player missions are massive in scale, with an estimated completion time of an hour each ? not surprising considering the maps are huge
and set up as an open non-linear sandbox that allows you to tackle the various objectives any way you want. So if you want to go Rambo and blow the crap out of the destructible environments, go ahead. Or maybe you'd rather take a more subtle approach and play stealthy by sneaking into objectives and sniping enemies from afar ? it's entirely up to you. Kaos wanted to avoid the boring repetition of conventional linear shooters where you would encounter a situation, die, and repeat until you learned the pattern of the battle. Instead, they knew that real battlefields are fluid and dynamic, requiring you to adjust your tactics as the situation changes. By giving players the freedom to choose where and how they want to fight, they are not only trying to increase the realism but the fun factor as well.
It's not just the sandbox format that makes this game different. While the objective of most war shooters is to simply wipe out the enemy, Frontlines requires you to push your ?frontline? deep into enemy territory by capturing objectives and checkpoints. The cool thing is that the AI responds realistically to your actions just like in a real war. Depending on the situation, they will react defensively by sending reinforcements and digging in, or aggressively attempt to break through a weak point in your line. This means that you can't afford to spend too much time concentrating on one small battle since you might find the enemy flanking and pushing through an area you ignored. Fortunately, you will be accompanied by equally intelligent friendly AI squadmates who will also react realistically to the battle situation by automatically taking cover, providing suppressing fire and calling out enemy positions.
Once you complete an objective ? which can range from downloading a computer file to killing everything in sight ? your frontline expands, which increases your territory. You need territory to not only win missions but also to unlock new weapons, vehicles and other goodies. Expanded territory also gives you greater flexibility to choose your respawn point if you die.
As cool as the single player campaign may sound, it's the multiplayer that is really grabbing people's attention. The multiplayer maps range from small city maps only a few blocks square to a mind-boggling huge four square miles. And if you think the big maps might be too big, consider that Frontlines will support up to 32 players on Xbox 360 ? oh, and don't forget that you will be able to use all the vehicles from the single player campaign as well. Nice. The really cool thing is that Kaos is seriously looking at implementing Microsoft's Live for Windows technology that would allow PC and Xbox 360 players to play with one another and possibly let PC owners set up their own 360 servers. However, nothing has been confirmed yet on this front so keep your fingers crossed.
All multiplayer gametypes will be objective-based to encourage co-operative teamwork. To further reinforce the team concept, some vehicles have systems that can only be operated by two people; for example, tanks have countermeasures that can only be activated by the gunner.
Players will also have to choose from one of six self-explanatory classes: Anti-Vehicle, Assault, Close Combat, Heavy Assault, Sniper and Special Ops. However, unlike other class-based shooters where your class determines which weapons you can use, you can customize your load-out ? so you no longer have to worry about choosing between your favorite class or your favorite weapon since now you can have both.
Your weapon sets include one main weapon like an assault rifle or RPG, a handgun and either a set of grenades, mines or a close combat weapon like a knife. The cool thing about close combat is that your camera angle affects your attack; if you're looking up, you'll throw a punch but if you're looking down, you'll kick instead.
It's not just about picking your class either; you will also have to choose your role. The game's four roles are either offensive or defensive in nature with special weapons and abilities specific to that role; and the best part is that as you kill enemies and capture objectives, you can level up to unlock more powerful abilities. To make things even more interesting, both sides will feature different interpretations of these roles.
for the WC starts you off with an air drone that can drop a single bomb, and upgrades to cluster bombs at level two. At level three, the drone is armed with a deadly Vulcan cannon that lets you hose off the battlefield. The RSA version starts the same but at level two, you can drop a huge MOAB, the biggest non-nuclear bomb you can buy. At level three, you can drop a devastating fuel air bomb that will incinerate a huge swath of land and anything unlucky enough to be standing on it.
are the remote control geeks of the battlefield. The WC version starts with a Predator drone that can be flown across the battlefield for reconnaissance or to take explosive kamikaze dives on top of enemies. At level two, you gain an armored ground drone with a mounted chain gun that is replaced with four mortars at level three. The RSA version starts with a small remote controlled helicopter that is also capable of spying or exploding on contact. At level two, you gain a small but very fast and durable ground drone loaded with C4 that can be driven under tanks. Level three brings back the helicopter but this time, it is armed with missiles.
for the WC starts with a welding torch that can repair vehicles. At level two you can construct mortars while at level three, you can build a mounted rail gun that can spit out devastating damage to vehicles and fleshy troops dumb enough to get in its way. The RSA version of this role starts with the same welding torch but at level two gains the ability to build a machine gun or RPG turret. At level three, you can build a big-assed Vulcan cannon that you can hose down the enemy with an obscene amount of lead.
is the only role that is the same for both sides and despite the lack of offensive capability, could be a key role for victory. You will start with an EMP grenade that will disable the electronics of a single vehicle, rendering it useless. At level two, you gain an EMP gun that you can shoot at both air and ground vehicles. At level three, you can deploy the EMP Shockwave device that radiates massive EMP pulses that kills all electronics within its considerable range, causing all ground vehicles to instantly grind to a halt and all aircraft to plop from the sky. From a defensive perspective, you can't get more powerful than completely disabling your enemies' vehicles and taking away the ability for drones to spy on you or drop bombs on your head.
Your level progress is not persistent so once the round is over, everyone is reset back to zero again, which should keep things fair for everyone.
Frontlines is powered by the Unreal Engine 3 so needless to say, it looks stunning. The game looks very realistic and cinematic with a gritty war-torn feel that you would expect in a world drowning in chaos. Particularly impressive are the beautiful smoke, particle, explosion and environmental destruction effects that would make a Hollywood special effects artist smile. Considering the massive size of the maps this is a remarkable technological achievement.
PS3 owners will be able to use the Sixaxis for vehicle control, melee attacks, grenade chucking and even for sniping, while Xbox 360 owners will get a ton of their beloved Achievements.