Reviewed: March 12, 2008
Released: February 25, 2008
* 50-player support available
on THQ Dedicated Servers
Frontlines: Fuel of War is one of those games that manages to set itself apart from the teeming masses of other competing FPS genre titles on both the Xbox 360 and the PC. The first thing a game has to do is grab the player and Kaos Studios does just that with a captivating opening movie that looks more like tomorrow’s CNN footage than a video game cutscene.
Fuel of War is set in the near future, 2024 to be exact, although the cascading series of events that leads to this point begins in the summer of 2008. High fuel prices, a deteriorating economy, an outbreak of avian flu, and several foreign powers, all fighting for control of our precious oil; joining forces to gang-up on the USA…fact or fiction…or perhaps prophecy. At least in Frontlines gamers will have the ability to affect the outcome of these events.
The campaign in Frontlines deals with the fight over the last small reserve of oil in Central Asia in the Caspian Basin. The US joins forces with Europe (EU) while China and Russia form the Red Star Alliance. Satellite defense systems render long-range WMD’s useless so the fight for the final few drops of oil will have to be done with conventional armies and synthetically fueled vehicles.
Frontlines uses the story and global events to drive the missions and objectives without trying to tell too much of a personal story. To that end you never get too attached to any of the characters; most of the time you don’t even know their names. What little story there is takes place from the perspective of an embedded journalist sent into action to document the war effort. As the chopper flies toward its destination it is shot from the sky and spirals into an old drilling town. Scrambling from the wreckage you grab your weapon and prepare to defend yourself from the Red Star forces.
I’m not much of an online gamer but even so I had to be impressed with Frontlines’ support for up to 50 players at once on special THQ dedicated servers. Even the 32-player cap on player-hosted games is still impressive. I’ve yet to find that many people playing in a single game but just the knowledge that it could happen is pretty exciting. The game borrows heavily on the Battlefield style of gameplay and level design, with capture points and class-based soldiers, each with specific abilities and duties that complement the entire team so the more players the better.
The solo campaign is what really captivated me for several continuous days of gameplay. While games like Battlefield seldom work when you simply tack on a story and linear mission objectives, Fuel of War manages to make the design work beautifully. On the surface, the game appears to be much like any other FPS, then you slowly realize there is an underlying strategy in taking control over key map locations thus pushing the frontlines further into enemy territory.
The map clearly notes friendly and hostile territory as red and blue zones along with the defining line that separates the two. Objectives are clearly marked and once these are under your control your zone grows and a new line is established with more control points. In multiplayer, this is more of a tug-of-war as each side tries to dominate the map, but in single player the computer never reacquires captured objectives so it’s just a matter of time and determination before you win the battle and eventually the war.
Frontlines makes the most of modern day weapons and vehicles, but where it really shines is with all the cool toys of war. You’ll get to fly VTOL drones, mini-helicopters, and even explosive remote control cars you can drive under a tank and detonate. These are some of the most memorable moments of the game.
The levels in Frontlines are huge and so are the battles, ensuring that you will always have something to do and usually several ways to do it. Even in solo play you can tailor the performance of your soldier to your own style of gameplay. If you prefer to sit back and snipe all you need is a rifle and a scope, or if you like to mix it up with a rocket launcher or machine gun, you can do that as well. Even the levels that require the use of vehicles will mix things up by forcing you out of your tank or chopper to take care of business on foot.
Frontlines takes place on massive battlefields, and with great scale comes the occasional pop-up and visible texture shift as you get closer to some objects. You can easily overlook nearly all of these glitches when you are caught up in the frantic combat. Soldier models are nicely designed and animate well and the vehicles are awesome.
Expect lots of flashy effects, smoke, fire, debris, and nothing can prepare you for being on the battlefield when things go “nuclear”. This is perhaps the most powerful and cinematic gameplay moment in recent gaming history. The level of destruction is massive and makes Frontlines a very visually rewarding and immersive experience.
The cutscenes use a mix of stylish news footage, almost like those courtroom renderings, and those are combined with in-game cinematics that immerse you in the conflict and makes things a bit more personal. The HUD and menus are nicely designed and intuitive and manage to keep out of the way of the gameplay. The 1080p support allows this game to look as good as possible and maintains a solid framerate despite the massive scale and complexity of some levels.
Fuel of War could easily be a movie and the music supports this with an awesome soundtrack that blends cinematic score and energetic rock music to build excitement and tension into every mission. The music really accents the gameplay.
Special effects are pretty standard by now. We’ve all heard these weapons a hundred times before in dozens of other war games. Tanks, jeeps, trucks, choppers, and jets all sound like they should – no surprises here. All the sounds work extremely well and the explosions are particularly nice with powerful bass effects. The Dolby Digital mix puts you in the middle of this war.
There is quite a bit of speech in the game, some of it being the reporter narrating the events and then you have the mid-mission battle chatter between your men and updates via the radio. All of the voice actors do admirable jobs with their specific parts. Due to the impersonal story, you really don’t need or get to care about anybody in the game. They are all just cogs in the war machine.
Frontlines will take 8-10 hours to finish on the single-player campaign and there is no foreseeable end to the online experience. With standard support for 32 players and THQ servers that support up to 50, this is easily one of the biggest online battle experiences you can enlist yourself in. Sadly, there isn't a lot of variety in the way you play the game online, but the mode that is here offers endless replayability, especially when you combine it with the RPG-like leveling up of your soldiers.
There are 30 Achievements that range from very easy to extremely difficult to earn. You can check off about 7 of these with a single casual pass through the story, but each of the 7levels also has a Stopwatch mode that requires you to finish it in a preset amount of time. Personally, I hate rushing (or racing) through a game, but I guess it does offer an alternate, if not totally unrealistic way to play the game. You also have Ironman achievements that require you to finish an entire mission without dying. Interestingly enough, for a game with such a focus on multiplayer there are only 5 achievements to be earned online.
From the gripping opening movie ripped straight from today’s headlines, I was totally captivated by Frontlines: Fuel of War, even before I got to experience the awesome gameplay and frantic combat action. I loved the mix of weapons, vehicles, and especially the cool toys that really put a futuristic twist on the modern day battlefield. The disturbing part about this game is the premmise and the fact that it all could (and probably will) go down like this in the next 20 years, if not sooner. I still think about this game every time I’m filling up at the gas station.
So, if you are a gamer who loves FPS games, tactics and class-driven gameplay, or are just looking for the next bigger and better Battlefield, or if you’ve been looking for the ultimate Xbox Live online experience, then you’ll definitely want to enlist in Frontlines and help save America from the Red Star Alliance.