What should you expect from a company best known for its popular Battlefield 1942 mod, Desert Combat? If you are talking about Frontline: Fuel of War then you should probably expect a PC and Xbox 360 shooter that resembles the Battlefield series in every possible way. Not that this is a bad thing, the Battlefield series is popular for a reason. It's full of large environments, plenty of vehicles to commandeer, and some of the best online multiplayer action you can find.
Frontline: Fuel of War takes place twenty years into the future when after years of oil dependence the world has completely run out of their reserves. This tragedy has turned the world upside down, leading to chaos and the downfall of many world powers. After the smoke has cleared two different armies are prepared to battle it out for world supremacy. One of the armies is the Western Coalition (which includes the United States and Europe) and the other is the Red Star Alliance (which consists of the likes of Russia and China). Frontline is the story of these two enemies and their push to gain power.
At last week's THQ Gamers' Day I had a chance to not only play the first level of Frontline, but also take a long look at the online multiplayer mode. The game starts with a bunch of rough and tough army men (and one reporter) flying around in a helicopter, when all of a sudden the chopper is under attack and the squad is forced to touch down and fight it out. What comes next is an all out fire fight that involves you killing multiple enemy soldiers and then jumping into the gun mounted in the helicopter to blow up the surrounding hostile vehicles. Once you've done that your goal is to secure specific parts of the map and keep moving from one side of the map to another.
What sets Frontline: Fuel of War apart from a lot of the other wartime first-person shooters is that your map will be separated by two different colors, one that represents you and another that is the enemy. As you complete your tasks the line (and your color) will move up giving you access to more missions deeper into enemy territory. The missions themselves are pretty standard, sometimes you will have to access files on a computer, other tasks require you to clear out a bunch of enemies at a certain location, and so on so forth. You can take these missions in any order, but you will need to complete them all if you're going to fill up the entire map with you color.
The level I played was a dusty desert location that looked uncomfortably hot. But the developers at Kaos Studios suggested that this was not how the entire game looked, instead gamers should expect a diverse group of levels that really taxed their art department. This first level offered some beautiful graphics and some nice attention to detail. For example, as you fight your way through the first major battle you will notice that just about everything is destructible. Enemies will hide behind walls and sand bags, but all you need to do is keep shooting those hiding spots until they crumble away. These destructible environments appear to be something that the developers are striving for, they hope to have everything blow up in a realistic fashion, giving off the feeling that you are really interacting with the environments. But don't expect to just blow up any old wall, unfortunately only specific structures will be able to be blown up.
The online multiplayer mode is a slight variation on the single-player theme. When it comes to the online game you will be able to play 32 players in one room, each taking a side and trying to move their color across the field. In a lot of ways this reminded me of a sporting event, almost like a Football game. Each side has a few specific destinations to either keep or capture, as the other side completes their tasks the line (and color) will slowly get pushed into the enemy territory. Whoever gets the most kills, captures the most area and completely move into the enemies area will win.
Not only will you be able to run around the map killing anybody that gets in your way, but you will also have a chance to jump into a number of vehicles. You can expect a lot of the usual suspects (including jeeps and tanks), as well as a few vehicles you might not expect (such as jets, helicopters and the like). In total there will be more than a dozen vehicles, which should go a long way to giving the game some much needed variety. If flying a helicopter or manning a tank isn't your thing, then perhaps you should think about picking up one of the futuristic drones. In the version I played I was able to use both a small unmanned drone and a small RC car. The advantage of these weapons is that you can fly them into whatever situation you want without being noticed and then explode them whenever you want. These small vehicles are great for taking out large groups of bad guys and armored vehicles, such as a tank.
Unfortunately the game I played suffered from a few problems I can only hope Kaos Studios can resolve. One of the biggest complaints I had with this version of Frontline came when I jumped into a vehicle, for some odd reason the driving just didn't feel natural. This was especially true in the single player mode when I was both driving and moving the gunner around trying to kill people. The vehicle controls are simply awkward, and I have my fingers crossed that this will be addressed. It's also worth mentioning that the game's frame-rate was extremely unstable, there were moments in the game when I felt like I was watching a slide show. But not to worry, frame rate issues are common place in alpha builds of games, I have complete faith that this problem will be ironed out before the game ships.
Another concern I had was just how original this game would be. When it comes right down to it the first-person shooter genre is extremely crowded, does this one add enough to the formula to warrant a lot of fanfare? I like that the game offers vehicles and tons of weapons, but is that enough to differentiate it from the rest of the crowd? I also worry that the multiplayer modes might not last very long, so far Frontline only offers two different online modes, the one I spent some time with and a free-for-all deathmatch. Is that enough to keep gamers happy, especially when similar games are offering a much more robust online component?
At this point it's just too early to tell whether or not Frontline: Fuel of War will be able to stand out from the crowd, but from what I played the game is looking pretty good. It's not without a few hiccups, but it's hard to find a game this early in development that is perfect. Expect much more coverage of Frontline when it blasts its way onto the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3 sometime this fall.