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Frontlines: Fuel of War

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-05-29 01:06:26

Frontlines: Fuel of War - Rank C

Developer: Kaos Studios
Publisher: THQ
Date: 2/25/08

Also available for PC

I'm a sucker for the techno-military thriller genre. There was a time when I would've eaten this game up, but after a full console cycle of Ghost Recons, Full Spectrum Warriors, and now that even Call of Duty has entered the Modern Warfare arena, military shooters must exhibit a unique personality or risk becoming lost among the chaff. Frontlines: Fuel of War is a competent Battlefield clone, but that alone is insufficient to survive the winnowing process.

The best part of Frontlines' campaign is actually the story. It's set about a dozen years in the future, when East and West clash over the world's last remaining oil reserves around the Caspian Sea. The writer clearly possesses a sense of history and geopolitical understanding, and utilizes them to create a believable setting. Case in point, when Western Coalition forces spearhead toward Moscow, Russia detonates a tactical nuke on them. On Russian soil. Given the history of Russian willingness to suffer invaders, I found this story point entirely convincing.

Unfortunately, the gameplay neither lives up to this promise, nor does it mesh well with the narrative. Frontlines is a passable first person shooter; I've certainly played much worse. The requisite assault rifles, grenades, machine guns, sniper rifles, and shoulder mounted rockets are all present, along with a handful of semi-fictional future weapons like rail guns. It controls well enough, and some frame rate jitters aside, is an attractive looking game. But the level design saps all drama from what ought to be a compelling human conflict. The entire campaign consists of alternatingly capturing or destroying targets. That's it. You fight your way to the goal and either secure it by standing on it, or place some demolition charges on it. It feels like multiplayer mechanics strapped onto the narrative without regard for development or context.

Frontlines also gives you access to vehicles. You can hop in and out of armored cars, tanks, and helicopters. Battlefield manages to present this sort of play with just enough whimsy to render the inherent goofiness inconsequential, but within Frontlines' more serious context, this feels fairly awkward. Worse, they handle terribly. The controls are just unintuitive enough that you'll have to fight them, and the level designs so constrained that you'll be forced into too many three point turns. Note to game designers: a main battle tank should be able to easily crush its way over a parked car.

Apparently, battles in the future will be extensively fought with drones. You can field tiny helicopters, explosive UAVs, or mobile turrets via remote control. Disappointingly, rather than exuding the swagger of believably cutting edge military hardware, these felt like toys. They reminded me of an A-Team episode where they used model airplanes to drop dynamite on the bad guys.

The online multiplayer is actually quite good. And familiar. It's straight up Battlefield gameplay, employing the usual classes and vehicles to fight for contested control points. It's a solid imitation, but an imitation just the same.

Perhaps the Battlefield comparisons aren't fair, but they're unavoidable. Kaos Studios made their bones on the "Desert Combat" mod for Battlefield 1942, and it's hard to fault them for creating what they know. Still, they're playing catch up, and Frontlines: Fuel of War exudes a distinctly generic impression.

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