Sunday, November 02, 2008

Frontlines: Fuel of War Review

Frontlines: Fuel of War, developed by Kaos Studios and published by THQ on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Single player campaign with autosaved progress, different roles and gadgets, nice graphics
The Not So Good: Terribly unbalanced gameplay, large maps spread out the action
What say you? A team-based online shooter that’s no fun thanks to mammoth maps and highly favored roles and weapons : 5/8

With rising gas prices, one this is for sure: someone's going to get hurt. That's the premise of Frontlines: Fuel of War, where two sides are warring over the few, precious energy resources left around the globe. An energy shortage has been the premise of one other recent game and it seems disturbingly plausible. Core members responsible for the famed Desert Combat modification for Battlefield 1942 (remember when that game was good?) are trying out the team-based shooter on for size. For my money, the current benchmark comes in the form of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars; will Frontlines: Fuel of War be able to supplant that titles as the favored game for online violent cooperation? Stop cheating by looking at the score!

By far, the best aspect of Frontlines: Fuel of War is the graphics. The game features highly detailed environments with a great attention to detail, bringing the rusty vistas of the future to life. The character models are believable, as are the vehicles scattered around the map. There aren't many games out there that look better than Frontlines: Fuel of War, and that also means that system requirements are fairly steep. In addition, the game eats up hard drive space, which isn't that big of a deal unless you're trying to download the gigantic game file. The audio also fares well: lots of explosions, weapon effects, and decent voice acting round out a satisfying package. A top notch presentation is what you'll find here.

Frontlines: Fuel of War is called “Frontlines” because of the core game mechanic: a number of control points must be secured in order to move the front line forward (this is identical to the tug-of-war mode from World in Conflict). The purpose is to keep the action focused in a specific area: does it work? First, we'll address the single player campaign, which is more along the lines of Call of Duty 4 instead of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars in that its more of a story-based feature rather than bot battles identical to the multiplayer offerings. The eight missions are almost lengthy and it incorporates the overall rules of the game (that whole “frontlines” thing) well. I like how your progress is automatically saved each time you fulfill an objective and you can rejoin at that point if you load later. The AI is highly scripted and is just satisfactory: they are more cannon fodder than challenging opponents, as they will only use cover if placed there are make questionable decisions like walking out in the open. It's no surprise, then, that the AI can't be used for online games. The game really only gets challenging when you are up against heavily-armed enemies with superior weapons, which happens a lot. Interestingly, Frontlines: Fuel of War does not feature a health gauge; instead, you have to take a bunch of bullets at once in order to die. This seems to be true for the AI as well, as you really need to overload them with hot lead in order to take them down. In the end, there are a couple (all right, one) nice features in the single player campaign but the overall experience is quite forgettable.

The real focus of Frontlines: Fuel of War is multiplayer action, and the game can support up to 64 players on a single map. Unfortunately, all of the maps seems designed for 64 players and do not resize according to the server load. This results in some very spread out action, large walking distances, and less intense combat than games with less people or single objectives. Imagine Battlefield 2 using only 64-player maps and you'll get an idea of what to expect in Frontlines: Fuel of War. Now, the “frontlines” dynamic does focus the action a bit, but there are still usually three control points active at one time, and that's enough to make contact with the enemy an infrequent occurrence, even with a huge player count. This is the first of several design decisions that makes Frontlines: Fuel of War not very enjoyable. Like most shooters, Frontlines: Fuel of War features a number of different classes and roles to choose from. Each player can pick a loadout, such as heavy assault, sniper, or close combat, and a specialization (ground support, air support, drone technician, or EMP expert). Getting more kills will unlock more tools in your specialization, most of which are things to call in or unmanned surveillance craft. The game does not indicate which role everyone is using and the ground support provides extremely powerful bombardment support, so the roles are only mildly interesting.

Frontlines: Fuel of War features the typical selection of weapons and vehicles present in pretty much every other shooter: assault rifles, rocket launchers, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. The choppers are extremely overpowered, carry a ton of devastating weapons, aren't easily countered, and dominate the maps they appear on: not fun for ground-based units. The frontlines mechanic doesn't help matters, as pilots know exactly which places the opponent will attack and can mindless bombard the area with missiles. Their superiority is magnified even more by the lack of a health rating: a lot of bullets in a short period of time are needed to kill someone, but a single missile will do the trick. The completely unbalanced gameplay makes Frontlines: Fuel of War far from enjoyable. In addition, respawn times are weird (after clicking “spawn,” you'll start at a screen for a seemingly random amount of time before you appear) and there are not any other game modes to choose from other than the frontlines mode. In short, Frontlines: Fuel of War is disappointing.

A very important aspect of any online shooter is balance. As Newton said: for each action, there is an equal and opposite bullet to the face. Or something like that, my memory is fuzzy. Anyway, Frontlines: Fuel of War suffers from excessively large maps and overly powerful aircraft; these two things combined kill the enjoyment level and makes Frontlines: Fuel of War just another shooter. The graphics are really nice, but, as I've said before, graphics do not make the game. There's a reason why there were only a couple of populated servers when I played Frontlines: Fuel of War online: it's not that great. If you want to play an online team-based shooter, do yourself a favor and get Enemy Territory: Quake Wars instead: it is far superior and one of the few games I still regularly play (surprise: it is still installed but Call of Duty 4 is not). In an already crowded first person shooter genre on the PC, Frontlines: Fuel of War is just a run-of-the-mill entry.