IGN Review of Frontlines: Fuel of War
I feel like I hear this all the time, but first-person shooters really are a dime a dozen these days, especially on PC which has always been the true home for FPS titles. With so many similar products vying for attention it certainly takes a special gaming experience to impress the masses. Call of Duty 4 was able to do it, BioShock certainly pulled it off, and now it's Frontlines: Fuel of War trying to make its mark on sales charts. It's a game rooted in present day headlines as the world is being torn apart by warring nations competing for the coveted oil that has been the bane of our existence here in reality for far too long. While the timeframe for Fuel of War is set a bit in the future, the issues that it tackles certainly hit home. Now the only question is if the gameplay can do the same.
Those who have played past Battlefield titles will feel right at home with Frontlines' core gameplay mechanic. Essentially the maps are riddled with predetermined capture points. As you steal them from the enemy you advance the frontline of the battle more and more until you eventually own the map. Some points require you to stand next to a satellite for a certain amount of time; others have you planting C4 to take down an enemy installation, but working through each of the missions never quite feels like an engrossing campaign. Instead, it feels too much like a series of bot matches. Not to say that there isn't plenty of intense moments throughout the roughly 6-8 hour (three difficulty levels extend it a bit) set of missions, it just doesn't feel as natural as other games on the market.
The war that rages on throughout Frontlines is between the Western Coalition Army (United States and European Union) and the Red Star Alliance (Russia and China) with the bulk of the action happening throughout the Middle East. The cutscenes which bookend each mission are delivered from the perspective of an embedded journalist reporting on the war. While you don't have a defined squad with character names and specific personalities you still get to hear inspirational speeches and be a part of other moments of reasonably effective drama, but it never reaches the bar that has been set by others.
The real issue with the single-player gameplay isn't its storytelling, after all Frontlines isn't supposed to be a story-driven FPS, but instead the main problem is its lack of originality. If we had seen this game released a year ago we'd be singing a different tune as there are moments when you're repelling a massive enemy force across a monstrous battlefield that you can't help but define as "cool" but it doesn't separate itself enough from the shadow of the giants of our industry to cross the void from being a "good" to a "great" solo experience.
Luckily for Fuel of War the main attraction isn't its campaign. The real hook, the reason why there are going to be people playing Frontlines for quite some time, is its 64-player multiplayer. If you can manage to find a massive group of friends and have a solid connection at your disposal then there's the potential for a great online experience. With planes, helicopters, tanks, and the myriad of drones and devices doing battle at one time on a few of the massive landscapes the action is undeniably fun and fast paced.
Frontlines also tacks on the ability to play a certain role for your team on top of the standard class selections of assault, special ops, and so on. You can be the guy who calls in air strikes to support the team or you can select to have command of EMP powers to disable enemy vehicles. Each role has three levels to it and each level has a different power. Play well and you'll be at your third level power in no time at all and that's when the strategic advantage of the leveling system really comes into view.
With all of the different roles, character classes, and vehicles that come together to make Frontlines it's a good thing that the control schemes for each are well crafted and fairly intuitive once you get the hang of things. The jets are easily the hardest to maneuver, but tanks and hummers are easy from the onset. Because of the PC's large number of buttons and free-roaming mouse some of the vehicles feel a bit easier to control in combat. The hummer, for instance, controls like Halo's Warthog on a console but on PC you can freely swing the machine gun turret while steering with the keys independently. Weapon selection is also a bit easier thanks to the mouse wheel alternative on top of the togglable radial menu.
Though the multiplayer in Frontlines is clearly the star of the show it is not without a few flaws. First and foremost, there's only one game mode so you might tire of playing the same thing repeatedly. Then there's the fact that you can't run your own dedicated server. Not a huge deal, but some will be disappointed. Unlike the Xbox 360 version it is possible to create your own 64-player match providing you have an awesome connection under your belt. Our T3 connection handled the load perfectly.
As I've been saying throughout this review, the battles are massive in Frontlines. There's always a lot going on and there are several ways to approach different situations thanks to the list of weapons, vehicles and drones. All of this action does come at a price, though. While the visuals are better on the PC than in the console version thanks to enhanced details, sharper texture work on some models, and the elimination of the draw in that plagued the Xbox 360, when things get hectic the frames per second does still take a hit. That having been said, the PC version certainly has some visually impressive moments.
Now a word to the NVIDIA GeForce 8 Series users of the world: turn the foliage setting all the way down if you're running the game on "very high." There is apparently some optimization that needs to be done with the latest NVIDIA driver, because as it is now the game hangs intermittently for a few seconds if the foliage setting is turned up. It's a combination of a complex foliage system that is a bit over the head of the 8 Series and a lacking driver. We've seen this mentioned in the game's forums and have spoken to the developer who is expecting a partial remedy for the issue shortly.
The sound performs a bit better with nicely crafted themes and rock music that help to build the tension of a scene. And while the dialogue might not be of the highest quality, it's still effective nonetheless. It's clear that Kaos Studios was trying to go for the Hollywood-style high production values and they just barely come up short. Weapon effects perform as they should and deliver a good amount of punch where it's appropriate.
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