|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Kaos Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: THQ||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 25, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-32||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Cabral
How do you make a military first-person-shooter set in the near future seem relevant after last year's bar-raising Call of Duty 4? Between Activision's monster hit, not to mention Ubisoft's solid stable of Tom Clancy titles (Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter, Rainbow Six Vegas), this genre has not only been done to death, but it's represented some of the best games of this console generation.
And then there's all the not-so-good games cluttering this genre--we won't mention names. However, the competition and clones have not scared THQ, as their internal developer KAOS has just unleashed Frontlines: Fuel of War onto the crowded battlefield of modern military shooters. And the result, while not quite a Call of Duty-caliber effort, is pretty damn satisfying. To answer our opening question: apparently you achieve post-COD4 relevance by creating a fast-paced, accessible experience that forgoes realism in favor of fun.
The absolute coolest stuff in most other shooters is often restricted by a game's narrative or its stubborn adherence to realism; the wickedest weapons might be in short supply, the sweetest rides may only be available in a single level, and just when you master your favorite piece of firepower, it runs out of ammo. Frontlines doesn't tease the player with its goodies; rather it gives the gamer a barracks full of cool tech toys and ass-whuppin' weapons and allows them to go nuts with them. Additionally, ammo is never in short supply, getting taken down by a one-shot-kill is rare, and you can carry eight--yes, eight--weapons at once. Let's see one of Tom Clancy's boys do that! The pace is also peppy because checkpoints are plentiful, and the trial-and-error that makes many games so frustrating is near non-existent here.
All the guns--pistols, automatics, sniper rifles, etc.--are simple to use and satisfying to unload on the bad guys. And the heavier artillery plays a bigger part in the mayhem than it does in most military shooters. The rocket launcher, for example, is classically used in more "serious" war games as the go-to-gun for taking out tanks and large armed emplacements; as such, it's usually armed with just enough ammo to complete your objective, then it disappears until another one just happens to be lying around when you need it for another specific task. In Frontlines, we found ourselves shouldering this bad boy whenever we felt like using it; sure, it was placed conveniently when we needed to take on some rumbling tanks, but it was also there for us when we just felt like planting a projectile in some dude's face. This caution-to-the-wind approach also revealed itself in unexpected areas, like our soldier's stamina. Most games of this nature will allow you to sprint--usually by holding down a specific button--for a short time. In Frontlines you still need to press a button to run faster, but as far as we could tell, our boy was ready to run a marathon, refusing to slow down unless we released the button or began firing a weapon.
While the running and gunning is a no-holds-barred blast, Frontlines really shines when it breaks out the gadgets and drivable goodies. Several kinds of remote controlled drones are at your disposable, including a neat little rocket-firing helicopter. Some of our most memorable moments involved buzzing this baby into a crowd of enemies and unleashing a torrent of smoke-trailing projectiles. Ground drones, self-destructing mini-planes, and air strikes offered similar thrills. Vehicles are also fun to tool around in; Humvees, tanks, and helicopters are all available, and, like the rocket launcher, aren't just there for a brief tease. One tank-based level actually throws you into what feels more like a demolition derby as you take on multiple enemy armored vehicles at once while maneuvering in and out of rock cover. Climbing into the cockpit of the chopper is also cool, and multiple camera views allow you to spy the action from the inside or outside of your bird, while a third angle puts you right behind a front-mounted turret.