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Frontlines: Fuel of War

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Kaos Studios

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X360/PC Multiplayer Preview – 'Frontlines: Fuel of War'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 21, 2008 @ 8:02 a.m. PST

Set in a fictional future based upon the headlines of today, F.O.W. brings players into the world’s next great war. As society succumbs to a worldwide energy crisis, a new global depression takes hold. Amidst this desperate backdrop, two superpower alliances emerge. Join the battle on the frontlines of tomorrow as the Western Coalition or the Red Star Alliance.

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Kaos Studios
Release Date: February 25, 2008

The easiest comparison that comes to mind for Frontlines: Fuel of War is the stellar Battlefield franchise. This isn't a big shocker, as developer Kaos Studios, formerly Trauma Studios, got their start by creating the awesome Desert Combat mod for the original Battlefield 1942. It should come as no surprise that their experience shines through in Frontlines: Fuel of War, and as anyone who played Desert Combat knows, that's a very good thing indeed.

Frontlines: Fuel of War is set in the not too distant future. Natural resources are at minimum, deadly virus outbreaks and super hurricanes have ravaged the land, and war seems around every corner. Players are given control of soldiers on one of two opposing sides, the Western Coalition, a future organization made up of the United States and Canada and many European countries, and the Red Star Alliance, comprised of China, Russia and their vassal states, as they seek to gain total control over important reserves of natural resources. Of course, diplomacy and tact have no place here — we're playing a video game, after all! Instead, the two sides wage all-out battle, and in the end, only one will remain.

The battlefield in Frontlines is, unsurprisingly, built around "frontlines" on the battlefield. The two sides battle over various control points that are scattered around the stages. Each time a control point is taken, the capturing side gains control of more territory, moving the battlefield "frontlines" back and forth, until one side is completely eliminated. The further you push the frontlines toward your enemy, the fewer respawn locations they have, the less room in which they can maneuver, and the fewer supplies to which they have access. The winner is, of course, the one who can control the entire frontline, or whoever has the most land when the match is over. It's a fairly simple concept, but as anyone who's played Battlefield or a similar title knows that simple certainly doesn't mean easy.

All of the vehicles and weapons in Frontlines: Fuel of War reflect the game being set in the near future. We're only talking about 2020 or so, so don't expect to see laser guns and lightsabers; Frontlines takes a more realistic approach, with every gun, vehicle and armor in the game coming about as a natural evolution of their current counterparts. Machine guns are still machine guns, although they may be more fancy, accurate and powerful; likewise, a tank is still a tank, although some of the tanks you'll find in Frontlines come equipped with experimental fold-out rocket launchers and other similar devices that, while not something modern-day military vehicles have, is something not too far out of the realm of plausibility. It's a refreshing change from seeing the same old XM8 and AK-47 knockoffs that seem to populate every FPS under the sun. It gives us a believable glimpse of the future, while still keeping the war firmly grounded in reality.

While players on a side are all technically on the same team, they're not actually part of a squad and can't talk or communicate as easily with one another as in some other FPS titles. Instead, various players can join up in squads, under the command of a squad leader. Once in a squad, players can find each other easier, talk to one another, and generally work as a much more effective team. The squad leader can issue commands and create waypoints, allowing those under his command to combine their forces for devastating efficiency. The leader even functions as a mobile spawn point. Any soldiers in his squad can choose to spawn directly with the squad leader, instead of spawning at one of the ally-held respawn zones. While it isn't necessary to join a squad to play in Frontlines: Fuel of War, the benefits certainly outweigh any potential drawbacks.

One of the coolest features of Frontlines: Fuel of War is the RPG-like "roles" system. Beyond picking a weapons loadout, each player also can select one of four different combat roles to take on the battlefield: Ground Support, EMP Tech, Drone Tech and Air Support. Picking one of these roles grants you access to a special ability. EMP Tech, for example, makes your character completely invisible on the game's built-in minimap, which makes it much easier to sneak around enemy enforcements. Air Support, on the other hand, allows you to call in a precision airstrike on an enemy location, which requires great accuracy and timing, but is a surefire kill for anything it hits.

The real fun, however, comes once you've earned a few kills on the battlefield. Much like an RPG, your role earns experience points for every successful kill or capture you make. Earn enough and you level up and get a new ability, such as an automated sentry gun or a powerful EMP device that knocks out all vehicles in a wide radius. These abilities, moreso then any amount of firepower, are really what control the tide of battle in Frontlines: Fuel of War. A group of enemies in tanks seems like an unstoppable force until one well-placed EMP device devastates the entire column. A seemingly invincible enemy entrenchment can be routed with the press of a button by a fuel-air bomb. Even something as simple as the EMP Tech's ability to be invisible to radar can turn the tide of a battle, and learning to master these special roles is going to be the difference between glorious victory and ignoble defeat.

By far, however, the most unique of the four support types is the Drone Tech, which is so different that it really deserves a little more detail. Drones are tiny unmanned military machines, roughly the size of a remote-controlled children's toy. These are no toys, though — they are armed to the teeth with rockets or machine guns or have built-in, self-destruct devices that turn them into powerful remote-controlled bombs. Players can choose to hide their avatars somewhere and take control of one of these tiny machines instead, sending them out to fight in the place of their squishy human soldier. It's difficult to describe how fun it is to take control of a miniature helicopter and swoop across the battlefield, raining down bite-sized death upon your foes.

Of course, the Drones also have many weaknesses about which one must be cautious. For one, your soldier is completely helpless while you're controlling the Drone, so if you're not careful, even an unskilled novice can easily come up and eliminate you while your attention is elsewhere. Luckily, you can switch back to your trooper at any time and move to a safe new location if you feel danger is imminent. The other major weakness of the Drone is that it has a signal limit. Move it too far from your soldier, and you lose track of it, leaving it a sitting duck. Still, these weaknesses are a small price to pay for the fun of watching enemies run like frightened sheep from a toy!

Fear not, offline gamers. While Frontlines: Fuel of War is mostly a multiplayer game, it also offers a surprisingly deep single-player mode, placing the player in the shoes of a member of the Stray Dog squadron, an elite group of Western Coalition soldiers. While on a routine mission to show off the Coalition might to a member of the press, they find themselves embroiled in an unexpected battle as a as the Chinese-Russian Red Star Alliance launches a full-scale invasion to grab hold of the world's dwindling oil supplies.

The single-player mode is shaping up to be quite an effective tutorial for gamers seeking to play online. Each of the missions slowly and effectively introduces new gameplay mechanics, encouraging the player to use them to successfully guide the Stray Dogs to victory over their enemies. By the time a gamer runs through all of the Fuel of War single-player missions, he or she should be well prepared to take the battle online. Most surprising, however, is that Frontlines' single-player is not only shaping up to be a useful teaching tool, but also an interesting story on its own, telling an all too plausible story of a world torn apart by war over diminishing natural resources. It's a setting just believable enough to give you chills.

Most first-person shooters fit into three molds: archaic World War II-era technology, die-hard accurate modern technology, or far-flung futuristic laser guns and robot suits. While there's nothing wrong with these settings, one can't help but get a bit tired of seeing Nameless Marine #9 and his identical gun shoot the same enemies over and over again. While Frontlines: Fuel of War doesn't exactly throw realism out the window, it blends modern and futuristic technology in a surprisingly effective way, giving gamers a glimpse into the future without forcing them to rely on laser blasters and photon torpedoes. Of course, that aesthetic would be worthless if the gameplay weren't shaping up to be excellent, but Kaos Studios has shown that its expertise hasn't dulled at all. The combination of Battlefield-inspired gameplay and the new and exciting elements, like the RPG-esque role system, really give the game a unique feel. Assuming all holds together in the final release, the only worry gamers should have about Frontlines: Fuel of War is if its eerie prophecy of the future holds any truth ….


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