Frontlines: Fuel of War Multiplayer Impressions (Xbox 360)

frontlines_mp.jpgWhile Frontlines: Fuel of War for PS3 has been left to rot on a developer’s hard drive somewhere, the Xbox 360 and PC version are still very much underway.

Yesterday, the game, along with a few THQ representatives, made their up from their HQ in Melbourne to show off the latest build to us Sydney-based games journos in the best fashion possible – a multiplayer shoot-out.

I managed to get a solid four hours of gaming in (busy day at work, I know), and if you don’t mind a bit of reading, I’d like to share my impressions, and later, some cake.The event itself was held at the Player’s Lounge in Stanmore, a small yet comfortable venue that sits on Parramatta Road, just past the McDonalds. After a curt nod to the proprietors to assure them I wasn’t some random off the street, I made myself comfortable with a single Asahi (silly me decided to drive to the venue) and a can of Solo (to dilute the alcohol, because I’m a lightweight).

I’m not a diehard console shooter fan. Love them, for sure, as long as I can play them on PC with a keyboard and mouse. So it took me about 15-30 minutes to get into the groove with the 360’s controller, but once I was there, things started to click.

During the course of the afternoon we played a variety of maps, with “Streets”, “Gnaw” and “Solar Farm” being the most memorable. Streets was an intimate map, set in the ruins of a nameless city, while Solar Farm was a massive, sprawling desert with helicopters, tanks and anti-air trucks.

If you’ve played any of the Battlefield games, then the basic concepts of Frontlines will sound familiar. This is not surprising seeing as developer Kaos Studios was behind the excellent Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat.

When you join a game, you can select which side you want to play using the “Y” button, toggling between the Western Coalition and the Red Star Alliance. You can then pick your loadout and role, followed by a spawn point.

Loadouts and roles are where you get to customise your soldier. All the former really does is determine what weapons you begin with: Assault comes with a rifle and grenade launcher; Heavy Assault has a light machinegun; Special Ops provides a sub machinegun and C4; Anti-Vehicle packs an EMP rocket launcher and the Sniper has – you guessed it – a sniper rifle. All loadouts come with a pistol and most have grenades – Anti-Vehicle gets landmines instead.

THQ and Koas have pimped roles as one of Frontlines defining features. And it’s definitely a nice touch. Players can further specialise in Ground Support, EMP Tech, Drone Tech and Air Support. Depending on which side you’re playing as, these specialties will be different. For instance, Red Star Alliance Drone Tech provides the player with flying drones, while the Western Coalition is given tiny remote tanks. So if you ever feel like mixing it up, all you have to do is switch allegiances.

Each role has three abilities, and you start each match with the first of these. To gain access to them all you’ll have to earn them by killing enemies and capturing points. As long as the server continues unhindered, your unlocked abilities will persist from map to map.

The title’s other hyped feature is the Frontline system. In order to progress further into enemy territory, you need to capture all points along a line – usually two to three, depending on the map size – before you can advance your front. The points along the front can then be used as spawn locations, and any vehicles at these points can be commandeered.

Like the Battlefield games, a ticket system is used to track how well each side is doing. Victory can be obtained by running the opposing team dry of reinforcements, or having the most tickets when the time limit expires.

To make things simple, all enemy names are coloured red and friendlies blue, and your crosshair will transform into a white star if your barrel is aimed at a mate. Don’t panic if you can’t control your trigger finger – friendly fire can be disabled via the server creation screen.

Speaking of server options, Frontlines comes with a bunch. Auto team balance, min/max players, auto team-killer kicking and aim assist are all available. You can even disable individual loadouts, roles and vehicles to spice up gameplay.

A setting unique to Frontlines is “Upgrade speed”. This slider alters how quickly you accrue experience. For our matches, this was at 250% – the maximum – and even then I found getting to the more powerful abilities took 15 or so minutes.

Playing the game itself is straightforward. You can sprint by holding down the right bumper, and it’s something you’ll use a lot, seeing as how massive the maps are. If a point is neutral, you can start capturing it immediately. On the other hand, if the enemy holds it you’ll have to un-capture it first, adding an extra 30 seconds or so to the process.

Damage is handled via a progressive health system, like that in Halo and Gears of War. Dying is extremely easy, and a few well-placed shots from anything other than the pistol will down most foes. As you get hit, the outer edge of your view will flash red, and the screen proper will darken until it’s almost impossible to see. Avoiding fire will slowly return things to normal.

I found some roles to generally be more useful than others. The Air Support role doesn’t come into its own until you have carpet bombing, the second ability. Drones are extreme effective, the Coalition’s tank-like ones able to tear it up while taking significant damage. The EMP Tech is so-so, and requires patience and timing to use well, and even then its main advantages are against vehicles. The Ground Support is similar, except the deployable turrets are immediately potent.

According the THQ guys, the build we played was close to complete. It was about a month old, and provided a good representation of Frontlines minus tweaks, a bit of polish and an arseload of prolonged sodomy from quality assurance. Despite this, I found it fun, if all a little “done before”. Personally, I feel it’ll make an impact with the Quake Wars/Battlefield crowd, but I’m not sure it’s game of the year material. The roles are less game-defining and more gimmicky, but the good type of gimmicky that will entertain time and again.

PS: I received a T-shirt and poster as I left the venue, though the large size of the former stands no chance of conforming to my girlish frame.


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