Frontlines was one of the earlier and wordier reviews I wrote for Resonance, and a game that I played all the way through quite quickly. This review was mentioned in various places including the Gamespot news page for the game and FPS games in general, which attracted a reasonable amount of links early on in the sites lifespan.
FPS fans have been spoilt on nearly every format for the past year, not least on the PC which thanks to a superior control system still does it best, no matter what a million Halo 3 players might think. Despite so many different entries in the market though, it’s easy to be forgotten if you don’t do something special, so many games try to distinguish themselves with different settings and features. Sometimes these features leave a serious and lasting impression, and sometimes they just seemed like tacked on extras and cheap marketing gimmicks.
It’s easy to expect a lot from high production shooters these days, especially while many gamers are on a come down from games like Stalker and Call of Duty 4 last year. Frontlines is set in the near future, in a world that has run out of oil, and in the midst of a global energy crisis. It’s neither epic or original, but it’s easy to be thankful simply to see a game that isn’t rehashing some terrible Middle Eastern terrorist scenario; it’s more thoughtful and relevant l than we’ve seen in recent FPS offerings and presented well in the games cut scenes between levels. You’re fighting against the Red Star alliance, a frighteningly realistic alliance between Russia and China, that want to keep all that juicy energy for themselves.
While the plot goes some way to setting the game apart from its peers, the first half-hour so do it absolutely no favours. You’re still playing a soldier in a unit of battle hardened veterans, you’re still fighting in dusty middle eastern towns whose names end in ‘askstan’, you’re still slowly advancing through a map following an objective arrow, closing distance as you take cover, shoot, take cover again. You’re still shooting handily coloured and oddly placed red barrels to cause large explosions in enemy encampments. It’s enough to make you start banging your head against your keyboard in a delirious fit induced by a lack of originality, or worse, to just give up on the game altogether. My advice? Don’t give up.
Frontlines doesn’t slap you in the face with its features from the start, and force you to take it seriously. Compared to games like Timeshift that latch on to one aspect of the gameplay and spend the rest of the game talking about how innovative and useful it is, Frontlines barely even takes any notice of these features, and in fact until you see your first vehicle or die for the first time, it’s very easy to mistake it for an entirely featureless clone. This more subtle approach to introducing the game is refreshing, but it does mean that it can take a while to become apparent the game is more than just an on the rails middle eastern shooter following on the back of Call of Duty’s success, which the very first section of the game seems so adamant to prove.
Frontlines introduces the point capture, deployment options, soldier setups and epic battlegrounds that have become so popular in multiplayer only games. None of these features are new or original per se, and none of them are done very differently to how you’ve seen them before. The real gimmick here is that the game takes these features that have previously been mostly multiplayer orientated ideas and brings them to single player, along with a story to hold them together. I’m pleased to say it does succeed in this goal without making it feel like a tacked on afterthought, or simply just the multiplayer with bots instead of human opponents.
Despite a few solo missions that feel a bit more like a regular FPS, the game is played with a small squad of soldiers, who generally simply get on with things around you; there’s no command of other members in your group at all. Level objectives tend to involve either capturing or destroying key strategic points on the map by holding them long enough, or using explosives to eliminate them. Upon capture, the namesake ‘Frontline’ moves to a new point and you’ll be given a new objective. When you die, instead of loading from a save, you can redeploy at any of the points you have captured and are given the option to change your initial equipment, although the best weapons are often picked up on the map, including the futuristic remote control ‘drones’, which are great fun to play around with.
While on paper it might seem a lot like Battlefield without the enjoyment of playing with others, or a battlefield style clone with singleplayer elements, like Star Wars Battleground. Luckily, Frontlines feels like an experience that’s far more tailored towards the single player. It sits in the middle, trying to providing the added choice and strategy or multiplayer while giving the player the power to sway the course of a battle alone, without the need for other human players. It’s a noble goal and the game’s biggest asset, but it’s not always a smooth ride. Frontlines biggest and most noticeable problem is that in trying to combine two separate elements around the same idea, it’s given itself a bit of an identity crisis.