Cheap Game of the Week – Frontlines: Fuel of War

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Overview: The game Battlefield: Modern Combat was supposed to be.

Pricing: All over the map. I’ll just say anywhere between $9 to $20 used and new depending on retailer. The Windows version tends to be about $20.

Rip-Off Warning: Unfortunately, this is one of those titles that doesn’t realize it’s now in budget status and can easily be had for $40.

Platform: XBox 360 (Reviewed), Windows

Is it worth it?: Open battlefield shooters are a fascinating genre because they rely on actual combined arms and military style objectives. Unfortunately, the single player portion of these games is usually done with brain-dead AI and objectives identical to multi player. While I enjoy being able to decide which objectives I am going to fight for, the concept of providing the player with no real direction is not suited for a dedicated single player experience. Thus, open battlefield games continue to try and bring the experience without multi player while giving players some guidance.

Despite the success of the Star Wars: Battlefront series, developers insist on providing some story and restricting player choices. I’m actually amenable to that so long as you provide me with a good game. Unfortunately, by trying to give that additional guidance to the player in the form of more ordered objectives you end up diluting the experience. What I’m trying to get at is that the approach that Battlefield: Modern Combat, Battlefield Bad Company, and Frontlines: Fuel of War all try to do is extremely difficult to pull off. Surprisingly, Frontlines actually does it pretty well.

The missions are not strictly linear, but you are given an objective and a “set of tools” to get it done. Tools may consist of a different starting loadout, vehicles, drones, and/or support options. In general, the maps are all well done and the objectives are surprisingly logical. The story is somewhat throwaway, although towards the end the battles feel truly epic. I will give it credit that while the intermission story didn’t grab me, the actual action sequences were engaging. An impressive feat when you’re basically playing “Generic Soldier #3981”.

The concept of battlefield drones makes me groan a little since it seems like it defeats the purpose of a shooter, but they are actually handled fairly well. Although it’s not entirely realistic, you do have to maintain some proximity to a drone you are controlling. I suspect this is for balance purposes, especially in multi-player, so that players don’t exploit the ability to do combat through remote controlled robots.

For me, the real joy in any shooter is the toys they give you to play with. Despite the obvious multi player focus, the weapons actually perform quite well. The trend in these games is often to make all the weapons watered down and have the accuracy of a rusted BB gun. All of the hardware works as expected and is actually useful. Even more interesting is that it all seems plausible in a “near future” kind of way on both sides of the conflict.

That rifle is your best friend

That rifle is your best friend

Typical for this kind of game, your starting equipment is tied to your loadout. Nothing special here, but it all works.

I’d love to give similar props to the vehicles, but they’re really not as well done. Oddly, the drones control better than their vehicle counterparts, which is a little maddening. There is one section that is a dedicated tank battle and it is one of the few controller throwing temptations in the game.

The bad news is that while multi player is an obvious focus for this game there is no bot support. So either you’re playing the story missions or you’re picking out a handful of available games. See, the problem with making a multi player game on ANY platform is that people tend to gravitate towards a handful of dominant titles. Actually finding a game will be an issue. There is nothing really wrong with the on-line portion, in fact it’s very well done. Unfortunately, the game plays very much like something you’d see all the way back to the granddaddy Battlefield 1942. There are no rewards or incentives to play other than the game itself. Some would argue that would be enough, but when all of the more popular games (Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Battlefield 2) incorporate some kind of reward system it does seem like Frontlines is lacking. In fact, I was more interested in Battlefield Bad Company’s multi player simply because there was some incentive to keep playing.

Despite the lack of any additional incentives to play on-line, it is worth noting that Frontlines is developed by former developers of Trauma studios, the wonderful people who brought us the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 and were instrumental in getting Battlefield 2 off the ground. This is a team who understands their craft and if you enjoy playing this sort of game on-line and can actually find a decent match then it’s probably one of the better games out there. The closest game that plays similar, Battlefield Bad Company, doesn’t seem to achieve the same sense of combined arms, balance, and controlled chaos.

Final Judgement: This is a solid purchase, and honestly I’m a little disappointed in the price drop. This game is easily worth more than what it is selling for. The single player is solid and the multi player makes it one of the best open battlefield games on the console. Unfortunately, on the Windows platform it suffers from much stiffer competition. Let me add this one caveat to an already verbose review. If you’re more of an XBox 360 player, you should get this game on the cheap because it’s worth every penny. If you’re more of a dedicated PC enthusiast there are plenty of older games that are actually better for a similar price. I’d still recommend it if you’re looking for something new and have already gone through the Battlefield series on the PC.

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