Frontlines: Fuel of War

Fuelled by huge quantities of caffeine and obscene American meat portions, Anthony Holden checks out the latest pretender to the Battlefield crown...

When Battlefield 1942 first rolled off the production lines in 2002, it came as something of a revelation. Sure, we'd played shooters with vehicles before, and yeah, we'd seen games with huge, open levels; but in BF1942 it just seemed a lot more liberating, uncomplicated and, well, fun. It was, without us really knowing it, the combined-arms action-shooter we'd been waiting for.

However, as you'll know if you played the game, the popularity of the core game was soon matched and even eclipsed by a free mod called Desert Combat, a modern-day remix based on the first Gulf War. At the time, this was a source of some snide amusement - that EA's ground-breaking shooter had been so easily bettered by a home-brewed mod. But make no mistake. Desert Combat may have been distributed as a free download, but the team responsible were no bunch of dabblers, students and wannabes. In fact, Trauma Studios were a 'proper' development team, bankrolled by EA, with a New York office and everything.

A couple of quiet years later and the DC team are back, with a new name, a new publisher and a brand-new game called Frontlines: Fuel Of War. Having been big fans of DC's oil-wrangling action, we could hardly turn down the opportunity to journey to New York to play the new game - and of course, buy a cheap iPod.

Arriving at Kaos Studios' plush HQ in downtown Manhattan, we immediately feel on familiar territory. Not just because all US development studios look pretty much identical, but because at a glance, Frontlines is a very similar game to Battlefield 2. It has the same vast, open-world battles, the same brimming catalogue of vehicles and weapons, the same arcade sensibility. You click on a map to spawn, you jump in and out of vehicles, you capture points, you rack up kills. It's set 20 years hence, so the lethal arsenal has a bit of a 'near-future' feel to it, but mostly we're on very safe ground.

But wait just a minute. Despite the broad similarities, Kaos Studios have a few new tricks up their sleeves, and it's these that could make Frontlines the next logical step for the genre. General manager Frank DeLise describes their first secret weapon: "The game is based on this 'frontline' mechanic, where a line of objectives or control points moves constantly through the level. At any time there are two or more objectives in the frontline, and you can take them in any order."

As simple as it sounds, this feature may be a stroke of accidental genius. I say accidental, because it's an idea that evolved largely in single-player, as a way of offering a controlled yet non-linear path through the levels. But in multiplayer, where the frontline is pushed back and forth as the two teams tussle for control of the map, the frontline device solves one of the biggest problems of the Battlefield series.

The problem is this. In Battlefield, you generally have to control a number of points that are strewn across the map, which means your forces need to be split between those defending your existing points and those attacking new ones. In practice, what this usually means is chaos, because nobody wants to defend and everyone has different ideas about which point to attack next.

Frontlines banishes that chaos. Here, everyone is fighting along a single, focused front. Defending and attacking become virtually synonymous, and nobody is left roving the wastelands wondering where the action is. For this reason alone, Frontlines has the potential to be more fun than vanilla Battlefield ever was.

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