You can't have it all. At least, not unless you're Valve, Infinity Ward or Bungie. In this age of escalating graphical finesse, and skyrocketing production values and costs, most FPS developers simply have to face facts: you can create a killer multiplayer experience or a sublime solo one, but creating both in one package needs mountains of cash and legions of manpower that are beyond the reach of most developers.
Not even the colossus that is Epic could pull off this - the most elusive of combos -with its recently released Unreal Tournament III (which featured an awesome multiplayer, but a disappointing single-player campaign), so it's surprising that a fledgling development studio - albeit a highly talented one mainly comprising of the team behind the excellent Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 - believed it could compete with the big boys on two fronts.
Kudos to Kaos for trying, but no Stogie. But maybe an ultra-thin Hamlet for giving it a crack.
We certainly had high hopes for Frontlines. At one point, pepped up on hype and optimism, we even thought it may be capable of slugging it out with Battlefield 2, rather than being another glass-jawed dope riding high on PR propaganda.
Frontlines' promises of 64-player battlefields rammed full of infantry and vehicular firefights; a searing, story-driven single-player campaign tackling some of our time's most poignant global issues; and the seemingly obligatory Unreal Engine 3 pulling the strings in the visual department, meant the portents were more than positive. But joyous gaming moments aren't built on corporate half-truths.
Over the past few months we've received conflicting messages about the single-player campaign. Some said it would be no more than a training mode for multiplayer. Others claimed it was a game in its own right, and one potentially good enough to stare down Call of Duty 4 and its peers, while walking away with its head still held aloft. But strip away the pre-release chatter and you find that it's neither.
Set in the near future, Frontlines' single-player campaign charts the conflict between the Western Coalition Army (the US and European Union) and the Red Star Alliance (Russia and China) - two superpowers scrapping for control of the world's dwindling oil reserves. As a member of a Western Coalition Spec Ops unit, you find yourself at the epicentre of the conflict, and it's not long before you're sent on a daring mission to capture oilfields and stymie enemy incursions into WCA territory.
Clearly, the world's leaders overlooked the irony of fighting over petrol using legions of heavily armoured fuel guzzling war machines. Politicians, you've gotta love 'em.
At first, Frontlines' single-player action is deceiving, drawing you into intense encounters that have you panting like a whipped dog in a sausage factory. Backed up by your AI-controlled sidekicks and urged on by a masterful, undulating soundtrack of rousing riffs and orchestral highs, the early minutes have you believing you're in for something special.
Your gun kicks heavily as you struggle to pin down your meandering foes - tough-to-hit targets that simply won't stand still. Tracer fire slams into walls and dirt, bullets buzz past like radioactive flies, while levels and enemies appear to exude impressive levels of detail.
The sheer ferocity of this campaign's battles is admirable, while the semi open-ended levels ensure you can approach each battle from a variety of directions. The plot is another plus, its measured twists admirably convincing you that you're trapped in an uncompromising World War.