I used to play Frontlines: Fuel of War by the now-defunct developer Kaos Studios on the good old Xbox 360 because my PC was crap at the time. It was a hell of a game, the multiplayer was awesome, the setting cool, and the weapons interesting and deadly. I would even consider it better than the Battlefield series. It was an entertaining game with great gameplay that was ahead of its time in more than one aspect when it comes to multiplayer. Unfortunately, it didn’t take off, much to my dismay, and since then the genre has fallen off a cliff in my opinion.
I decided to try it again but on PC this time – with the knowledge that the online aspect has long been killed off. However, there is always the campaign, which would be the main focus of this review either way. And what can I say? Well, the setting is still awesome for being a shooter, but the campaign is short, and the bots do leave more to desire. What actually got me to try it again was how topical it feels, now with Russia invading Ukraine, and that we just came out of a “pandemic”. However, everything is set to eleven in the game, compared to the real world. Which might be a good thing for us, considering.
The year is 2024 and the east and west block is on the brink of being starved of fossil fuel while the avian flu is ravaging the world. And in one desperate act, Russia decides to invade and secure the last of the fuel reserves in Turkmenistan. It starts with a surprise attack that eventually leads to world war three, with the classic reds vs Nato setting. You will be taking part in the western coalition troops, in the company Stray Dogs, and you will be fighting Russian and Chinese forces in various locations – from cities to fallout wastelands in a near-futuristic setting.
What makes the game unique, beyond the cool and grounded semi-futuristic setting is the gameplay, since the missions have a sandbox approach to them. You can play whatever class you want, from rifleman with a grenade launcher to sniper with a long-range semiautomatic 50-caliber rifle. This opens up a lot of possibilities – you can sneak around like Snake, play Rambo with heavy machine guns, sit back and plink guys from a rooftop, or take a vehicle and wreak havoc on the enemy positions. There are also interesting pickups to find around the map, like fighting drones, both ground and air-based that are fun to play around with.
The enemy AI is okay, and pretty deadly for the most part, so running around like an idiot and not paying attention will get you killed quickly. However, where the AI suffers is on the friendly side. I understand why they didn’t make them too good because then they would be running the show and not you, but they made them worthless unfortunately. They are mostly there for show, and even that they fail at. The main problem with the friendly AI is that they act as mannequins, drawing “fake fire”. It is very notable that the enemy AI is only programmed to kill you, because as soon as your pop your head out of cover everyone with a gun turns to you – facing the real threat while ignoring everyone else. This has the effect of the war feeling a tad fake, and anything that happens has to involve you, and only you.
This is also supposed to be a huge war with a ton of moving parts with battles all over, but often you will find yourself alone with no friendlies around. Often they just disappear or refuse to follow/spawn in, making you feel like Travolta in that infamous Pulp Fiction meme. The feeling of a grand war goes out the window when that happens. It is disappointing, because the campaign maps are good, and the story is fascinating (of what there is), but the cheapening out on the AI ruins much of the immersion. It turns into the typical hero FPS where one man does all the important things while everyone else stands on the sideline and just watch. And it’s clear that you don’t play anyone significant, aka the big bad hero, because when you die you respawn as another random soldier participating in the war.
The game has a few years to its name now, however, I still think it has a very clean visual look, and in general, the tech behind the game is impressive. It has vehicles, helicopters, and a ton of infantry running around. Houses can be entered, and smaller fortifications can be blown up, like sandbags, and walls. That’s a lot of moving parts for fifty-man player servers, with consideration to the hardware it ran on at the time if we go by console. I find it all admirable, and playing now on PC, it still holds up. Unreal 3 engine also has a certain charm to it, more so than Unreal 4, and for being a game that came out when everything was brown for that particular gritty war vision, Frontlines: Fuel of War got some color to it to make it stand out – even if it got that “classic” gray and brown aesthetics as well on certain missions. To be fair, nukes probably make the world a bit dirty.
The sound and music are good, it certainly captures the feeling of war with lots of screaming, rockets passing by your head, dying soldiers choking out their final words, and stuff like that. The Russians speak Russian, and for a nice touch, you can tell you are part of a coalition since you will be hearing a mix between English and American dialects. The cutscene dialogue is a bit corny, going a little too hard on the “oorah” marine, but for the most part, it is charming. You don’t get this level of cheesiness anymore, being played off as serious. The music is pretty good and got a few standout tracks like the one below. It sure gets the blood pumping while popping moles!
While the campaign is alright, it is short and suffers from AI issues, as mentioned, which makes it hard to recommend. There is also the issue of being a game with a multiplayer focus, which now is dead. Frontlines is one of my all-time favorite online shooters, so it’s pretty sad to see that aspect killed off. I can’t even try it for nostalgic reasons, but, apparently, there are servers hosted somewhere that you can connect to through the dev console. However, it’s far from an ideal solution, if you are lazy like me. If all that negativity does not turn you away, I guess it could be worth getting for a few bucks just for the campaign, because it’s a fun romp regardless of the AI issues. Mainly of how topical it feels in the current year, and how many interesting things they predicted to come true. The game is set in 2024, so we are one year from total Nostradamus level of prediction but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Thanks for reading.