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Platforms: PC and Xbox 360
Is modern combat the new World War II? With Battlefield 2, Call of Duty 4 and Conflict: Denied Ops behind us and Battlefield: Bad Company and Far Cry 2 ahead, it's definitely beginning to feel that way. Of course, Frontlines isn't actually set in the modern day - the conflict in question is a near-future scrap over oil and energy between a Russian/Chinese alliance and the western world - but it still feels very much like Call of Duty 4 or Battlefield 2. The latter might not be surprising considering that in a past life its developer, Kaos Studios, was known as Trauma Studios; best known for creating the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942.
For a whole mass of other reasons, it's impossible to talk about Frontlines without mentioning DICE's Battlefield series - and particularly Battlefield 2. This is still fundamentally a game of large maps designed for large numbers of troops, based around control points to occupy and objectives to destroy. It also focuses heavily on vehicles, with a range of different armoured cars, tanks, helicopters and jets for those moments when you need to travel (and blow things up) in relative safety and style. It's also a game that demands and rewards teamwork rather than every-man-for-himself showboating. If you're a Battlefield 2 veteran, even the scenery and the character models can seem eerily familiar at times. Denying any similarity between the two games would just be silly.
Yet Frontline does deviate from the established Battlefield formula in some very significant ways. Most importantly, it's a game where single-player action - not just multiplayer - is a real priority. Those cynically expecting a glorified bot-match are in for a shock. Frontlines has a proper single player campaign, based on the activities of the Stray Dog assault company during a critical period of what soon becomes a third-world war. Each mission within that campaign has a proper structure, with the completion of one set of objectives opening up another, and even its own set-pieces. Kicking off with a simple patrol around a contested oil facility, it's not long before you're involved in attacks on tank factories, sniper incursions into enemy territory and full-scale assaults on missile bases and enemy HQs.
It's while playing the single-player campaign that thoughts of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and its sequel or Call of Duty 4 will inevitably creep in, which is almost a complement for a game that's still firmly based on the basic play mechanics of a Battlefield game. However, while the actual run and gun gameplay is very reminiscent of GRAW2 or CoD4, the combat in Frontlines feels more organic and less contrived. You have a certain degree of control, and you're not just being funnelled from firefight to firefight to set-piece. The maps are surprisingly wide-open, and you're free to achieve the objectives in your current list in roughly any order. If there are tanks or armoured cars to use then you can use them, but rarely are you forced to. You can pick up deployable heavy weapons (including an awesome railgun) and use them where you will, or take one of the various drones and employ them as you see fit. For once, you feel in control of the action.