Version tested: Xbox 360
Shell and BP made a collective 33.7 billion dollars in profit last year, but while the oil companies are laughing right now (and raping, and pillaging, etc), the future according to Frontlines: Fuel of War is not one they will enjoy. By then, the scarcity of oil reserves will result in an East-West divide that can only be solved by hard men with big guns. Cue yet another near-future first-person shooter on the Xbox 360.
And the PC, but they didn't send us that one.
This impending energy crisis starts off rather slowly, we're told, in the (ulp) summer of 2008, when international demand outstrips supply for the first time, driving up the price of oil to over 100 dollars per barrel. The effect ultimately devastates global economies in just a few years, particularly in the third world, which will endure "darker, cataclysmic events". As the depression deepens, the fight for energy resources intensifies, culminating in an ugly standoff in 16 years' time between the Western Coalition (the US and EU), and the Red Star Alliance (Russia and China).
So why not just nuke each other and be done with it? The problem with long distance nuclear conflict, says the game, is that both sides have sophisticated satellite missile defence systems at their disposal, creating the kind of stalemate that can ultimately only be solved via a good, old-fashioned ground offensive - albeit assisted with high-tech drones and the like.
That's were you come in, fighting the good fight against the old enemy in a seven-chapter campaign mode. The story, told between missions by a war reporter's cut-scenes, puts you in the boots of a beefcake squaddie duking it out across a series of objectives which, piece by piece, allow you to advance upon Moscow and cripple the Red Star war machine. Having been developed by the team responsible for the Battlefield: Desert Combat mod, Frontlines' template is rather familiar, which isn't bad news - Battlefield is quite good, you know - but applying it to single-player design is rather challenging, as EA and DICE discovered with Battlefield: Modern Combat.
In Frontlines' case, there's been an unfair perception that the single-player offering is basically 'Battlefield with bots', or little more than bolted-on training exercise to prepare you for the 50-player multiplayer main dish (up to 64 on PC). Frontlines' solo offering does lack a certain degree of personality in a narrative sense, but, for the most part, the combat is solid and polished enough to paper over some of the cracks.
Similar in size to most shooters in gameplay length (six-to-eight hours on first run-through), Kaos essentially breaks down each level into a series of mini objectives, most of which can be tackled in any order. Most follow the usual premise of 'capturing' key installations by standing near them for a specified time, or simply blowing them up. Unlike the arbitrarily sectioned-off level design of many FPS titles, Frontlines boasts a rather more convincing representation of battle, giving you the chance to carve you own path, often at your peril.
For example, you're not shoehorned into on-rails sections. If a tank is available, you can leap aboard and man the cannon, or switch over and drive it while firing missiles. Sometimes, going in on foot and planting explosives nearby just feels more satisfying, while other times it only makes sense to do the attacking from afar. This degree of freedom extends much further than the order in which you complete objectives, with a deceptively simple arsenal offering more options than are initially apparent. The remote control drones, in particular, offer a variety of ways to soften up entrenched targets from a distance, whether it's blowing up tanks with a four-wheeled assault drone packing C4, flying a Tiger Claw chopper into the heart of an enemy packed warehouse, or calling in an airstrike on a pesky tank.