A little bit of history, first off. Frontlines: Fuel of War is the first game from Kaos Studios, which was formed by former members of Trauma Studios late last year. Trauma, you may recall, was responsible for Battlefield 1942's Desert Combat mod - which turned out so well that DICE ended up buying the studio, and employing its members to do a vast amount of research and development for Battlefield 2.
In other words, the Frontlines team has a healthy pedigree - indeed, it's comprised not only of designers who worked on Desert Combat, but also veterans from F.E.A.R., Doom 3 and the Medal of Honor games. With that in mind, it's not really surprising that Frontlines is a first-person shooter game; or to be more precise, in the words of lead designer Frank DeLise, Frontlines is "an open-world infantry and vehicle based FPS with advanced next-generation weapons in a near future setting."
The development process began, DeLise explains, with the team taking a long, hard look at their own favourite FPS titles, in order to identify what was missing from them. Kaos wanted "to go out and create what we felt was the next leap forward in the genre," and to deliver a first-person shooter that would make the most of the technical capabilities of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and next-gen PCs.
They didn't just want the next-gen theme to extend to the platforms the game will appear on, either, but to the weapons and vehicles you get to play with - which meant a futuristic setting was required. So, Frontlines is set a few years from now, in a world where the depletion of fossil fuels has reached crisis point and a global war has kicked off. The Western Coalition (the US and EU) and the Red Star Alliance (Russia and China) are fighting it out for the last remaining oil on the planet, using all the cutting-edge military technology they can get their hands on.
"A lot of weapons in Desert Combat and Battlefield 2 were modern day weapons. We wanted to take Frontlines where technology is going next; what the next tank will look like, what the next weapons will look like and so on... " says DeLise.
"So we took the [real life] designs that are out there and added a little Kaos theory, and created over 60 vehicles and weapons that you get to use in the game."
Since the game is still more than a year away from launch, most of these are being kept under wraps for now, but DeLise does reveal that you'll be able to use gun-cams to shoot round corners in Frontlines. There will also be remote control drones which can fly into rooms and survey enemy positions, and remote control car bombs - these can be driven underneath enemy vehicles, if you're skilled enough, and they pack enough of a punch to blow entire tanks up. It's all about giving you the chance to try out "tomorrow's weapons today," according to DeLise.
"The other big thing we felt was missing out there was customisation," he continues.
"A lot of games force you into a single player environment where they tell you, 'Okay, you're a sniper in this mission.' And if you're tired of being a sniper, that's it - you throw away the game, or you just stop playing it, because that's not the way you want to play."
Instead, Frontlines will let you choose which role you want to take on for each mission, so you can be a sniper or a medic or a recon operative or whatever else you fancy. You can also choose the kind of fighter you want to be - you might decide you're a Rambo-type who likes to go in with all guns blazing, for example, or you could opt to take a more stealthy, undercover approach.
Showing some front
There are also plenty of choices to be made when it comes to the way the game's missions are structured. There's no linear system with regard to how you're presented with mission objectives - "I was getting tired of that in single player games," DeLise says, "So we designed a whole new system."
But how does it work? Well, "You attack each mission from the frontline. So you can insert anywhere on this frontline, choose the kind of character you want to be, and then go into [your chosen] battle and choose how you want to actually finish it."
Which means you'll always have multiple objectives to pick from, and you can plan your own route through the missions. So, for example, you might choose to tackle an objective which will allow you to take possession of the enemy's vehicles and weapons if you succeed, and then use said weapons and vehicles to complete your second objective.
"It's really cool, and even in multiplayer it's great," DeLise reckons.
"Most multiplayer games are spread out across the map - this guy's attacking somebody way over here, this guy's fighting way over there... With the Frontlines system, we fight together on the same front. So if I look to my right, I see a friend of mine is in a tank, if I look to the left I see a guy in a helicopter, all fighting for the same purpose - which is to move this front forwards." When you consider that up to 32 players will be able to take part in online matches, regardless of whether you're playing the PC or console versions, it's clear that this could make for some very interesting battles.
It's all part of what DeLise describes of the "next-generation team play" featured in Frontlines. Not only can you see what your team mates are doing whilst in the middle of a mission, but you can also communicate with them. If you're driving a tank, say, your mate can poke his head out of the top to keep watch for any danger coming up from behind.
There are no limits when it comes to the path you take through missions, since environments are fully destructible. "If there's not a path that you want, make your own path - destroy walls with C4, or use tank cannons to blow them away. So by the end of a mission, you'll have completely destroyed these levels."
Well, there you have it - Frontlines: Fuel of War is not just about next-gen graphics, but next-gen gameplay, next-gen mission structures, next-gen multiplayer action and next-gen blowing stuff up. But will it really set the standard for what we can expect from next-gen first-person shooters? Well, they've got enough time to give it a go, since Frontlines is out in autumn 2007. Providing the world hasn't collapsed on account of there not being any fossil fuels left by then, of course.