The open world FPS is something we haven't really experienced yet. I guess the closest we've come is the MMO Planetside, but in the single-player space game designers definitely favour linearity over exploration. THQ's Frontlines looks to change this, with levels being larger and more open than those found in the competition. With an online component that has all the hallmarks of an Xbox LIVE classic, do Battlefield and Call of Duty finally have some strong competition in the crowded military FPS space?
Frontlines is very much a game of two halves, although the gameplay across each is commendably similar. The first is this supposedly open-world single-player campaign. Set in 2024 amidst much hostility and global war over oil shortages and the depleting supply of natural gas, two alliances are formed: the Western Coalition, consisting of the United States and the European Union, and the Red Star Alliance, formed by Russia and the People's Republic of China. You play as a solider fighting for the Western Alliance. Things open like any other FPS, with you pinned down and having to fight off a wave of enemy soldiers. What makes Frontlines different to your average FPS is how each level progresses. Essentially you have to capture control points placed around the map, moving your squad forward into a better position to take on the enemy.
It's very similar to what has recently become popular in large scale online shooters, except this time you're up against far more enemy soldiers than you would in multiplayer games. Capturing a control point simply requires you to stand firm in that area (handily marked by some coloured smoke) - something that's easier said than done given the ferocity of the enemy attacks. When you're not gaining ground you'll be taking out marked enemy vehicles, using control panels or planting explosives. In truth it's nothing you won't have already done countless times in other first-person shooters, but here you can go about things in a way that suits you.
On any given level you'll usually have a number of objectives, with each of these accessible in any order and from numerous directions. In frontlines you don't get the sense that you're being funnelled into a pen, with enemies waiting to ambush you, giving it a different feel compared to the likes of Call of Duty 4. If you want to take an enemy stronghold on from the front, so be it, but if you want to manoeuvre around the side, that might give you a better chance of success.
Add to this the ability to use vehicles. For most of the levels vehicle use is optional, so if you want to use a tank you can hop in and take command, but if you want to try and take out the armoured enemy vehicles on foot, ideally with a homing missile or two, that's an option too. You'll also gain access to neat military gadgets, such as a remote control attack chopper, a mobile explosive device and a gun turret on wheels. These add another layer of depth and even more options to choose from. In fact, you could easily play through the entire campaign again and have a considerably different experience.
Even though you have plenty of options available to you, it is slightly disappointing that some of the more exciting vehicles don't come into play until over half way through the campaign. Helicopter usage is completely absent from the opening levels, and while the tanks are fun at first they soon become a little tiresome and slow. Fair enough, you have tones of other tools at your disposal, such as calling in an air strike, but some of the larger levels earlier on would have really benefited from an aerial attack that you're in command of.