When you say a videogame has a “good story”, it’s always within the confines of a very slim context - sure, Halo has a good story for a videogame, but it’s no 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Condemned may tell a fine tale, but it’s hardly a Poe-esque piece of horror fiction. Frontlines is on the very highest end of the ‘good for a videogame’ scale. It spins an intriguing fictional history, drawing on real events and thoughtfully extrapolating the very worst possible outcome from our current oil-related problems to set up a backdrop for a good old war. It may just be an excuse to shoot more poor Russian types right in the stinking face, but it’s the first interesting excuse we’ve had in a while.
With oil rapidly drying up, the world goes into an economic meltdown, supply lines break down, the northern hemisphere takes on an African climate and even the richest nations feed their people from breadlines. With the world desperate to secure the remaining oil reserves, long-time allies China and Russia unite to form the Red Star Alliance, followed soon after by an alliance between Europe and the United States. After a gradual twenty-year-long global collapse, troops are deployed to secure oil fields and the Red Star nations decide they’d quite like those European and American oil fields, too. The rotters. So, the stage is set for the first wave of our war - a slow, ground-based push from Turkmenistan, northwards into Russia and a final mission on Moscow’s doorstep.
Every mission offers the freedom to tackle objectives as you please, setting the action in the middle of large battlefields where multiple objectives sit on the frontline; taking an objective pushes the frontline forward, opening up further tasks and more space to play with. Of course, as you drive into enemy territory, enemy forces fight back intelligently, retreating when necessary and fighting to the last man standing when you’ve forced them back to the very edge of the battlefield. Except… that entire last paragraph is a lie.
Freedom is an illusion. If Frontlines wants you in a tank it’ll give you a tank and make the proceeding section impossibly difficult without one; if it wants you to use drones, you’ll happen across a box of them and be faced with just the right kind of opposition for your scavenged equipment to deal with. In the dream, Frontlines is Call of Duty 4 with choices to make and multiple paths towards your goal; in reality it funnels you towards specific objectives and offers little more freedom than Halo 3. Sure, it’s no COD4 - which is practically a lightgun game in parts - but even when dropped into a large area, your objective is still very clear and the best approach is immediately obvious from all the gear you’re given to play about with for the next section.