Frontline: Fields of Thunder
Despite what Historians might have you believe there were some parts of the Second World War that perhaps weren't as interesting as the others. Don't get me wrong, the death of a human being no matter what the scenario is a tragic thing, and should hold an indefinite curiosity to us all. Fact is it doesn't. When looking back at WW2 there are some areas that are simply of less relevance - we, of Britain, might be especially interested in the Normandy landings, an event that broke the back of Hitler's military stronghold in Europe. American's might hold a light for the pre-emptive attack from the Japanese on Pearl Harbour. The Russian's certainly have the Battle of Stalingrad to chunter about. German's, should they choose to remember their role in the war, can talk about the invasion of Poland. These are all historically significant, but more importantly hold public interest - hence the reason why so many games have been made about such times - Company of Heroes, Call of Duty, Medal of Honour anyone?
There are other moments of conflict during the second world war that are perhaps harder to chronicle. The Battle of Kursk is one such moment, and it's not as though it's less worthy - over 1.3 million men were killed, injured or captured in the seven weeks of fighting. However it is the type of warfare that makes the Battle of Kursk less suitable for gaming - most of the fighting was done by way of tank warfare, thus the humanisation is removed. There were many infantry but this, as the history books will record, was the battle of the titans. Despite this Nival Interactive and N-Game Studios have teamed up to develop Frontline: Fields of Thunder - a title surely destined to fail...
Additionally Frontline is trying to make a steal in a genre steeped in quality. In the last year alone we have seen Supreme Commander and, more crucially, Company of Heroes clean up. Commercially it's an almost impossible task - Fields of Thunder needs to convince those who haven't already bought the aforementioned titles that it offers something unique to sway them, and quality to those who are simply in love with the genre. And it does offer something of both. More than just a tank-based RTS in the shape of Blitzkrieg and Sudden Strike; Frontline is a playable title in the way of a history lesson. Everything is historically accurate, from the battlefields fought upon to the colour of the tanks - it is meticulous how much thought has gone into making Frontline historically correct. The problem however is that so few people know the correct colours of tanks, or for that matter that the Battle of Kursk even happened. If the point of Frontline: Fields of Thunder is to raise awareness then jolly good show, and good for Nival and N-Game as well, it's high time that games offered an educational dollop along with an interactive experience.
The Battle of Kursk was fought between the Germans and the Russians leading up to the Battle of Stalingrad. It took place in Eastern Europe up to the southwestern borders of Russia. The game takes place in this area seeing Russians defend their lines and attempt to push Germans back and Germany attack from the south in attempt to invade Russia. As such there are two styles of gameplay and two campaigns along with it. If you decide to play as the Russ-skis then typically the type of missions you're forced to deal with are defensive - in return the German's have attacking measures to consider. However this never sits true while playing. Despite orders like 'defend left flank' and 'force retreat of enemy' you're still forced to approach the mission area as if you were attacking it. You're often even forced to assist in defending a strategic point, which is much the same as attacking such is the way of Frontline. However you will be given the opportunity to set up defensive lines, sandbag tanks, stick infantry in trenches and plant artillery. The gameplay otherwise remains the same, you attack, or you defend. Should you succeed in your immediate objective then you're given another in real-time until the mission as a whole is completed.
Unfortunately, Frontline: Fields of Thunder offers little in the way of diversity. Not only with it's own linear-nay-similar gameplay, but from the tried and test formula of RTS games of old. Its been built on the Blitzkrieg engine, and for that offers little more than a change in narrative from the Blitzkrieg games. More worryingly, Sudden Strike, a game eons old, offers an experience as accomplished as Frontline: Fields of Thunder, if a little uglier. When you already have Supreme Commander and Company of Heroes at your disposal it's difficult to see why you'd consider playing this, but for those who enjoy the more traditional RTS then perhaps there's something to be found in Frontline.