Playing Frontline Survivors was one hell of a roller coaster ride. First, I was lulled into a sense of safety by the detailed and pretty pixel art. Then I was tripped up by how quickly I died. The game was hard, but in a way that made me want to go back and play some more. It manages to find that perfect balance of hard yet fun.
Over the next few hours and countless deaths, I stopped looking at it as hard. Instead, I began to see it as an excellent showcase of efficient yet clever design.
Breaking Down The Game
Frontline Survivors describes itself as an intense top-down shooter with rogue-lite elements, where you play as a soldier trying to survive on the frontlines. You enter the battlefield as a lone general who has one very clear objective: Capture 8 enemy bases.
The goal is surely hard to accomplish when enemy troops quickly begin to swarm, in ever-increasing numbers, to your location. You have to find ways to secure allies as well as use the General’s ‘skills’ to achieve this goal without dying.
The game is unforgiving in what it throws at you, even as it has complete confidence in your capabilities. On the field, you have no time to think- all you can do is react and keep moving, staying out of the way of bullets to protect your limited health.
It is only when you level up that the gameplay pauses, providing you with the opportunity to pick one upgrade from three options. These upgrades give you different boosts, sometimes stacking on elements you already have in play.
It falls to you to figure out the best strategy for your General and how you want to stack upgrades to maximize the General’s abilities. Along the way, you can activate secondary camps that will also give you boosts like health drops, allies, or mortar support. If you die, you restart from zero, dropping down into a map that has completely reset. When you do finish, you can do it all over again with a completely brand new general and new abilities, completely changing the game.
The Battlefield Advantage
Some basics first. This game is gorgeous, with detailed pixel art that has a lot of personality while still being easy to read and understand. The best of the game, though, sits in the way a run plays out.
Frontline Survivors impresses by managing to fit in a lot of variety while still keeping it simple. In every run, everything spawns differently. This includes the battlefield background, the elements that fill the world, and even the enemy locations and base type. It meant that each run was unique, making the game very interesting.
A big draw of this game then is how it lets you approach your strategy . There are two main layers. The first involves the elements you use to set up a run. These include choices between 5 generals, perks that you assign them, and penalties if you want to punish yourself. With each run, you earn currency that you can use to buy additional options in these sections so that you can set up the game to your advantage.
Once you start the run, your run will evolve based on which upgrades you are lucky to get when you level up. These are passive defensive or offensive features that impact the overall game without player input. It is within these options that the game transcends from a simple survival game to something unique.
You have to think about how to stack upgrades to work with your initial choices. It also adds to the incredible feeling of trying to hang on longer, to find that upgrade or connection that will help you win. It is impressive to find a strategy element that actually encourages you to stick with a game even as it gets harder.
This game plays beautifully and the more you get into it, the more it makes sense. Elements that seem unbalanced make sense as design choices that make the gameplay interesting.
That being said, I wish some things were different. Frontline Survivors has no tutorial; you are just given your base instructions through the UI. You have to figure out the rest of the game by experiencing it, often dying for the information. It does add to the overall ‘struggle to survive’ feeling. The game makes you feel like you are in a war. But, you are a General… so, where is all my base intel? I feel like I should at least unlock some information about the different types of enemy troops, weapons, base types, and bosses.
Frontline Survivors can get very chaotic very fast, especially if you spawn a lot of allies. It can get hard to read the screen, making it harder to get the needed information about enemies and form your strategy.
There is a lot of other missing information too. For instance, there is no easy way to track the health of the enemy, except for the bosses that come with a health bar. Right now, other than the bosses, you can only tell when an ally is low on HP once they start flashing. More than that, when the number of enemies increases, it can get very hard to see the screen and track all attacks.
All of this gets confusing because of how quickly you get swarmed. While the number and degree of spawning seem to increase based on your current level, they start up fast even at level 0. I did die a lot in the first 2 hours, usually ending at 1 or 2 captured bases. It took me 5 hours to master General Bob and complete a run.
My only real complaint in this game is the method used to level up. This game doesn’t just have an XP counter associated with kills or destruction as you would expect. Instead, every enemy killed, base captured, or breakable destroyed, drops bullets. You have to collect them to fill up the Level Up bar.
It is something I love and hate. I hate it because it is hard, especially when there are loads of enemies. You have to keep backtracking and moving so that the enemy follows you and leaves a path open to collect the bullets. You usually have to do this while praying for the rare health or magnet drops to help you along. It is an unneeded level of difficulty in an already difficult game.
A Battle Well-Won
Between the enemy swarming, the perks, the ever-changing field, and just the right amount of strategy, this game finds the right balance between difficulty and player effort. Something that even AAA Studios struggle to find at times. It is an amazing showcase from Vadirien and is a game worth playing.
The best praise I can give it is that it feels like a Souls game but more approachable. I never felt like quitting. Instead, I always felt like I could do better, and I was excited to hit restart.
|Detailed and pretty Pixel Art
|Almost no guidance at the outset of the game. The game requires you to learn through experience.
|Lots of variety in the Map in each run with different base locations and different environments
|Limited information about the enemy makes it hard to plan a strategy.
|Lots of different ways to customize your run from the outset
|The degree of enemies that spawn can make it hard to read the screen and some incoming attacks.
|5 different characters with different play styles
|A lot of passive upgrade features that you can choose from to impact the run.
GamesHorizon recieved a review copy for Steam.