A while back, we reviewed Guardians (before it became Guardians Frontline) when it was still a little toddler on the App Lab. At the time, Pete Austin gave it a 7.5, said it was promising, and hoped to see it develop into the game it hoped to become. I had a few rounds with him at the time and also thought it had some great potential.
Today, almost two years later, and having been adopted by publisher Fast Travel Games, Guardians comes to the official Quest store as Guardians: Frontline!
Guardians Frontline takes elements from RTS games like Red Alert and StarCraft and mixes them with the action-heavy first-person shooting of games like Halo and Destiny. In some ways, it even reminds me a bit of BattleZone 98 Redux, a wonderful game in its own right.
In Frontline, you play as an eponymous ‘Guardian’ tasked with protecting humanity from nasty alien bugs. This involves a lot of bug-killing and a general feeling that you’re playing a virtual reality adaptation of Starship Troopers.
Welcome to the Roughnecks!
Most players will start Guardians: Frontline in campaign mode. This is made up of a tutorial followed by 13 chapters or missions, stretching across three different planets. The story is perfunctory at best, but, as in most RTS games, the real point of the single-player campaign is to prepare for the all-out havoc of multiplayer.
The gameplay is very engaging, making you alternate between first-person bug shooting and the kind of things an RTS demands; placing extractors near the shiny red crystals that give you your resources, building turrets to protect your base, building ground-to-air defenses to take out the flying bugs, and various other strategic concerns. Your offensive forces are also quite diverse, you can build drones, robots, bipedal armored units, and even mechs that you can teleport into and pilot, all used for wreaking havoc amongst the alien baddies.
First-person locomotion consists mainly of running around using free locomotion, although comfort teleportation is also available. You’ve also got a jetpack that allows you to hop your way across the terrain in large leaps, as well as the ability to teleport to pads that you can place throughout the maps. All these options make it easy and intuitive to get around, once you’ve gotten used to them.
Speaking of options, I have to commend the game for the ridiculous wealth of options it provides in the settings menu. You can essentially configure just about anything you can think of, a true testament to how gamer-focused Virtual Age were when developing Guardians.
Command & Conquer
What really surprised me, though, is how well Virtual Age have integrated the more complex RTS elements of the UI. By pushing one button on the main controller, you switch from gun mode to command mode, allowing you to easily navigate a menu that shows up on your other arm, easily selecting defenses or units to build. Once selected, you point at the landscape to decide where the selected unit will be built and rotate your hand to change its alignment on the ground. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it works effortlessly.
I only wish there was a way to build several units of the same type in one go without going back and forth to the menu on your secondary hand. I checked with the devs on discord, though, and they seemed open to implementing that as a feature, so I’m hopeful we’ll see it soon.
Guardians Frontline offers a wealth of mission types, all of which can be played in single-player or co-op mode. When you launch any mission, you have a toggle that determines whether other players can hop into your game and join you against the bugs. Whenever this happened to me, it was always welcome. Players who hopped in, regardless of their age, were invariably cordial and cooperative, and it was their involvement that got me through a couple of difficult levels!
The other potentially huge draw to Frontline is an ongoing, potentially endless mode called Galaxy Conquest, fueled by community-created maps. Although this mode, in theory, provides an endless supply of end-game content, the quality of that content will vary, as with all community-created content.
It’s relatively easy to complete Guardians’ main campaign on Normal mode if you’re a seasoned FPS/RTS player, but switching to Advanced provides a lot more challenge, so much so that I didn’t dare try out Insane.
Visually speaking, I’m impressed with the clarity on display. The graphics aren’t spectacular, but they’re good, and the interface is clean and clear. The alien bugs are well-designed and very easy to tell apart, as are your own units. It’s easy for RTS games to become visually overwhelming, especially when lots of units are on the screen, but Frontline never falls into that trap. If you’re getting overwhelmed, it’s because the bugs are crushing you.
Your guns are pretty cool, each is distinct and well-designed, and, in general, they’re fun to use, each with its own pros and cons.
The sound design is equally pretty good, and spatial audio is used to good effect, making it clear where you need to be paying attention. Gun sounds, however, could be improved, they’re not bad, but I feel they could use a boost.
Never Pass Up a Good Thing
Guardians Frontline has come a long way since its early days when I first tried it out while Pete was reviewing it. It’s now a full game with a substantial amount of content, a good variety of units, and a general feeling of polish that was initially lacking during its first iterations. Virtual Age have done well, making a game that’s easy to recommend for fans of the genre, and, at least so far, the only game of its type on Quest.
If you want to shoot wonderfully designed alien bugs without the strategy component, be sure to check out Crashland!
[Psst: We have two Guardians Frontline codes to give away and we’re running a giveaway competition for them, click this link if you want to enter!]
TLDR : Summary
With a great interface, allowing you to easily switch from killing bugs to base management, Guardians Frontline is a great FPS/RTS hybrid with huge content potential.