Imagine a future where America isn’t a free country. It’s occupied by a hostile force that is brutally suppressing the populace and bringing them under their rule. This is the America where Homefront, the newest shooter from THQ and Kaos Studios, takes place.
As soon as you start Homefront, the game pulls you into its setting. You wake up in an apartment, and as soon as you look out the window you see streets full of rubble teeming with Korean soldiers. Civilians are being rounded up, and some even executed. As you take this in, a squad of Korean soldiers kicks in your door and takes you prisoner, after an appropriate berating from a Korean officer extolling the virtues of the ‘Great Leader.’
Homefront (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3)
Developer: Kaos Studios
Release Date: March 15, 2011
You’re then tossed into a school bus that’s been converted to transport prisoners. As you’re being driven to a detention center, you see more atrocities being committed all around the bus, including a gout of blood from an execution splattering onto your window. By the time the resistance attacks the bus and frees you, you’re more than ready to take up arms against the invaders.
Unfortunately, once you’ve done so, you’ll notice something very familiar. You’re in a linear progression of levels that has you moving from point A to point B, with very little allowance for deviation. At times you’ll find yourself facing off against hordes of KPA (Korean People’s Army) that are all aspiring to put an end to your resistance, and all you can do is duck behind any of the conveniently placed barricades, wait for a lull, and then stand up blindly again. The lack of a proper cover system that allows blind fire or leaning is a major detriment to gameplay.
The KPA will send hordes of soldiers at you, but they’re typical grunts, staying in one place, shooting, and dropping out of sight. Place your crosshair and wait a second, your target will obligingly pop up into your sights. Your teammates are also fairly effective, so you won’t have to shoulder all the killing yourself. You’ll also need to deal with large automated KPA turrets that are basically a gatling gun equipped with a spotlight. Step into the spotlight, and the turret rains death your way. Luckily these metal monstrosities need only a single, well-placed grenade to eliminate them, rendering them basically ineffective.
You will get to control some interesting equipment, like the Goliath, a six-wheeled weapons platform that uses a binocular-type sighting system, and Predator-like UAVs equipped with missiles. However, the appearance of such items is completely arbitrary, and you’ll have to use them in exactly the way the game instructs or you’ll find yourself reloading to try again. This relegates the Goliath, which was extremely cool at first glance, to a role where it is almost annoying.
Although the gameplay falls a bit flat, and the singleplayer clocks in at just over 5 hours, the strength of Homefront is not in how well it apes Call of Duty. No, its redemption is its story. You should already know it was crafted by John Milius, writer of movies such as Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now (and if you didn’t, now you do). Milius has created a believable world, one that succeeds in making you feel that you’re in a familiar place under unfamiliar circumstances.
After the events of the game’s opening, you’ll find yourself doing battle in places like the parking lot of a TigerDirect.com store and a bombed-out White Castle, among others. At one point, I was engaged in a heavy firefight with KPA soldiers who had taken refuge inside what was left of a Hooters restaurant.
Locations like these are jarring enough, but it’s the suburbs that really seal the deal. Not only are there bombed out homes, but there are civilians living there. Some of these civilians support the resistance, and some want you to stop causing trouble for them.
One of my favorite areas is the resistance’s compound. Hidden under camouflage netting in a bombed out suburb, the hideout has a perfect feel to it of people scraping whatever they can together to eke out an existence. Emaciated livestock, weak-looking plants, and a jury-rigged water pump cobbled together out of a Stairmaster complete the feeling of a civilization struggling to survive.
Another way that Kaos sells the idea of is the total lack of equipment that you carry around. You’ll find yourself always scrounging for ammo, and you’ll likely fire as many rounds from a Korean weapon as you do the American rifle you started the mission with. What American weapons you do use have a beat-up, weathered look to them, as if they’ve been poorly cared for until now.
Underlying all of this is the ‘Voice of America’ radio broadcast. Constantly updating the public on the resistance’s progress, ‘Voice of America’ is the underground’s constant companion. Recorded with appropriately poor fidelity, it sounds almost exactly like a HAM radio operator plying his trade in the dark of night, far from the KPA’s prying eyes.
All of these combine to create a setting that is entirely immersive and believable. It’s arguably one of the best stories to appear in a first-person shooter since the Half-Life series. Little touches like maps of the US redrawn to accommodate the new reality drive the point home even harder.
Once you finish the story, it’s time to check out multiplayer. All of the multiplayer modes take place across seven maps (the XBox 360 version has an exclusive map that brings the total up to eight on Microsoft’s console). There are two basic gameplay modes, and each of them offers a normal or Battle Commander option. In normal mode, you can choose from Team Deathmatch or Ground Control. Team Deathmatch is that old standby, and Ground Control is a mode that recalls Kaos’ last title, Frontlines: Fuel of War. Capture three points to move the frontline and then capture another set of three points to win the round.
Battle Commander modes put an AI in charge of the battlefield. As you complete missions assigned to you by the AI, you’ll increase your rating. Increase it far enough, and the enemy will make you a Priority Target, allowing them to see your approximate location on the map.
The signature of the multiplayer is the Battle Points system. Every kill or capture will earn Battle Points, and they can be spent on the fly during a round to acquire things like RPGs or flak jackets. You can also save them up to unlock vehicles that you spawn with, including Predator-type drones, helicopters and tanks.
You’ll also gain ranks that will unlock more weapons, weapon add-ons, and useful accessories, like grenades. The multiplayer is fairly solid, but it still feels uninspired, like I’ve been here a dozen times before. The Battle Commander mode is the only high point aside from the nice variety of maps.
All in all, Homefront is a decent shooter. It doesn’t offer anything really new in the way of mechanics, but what mechanics it does have are fairly solid. The strength of the game is its well-crafted story and amazing setting. If that’s what you’re looking for, Homefront delivers. Just don’t pick it up looking for a game that will dethrone Call of Duty. After all, you don’t kill Call of Duty by being Call of Duty all over again, right? Here’s hoping that if THQ continues this series, they add some stellar gameplay to the outstanding story.
- Outstanding story
- Great setting
- Battle Commander mode spices up multiplayer for a while
- Dated mechanics
- No cover system or lean mechanic
- Lots of setpiece fights with Goliath and similar weaponry
- Uninspired multiplayer modes and leveling