After real world events which sees a North Korean submarine sinking a South Korean ship killing some 40 odd sailors it sparks distaste towards a country which seems to have it’s own way of doing things. The US condemns its actions and sanctions are issued towards a country that not only has a large military presence but also the possible ability of Nuclear weapons. However, with support from growing economies such as the Chinese it’s a potentially volatile region which is hitting the headlines more commonly than before. These are trying times for our world leaders but the subject matter is also perfect fodder for video game mimicry and fantastical reproach. The cold war may have ended and the middle east under jurisdiction but for now the new threat in video games lies in the far east. For Kaos studios under the wing of THQ the non fiction happenings are a fitting mirroring of their first person shooter. Homefront tells a fantasy tale set in the near future even using the submarine incident footage to add credibility to its theme. North Korea is on the warpath with its sights set on global domination and it’s your job to fight the good fight. Sounds familiar, and it is, but this time there are no Germans in sight, which is a clever move considering how many WWII games have been done successfully before – with some even covering similar themes.
In Homefront, the Korean nations have united and spread across the Eastern regions eventually landing on North American soil. It tells a story of how the Koreans are able to perform such an unlikely action. There’s chaos in the US, after trouble in the Middle East causes fuel prices to rise astronomically which then becomes the catalyst that brings civil unrest and eventually rioting to the once unified states. The Mississippi river becomes contaminated and a no go zone from North to South splitting the country in two and a flu virus killing millions causes mass panic and a mass exodus of US citizens across the Mexican border. With such a high influx of Americans entering its country, the Mexicans close their borders leaving more chaos as Americans are left in turmoil. With the country divided and vulnerable, to add the final nail in the coffin and ultimately the beginning of the fall, the Koreans launch an EMP strike against the country rendering all electronics and communications obsolete leaving the US armed forces in tatters. The Korean occupation becomes reality and it’s game over for the world’s largest super power.
Homefront places you in the shoes of an ex marine pilot called into the resistance to take part in a mission that aims to reunite the US forces in the San Francisco area, take back the city, and be one small step in a larger movement of reclamation of the United States. The occupation is well under way and although the element of chaos reigns supreme, there is a relative order in the Korean martial law that exists as you jump in. The story has been penned by John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn) and offers a gritty take on war and the horrors it brings. It’s sad to say, that in this game at least, the portrayal of a Korean regime is very much a blight on the Korean people who seem to present an organized lawlessness and butchery of human rights. The game will no doubt hit home to many Americans as it offers a landscape that will be quite familiar by design, but this is a video game and ultimately tells a bleak story that’s interspersed with the action gamers come to expect from a first person shooter. In this regard, does Homefront deliver an all encompassing and dramatic experience, or is it simply spouting off a load of red hot topical air?
The opening scene of the single player game sets the tone of the Korean occupation, providing a bus ride through the horrors of American citizens defeated, despondent and at their mercy. Designed to stir emotion and give the player purpose, it certainly works and means that the faceless enemies you encounter do deserve whatever punishment you can throw at them. Being a first person shooter, means the combat has to be tight, and in this regard Homefront delivers some solid gameplay. The shooting mechanics seem to mirror most modern shooters where you’ll get an ‘X’ on your cross hair when bullets hit, the control layout is almost identical, and movement is consistently fast paced. Ultimately if you’re familiar with any FPS over the last 5 years you’ll be able to jump right in and kick some serious ass with minimal fuss. Sadly the element of being a civilian is lost in the name of keeping gameplay tense and inspiring. You’re granted the skills of an elite super soldier rather than lowly pilot whose perfect aim and stamina make wading through the waves of opposing forces a literal breeze. It’s a shame and could have been an area of development to set it apart from its peers, but you get the feeling this is not what Kaos are trying to do here. Had the game been too realistic (such as guns jamming, or reloading taking longer than normal, aim being unsteady – befitting of nerves and shoddy equipment), then it’s possible many players would have had a hard time adapting. In this regard Homefront heads for the tried and trusted and in terms of the action complimenting the narrative, it succeeds.
Skirmishes are always full on affairs and whether you’re tackling armoured vehicles or dug in troops you’ll find a wealth of options available to you. One very neat feature and one that’s not so common is the fact that your allies take a very proactive role in how gun battles play out. In many games having team-mates serves as lip service, creating the illusion that you’re not alone, yet the enemy seem to focus entirely on you even if you’re hiding behind a box out of the action. Homefront ditches this common mechanic and provides allies who take the fight to the opposition and really give as good as they get. It’s an interesting design choice and means you’re able to flank, or sneak about taking pot shots from behind cover with minimal risk. It’s good, and refreshing to have, although not to the extreme where you’re able to sit back and let them do all the hard work.
The partner AI is generally very good although on occasion it will block you in tight spaces or halt your progress where it’s scripted that they perform a certain action before you can continue. During battle, and with the nature of more open locales means you’ll rarely get an AI walk in front of you or cause death by odd behaviour which is a good thing. On the flip side, the enemy AI is also reasonably tight, albeit a little predictable in places. There’s generally a lot of movement as they move around cover, and due to their large numbers means you’ll have a decent time performing head shots and generally blowing them up in spectacular fashion with a steady supply of grenades.
What’s interesting is how you’re able to pick up various weapons from the fallen where although there aren’t many gun varieties, there are those which have been modified with attachments such as scopes, and laser sights making for more desirable choices over the standard issue versions. There’s a weapon for every occasion shotgun, pistols, sniper rifles etc., but if you’re a fan of a particular style of play then you can grab a weapon which compliments this and try and stick with it. Ammo isn’t so scarce but that doesn’t mean you can’t be tactical in your approaches to the various scenarios thrown at you. Being conscious of weapon choices is neat underlying flavour that keeps your perception of combat more varied in a more natural way.
Looking at the story and perhaps being critical, in some instances the horrors of war aren’t played out as well as they could be, perhaps being a little tame outside of specific scenes. For a video game they are well presented, but in a world used to seeing graphic imagery in other mediums makes the portrayal somewhat muted even though critical to the story. There are few emotive moments with the main characters, and when they do occur, as a player you’ve not really built up enough of an affiliation with them to care. This is further hampered by the rapid pacing which for the gameplay keeps the action fresh at all times, but in terms of characterization tends to not give enough time to grasp any depth of character. Any indications happen within the dialogue which to be fair does skim the surface of who you’re fighting with but does little to give you any genuine emotional attachment. Homefront does try though, and in some cases you’ll have to endure a very sloth like walking speed as scenes are set and explained in real time. It’s this inclusive form of narration which in times past would have simply been a cutscene, which keeps you in the game albeit to the detriment of those gamers who just want to get back into the action.
The mission structure is presented in a very stylish manner and mixes more dulcet tones with full on action sequences. Whether this will resonate with every gaming taste is debatable, but in context of building tension and adding a realistic slant to the setting it succeeds in pressing you forwards, eager to see what’s next.
Homefront captures a decaying and war torn USA very well with plenty of finer details to marvel at and encapsulate whilst darting about from zone to zone. However, you’re drawn in via scripted moments more than anything, and with such a fast paced linear game means you’ll not always have time to take in what’s around you unless the game dictates. The familiarity of the environments is a great design choice which goes a long way in cementing the plausibility of ideas from the story. That said, the texture detail is reasonable but presents a more gritty looking game, and there are some issues with the frame rates when things get a bit chaotic. The biggest complaint is perhaps in terms of the linear nature of the levels as there’s a wider world out there beyond your reach. You can see it but you’re boxed in, unable to explore fully which is a shame as the game’s approach would lend itself well to having a bit more flexibility to move around. There are some moments where you can spread out and in fact these moments are plenty, but with little deviation from the objective means you’re always shackled to where the game wants you to go. The character models are good, but not perfect, and on occasion you’ll see a dark border around them which makes them look more pasted into the game rather than actually existing within it. It’s subtle but noticeable in certain instances where you’re close up.
The audio is very good all round offering the horrors of war in the distance such as faint screams and cracking gunfire to more visceral sounds of bullets hitting surfaces, explosions and ever present footsteps. A blistering soundtrack compliments the action which comes thick and fast, and there’s really never a dull moment for your ears as the game will always throw some sound bite at you. In fact, if you do hang back, your allies will remind you exactly what you should be doing (every few seconds) which can get tedious if you’re looking around for collectibles. You can’t fault the voice overs which although provide a very expected performance within the remit of the script, do add the urgency required to keep players gripped and interested enough to carry on. Cue lots of shouting, a few tears, lots of macho speak and you’ve got all the necessary ingredients for tough as nails video game heroes. Your character has little to say, if anything at all which in this case is a good thing as too many voices spoil the broth, or should that be cooks? The audio conjures up a varied main course, and even if you mute the music, you’ll get a solid feel of the ambience in juxtaposition with the more prominent elements.
The single player antics sadly come to end and quite frankly whilst the climatic ending befits the task set out in the beginning, you’re left wanting more and can only find solace in either replaying missions or starting over on a harder difficulty. There are some neat achievements and collectibles to aim for, but if you’re not interested in either of these then finality lies in the story. A co-op or skirmish mode versus AI would have greatly added some legs for solo players or those locally, but sadly there’s nothing more on offer.
For online gamers there’s a fully fledged online competitive mode which boasts dedicated servers, up to 32 players and some cool game types to keep you entertained beyond the story. The design is very much in the same manner as most shooters now whereby you level up, choose and unlock abilities and generally rise the ranks above your peers the more you play. Sadly the community features such as replays and file sharing are absent but when a game boasts 32 players you can perhaps see why.
The multiplayer component offers Team DeathMatch modes as well as its own objective based point capture which provides the most compelling excitement as players vie for control of points A, B and C on the large maps. The maps themselves offer comprehensive zones which suit the various classes and with things like drones which can be remotely deployed, finding a hiding spot can be tricky. There’s some excellent map design on offer keeping in theme with the main story which is a pleasant touch. On top of spawning in game as infantry there are land and air vehicles to commandeer for players who build up enough experience and points using the game’s Battle Point system. The balancing seems fair, and if you’re losing you mostly have the chance to claw things back if you’re careful with your choices. There’s a certain chaotic flavour to the large skirmishes, but with people using mics they can easily turn the balance in their favour and secure victory.
Homefront’s ease of play makes the online mode an accessible affair and whilst lag will no doubt appear in any game, it’s something that hopefully will be less prominent here due to the dedicated servers. Homefront’s multiplayer is polished but not particularly ground breaking as there are some neat ideas and the execution of those is solid, but compared to existing franchises which offer similar experiences, there’s little to make it stand above them regardless of unique features.
Kaos Studios should be proud as they have done a highly commendable job of reinventing ideas we’ve seen in Frontlines , piecing them into a more cohesive palatable story and releasing a new game which feels accomplished and easy to play. With so many shooters on the market it’s a shame there’s not more on offer for solo players or co-operative play which seems to be gaining more prominence these days. Whilst it could be easy to mark off Homefront as just another shooter, the reality is that although it is, there’s enough substance under the hood well worth experiencing. It’s a great game, which only lacks vision of its own grandeur which slightly holds it back from being the ultimately amazing game it could be. As it stands, if you’re a shooter fan and like big team battles, a decent story, engaging solid gun-play, then Homefront offers it in spades, buries you in it and leaves you to be consumed by its bombast premise. The subject matter could be seen as topical for the sake of it, if you take off the cynical spectacles and just bask in what’s thrown at you, you’ll find a comprehensive, substantiated game which is well worth the investment.