Summary: Ever wondered what it would be like if America was invaded by a foreign power? If the events depicted in Homefront were to play out in real life, we might just find out in 15 years or so... In this provocative first-person shooter from THQ and Kaos Studios, home is where the WAR is. Find out whether or not you should enlist in today's review!
Such is the controversial backdrop for Homefront a first-person shooter from THQ and Kaos Studios. If you’re wondering why it sounds so familiar, you’re not alone; the1980s film “Red Dawn” depicted pretty much the same scenario, except with communist forces from Russia and Cuba doing the invading, and writer/director John Milius wrote the script for this game. They both even take place in Colorado and share the same focus on guerilla resistance against the occupational force. How Korea came to be the aggressor is explained in the game’s introductory cutscene, which was released online last summer:
It’s actually quite well done -- in such a way that reminded me of the full-motion video Command & Conquer cutscenes that try to somewhat plausibly tie themselves to reality-- but unfortunately, that’s the only one. It would’ve been nice to have a few more of those spread throughout the game, but alas, it appears they didn’t put much effort into Homefront’s single-player campaign… They start off strong, depicting a disheartening scene of war-time oppression with people being shackled and marched through a town square, beaten mercilessly for trying to escape, or even summarily executed in front of their terrified and confused toddler. By the time you get a weapon, you have a pretty clear idea of what you’re supposed to be fighting for, but is that really enough to get you through?
Regardless of their intentions to make you feel like some kind of inexperienced civilian forced into combat with seemingly insurmountable opposition, they sure don’t waste any time turning you into the typical video game action hero that does all the work while your allies stand in cover and take pot shots at nothing. In between skirmishes, though, your role irritatingly reverts to that of the incompetent newbie; your freedom fighter buddies treat you like the untrustworthy outsider, not even allowing you to open doors or climb ladders before they do! There are many instances like that where your compatriots make a point of holding your hand, which will annoy the crap out of you. Combined with the stretches of down-time wherein you’re restricted to a very slow walking pace, it makes for a disjointed and underwhelming experience.
The action itself is mostly enjoyable, but far from realistic in both premise and execution. The only thing separating it from the usual Call of Duty-esque fare is Goliath, the rugged radio-controlled ATV with a missile launcher and machinegun mounted on its back. After it busts through a wall like the Kool-Aid man, it mows down infantry with bullets and tread while you mark missile targets with a nifty targeting scope. After a while, it becomes more of a companion than the people you travel with, kind of like a trusty war hound that always comes through in a pinch. Flying the heavily-armed scout helicopter was great fun, too, even though it handled smoother than a UFO and was nigh on indestructible. (Really, you could smash it into the ground or against buildings and take no damage.) I also quite liked the sniping segments, even though they were few and far between.
One of the more annoying aspects of Homefront has to be the shoddy ballistics. Nowadays, destructible environments are becoming the norm, so when bullets are stopped cold by flimsy materials, that’s a problem. Seriously, you can’t even shoot through a wooden fence that is literally paper thin (since it’s a sprite, not a model), yet there are some concrete barriers that can be blown apart by explosions or enough machinegun fire. I thought for a second to call this lack of bullet penetration “old school,” but you can’t even call it that, since games like Counter-Strike let you shoot through stuff. It just seems like something incredibly basic to overlook in an FPS; maybe I don’t need to be able to blow holes in the side of a building, but if I know an enemy is hiding behind a picket fence, I had better be able to shoot him!
If the Homefront campaign wasn’t so pathetically short-lived, I might actually have had time to wonder why I was still playing. That it doesn’t drag on and on is probably a good thing, but any game that has you losing the desire to keep going has other problems … As it is, there’s very little story progression to speak of, with each of the seven missions representing one step in an operation your new-found guerilla buddies have planned to help out the remnants of the U.S. Army. There are a few shallow and contrived elements thrown in there as an attempt to inject some degree of emotional investment, but they fail miserably. Since the whole affair seems so rushed, things happening that you’re supposed to care about probably won’t bother you at all. Otherwise, a handful of dramatic scenes and set-pieces are the only truly interesting things about Homefront and give some meaning to the otherwise generic gameplay.
Another place Kaos failed to deliver on a promise was with the characters. If I recall, they tried extra hard to talk up the four main characters as being a driving force in the Homefront campaign, but they turned out to be nothing more than B-action movie stereotypes. (Skip ahead to the next page if you want to avoid some story-related details, even though I don’t think not knowing makes it any better.) You spend the most time with Connor, the hot-headed renegade that endlessly spouts profanity as he rushes headlong into battle and hunts Koreans for sport. He always gets his allies (you) in trouble by unnecessarily drawing attention to them, but he sacrifices himself at the end in a “surprise” display of selflessness. There’s also Rianna, the ethnic chick who has the tough exterior necessary to hang with the boys, but she still gets all sentimental over friendly losses and excessive violence against enemies alike. She’s always the wet blanket, spouting such original and brilliant lines as, “I didn’t sign up for this!” Boone is the tough but fair leader that would do anything to protect his flock of sheep and is the voice of reason capable of holding the resistance together. He takes the player under his wing, explaining what we’re fighting for, but is executed shortly thereafter in order to make you angry or something… Hopper, the token mixed-race character, gets harassed by people on both sides of the fight because he’s Korean-American. He’s also the nerdy engineer type that carries the backpack and has to repeat himself using simpler terms because no one understands when he’s speaking in techno-babble. Of course, he prefers to avoid combat because it’s not his forte
This is where the bulk of the enjoyment Homefront has to offer comes from, and is obviously where the majority of the development time was focused. The single-player campaign really only serves as a sort of orientation to accustom you to some of the weapons and explain why there’s a war in middle-American suburbs. The great thing about the multiplayer is that they knew what features they needed to compete with the other shooters already on the market, such as a 32-player match limit and plenty of dedicated servers (hosted officially or privately). I’ve found the latter to be completely lag-free, with pings of around 10 for ones presumably in the same state as me. PC-exclusive features include clan support, demo recording, stat tracking, RCON and dev console access, Steamworks integration, and LAN play. There are 8 maps and only 2 game modes -- team deathmatch and control point domination -- but what other modes do you really need anyway? I’m certain those two are the most popular for any online FPS, and with the option for privately hosted servers, we’re bound to see some modifications that will spice things up.
Most prominent in the game’s online experience is the Battle Points system. Also referred to as BP, it’s a virtual currency that you earn along with XP for completing objectives or killing enemies, which you can spend on extra firepower, gadgets, or vehicles. Basically, they have a whole bunch of stuff that would have been a killstreak reward in Call of Duty, such as a UAV sweep, an attack drone, hellfire missile strike, etc. that you can buy whenever you want, provided you have accumulated enough BP. I prefer this method because it doesn’t incentivize camping like a bitch the whole round -- you can be as reckless as you want, but still rack up BP so long as you’re getting kills before you die. There’s no such thing as a tactical nuke that insta-wins the round, but save up enough and you’ll be able to purchase a vehicle for yourself.
That’s right, unlike COD, which has no vehicles, or Battlefield, that has pre-existing vehicles that everyone fights over, Homefront allows you to spend your hard-earned Battle Points on a Humvee, APC, tank, or helicopter gunship that will spawn with you inside of it. You have to level up a bit first to unlock them, but that shouldn’t take long. Before you know it, you’ll be delivering more pain per square inch than you ever could on foot. Your teammates even have the option of spawning in there with you, to make use of any secondary weapons you might have. The fun of it is that, as devastating as the vehicles can be if left unchecked, infantry is more than capable of bringing down any of them with their RPGs, anti-air launchers, C4, and EMP grenades…. I’ve even used a machinegun to kill the pilot of a chopper and brought it crashing down that way, which made me feel like such a badass.
There are still bonuses for scoring multiple kills in a row, like buffs to your movement speed and damage resistance, or even persistent radar scanning, but it comes at a cost: the other team knows you’re a priority threat and will be rewarded for taking you out. This is part of the game’s Battle Commander AI, which issues these minor objectives based on the performance of each player in the game. As you rack up kill streaks, you’ll progress from a 1-star threat (alerting 2 people on the opposite team to your position) to a 5-star threat, which gives every enemy player a tracking beacon on your location and the offer of a hefty bounty of BP for taking you out. There’s more danger to this in TDM due to the lack of other objectives, but it always adds that extra element of challenge for the player skilled enough to reach that kind of K/D ratio. In a way, this twist adds some extra depth to the existing game modes that other shooters lack completely.
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