Homefront creates powerful moments by swapping genre-standard military warriors and exotic locales for armed citizens and suburban backyards, but don’t expect this impressive shooter to offer up the longest-lasting experience.
- GamePro Score
- 4 Stars
Painting a real-life nation as the brutally oppressive opposing force — even in a near-future setting — is a risky maneuver for a video game, but Homefront does just that with North Korea. In Homefront’s world, the closed-off nation expands its influence in the years ahead, muscling its way south towards a unified Korea before taking over Japan, sending chaotic economic ripples throughout the world. Kaos Studios conveys this spiraling situation wonderfully through a fevered live-action introduction, which juxtaposes Korea’s rise in power with societal downfall elsewhere and culminates in an EMP blast that allows the nation to violently invade the United States.
Though it may prove an uncomfortable scenario for some players, this first-person shooter’s campaign presents powerful moments, both physically and emotionally jarring in nature. And it begins almost immediately from the outset, as Korean forces bust into your ratty apartment in the year 2027 (two years after the EMP attack), assaulting your silent protagonist — a former Marine pilot — before throwing him down the stairs and loading him on a bus to places unknown. Through the window you’ll witness the first of many atrocities held within the adventure, including a couple held apart outside a makeshift detention center and parents killed in cold blood in view of a toddler, who stumbles towards the bodies as you pass by, powerless to help.
But Homefront is a game about fighting back, so within moments, you’ll find yourself freed from captivity and indoctrinated into the resistance with a headshot and a handshake. You’re one of them now: a heavily armed citizen unwilling to sit idly by while the country crumbles. It kicks off a rousing campaign that spans suburban American terrain while placing you in impressively varied gameplay opportunities. While most of the action is of the run-and-gun, on-foot sort, you’ll also sneak through a militia farm complex, command a remote controlled tank, and snipe soldiers from an abandoned church bell tower. Plus, the game includes an off-rails helicopter sequence that plays significantly better than you’d expect from a lone mission in an FPS.
Despite a narrative penned by John Milius, co-writer of Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now, storytelling is not Homefront’ strongest suit — it’s the atmosphere. The transformed suburban settings convey much more than the passable dialogue, and simply being able to run through an accurately modeled White Castle and battle back enemies in a burning TigerDirect.com warehouse adds a layer of authenticity to the proceedings, as do the other licensed brands witnessed in the game. Homefront isn’t the shiniest-looking game out there, as the gritty (but nicely detailed) settings aren’t quite as crisp or clean as Call of Duty and the like, and I noticed a handful of odd collision detection issues along the way. But the impressive environments — such as an idyllic backyard haven unperturbed by the outer mayhem — and intense campaign scenarios certainly make up for the lack of gloss.
However, it all comes to a head much too quickly, and that’s not a knock just on the brief length of the campaign (about five hours). The final mission — a triumphant battle on one of America’s truly great monuments — seemingly appears out of nowhere, as the cadence of the campaign suggested that the endgame was still hours away. When the credits roll, it’s clear that Homefront is clearly intended as the truncated first battle in a much larger war; but that sudden conclusion weakens the otherwise very strong campaign experience, and doesn’t provide a lot of momentum for the inevitable sequel.
Homefront’s shot at usurping the multiplayer giants of the industry isn’t as rife with dramatic tension and haunting scenarios, but it does make some interesting tweaks to genre conventions. It plays similarly to recent Call of Duty entries — albeit with a larger cap of 32 players per match — but the Battle Points system offers a fresh level of flexibility for activating in-match bonuses. Kills and assists earn you points, which can be used immediately to unlock vehicles, armor, heavy weaponry, and the wildly amusing remote control ground drones and mini-helicopters. Persistent leveling and customization options are still available, but limiting some of the features by single match performance levels the playing field a bit and rewards skillful runs.
But much as the Battle Points system delivers a welcomed twist on a familiar formula, the overall Homefront online experience feels a bit thin. Despite the introduction of the Battle Commander variation, which puts bounties on skilled players amidst the action, Homefront focuses on just two core play modes: Team Deathmatch and Ground Control, both of which are pretty standard offerings. Much as I enjoyed the online firefights and wily drone vehicles, I’d be surprised if the limited play modes and just seven on-disc maps (the Xbox 360 version has an exclusive eighth “Suburbs” map) keep dedicated Black Ops or Bad Company 2 fans from their usual haunts.
Homefront does a whole lot right, delivering powerful imagery and actions on the single-player side, as well as interesting multiplayer alterations, but neither end feels fully realized. But I won’t hesitate to recommend Homefront on the overall strength of its stilted campaign, which consistently delivers strong set pieces and alluring atmospheric moments amidst the chaotic combat. And should Kaos expand on this promising start with meaningful and memorable additions in a sequel, Homefront may prove a potent franchise in no time at all.
PROS: Very strong campaign packed with powerful imagery and atmosphere; diverse gameplay opportunities amidst the campaign; engaging tweaks on standard multiplayer conventions.
CONS: Abrupt conclusion and brief length keep campaign from true excellence; multiplayer options a bit thin compared to competition; occasional visual glitches can be distracting.