THQ throws their cap in the first-person shooter ring with the massively advertised and hyped Homefront. But it takes a lot more than marketing dollars to win the hard earned money of FPS fans that have plenty of options. Does Homefront do enough?
If we look at the broad picture, THQ is one company that the gaming industry should be watching closely. They're pressing hard, marketing their games at a level they never have before, acknowledging weaknesses in the past and setting up plans to address those things so that they can consistently publish triple-A games that compete with the very best of the best. Part of that strategy was made obvious with Homefront getting plastered on billboards everywhere, advertised in tons of magazines, websites, at bus stops, and on radio and TV, you name it THQ has probably advertised it there. Unlike the financially disappointing Metro: 2033, an excellent game that went unnoticed by the public but still deserves to be played (so PLAY IT), Homefront's success or failure won't be a result of poor marketing. THQ got that right.
Too bad nobody let Kaos Studio's in on the plan. Oops.
Homefront is a first person shooter set in near-future United States which has been invaded and taken over by the Greater Korean Republic. If you're wondering how the hell that happened; America's economy ate shit, Kim Jung Ill's son got North Korea and South Korea to be BFF's, and logic states the only reasonable thing to do then is invade America. I'll admit there are some gaping holes in my explanation of the actual events leading into the game, but consider it a scale model of the chasm jumping logic Red Dawn screenwriter, John Milius, sets the story up with. From there the game opens up in Montrose, Colorado, where you play Robert Jacobs, a former pilot whose not doing much of anything anymore. That is, not until the Koreans come to find you. Arguably, Homefront's best moments are its very first which has Jacobs being rounded up amongst the chaos and anarchy of Korea's military occupation, and dragged through his neighborhood which has been turned into a living hell. The tone is dark, explosive and scary, but the execution of the characters and story fail to keep it together.
It should go without saying that at some point you break free and get a gun, giving you the chance to vent your anger that hopefully was built up in the few early scenes. Kaos handles this transition with the sort of soft touch you'd expect if your hands were made of bark and sandpaper. "Korean blood is on your hands, you're in the resistance now"! That's all it takes, and you're supposed to believe that you've picked sides and you're part of the American Resistance, a band of underground fighters trying to infiltrate enemy lines while the army, for no real reason, waits outside the city. There are too many hurdles to get over to believe in this story, but if that's not important to you then Homefront is easier to get behind.
It's fair to say that Homefront follows the Call of Duty model of first-person shooter, as anyone familiar with that series can just drop right in and play. The trigger action is tight, the movement is fluid and everything is generally responsive. Enemies aren't as fun to kill as they should be since they're dumb as hell, often running right by you for no reason or turning their back to you as you mow them down, even on the hardest difficulty. Kaos is smart enough to break up the action with some calm, unsettling moments that adds perspective to the war. If Homefront's campaign is redeemed in any way it's that the action is fierce and enjoyable but the time the player gets to soak in the tougher real life moments adds a much needed dimension. You should know, however, that on the hardest difficulty I finished the game in under six hours, and on easy I made it through in just over four. Short play length is easier to take when every minute of it is amazing, Homefront isn't remotely fun enough to justify how short it is.
Even if you're not there long you'll still pass through a number of remarkable locations. The small-town cul-de-sacs, schoolyards and parking lots are immediately recognizable to players in the west, but it's the war torn dressing that provides the intrigue. No doubt something is added to the experience because you're running through the homes of families that are easy to relate to. The impact of running form Humvee's and tanks, or controlling a sentient assault vehicle on similar streets to those you could have grown up on is impossible to ignore. But to the games detriment Kaos doesn't push this far enough. The paths are all entirely linear and poorly designed from a player perspective. Countless invisible walls line every area, annoying you each time you try to move off-course or through an open space that looks like a viable path. Homefront is full of frustrating moments like, especially if try the slightest bit of exploring.
If any fun is derived from Homefront it will likely come from the game's multiplayer, the only aspect that feels like it received any due attention. You get a regular assortment of modes that starts with team deathmatch and ground control, both self explanatory, then there's Battle Commander which is a combo of both modes. Battle Commander also places an AI commander on both teams who gives out special objectives and highlights players on the other team's when they reach high kill streaks. You get big Battle Points for killing a player that's been noticed by a commander, which is valuable to both you and your team, in more ways than disposing of an enemy.
Battle Points are the currency that players use during matches to buy drones, vehicles, rocket launchers and all that good stuff. The strategy of the multiplayer, besides not taking a bullet in the face, comes from the decisions you make with your battle points and the results can often mean the difference between winning and losing. If your team's getting overrun by vehicles you might want to buy some rockets, or if you're trying to protect a control point maybe you want the firepower a drone gives you, both require the points you earn from completing objective. Whatever you decide, finding a balance between personal gratification and teamwork is both fun and crucial.
Online has the fortune of not being tied to a plodding incoherent story, but what's surprising is that the action is faster and often more fun. A lot of that can be attributed to the constant supply of Humvee's you can drive, which are a lot of fun, and the assault drones that are really easy maneuver. The on-foot action is typically fast and chaotic, and players are taken down with just a few shots. But the downside to it is that the maps aren't overly interesting and right now they are absolutely ripe for snipers. Objection based games are full of player's staying far outside the objective just to pick off enemies and rack up their score. Many game's suffer from that but it's always predicated on map quality. There also aren't enough maps to keep things interesting and I'd hate to think they held anything back to sell at a later date., but sure enough DLC has been announced already.
I have one last note and criticism on THQ's online strategy: THQ only lets players reach level five before they have to purchase online access for $10. I am in full support of publishers trying to protect themselves from used game sales, but this short-sighted approach fails to take into consideration that a lot of people rent and use Gamefly to test out games. You will reach level five in just two or three matches, which barely gives you a taste of Homefront's best multiplayer aspects. Players should get to play the game proper when they pay through the right channels, and until publishers announce that they aren't selling games to rental houses they have no excuse for not giving them a proper alternative.
The same level of care that went into the design of the world has been given to Homefront's aesthetic, which by current console and PC standards is kind of lousy. Pop-in is a significant problem but it's easier to overlook than the drab and dated textures of the world. With the highest settings on, using my six month old computer, Homefront chugged along at a fair clip but what it was outputting wasn't very impressive and didn't make any significant improvements over the PS3 version I reviewed. Maybe I'm making too big of a deal about it but Homefront is being released within just a few weeks of Killzone 3, Bulletstorm and Crysis 2, three of the best looking games (in their own ways) of this generation. Games don't all have to look that good, but Homefront looks dated.
Homefront isn't saved by any of the voice acting, and you can blame that on the writing and the talent. The side characters that fight alongside Jacobs are inconsistent blowhards that are so thinly constructed the game would have been better without them. One moment one of them will back slap the groups efficient killing, then later brood on the atrocities of war. Even the character you play as, who's billed as some type of godsend that's worth risking other lives for, is really just a useless mute who, spoiler, isn't special at all. If the game never told you how important you were supposed to be they might have had an interesting angle on how each citizen was forced to take up arms and reclaim their city, instead the setup is as forced as the single player campaign feels.
It's too bad THQ didn't have the same focused effort on the development of Homefront that they did with the marketing of it. It's a pointless shooter that relies so heavily on its Hollywood writer and its shock premise that it never lets itself be fun, original or interesting. There is only one redeeming aspect of the title and that's online, but that's neither a reason to justify a purchase at full price or enough to warrant passing up the crush of other better shooters out there. Homefront is a disappointment in every sense of the word, a game that never accomplishes a better sequence than its first five minutes where you're not even holding a weapon. That should tell you something.
I'll let you decide what that is.
Final Score: 60%
Adequate -- You either really want to like this game or you just want something cheap to play, this fits the bill. It’ll kill some hours and you might have fun, you just wouldn't tell anyone to go out and buy it.