It should come as no surprise to see another publisher pushing to create the next must-have FPS, set pieces and all. Where THQ and developer Kaos Studios promise a new FPS experience is in the premise and critically-acclaimed writing talent behind the scenes. Even for the most seasoned FPS veterans, the idea of a fictional future where Korea invades, and then later cripples the USA is certainly one to peak the interests of many gamers. With their only previous game being Frontline: Fuels of War, many are right to question whether or not Kaos Studios is up to the task of dethroning-or even standing shoulder to shoulder-with other near-future military shooters.
In the beginning of the year 2012, Kim Jong-Il dies. About a year after that, Kim Jong-un, the new leader of North Korea and Kim Jong-Il's son, unifies North and South Korea to create the Greater Korean Republic (GKR). As the GKR grow stronger year after years-thanks to an annexing frenzy across Eastern Asia, the US grows weaker and weaker-thanks in large part to economic recession and a gallon of gas costing twenty dollars. The events eventually lead to the GKR launching a satellite with EMP capabilities that cripples the US' electronic grid. Upon successfully making landfall on the West Coast, the GKR soon overwhelms US forces, leaving the entire nation to either bow down to the wishes of their attacker or join the resistance. As Robert Jacobs, you take on the role of an ex-helicopter pilot who's been freed by the resistance to join the fight.
While a great suspension of disbelief is required to stick with the story, credit is to be given in running with this premise so fervently. Throughout the majority of your journey in a Colorado suburban area, you're instantly greeted by both the clashing ideals of US citizens and bleak oppression cast by the Korean occupiers. Moments such as a tense bus scene show that Homefront's aim isn't towards having the next moment be of Michael Bay caliber, but instead have more intense moments revolve around the brutality of war. Supplementing those moments with a fleshed out timeline of scattered newspapers throughout the game show the true attention to detail in making this experience feel as believable as possible. The two main drawbacks towards the overall story would be the scant length of the entire campaign and the bland dialogue. It seems John Mulius, screenwriter for the likes 'Hunt for Red October' and 'Red Dawn', didn't need to go far outside his comfort zone in writing what is essentially a story that can be completed in a faster time than watching 'Red October' on TV.
Homefront's visual design in creating a near-dystopian America is driven home quite often throughout the game. Resistance fighters crawling through abandoned White Castles and jumping over toppled Full Throttle vending machines adds volumes to the narrative and concept. While the artistic aims at making a grimy America are appreciated, it's tough not to notice that everything looks dated. Ranging from explosive effects to character models, the game isn't up there with the rest of the shooter crowd. To make the situation even worse, expect to be greeted with constant texture pop-in and latency issues.
Unfortunately, Homefront's core audio elements almost fall as flat as its visual design. While the technical sides revolving around gun sounds, explosions, etc. are great, aspects such as the soundtrack and voice acting take away from that immersive effect. There's also a profusion of audio anomalies to encounter throughout the campaign. After going back to play the campaign twice, I constantly needed to perk my ears during certain conversations because your squad's voices would sometimes drop to inaudible levels. In the end, it would come as no surprise to see Homefront receive a few nominations in audio design were it not for falling short in everything else that isn't action oriented.
Despite the promises of guerrilla warfare like Half Life 2, Homefront's action rarely deviates from the expected formula. When it does, it can actually feel like you're the better equipped team. This double-edged sword works as a disadvantage to the immersive effect but an advantage to the overall fun factor. The formulaic approach to shooting everyone against you varies with a few emotional scenes, stealth sections, and taking the command of the 'Goliath'. This remote-controlled APC is essentially a six-wheeled, agile rocket launcher on wheels. Throughout certain portions of the campaign, Jacobs commands Goliath to destroy enemy armor while the team head towards their next objective. Although these sections can offer what little eye candy the game has, the immersion level is hindered just by the fact that it's nearly impenetrable yet the 'peasant' resistance fighters seem to have the only one in stock. While the secret weapon trope isn't in itself a problem, it's just a unequivocal reminder that even the gameplay variants are simply aiming and shooting.
The aimed approach of guerrilla warfare does pay off well when you have a gun in your hand. The controls, although typical, feel as responsive as you'd expect. Past the controls comes a litany of anomalies that come as a disservice to the gameplay. Questionable design choices like health that regenerates almost instantly (even on hard), friendly AI incongruities, zero recoil effect and a terrible amount of hand holding drag the gameplay down to being uninspired and unpolished. Overall, Homefront's gameplay isn't necessarily bad, just whole fully mediocre after the good and bad have been weighed.
Despite taking a back seat in the promotional push for Homefront, the online fares incredibly well for its nuanced ‘killstreak’ formula and huge maps. Homefront's MP modes range from 24 player counts on Team Deathmatch and 32 on Ground Control, both offering Battle Commander variants (to be explained more in detail). While there's not many modes to choose from, the inclusion of vehicles: humvees, tanks, and helicopters, encourage experimentation in both combat and passive abilities that are found in the armory.
The two nuanced features to the online mode are titled 'Battle Points' and 'Battle Commander'. Battle points are an in-match currency (resets after each match) that allows a player to purchase weapons, gear and vehicles for a certain amount. Players earn points by taking objectives, getting kills, or getting assists and are forced to choose between many small purchases such as weapons versus larger, higher cost items like helicopters and tanks. Battle Commander a mode variant that essentially places bounties on opposing players that are getting impressive killstreaks. The more kills that opposing player gets, the higher the bounty is set. With each star comes more players from the opposing team offered the bounty, until 5 stars (maximum level) offers the bounty to everyone on the friendly team. Overall, these two wrinkles offer an FPS experience that feels rewarding and different enough to warrant this game to be the new home for some FPS fans.
Homefront is reminiscent of the beginning of 'A Tale of Two Cities': It has some of the best of offerings for online gamers (for 2011), and the worst of offerings in FPS campaigns (for 2011). Despite having a very interesting premise and backstory, the campaign feels half-hearted thanks to the incredibly short length and unappealing design in so many different aspects. In the end, it's just another case of an FPS delivering a worthwhile online portion with a campaign feeling like an afterthought. It has more pieces you'll enjoy than hate, but it's essentially a mediocre start for the Homefront series.
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