Editor’s Note: In order to accurately convey our impressions of Homefront, the following review contains minor spoilers.
There are things in Homefront which cannot be unseen. There are indelible images of civilians being executed on suburban street corners as their frantic children tug desperately on the pants of their Korean captor, screaming in anguish. There are jarring scenes involving mass graves and unspeakable torture. There are horrifying events which depict an American culture that has simply ceased to exist, swallowed and ravaged by a cruel and relentless Korean enemy. Homefront may be speculative fiction, but once you’re immersed in its emotional narrative it feels like a haunting reality.
The film industry’s burgeoning interest and involvement with video game developers nets a huge payoff here. John Milius, the screenwriter who penned Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now (and whose real-life persona was the basis for iconic Big Lebowski character Walter Sobchak) is behind Homefront’s script, which has a piercing emotional impact without relying on constant sensory assault or cheap gimmicks. It is also unapologetic in presenting a focused plot without pulling any punches or worrying about offending its audience.
Homefront’s basic premise involves the gradual and manipulative occupation of the United States by a United Korea. The chilling introductory cutscene reveals the plausible baby steps leading to America’s demise, beginning in 2011 and culminating in the events you help to orchestrate in the year 2027. In short, you’re a former marine pilot who rejoins a group of freedom fighters willing to risk their lives to reclaim even a slice of their once-great nation. We applaud developers Kaos and their publisher THQ for having the courage to present what many will consider a controversial and downright disturbing story, and for doing so with more class and respect than Infinity Ward’s infamous “No Russian” level from Modern Warfare 2. The caveat being that here, the experience isn’t optional.
The single player campaign does succumb to the many tropes of First-Person Shooters, in stark contrast to its elevated storytelling. You know them as regenerating health, endless “Follow this guy” prompts and more F-bombs than a Halo match on Xbox Live. Someone needs to remind developers that occasionally colorful language has impact; endless cussing just comes off as juvenile. The story mode redeems itself by placing you – outnumbered and underpowered – in desperate situations that never wear out their welcome. From defeating the Korean’s automated turrets that tower above the level to a brief but awesome helicopter sequence (you’re the pilot and gunner here), to a climactic finale on, underneath, and above San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, each of the 7 missions are compact, poignant and memorable.
Visually, the Unreal Engine keeps allowing developers like Kaos to pump out magic, even if the palette is noticeably lacking any vibrant reds or greens. Then again, when much of America has been reduced to dirty, abandoned restaurants-turned-battlefields like White Castle and Hooters, the grays and browns seem appropriate. Overall, only the PC version will impress you graphically; with its console cousins feeling slightly washed out and dull in several spots, specifically building textures. That being said, it doesn’t detract from the experience. You simply won’t be bragging to your friends about the eyecandy.
Interestingly, the entire single player experience feels trimmed by a professional film editor, which is understandable given the creator of the source material. Everything is concise and smartly paced; perhaps too concise for a video game. Homefront’s story is a vertical slice of the USA’s overarching plight against their Korean aggressor, and your team is likely one of 100’s doing everything they can to take back America. The result is a 5 hour experience playable in one sitting (two if you have A.D.D.) that leaves us satisfied but starving for a sequel. If you’re searching for a solid solo FPS with a downright gritty and compelling story (yes, it’s the best we’ve seen from shooters in this generation) then Homefront is absolutely worth a rental, especially if you plan on skipping the outstanding multiplayer component. Of course, if you want your Battlefield itch scratched, Homefront’s multiplayer alone is worth the price of admission and will hold you spellbound for months to come.
Homefront Multiplayer: Scratch your Battlefield Itch
For those of you wondering, Homefront’s multiplayer offering cannot compete with Call of Duty, because it surpasses it in nearly every way. Here’s a shocker: During our 20-odd hours with multiplayer, we didn’t experience a single disconnection once a match had begun. THQ’s insistence on utilizing dedicated servers across the PS3, PC and Xbox 360 versions is a complete win for gamers. No lag, no stutters, no hiccups. Kaos and THQ have seductively opened the door for fatigued Call of Duty veterans, and we expect them to come running with abandon.
At its core, Homefront’s multiplayer offers only two modes – Ground Control (think “Domination”) and Team Deathmatch. Within this shell is a diverse loadout system across six classes (Assault, SMG, Heavy, Sniper, Tactical and Explosive), several more for vehicles (and a deep well of rewards, all of which is fueled by the game’s clever use of Battle Points.
Battle Points (which can only be utilized for the duration of a match) are achieved for much more than popping headshots. Start a match by sending your remote controlled Parrot – a drone with limited battery life – skyward to scout and tag enemies who are then visible to your squad, and you’ll earn Battle Points (campers, you’ve been warned!) When a teammate eventually sees the bright red diamond indicating the precise location of that enemy and dispatches him, you’ll get Battle Points for the helping hand. Hunt down and eliminate that player who’s racking up the killstreaks and get showered with Battle Points. Cash in those Battle Points to call down hellfire missiles, deploy a Wolverine battle drone, or perhaps spawn some heavy armor for your team to help turn the tide. Or use a smaller chunk of BP to arm yourself with a flak jacket and a personal UAV scan. Kaos understands it’s not simply about killing (evidenced by the lack of a free-for-all mode); it’s about the actions you take to contribute to your team’s victory. It’s this philosophy that lends to the game’s heavy “Battlefield” feel coupled with the brisk gameplay of Call of Duty.
The rate at which you accrue Battle Points corresponds to experience earned, which of course levels up your character and unearths a satisfying range of equipment, weapons, attachments, vehicle loadouts and infantry abilities. We hit level 16 online (out of a possible 50 levels) before penning this review and had only unlocked about 25% of Homefront’s tasty war chest of toys.
The truly engaging stuff happens at Level 7, when the Battle Commander mode unlocks, augmenting the standard Deathmatch and Ground Control matches. Dominating the battlefield in this mode alerts members of the opposing team of your presence, as an invisible commander informs them of your crime — and your general location. Keep pulling off killstreaks and gradually the entire team is made aware of your location. But becoming a priority target doesn’t mean you’re defenseless. Keep the kills rolling and Homefront rewards you with five levels of perks to fend off the enemy in addition to the abilities and equipment you can take advantage of with your Battle Points. This dynamic shift in gameplay throughout the course of a single match (and amidst your standard objectives) is just insanely addictive.
We should also mention that you’ll never grow tired of hopping between your different classes. Because such a variety of useful equipment can be assigned (beyond just grenades and impossible-to-achieve killstreak rewards), each class can be outfitted to suit your team’s needs during the course of battle.
What about the actual gunplay, targeting and general feel of the weapons? They certainly don’t look and sound as authentic as the armament found in other modern shooters, but they’re no less responsive. Actually, we’re thrilled to report that there seems to be a complete lack of auto-targeting, meaning your sniper best have genuine skills. There is no sweet spot for your crosshair, so precision counts.
While we never experienced a disconnect during a match, the pre-game matchmaking occasionally has trouble connecting to a match, and kicks you back out to the main screen. This is an offense Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is guilty of too, and developers need to better serve the needs of gamers who want to jump into the action rather than wade through menus. Still, once you find a match, both the load times and respawn times are consistently and blisteringly fast.
Like Medal of Honor before it, Homefront has two distinct personalities but in this instance is all the better for it. While the story mode is an engaging, brilliantly written and emotionally wrenching experience, its brevity may deter gamers not interested in dropping dozens of hours into the addictive multiplayer aspect. In their case, a rental is strongly encouraged. On the other hand, if you’re looking for multiplayer with the scope of Battlefield and the intensity of Call of Duty, Homefront unquestionably delivers and warrants the full purchase price.
A review score – 4.5 out of 5 in this game’s case – is simply a guide, and hopefully our verbose review helps guide your buying decision. Our score reflects the surprisingly short, albeit strong single player component and the well-executed, highly replayable multiplayer portion.
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- Release Date: March 15th 2011
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Kaos
- Publisher: THQ
- ESRB Rating: M
Our score: 4.5/5
*Editor’s Note: THQ supplied us with a PS3 review copy. Single player played to completion on Normal difficulty. All modes of multiplayer were played for a total of roughly 20 hours.