What's all the Hubbub?
It’s rare a game hits the market where even non-gamers appear intrigued. Random people at my gym, workplace, and even my wife (gasp!) asked me about ‘Homefront’ upon discovering my writing a review for it. Thus – and if this convenience sample is indicative of the wider masses - Homefront’s certainly generated a whole lotta’ interest.
Said interest stems from a controversial storyline of a 2027, North Korean (Korean People’s Army) invasion of the United States. Famed Hollywood scribe John Milius is the brain’s behind this operation, the same individual responsible for legendary ‘Apocalypse Now’…and also ‘Red Dawn.’ Now, I can’t mention Red Dawn sans allusion to a very early Charlie Sheen, worthy of revisiting for young glimpses of his bi-winning (Google: 'Songify: Charlie Sheen') as Matt Eckert.
The world of Homefront is not a military invasion for the feint of heart. We’re talking bloody, ‘shoot civilians openly in the streets,’ type of conflict. Prison camps, home invasions, mass media indoctrination about repatriations. Developer Kaos Studios pulled no punches in trying to depict a gut-wrenching, worst-case scenario of America future. One where the present, and past nightmares of war combine to imagine the worst possible ‘what if’ only 2.5 decades ahead.
Single player mode begins with perhaps the greatest prologue in recent videogame memory, a beautifully produced historical montage of events leading up to the 2027 invasion. What makes the montage so powerful is its stark believability. Continued U.S. economic collapse leads to petrol supply catastrophe, coinciding with a rise in North Korean military and political strength via East Asian alliances. This montage likewise sports actual historical figures, adding additional credence to the world it is attempting to depict.
Viva La Revolucion!
Actual gameplay begins with our protagonist – ex-Marine pilot Robert Jacobs – being pulled from his home by Korean People’s Army (KPA) troops in Montrose, Colorado (a smaller city in this Western U.S., mountain state). Dragged onto a bus enroute to a work camp, Jacobs is rescued by a trio of Resistance force members eager for his military prowess.
The rescue is accompanied a slew of dramatic, gruesome imagery; American bodies dumped into pits by KPA soldiers, a firing squad line where targeted parents plead with their child to look away, blood splattering on the bus window from an additional series of shootings.
Unfortunately, however, Homefront’s best moments arguably begin and end with its controversial storyline, as gameplay dynamics are not up to par with its strong backdrop. Simply put: Homefront is an average First Person Shooter (FPS) one easily surpassed by a number of comparable offerings within the genre.
N-P-C?; No, You Don't Know Me
Homefront is continuously plagued by a terrible non-playable character (NPC) dynamic, where advancing through stage components requires computer-controlled teammates to play along nicely. Problem is, they almost never do. NPC’s are abominations tactically, likewise never seem to make it to checkpoints in a reasonable or logical fashion. In one instance, I watched an NPC – one I was tasked to follow – literally walk in circles 5x over before I abandoned hope and direction. Even when the idiots do as expected, more glitches emerge. In several instances, I waited idly for minutes at a time for an NPC to simply open a door (needed to progress). No rhyme, no reason, all of us standing there. Then – shazzam! – let’s do this thing. Ugh.
What results – since stage progression determines KPA numbers - is Jacobs taking on seemingly all of Pyongyang, an endlessly respawning wave of enemies with ridiculously good aim to boot. Expect to spend a lot of time waiting for KPA to re-emerge like whack-a-mole, picking them off via headshot after headshot…while NPC’s struggle to make it to stage progression points to end this tantric madness.
With mid-progress save points few and far between – paired with morons as Resistance teammates – you’ll die…a lot. Even with an auto-recover health system, Jacobs isn’t a sturdy guy. Waves of enemies equates to waves of grenades and semi-automatic fire. The game’s cover system doesn’t help matters much, encouraging its use but inconsistent in both physics and purpose. Let the record stand that even a ‘running’ Jacobs moves like molasses.
Moreover, experimentation and/or exploring levels are non-existent due to far-too-many invisible walls plus the aforementioned, overly rigid progression system. While there are some scattered ‘newspaper’ goodies to acquire story backfill… that’s about it. A terrible shame, as its clear Kaos artists imagined a beautiful, interactive word.
Finally, far too many simple actions require on-screen cue, single button presses…ones that often wait on those cursed NPC’s to accomplish before Jacobs can do his thang. Climbing ladders become arduous exercises, likewise meanders under fences. I got it, guys: press up, or double press the circle button (to crawl). Why the forced, uninspired alternative?
I knew this dynamic reached epic fail when an on screen prompt literally instructed me to press the square button to crawl into a mass grave. One intended as Homefront’s arguably most controversial and gut-wrenching moments…reduced to an auto-scripted, single button press. Oh, and I had to wait for my NPC’s to crawl in there first.
The same criticisms abound in Homefront’s storyline, one that falls flat on its arse after the incredible opening. Atrocious character development means that – even in the game’s tensest moment– one could care less about Jacobs and his uninspired, robotic compatriots. It’s no wonder the Resistance is struggling to convince anyone when they’re so damn, well, boring.
Multiplayer is described as a much better go, but apparently the restaurant isn’t open for business. Never enough people to attempt even a single match, with lobby members literally pleading with individuals to hang around in hopes of getting the needed dozen plus folks to launch a lone level. This combined with well-documented (and acknowledged) server crash/freeze problems mean there’s a lot of work ahead of THQ before a viable online community can result. That is, if the single player mode didn’t scare potential players away in advance.
The sad part of Homefront is that I really wanted to like this game...for so many reasons. An intelligent, controversial storyline willing to test the boundaries is one I’ll support any day. The surprisingly decent, accompanying novel THQ threw in affirms the story’s continued potential. I ‘m also a sucker for a smaller development studio (in Kaos) given the keys to an expensive vehicle via a well-touted property.
The reality, however, is that Homefront is an average FPS, one that aspires for greatness but isn’t anywhere as good as its bigger brother, console brethren. I can’t – with a straight face – recommend Homefront over any of the previous Call of Duty titles.
With this being said, sales from Homefront are strong, downloadable content on the horizon. Hopefully these future additions are accompanied by attempts to correct the above criticisms.
Last and worthy of addressing (as a review disclaimer): I’m a transplanted American to Oz. While finding Homefront’s imagery emotional – it certainly did not rock my conceptual world nor engender endless outrage or disillusionment. While the scenery was a bit familiar and suggested a very disconcerting future, Homefront is clearly an entertainment product meant to tell a story. Nothing less, nothing more. Related, I’m anything but an apologist, an American who loves my home country very much, and supports its military and soldiers, as appropriate. Yes, going down Homefront’s worst-case scenario road was certainly a bit disconcerting at times. Simultaneously obvious, however, was this world is intended to engender an FPS with something for our friend Mr. Jacobs to fight for.
Thus, I’m unclear – as a seasoned professor in ‘real life’ on new media technology and persuasion interchange – why free world governments believe in oft-discredited, direct effects models of media use for its videogame publics. These theories prescribe that anything consumed is instantly translated to steadfast belief. And I’m Sonic the Friggin’ Hedgehog.
Editing Homefront for Japan (in replacing the KPA with a fictional third party), banning it outright in South Korea (due to political sensibilities) is absurd. Simultaneous, delayed releases of ‘Motorstorm: Apocalypse‘ likewise churn my stomach, ditto last year’s content revisions to ‘Medal of Honor.’ ‘Mortal Kombat’…don’t make me get started. On these points, comments are more than welcome below, as always