March 15, 2011
Written by John Milius, who co-wrote Apocalypse Now and wrote Red Dawn, Homefront focusses on a fictional invasion by the Korean People's Army. Following the death of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il, his son, Kim Jong-Un manages to unite North and South Korea, while tacking a grip over most of Eastern Asia. Increasing the might as both a military force and a financial one, they capitalise on the unrest in the United States of America, which has been brought on by a surge in the price of oil.
The game takes place after all this happens though. The Greater Korean Republic has invaded, and occupied, the United States of America, and you take control of a rescued pilot who is now part of the Resistance in Montrose, Colorado. As you play through, you'll see how America is struggling to cope with the occupation, with some residents just trying to survive, while others have outcast themselves and created their own society where everyone is the enemy.
The premise is quite similar to Red Dawn, but it's a breath of fresh air to find a game in this genre that has taken its story so seriously. It's not a situation you'd want to impose on anybody, and despite the characters still being a bit faceless, it's not them that the story is ultimately about - it's about the generic American citizen, just trying to find some food.
Gameplay is very similar to games of a similar ilk. You can carry two weapons at any time, alongside a knife, and the best way to kill enemies is by capping them in the head. People have become rather attuned to this, and in many ways, it's starting to get a bit bland.
Homefront tackles this in an interesting way though. While most games will give you almost infinite ammunition, allowing you to keep using your favourite gun until it forcibly makes you switch, Homefront takes a different route. Ammunition is plentiful, but very rarely for the gun you're actually using. You might have 2-3 clips of ammunition when you start a passage of play, and with a machine gun, this can be depleted rather quickly if you aren't conservative. In order to continue on with the fight, you'll have to scavenge from downed enemies, whose guns again will only have limited supplies of ammo.
It's a great mechanic, because not only does it tie-in with the story, it also forces you to be versatile. You might start off with a traditional American rifle, which you're comfortable with, but it won't be long until you're forced to trade this for a Korean gun. Not only this, but the Koreans use guns that they're comfortable with, so even if you find a gun with the same model as your own, there's no guarantee that it will have the same scope. Many times, you'll be trading for a gun that's completely different to your own. Although the developers do try to give you a bit of a helping hand, you rarely ever have to use the weapons they "subtly" leave lying around.
There are also passages of play which take you away from the standard corridor shooter, and place you in a vehicle, or in control of a vehicle. There are a few moments where you'll get to take control of a Goliath - an automated sentry robot that's rather handy. But the campaign also features a section where you don a turret on an APC, and another where you have to awkwardly fly a helicopter.
The game's presentation is pretty good, but the sound design is something that deserves a mention above all else. The music has been composed to perfectly accompany the action featured in the game, and while it's not a soundtrack you'll likely listen to on your MP3 player, it does help build-up moments, or highlight things. The constant dialogue also helps to immerse you in the battle, whether it be allied com-chatter, or just the KPA shouting things in Korean.
One of the biggest and inexcusable faults of the offline experience though, is that it's far too short. In many ways, it's quite offensive. The campaign can be completed in under 4 hours without really breaking a sweat, and there's no way that this should be the norm. The story is great, make no mistake about it, and more could have been added to flesh it out and keep players engaged. Making it such a short experience tarnishes all the good that was accomplished by it.
To try and compensate for this, Kaos Studios has included a very fleshed out multiplayer mode. It has a huge amount of unlocks, but the interesting feature would be Battle Points (BP). Most actions you perform while playing will give you BP, such as killing an enemy or capturing an objective. These BP can then be used to purchase upgrades on the fly, but they are only active until you die. Such upgrades can start off small, flak jackets or an RPG, for example. However, the more BP you get, the more lavish your spending can be, with tanks and helicopters on the menu.
It also introduces an interesting approach to kill streaks. While offering passives to the person on a roll, the game also attempts to hinder them by alerting enemies to their. The more people you kill, unanswered, the more enemies will be told of your position. If they kill you, they'll receive bonus BP.
Homefront tells a gripping story that's really quite unnerving. It also implements a few interesting gameplay mechanics to fight the typical tedium that's encountered with modern-day shooters. But these elements are overshadowed by a campaign that unforgivably short, and vehicle sections that don't feel implemented all that well. There is a full online multiplayer component to give the game a bit more bang, but developers need to understand that the single-player experience is just as important.
Homefront was reviewed on the PS3.