Speculative fiction and video games go hand-in-hand more often than not these days what with the average first person shooter these days revolving around a plot involving a war with either Russia, China, or pretty much any Asian country that doesn�t believe fully in truth, justice, and the American way. Kaos Studios, still a relatively new studio on the block, is no exception as its founding members created the immensely popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 2 and, in 2008, created their first commercial title in the form of Frontlines: Fuel of War. While Frontlines didn�t go on to be a commercial success the seeds were planted for Kaos to take what they learned and create another new IP, this one even more speculative than the first.
This title, Homefront, has seen some of the strongest marketing in years thanks to THQ, the game�s publisher, but can it really live up to the hype? They Will Not Force Us
In the bleak year of 2027 the world is in a staggeringly different state from what we see it as today. After the death of dictator Kim Jung-Il in 2012 his son, Kim Jung-Un, steps into his father�s shoes and completely revitalizes North Korea�s public image so much so that he accomplishes something that his father never could: he reunites the country with its southern brethren to form the Greater Korean Republic. Over the course of the next decade and a half Jung-Un goes on an annexation spree, absorbing smaller Asian countries such as Laos and Cambodia amidst the falling influence of China and the withdrawal of the United States military to focus on domestic issues. The GKR, despite international outcry, forces Japan to surrender to annexation after Korean commandoes destroy a major nuclear facility in the country�s southern region, an event with startling parallels to that of Japan�s current troubles.
While the GKR becomes the dominant nation of power in the Pacific the United States of America on the other hand isn�t doing so well. After high inflation causes the near demise of the US dollar and a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia leads to the crippling of the economy due to massively high gas and oil prices the US is sliding into a state of anarchy as the military struggles to maintain order and the flow of resources. At center stage in the year 2025 the GKR announces the launch of a new satellite system under the guise of replacing the aging Global Positioning System that the United States can no longer afford to maintain. In reality the first satellite is actually a nuclear weapon and, upon flying over Kansas, detonates releasing an electromagnetic pulse that cripples the US electrical grid. With the US weakened the GKR invades the American west coast, toppling cities left and right. To prevent eastern forces from rushing west to fight the Koreans irradiate the Mississippi River, preventing almost any attempt made to cross this river-divided country.
Homefront�s story takes place two years after the initial invasion. The player character, Robert Jacobs, is a former Marine combat pilot who seeks to bide his time and survive in his occupied town of Montrose, Colorado. After having ignored a draft order by the GKR for his services as a helicopter pilot his door is broken down as he is arrested and ordered to be sent to a reeducation center in Alaska. He is rescued shortly thereafter thanks to Connor and Rianna, members of Montrose�s resistance forces. After barely escaping Korean response patrols Connor meets cell leader Boone Karlson. Boone has a plan and Jacobs is at the center of it: aid in an assault by the scattered US military forces on occupied San Francisco by helping hijack container trucks filled with jet fuel.
Despite the game�s absolutely absurd backstory (which is widely rumored to have its villains changed pre-announcement from China to North Korea due to fears that it wouldn�t be allowed to be sold in that country) US occupation is one of my favorite genres of speculative and alternate history fiction. Sadly though the game�s actual story fails to deliver on almost all fronts. Jacobs, a silent protagonist, sees almost no character development throughout his story and neither due his resistance counterparts. In fact it seems that the goal of Homefront�s story isn�t so much about freedom fighters fighting against and invading army so much as it is about the state of the world around them. Kaos seems more content with showing more about the state of the US and the evil of the GKR rather than providing a character-driven, engaging storyline. Despite this, other than the game�s backstory, you learn very little about the main cast or anything beyond what�s happening immediately around you which is a shame considering how much potential the universe of Homefront has for a strong franchise.
Probably the most difficult aspect to come to terms with about the game�s story is the pacing that the player is forced to endure. Throughout the game the player is subjected to what are called �Why We Fight� moments in which the action is next to nonexistent and the player �allowed� to explore a small environment or story-specific event in order to convey a sense that either your or other�s actions in the resistance have a direct impact on those around you. While this is a perfectly good way to create an engaging storyline it fails to do so due to it usually being a linear event that cannot be skipped that doesn�t actually convey any emotion. Short of the game�s opening sequence there is no believable or convincing sequence that pushes you on. It certainly doesn�t help that you can�t do anything more than walk as slow as possible and only hear a few things out of character�s mouths but it just isn�t engaging at all and is more of a detriment to the overall story.
Maybe this is due to poor gameplay design but I think it is more attributable to the inclusion of John Milius as the main writer for the game. Milius, who career as a Hollywood screenwriter has included (as mentioned on the game�s box) such famous films as Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now, should logically be well at home within the context of the game�s subject matter. The truth however is that the lackluster job Milius has put forth makes it feel like either he (and/or his fellow design team members) does not understand how to properly craft a story within the confines of an interactive experience or that the story hasn�t been updated to reflect today�s themes and emotions and instead is an adaptation of a script that would have been well at home in the 1970s or 80s. Whichever conclusion you side with the results are still the same: the game�s pacing doesn�t make for either or a good game or movie by today�s standards.
This could be tolerable however had the issues ended there but it seems that the ultimate insult is the actual length of the singleplayer narrative. Despite reports that Homefront�s story would take between five and ten hours to complete this reviewer was able to complete a runthrough on normal in a little over four hours. This last time this writer played a singleplayer game that was that short its name was Terminator Salvation and we all know how that went. While it is too much to expect a shooter of RPG-length these days given the astonishingly high cost of game development for AAA titles there is still a bar to meet to insure the worth of a product in this competitive market. Four hours isn�t it. Kaos� seven level singleplayer experience feels like it should have been far longer than it is out of the box and, if you are the kind of gamer who bases their purchasing decision on the game�s main campaign then Homefront simply isn�t a game for you. They Will Stop Degrading Us
These days it seems like every game with a strong marketing campaign and a multiplayer component asks this question: is it a Call of Duty killer? While this question is usually associated with the state of a game�s multiplayer it is also a question of whether a game can be as good if not better an overall experience than the series that has made Activision so many millions of dollars over the past five years. Both one of the finest compliments a game developer can receive as well as a strong challenge to be met by the developer in question, it is a quandary that is asked far too often and almost never yields the answer that gamers wish to hear. I like to think that this is an example of consumers seeking to have more diversity and competitiveness in the industry but unfortunately it comes down to the fact that gamers more often than not just want to know what to spend their money on instead of being willing to experience and experiment with what�s out there on the market trying to make a statement.
To answer the question though: no, it is not.
Homefront is very much like many shooters out on the market today: you run, duck, shoot, take cover, rinse and repeat. In that view it is no different from the other major AAA shooter titles on the market. At this point in the review I would begin to try and point out what makes Homefront stand out amongst the other titles in the genre and how it is potentially worth of your hard-earned cash. Sadly though it seems that, other than the basic formula of gameplay Homefront doesn�t stand out amongst its peers. In fact, if this reviewer had to choose in what context it would then I would attribute it to one of the better games should the title have arrived on the market in 2007.
When I say that Homefront doesn�t stand out gameplay-wise I mean that, as far as the singleplayer goes, it is probably the least original shooter title to come out in years. Many of the most memorable singleplayer levels from the Call of Duty series have been shamelessly recreated. The introduction to the final mission of Homefront plays out in almost the exact same manner as the Gulag mission from Modern Warfare 2. You even take control of a UAV to rain fiery death upon an unsuspecting Korean armor column ala the Death From Above mission from Call of Duty 4. For a game that�s trying to stand out from the crowd Homefront certainly isn�t accomplishing it with its gameplay.
Instead of having the potential to stand out as a game about a guerilla war against an oppressive occupying army what we are left with is a simple war game: nothing more, nothing less. As a member of a resistance cell one should not be directly attacking the occupiers (in this case the Koreans) but instead should be doing all they can to minimize Korean influence and their ability to actually control the populace. What missions are players sent on instead? Several major assaults on strategic Korean targets, nothing else. Sure your missions are hit-and-run events but, as one of the loading screens in the game says, being in the resistance should be more than about resisting.
I guess the most disappointing part of the campaign�s gameplay is the lack of focus on actually trying to outwit the Korean army passively. Games about a resistance force should both ideologically and realistically realize that the resistance faces an overwhelming enemy and cannot afford the high-profile missions that are seen throughout the campaign. That being said let me break it down: there are no reconnaissance, information delivery, sabotage, or infiltration missions to be had during the game�s short campaign. There is only a single sneaking mission and even then that lasts only a short while between skirmishes. Were I fighting along soldiers in a war effort I would feel more in line with the direction of the game�s levels but since I�m a resistance member with little to no backup to be had I feel that the missions are in no way reflective of their realistic, real life counterparts.
They Will Not Control Us
Apart from the setting for the game�s singleplayer campaign Homefront�s other prominent feature is its multiplayer component. A seven map battle royale between regular US Army forces and occupying Koreans, the game�s multiplayer allows for up to 32 players to compete in team-based modes with nary a free for all mode to be found. Kaos� interesting creation ends up playing somewhere between the fast-paced gameplay of Call of Duty and the large, vehicle-based combat of games like Battlefield.
One of the more interesting components of the multiplayer comes in the form of an in-game currency system. Called Battle Points players can spend them to activate vehicles, UAVs, tertiary weapons and abilities to increase their effectiveness on the battlefield. You earn BP for most actions that you do during the course of a match (much like Counterstrike in many ways) and can spend them on the fly or when you respawn. This system piggybacks on the experience points you earn but it doesn�t carry over between matches so it�s not wise to accumulate and not spend them.
While Homefront contains your standard deathmatch and territory control variants the most interesting mode to be found is Battle Commander. Playing out initially like a standard deathmatch game, Battle Commander has enemies becoming highlighted on your map should they begin a killstreak or earn perform certain actions much like the wanted systems in Rockstar titles Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. As you continue your streak however you are given perks to buffer your character/vehicle, making you harder to kill. Should you die your perks are reset to normal but you receive a large chunk of experience for your effort. The end result feels very unique and fun, though it would probably be even more enjoyable if the game played out at a faster pace.
That isn�t to say that Homefront is without problems; far from it. While the game is still experiencing growing pains such as lag and problems connecting with matches there are some strong issues that need to be addressed in terms of gameplay. Currently, Homefront�s servers seem incapable of recognizing parties when entering matches and will separate your party members from one another more often than not. Spawning doesn�t seem to take into account enemy locations effectively so you�ll encounter quite a few moments in which you�re already being gazed upon by an enemy through their iron sights just as you are entering the map. You�ll also find that the matchmaking servers seem put priority on first available matches instead of actually balancing them based on player experience levels so new players will find themselves playing with or against significantly more experienced players instead of ones at their level.
Balancing though seems to be a near game-breaking issue with Homefront. Kaos, much like their previous effort Frontline: Fuel of War, has put a strong emphasis on vehicular combat. While this would not be an issue if players were given anti-vehicle weapons off the bat players must instead purchase them in order to fight back. Given there is no actual rocket launcher capable of tracking targets in the game and that the only approximate weapon cannot be unlocked until level 32 there is almost nothing beginning players can do to effectively take on an enemy helicopter. Vehicles can be particularly devastating given how durable they are so it is a wonder how this balancing issue wasn�t addressed during production.
Overall the multiplayer component is definitely an interesting affair and offers veteran Call of Duty and Battlefield players an alternative but unless these balance issues are addressed they certainly aren�t going to stick with it. We Will Be Victorious
Homefront is a title that had a lot going for it. Releasing at a time in which there is little competition in terms of gameplay and intriguing propositions for both singleplayer and multiplayer advocates alike, Kaos� latest effort could have become a grand affair to remember. What has been released however is a short, unsatisfying singleplayer campaign with a convoluted mess of a multiplayer component (albeit with potential through balancing updates). Had Homefront been released four years ago I would have said that the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises were in trouble but it seems that Kaos Studios is still playing catch up. While promises of new content and patches are on the horizon there is very little incentive right now to make the consumer abandon the game�s well established competitors. Homefront is definitely worthy of a rent for people looking to try something new but with Crysis 2 on its heels and surefire gameplay experiences like Portal 2, LA Noire, and Duke Nukem Forever coming very soon it�d be best to save your money.
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