Homefront is the newest first-person shooter from developer Kaos Studios, who were also behind an earlier Xbox 360 release, Frontlines: Fuel of War. The biggest selling point of Frontlines was its attempt at large-scale, online combat for consoles — something that wasn't very successful until MAG on the PS3. Homefront doesn't really knock it out of the park in any one area, but I felt that the total package was far better than Kaos Studios' previous entry.
Homefront is set in the San Francisco area in the near future, and it's based on current events but then dovetails into a downright mess for the United States. The economy slump worsens, we're hit with a massive case of disease, and fuel prices skyrocket. Along with that, current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il passes away, and his son is appointed leader. His son initially seems to be a good guy and manages to unite North and South Korea into a single nation. It's all downhill from there, though, as he gathers support from countries like Iran. Korea also hassles Iraq, which causes issues with the oil supply, further impacting the U.S.'s already weakened state. He also wages war against Japan and succeeds, thus gaining hold of readily viable nuclear material.
There's a point in the tale where America can no longer support its GPS satellite system, which falls into disarray. Korea steps up to the plate, offering up its own GPS-like system for all countries, but the satellites are weaponized. This causes a massive EMP strike in North America, allowing Korean forces to invade. That's roughly where the game picks up, with Korea having established itself as an occupying presence on U.S. soil. Small resistance groups are fighting back and trying to assist what little is left of the military.
As Homefront begins, you're given a pretty solid introduction to the sorry state of things. The American people are broken down, abused by the occupying force, and being ushered into containment that evokes a concentration camp feel. Your character is rousted from his home and put on a bus to who-knows-where, but through the interference of a local resistance force, you are freed and join up with your saviors. From there, the game starts to devolve and lose some of its atmosphere. In my opinion, this is partially diluted because Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has already beaten them to the punch.
There's a certain amount of awe in knowing that the landscape on which you're battling it out is set in America, even though it's 20 years or so in the future. There are plenty of familiar-looking pieces of American society strewn about, ranging from the not-so-subtle advertising of chain restaurants and fast food places like Hooters and White Castle to the more realistic interpretations of actual landmarks. Not a lot of shooters touch on areas like this for their backdrops; I can think of very few in the past few years that have done this — aside from Modern Warfare 2. With that said, not a whole lot is effectively done with the setting. There are a couple of spots in the game where the pace slows down to give you a quick glimpse of people's lives in this dystopian version of the future, but those short looks are hardly enough to give you a significant attachment to their plight. Things look bad, and things get worse, but there's not enough foundation to make you as angry at the bad guys as your two companions seem to be.
From a gameplay perspective, the single-player campaign falls a little flat. Weapon selection is ho-hum, offering up a lot of the typical assault rifle, shotgun and pistol combinations you'd expect from a modern shooter. It does little to augment these with interesting tech, alternate firing modes, or anything that makes use of the future setting. Most of the weapons that you pick up are from the Korean forces, which are touted as having advanced tech, but the weapons you utilize for most of the game feel really standard. There's one cool exception to this — a remote-controlled tank-like vehicle — but its use is more for scripted events.
While you're constantly aided by two teammates throughout the story, they're guided by some awful AI. They'll rarely kill an enemy, let alone bother to take cover. They can't die, which is a bonus considering how brain-dead they appear in combat, but they have no real use on the battlefield, either. They're primarily present to show you where to advance, so they're more like interactive markers.
Enemy AI doesn't fare a lot better. They'll rarely flank even if the opportunity presents itself, and they tend to stay behind the same piece of cover until you either chip away at their health or throw a grenade to scatter them. There were plenty of occasions where I'd catch enemies running wildly back and forth without even bothering to use nearby cover, and they wouldn't even attempt to take a shot at me during these moments. It's pretty obvious that there are still a few kinks that need to be fixed.
I generally liked the overall story concept of the single-player campaign. While the combat was lackluster, the environments are pretty varied. It would have been pretty dull if the entire game had focused on suburban locations, but it switches up things here and there. There's a later stage that takes place outdoors, so everything isn't so crammed together. Granted, your path is still pretty linear, but it was nice to see things open up a bit. There's a lot of detail in objects, even if it's stuff with which you don't interact. Some areas have more instances of pop-in than others, but overall, Homefront is rendered quite well and looks pretty good.
Newspaper clippings are collectible items in the game, and they do a great job of fleshing out the backstory. Although the presentation is a little bland in text format, the clippings give you plenty of information about the world's downward spiral.
The multiplayer, however, is where I had the most fun with Homefront. It doesn't have anything particularly exciting for online shooter vets, but the six modes are pretty fun. The Battle Commander modes are certainly interesting, and while they might not set the shooter genre ablaze, they do something cool with kill streaks that sets this game apart from Call of Duty and Battlefield: Bad Company. I bring up those two games because the multiplayer seems to cull a couple of things from both titles. I'd generally consider that to be a negative, but Homefront's borrowed elements are well executed.
The six multiplayer modes include standard Deathmatch, Ground Control and Team Deathmatch. The other three modes are Battle Commander variations of those modes. Ground Control is objective-based, giving both sides three objective points in the middle of the map. Depending on who wins that round, the objectives move to the far sides of the map for the second round. If your team wins the first round, then the objectives are pushed farther from you and closer to the spawn area for the other team. If both teams win a round, the third deciding round moves the objective point back to the middle of the map.
Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are pretty self-explanatory, so let's talk about the Battle Commander mode. As I mentioned earlier, this mode is an interesting spin on the idea of kill streaks. If a player starts to perform well, he'll gain a certain amount of notoriety on the map and essentially be flagged by the opposing team. If he's killed, the player who delivers the fatal shot earns some bonus Battle Points (BPs), which are basically in-game currency and experience. However, the marked player also gains certain benefits as he or she continues to rank up. These benefits can be minor, like health boosts, but once you hit the five-star rating, you definitely have an advantage over the typical player. It's certainly a fun, dynamic addition to the Deathmatch modes, but it's a little distracting for Ground Control, since your objective should be less about killing guys and more about controlling spots to win.
Another unique factor of Homefront's multiplayer mode comes from the Battle Point system. BPs are earned whenever you do something beneficial in multiplayer, such as killing an opposing solider, helping to capture an objective point, getting revenge on the person who last killed you, or using a scout drone to highlight an enemy sniper's position. You earn points pretty often through each match, and these points directly relate to how much experience you gain at the end of a match. However, BPs also act as a currency, allowing you to use vehicles whenever you respawn. When you begin a match, you'll typically start out with 500 BPs, which is enough to purchase a Humvee. The Humvee doesn't do much for the driver, but it has a mounted gun that you can let another player use. When it comes to respawning, if there is a vehicle on the map that has an available seat, you can opt to spawn into that vehicle right away.
As you start to earn and bank more BPs, which you do not lose when you die, you start to gain access to better vehicles. There's the Goliath, which is similar to a tank, but smaller and more agile. Then there's a tank, which has increased firepower. Finally there's the aircraft. There's a scout helicopter designed to fly low and strafe enemies with its guns, and the Apache and Chimera helicopters can wreak havoc in the right hands.
The game does a great job of balancing these vehicles so they don't feel too overpowered. Another aspect of the Battle Point system is that when you're outfitting your character with his weapon loadout, you have two slots dedicated to special weapons that are always equipped but require a certain amount of BPs to use. One of these weapons is a rocket launcher, which is a great antivehicle weapon that anyone can access if he has about 400 BPs or so. There are also EMP grenades that can temporarily knock out ground vehicles, allowing teammates to gang up on an oppressive tank and turn it into scrap metal in a short amount of time.
The multiplayer portion of Homefront is pretty well polished, and while it might not have as many gameplay modes as Call of Duty, the few available modes are all fun to play. The Battle Commander variants are interesting and certainly worth a look. Vehicles all control really well, so they're pretty accessible to anyone. As far as lag goes, I didn't encounter much when playing prior to the game's launch, and that still holds true now that Homefront is out in the wild. The servers seem like they're being hit pretty hard at the moment; I had a tougher time finding a match this evening than I did prior to launch, but I'm sure that'll be worked out shortly.
Homefront's content to be a little uneven, with a lackluster single-player campaign and stupendously fun multiplayer, but I certainly think it's worth trying out. If you're strictly interested in what the single-player game has to offer, then you're better off renting this. It's short, not particularly outstanding, and doesn't deliver on its premise very well. If you're willing to delve into the multiplayer segment, you'll have a lot of fun with Homefront.
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