The story usually separates a sci-fi first-person shooter from one set in either World War II or the modern era. Whether you love or loathe them, games like Resistance and Halo pride themselves on featuring a world that is just as fascinating as the action. By contrast, World War II shooters like Medal of Honor and modern shooters like Operation Flashpoint and Call of Duty have plenty of action-packed set pieces but stories that are rarely compelling. Finding that balance in a modern shooter is rare enough, so when a company attempts to do so, people take notice. Such is the case with Homefront, a semi-modern shooter developed by the same people behind the intriguing Frontlines: Fuel of War. Like that game, though, this one falls short on the execution.
The reason for the hype comes from the plot written by John Milius, who co-wrote "Apocalypse Now" and wrote "Red Dawn," a movie with a similar theme. The year is 2027, and the political landscape has changed dramatically for two nations. For North Korea, nuclear testing and the death of Kim Jong-Il marked a time of prosperity as his son, Kim Jong-un, rose to power, united Korea, and went on a rampage to take over Asia. Meanwhile, the United States became a shell of its former self, having been ravaged by a bad economy and wars in the Middle East that also put the nation in an energy crisis. Seeing an opportunity, United Korean forces invade America and poison the Mississippi River, scattering U.S. forces in the West and claiming the territory.
You play the role of Robert Jacobs, a former Marine pilot rounded up by the United Korean Army for failing to be drafted. After being placed on a bus to Alaska for re-education, he's rescued by freedom fighters, who are eager to have him join their ranks. Their leader concocts a plan to hijack a fuel truck headed to San Francisco and deliver it to the remaining US military. Your task is to make sure that the fuel makes it to its destination.
If there's one thing that everyone could agree on, it would be the use of imagery in the game to strengthen the gravitas of the plot. It's a good mix of some things you've seen in games before — and some things that you wouldn't expect to see: lines of civilians marching to labor camps in football fields, kids begging for food, civilians lined up in the street to be shot, and bulldozers dumping off bodies in mass graves. In a way, it comes off as being more gut-wrenching to Americans since this is one of the few times we see these atrocities happen to us. Again, it's not new stuff that we haven't seen in games before, but it is a little difficult to watch.
The plot may be strong, but that doesn't mean that it isn't clichéd. Expect to see the usual cast of characters you'd see in a war film. The kind and respected leader, the gruff soldier willing to sacrifice anything for the goal, the beautiful but tough female fighter, and the talkative tech expert all fight alongside your silent protagonist while the enemy forces remain heartless and brutal. While the plot is bold, the steps it takes to get from the beginning to the conclusion are quite typical, from a heavily foreshadowed act of betrayal to the destruction of a base used by the heroes. If there is one refreshing difference, it's that your mission is more logical and small scale instead of you being single-handedly responsible for defeating the forces and winning the war. It makes you feel like an above-average soldier instead of a superhero, and it makes the plot more palatable.
From a gameplay perspective, the single-player campaign is what you'd expect in a modern first-person shooter. You'll catch up on the history thanks to load screen excerpts and newspaper clippings strewn on the ground. Wide-open areas usually mean you'll have to slowly work your way through enemy forces to get to the other side. Narrow obstacle courses mean lots of sprinting, and the sudden discovery of a building means you'll barricade yourself until you die or some big event occurs to miraculously save you. There's even the obligatory escort mission and vehicular shooting scenario, though with some twists including escorting a tank and using a remote vehicle to blast trucks with missiles. This is all fun, but don't be surprised if you feel a sense of déjà vu as you play.
Sadly, one thing you can also expect is bad AI on both sides. Enemies always look like they want to flank you and employ some tactics, but you'll often see them going out with the hopes that pure firepower will see them through. Your allies aren't as helpful as you would think, and while they excel at hiding, they tend to shoot so poorly that you'll end up being the one to kill everything in sight. In some cases, they even draw fire toward you when you least expect it, and while it may not always result in death, it delays your entry into a firefight since you have to spend time recovering.
The biggest complaint about the campaign is the overall length. It's short, with an average play time of 4-6 hours. It's a trend that this sort of games gets shorter and shorter, but it also feels like every event is rushed instead of savoring every firefight. Its length makes is a certain rental for gamers who are only interested in the single-player portion, and it's shameful since they could have added another hour or two of gameplay without dragging down the experience.
Like most first-person shooters nowadays, multiplayer has become a big part of the game, and it's here that Homefront had the potential to be viewed in a brighter light. Team Deathmatch games support up to 32 players and use just about every tool and weapon you can find in the single-player game. Ground Control is another team-based mode, where one team tries to take over as many objectives as possible while the other team tries to hold out and prevent the line from receding until time runs out. Battle Commander takes on both modes and throws in various objectives for each team that can give them more points or a big tactical advantage as the game progresses. Whether it's killing the player who is the leader of the match or going after X amount of vehicles, the objectives keep things interesting by forcing players to constantly rethink strategies instead of relying on the same ones over and over again.
Like any modern shooter, there's a leveling system in place, but all tweaks and upgrades can be done in mid-match instead of just between matches, and while this is another title requiring you to pay for online access should you happen to get a used copy, it at least gives you the chance to test drive multiplayer and cap you at level 5 while everyone else can peak at level 75. The issue is that we can't tell you if this is all fun or if the experience is lag-free because multiplayer just didn't work. At the time of this review, a patch was released that was supposed to fix some issues in multiplayer. Instead, the patch ended up breaking multiplayer with several instances of consoles freezing as matches were being created. While THQ has promised a patch that will fix the errors, it hasn't arrived yet.
The graphics carry with it the stigma of an Unreal Engine 3 game, meaning that it's beautiful and flawed. The environments look great, and even though you have to wonder if brands like Full Throttle, Hooters and White Castle will make it in that version of the future, it adds to the feeling that this is a bleaker version of some neighborhoods. For the most part, the texture work is good, though there are instances of textures popping up as you approach them. The character models for the refugees are exactly as you'd expect, with them dressed in tattered and dirty clothes.
The enemies, however, all sport the same uniforms with the same headgear, and barely any faces are being shown. In a way, the game depicts the United Korean forces like stormtroopers or the Helghast in Killzone 3 minus the eyewear and, in turn, robs them of any sort of personality, so they feel as interchangeable as any other enemy in any other game. On the bright side, the game features a wide variety of levels that aren't exactly colorful but don't make the scenery feel like a sea of gray and brown. The frame rate remains steady, and the particle effects are as solid as they can be.
When it comes to sound, what you hear is great. The score is about as epic as you would expect, with an orchestral melody that walks the line between morose and action-filled. It matches the game's movie-like intentions and never feels like it's overdoing it. The effects, however, are bombastic and quite loud to constantly remind you that this game is all about action, despite having a deeper story. The voice work helps solidify the clichés brought about by each character, but at least their lines don't feel forced. The dialogue is also a step above what you'd normally hear in a game, and while it isn't necessarily filled with witty one-liners or memorable quotes, it is something you'd expect to hear in those situations. Overall, the sound is something you'll want to experience when playing the game.
Depending on the type of gamer you are when it comes to this genre, Homefront will either be a game that had potential or a game in desperate need of a fast fix. For the fan of single-player games, there was a fascinating story to be had, but it's marred by its short length and pedestrian AI. The linearity also doesn't means that there's little replay value for single-player fans. For the multiplayer fan, all of the modes sound fun, but the lack of stability makes it difficult to enjoy. The difficulty in finding opponents on the system also makes it feel like the interest died before it even had a chance to get started. It's an easy game to recommend for a rental since the story is too interesting to pass up, but for those who were interested in buying it, wait to see if there is still a community after the title has been patched.
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