Review copy provided by the publisher
In today’s gaming world it’s pretty hard to break out with a new IP in general, let alone trying to bring out a new first person shooter and have it stand on it’s own two feet against the other giants of the industry. Many try and few succeed. THQ and Kaos Studios have decided to take a swing at it with Homefront. Set in the near future, Kim Jong-Un has unified North and South Korea, and they’ve invaded America.
With the story written by John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn) this is one game that appeared out of nowhere and was on everyone’s radar quickly with it’s interesting ideas and Kaos putting emphasis on creating a deep and enriched single player experience. Did this live up to it’s promises of a great single player, and can the multiplayer stand up in today’s Call of Duty dominated market?
Homefront wastes no time getting you in the feeling of living in an occupied America, as you wake up in what can only very generously be called an apartment to the sound of somebody pounding on your door and yelling your name. As you open the door, Korean soldiers pour in to apprehend you, asking why you’re afraid to fight for “your country”. You’re thrown onto a transport bus, and it’s clear at this point where Kaos took their story telling inspiration from as the bus rolls around town and you listen to the other prisoners, while witnessing all kinds of horrors going on around you in the streets.
Since the story wouldn’t be very interesting if you just went to a Korean labor camp, your bus is crashed into by American freedom fighters who apparently are also looking for you. Why everybody knows who you are or why they didn’t just come and ask for help while you were living in your little apartment isn’t made clear, but you’ve now been drafted into the resistance.
After fighting your way out, your new team takes refuge in a placed called Oasis which is nothing more than a small suburban neighborhood full of people just trying to survive. Before you begin the next mission you’re given free reign to walk around and talk to people and it’s clear this is where the engaging single player experience begins. As you wander around you’ll see people cleaning up electronic components, gardening, or even tending to a baby.
However this is also where it first becomes apparent that Kaos dropped the ball a bit. Your interactions with these people consist of pressing X to talk to them, where they’ll give you a brief quip about something. You can repeat this a few times for each person until they give you a variation of “Leave me alone” and you can’t talk to them anymore. Players hoping for a Mass Effect type of experience in these areas will be sorely disappointed, as the “conversations” leave much to be desired.
This is also the only area where this type of experience is possible at all. After you leave Oasis, the only people who will do any talking will be your squad and a few other people they interact with to advance the plot. The rest of the time is spent shooting things and awkwardly standing behind boxes for cover.
Of course, you’re not alone in this fight and as such you won’t be doing all the fighting by yourself. Most of the time you’ll be accompanied by your allies Connor, Rianna and Hopper who will all switch between clearing a room by themselves to standing in the open taking a face full of bullets without any hesitation or warning. I wouldn’t necessarily call their AI bad, but I wouldn’t really call them good either. If nothing else, they make decent distractions as something other than you for the enemy to shoot at.
The enemy AI is about on par with your team. Sometimes they’ll exhibit great flanking maneuvers, splitting up to go through different aisles in a building, while other times they’ll all stand grouped in a doorway and see who can stand closer to the grenade you just threw. Overall they do a good job of being an enemy force for you to shoot at, and will do a pretty good job at stuffing your body full of bullets.
There’s a fourth ally on your side however; Goliath. Goliath is an automated attack drone that the American resistance has stolen from the Korean army. Using a laser designator you can summon Goliath at certain points during the story to take down your enemies. Each time this happens it’s very awesome to watch, but at the same time kind of takes away from the game by having an AI drone do all the dirty work for you.
The computer doing the work for you is a common theme in the game, and while that’s certainly not something new to first person shooters, it’s slightly more obvious in Homefront than it is in something like Call of Duty. A lot of the game is running to a door and waiting for your team to catch up and open it for you, or move a refrigerator out of the way. Apparently the resistance hides all their secret entrances behind fridges, because that’s one you’ll be seeing a lot.
Waiting for your team to open doors for yourself isn’t so bad in and of itself. Your hands are too busy being full of guns and grenades anyways, so you don’t have time for pathetic things like doors. What will become very annoying are the technical problems you’ll encounter as the game progresses. The first one will likely occur in the opening moments of the game, as you wake up in your bed to stare at the blurry gray blob that will eventually load a texture and become the wall of your living room. This doesn’t happen often enough to be a huge issue, but will rear its ugly head from time to time and is worth mentioning.
Even more annoying are the invisible walls. There are the standard ones that border the edges of the play areas which are aggravating enough, but in addition there are various other ones scattered throughout the levels to keep you from advancing to areas you shouldn’t be in yet. The most glaring is when there’s an event your AI teammates are supposed to do, and you have to stand at the invisible border until they finish whatever they’re doing.
Overall the single player experience is very solid, but unfortunately is nothing more than a standard first person shooter fare. The story is presented well, mostly through voice overs and cut-scenes between levels. There are newspaper clippings scattered around the levels which offer more insight into the events that led up to the Korean invasion, should you opt to find them. Sadly the campaign is over all to quick. Experienced gamers will beat the story in about five hours, perhaps a little longer if you really look for those newspaper clippings.
The most puzzling thing about Homefront is that Kaos was hyping up the single player as the core experience of the game, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s not to say that the single player part of the game isn’t enjoyable; it certainly is. However the multi-player is where Homefront truly shines, and I believe is what most people will be buying the game for. Featuring dedicated servers with 16 on 16 gameplay, there’s a lot offered here that isn’t available many other places on the consoles right now.
There are two different game modes available; Team Deathmatch, and Ground Control. There is also a variation of each mode called “Battle Commander”. In the Battle Commander mode it’s the same game, except there’s an AI “commander” for each team that will identify threats on the opposing team and offer a bonus for taking them out. As your killstreak goes up, so will your wanted level. More players will be assigned to kill you, and the bonus for doing so will be higher.
At it’s core, Ground Control is basically “Domination” from the Call of Duty series with a small twist. Each game is a race to win the best of three rounds, except the rounds are played fluidly without a pause or “restart” between them. At the end of each round, the control points move towards the current spawn of whichever team lost that round. This gives them a better chance to capture them first and attempt a comeback and is an interesting change.
Ever since Killstreak rewards were made popular in Call of Duty 4 and then made customizable with Modern Warfare 2, it’s become something of a hot button issue with gamers. At the same time a lot of people take issue with games like Battlefield having tanks just sitting around the map. It essentially becomes the “power weapon” issue where those who have them will dominate and keep getting more of them, and those without will suffer and lose. Homefront takes both of these systems and blends them together, utilizing their innovative Battle Points system.
Every action you perform in a match will earn you Battle Points (BP); getting a kill, capturing an objective, taking out a target, everything. You can use these to purchase special equipment, which are customizable on each class. If there’s a tank headed your way, you can spend 250BP to buy an RPG. Or you can save up 2,000BP and buy your own tank and terrorize the other team. It actually feels like you’re rewarded for helping your team to victory, and while buying an Attack Helicopter or a Tank can easily turn the tide of a battle, all it takes is a few well placed RPGs or C4 to end your fun. It never feels like the killstreaks dominate, and seeing a high priced one doesn’t mean the end of the game.
To accommodate this, most of the maps are fairly large. There are two smaller ones where vehicles aren’t allowed, but even those are a pretty decent size. This can seem overwhelming as you first spawn and get a lay of the map, but even on foot it never particularly becomes an issue one way or the other. The game likes to spawn you near your team, so you’re never too far from the action. To help prevent getting killed right out of the gate, as you spawn the map starts by showing you a view from very high in the air and it zooms down onto your character (almost like you’re parachuting in at the last part of the drop). As it does this, the names of every player on both teams are displayed over their heads, so you can get a sense for where the enemy is and see if there are any near your spawn area.
The multiplayer isn’t without it’s share of issues however, though thankfully they’re mostly on the technical side of things and are sure to be very short lived. As the game launched, the servers were overwhelmed by the amount of people trying to play; far more than Kaos anticipated. This isn’t any fault on the game, Kaos or THQ but is something that must be mentioned. New servers were recently brought online and the issue has been greatly improved, but some players are still receiving connection errors from time to time and it can be annoying.
Homefront is far from perfect, and certainly isn’t everything people were expecting it to be. If you were hoping for a deep, engaging single player experience you might want to look elsewhere. The five hour campaign is over all too soon, and will leave players wishing for more which will surely be coming down the line in a sequel or possibly as DLC. However if you’re out looking for a very solid, very fun multiplayer experience this is definitely a game you shouldn’t overlook. I do hope that Kaos brings us another chapter in the Homefront story and expands on the great narrative they’ve introduced us to.
- Title: Homefront
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: Kaos Studios
- Publisher: THQ
- MSRP: $59.99
- Release Date: March 15, 2011
- Review Copy Info: A copy of the title was provided to DualShockers Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.