Developer: Kaos Studios / Publisher: THQ / ESRB: Mature (Blood, Strong Language, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99
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Judging from the cheap sunglasses, tights, and Gaga, the 2010s are the new 1980s. That also means it’s time to be afraid of communism, and luckily Homefront from THQ and Kaos is here to fill that quota. The game’s premise will turn heads, but a lack of proper execution leaves the single player campaign feeling flat as a day-old can of New Coke. Luckily an innovative multiplayer saves the day.
Homefront’s story is head-turningly unique. Following Korean reunification and an annexation spree, the Korean People’s Army invades North America in 2025. Having suffered a pandemic disease and drying natural resources, the once-strong America is in no shape to fight off the invaders. The game picks up in 2027, depicting a war-torn, battered, captured America. Unfortunately, the game fails to deliver on this potential. The story starts strong, displaying a conga line of human brutality before you’re swept into a larger conflict between the underground American resistance and the occupying KPA. Once rescued from a Korean prison transport, you roll with a squad of resistance fighters filling the requisite archetypes: the angry one, the scared one, and the humane one. The personal drama told here is always at arm’s length — you’ll mostly just watch skits and wait for one of the NPCs to kick down whatever door or gate happens to be in your way. Because of this, you feel like a tagalong for most of the game. There are some standout scenes where shit goes raw, but without personal involvement in the NPCs or your own character, these scenes don’t leave a dent beyond shock value. Ultimately, Homefront’s is a story well written, but not well told.
But that’s all neglecting the meat of the game: shooting some ko-reans. The levels are typical of modern shooters — cooridors of dudes peppered with scripted scenes. Most combat areas are constructed with flanking routes to stave off that whack-a-mole feeling. The campaign also varies your actions so you’re not always peeking around corners and taking potshots, though most of these ideas are lifted directly from Call of Duty and its ilk. My favorite is the most original. At points in the campaign you’ll control a rocket-spewing automated tank named Goliath. Painting enemies and seeing them fly in the air seconds later is awesome, and I even became a little attached to the guy. That said, the campaign abruptly ends around five hours in. It’s not Halo 2 bad, but it is jarring and underwhelming. There are a few incentives to replay the campaign: achievements / trophies, and newspaper collectibles, but those are just bricks of text for lorehounds or achievement whores. I particularly liked the QR codes sprinkled around the level which open bonus videos on your phone when scanned. Even still, once you reach the end of the game, you’re given little reason to continue caring about the setting or characters of Homefront.
Homefront’s multiplayer does a better job standing on its own feet. Unique mechanics and maps make the game feel like the sexy love child of Counter-Strike and Battlefield. Performing team-helping actions like capturing points or killing guys earns you battle points, which you can then spend on tanks, drones, and rocket launchers. This makes matches spontaneous and escalating. You’ll start with the smaller vehicles, but once kills are traded, it’s all air raids, explosions, and big ass tanks. The RPG keeps combat balanced, as it’s inexpensive and can take out most vehicles. In terms of content, Homefront is quality over quantity. You only get two modes – Ground Control and Team Deathmatch, both with a Battle Commander variant. Ground Control is your typical capture and hold with an interesting twist. If your side loses the first round, the capture points move back into your territory, giving you first dibs and time to set up position. Team Deathmatch is exactly what you’d expect — first team to a point cutoff wins.
Battle Commander adds another layer on top of each mode. At various times, an AI-controlled commander will assign you a target of varying threat: players, drones, tanks, or capture points. Accomplish this task and get a sizable point bonus. This works the other way too, if you go on a killing spree, you’ll accumulate threat, and more and more players will be assigned to take you out. This mode keeps the moment-to-moment of a battle tense and spontaneous. Seven maps offer varied environments, from sniper friendly vistas to crowded run-and-gun suburbs. The map number sounds small, but every map is so large they’re easily the digital square footage of two or three maps from other shooters. Despite playing on Farm upwards of twenty times, I never felt map fatigue or saw the battles falling into a particular pattern. On top of this, no gun or vehicle emerged as the clear game-breaker. While there’s obviously time for enterprising young players to break the balance as best they can, everything is on an even keel out of the gate. Homefront also offers satisfying progression metrics, tracking your kills with every gun and vehicle. At certain graduations you’ll be awarded a new rank along with an experience bonus and trinket like a new scope or different gun camo. Informational screens break this information down easily, and you always know what reward awaits you after the next rank. Overall Homefront’s multiplayer is solid. It doesn’t offer the absurd variety of play that you’ll find in Black Ops but it does manage to find a happy middle ground between Call of Duty’s speed and Battlefield’s sprawling combat.
Homefront is not a particularly good-looking game, lacking nearly every graphical bell and whistle in modern games. Most of what you see will be basic geometry with a texture slapped on it. This fact is less obvious in multiplayer due to wide-open areas, but confined spaces and smaller-scale encounters in single player make the game look three or four years old at times. That said, there are spots of brilliance in the game’s presentation. The video introducing the single player and explaining the multiplayer modes is slick as hell, and Homefront has the best lens flare effects I’ve seen in any game.
From sound effects to music and voice acting, Homefront’s sound is mostly excellent with a few exceptions. The gunfire is some of the best I’ve heard in any game. It’s terrifying when you’re being shot at, and awesome when you’re shooting. The gunfire takes on a life of its own in multiplayer. It’s absolute chaos when you’re in the thick of battle, and you’ll hear the constant low thrum of explosions and peppering gunfire as you approach a battle. The music is similarly driving, drawing on a full orchestra to produce driving combat melodies. Voice acting is a bit more touch and go, with some of the characters forcing performances way too hard. Callouts in multiplayer are as vanilla as they come, though the KPA’s voice is amusingly accented. The single player experience suffers from forced delivery. The resident badass forces too much anger and vitriol, turning his character more caricature than believable.
While Homefront’s single player may feel derivative of Call of Duty, the controls are an outright copy, down to the style of melee. However, there’s a strong “don’t fix what ain’t broken” element here, and the controls work very well. Aiming, shooting, and navigating are all familiar, responsive, and tight. Controls in multiplayer are similarly familiar, as you bind your purchasable items to the D-pad for quick access. Homefront also handles flight particularly well. You control altitude with the bumpers, turn and pitch with the right stick, and move with the left. Within seconds I was zipping in and out of tight spaces with combat and camera drones.
Homefront’s a bit of a surprise. THQ’s promoting the single player experience here, but that’s not where the real value is. With open battlefields, near-future toys, and fast pacing, Homefront’s multiplayer is the real reason to purchase this game. It may not explode with content, but what it does, it does well. That’s why it’s fitting in a game that feels so 80s, we give it an 8 / 10.
8 / 10