One of the things we like to do at Gaming Nexus every year is to crank out a list of the top games that we are each looking forward in the coming year. It’s one of those things that falls into the category of easy game journalism as it’s something that readers like (lists are highly digestable and fodder for debate), and they are easy to crank out so it’s kind of a win-win
I bring this up because Homefront would have been at the top of my list for 2011. John and I first saw the game doing our circuit of the THQ booth at E3 in 2009. The game’s frantic action, cinematic feel, and Half Life 2 feel put the game instantly on my radar. The fact that the game was built by Kaos Studios, the folks behind the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 and Frontlines: Fuel of War
, only deepened my interest in the game.
Set in 2027, Homefront takes place in a bleak America that is now occupied by a unified communist Korea. I know that’s a bit of a stretch for a country that has issues just launching satellites
but the game does a decent job of explaining how the country came to power. I’m still not sure I bought everything they were selling about how the occupation came to being but if you take that leap of faith you’ll be able to enjoy one of the more interesting FPS games in recent memory.
The game starts with your character Walker, waking up in a room with no memory of his past. Once awake he’s captured by a roving band of Korean soldiers and forced onto a bus bound for a detention camp. On the bus Walker is driven down the street and gets to watch as the Korean soldiers do horrific things to the local populace. I won’t ruin the specifics but there’s a “WTF, did I really just see that” about three minutes into the game.
You’re not a prisoner for long, as the local guerrilla group smashes into the bus carrying you and helps you get away. Upon escaping you learn that you were rescued by the Montrose, Colorado resistance. It turns out they need a pilot to help them complete a mission that will deal a major blow against the Koreans, and you’re the only pilot in the area. Thus you’ll spend the next six to seven hours of game time helping them to complete their mission and try to learn what’s going on.
Walker isn’t much of a chatty guy as he doesn’t speak during the entire game. Think Gordon Freeman with a set of pilot wings instead of a wall full of diplomas. Instead the plot is espoused through your compatriots from Colorado. The main characters you’ll deal with are Connor Mason, the headstrong commando who tends to think with his emotions and not his brain, Boone, the leader of the resistance who appears fleetingly in the game, Rianna, the stealthy member of your team who balances out Connor a bit, and rounding out the group is Hooper, the tech specialist and Korean American who is there to remind you that not all Koreans are bad. It’s a interesting mix of crew and they do a fairly good job of moving you along the through the story as well as serving as immortal meat shields when you run into heavier clumps of enemies. Seriously, in my play through, Hopper processed more hot metal than a Pennsylvania steel mill.It’s important to realize a few things ahead of playing the game. The first is that there is no way that you are going to repel the entire Korean army in just one game, this is just one story in a much larger campaign/brand so don’t expect a lot of closure at the end of the game.
The second is to realize Kaos isn’t out to break any new ground in terms of game play. Their main focus is how the story is presented. I say this because the gameplay is about average for a modern First Person Shooter with a few cool small things tacked on. This is a nice way of saying most of the action is kind of generic. There are a few new things sprinkled through the game, like the ability to control the remote controlled Goliath, but the majority of the combat is the standard stop and pop combat we’ve been playing for years. If you’re looking for invention over convention, then you’re going to be disappointed in Homefront.
Where Kaos is trying to innovate though is through the presentation of the game and the cinematic qualities of the game, which is done through the world they created and the writing that supports it.
The world that Kaos has crafted is an incredibly believable vision of an America that has been conquered and destroyed. In this world, suburban America has gone from being a place to hide from the city to a place to hide from the occupying forces. Lumber yards and mega stores are now supply depots for enemies and nothing has been left unscathed by the invaders. It’s not entirely perfect, but it’s one of the better realized game worlds in recent memory. It doesn’t help that they managed to work a few familiar brand names into the game, which is either good immersion, product placement, or both.
It’s also worth noting that the game features some of the best explosions in a game in recent memory. When big things go boom it’s a treat to both the eyes and the ears. I know that’s important for some people so I’ll just put that out there.
The writing is solid as Hollywood screenwriter John Milius is the man behind the keyboard for Homefront. Mr. Milius was the key writer behind Red Dawn, Conan, and a wide variety of other movies
and he brings a high level of craftsmanship to the game.
With the exception of a few odd lines of dialog that involves some of the products that are tied to product placements in the game (“Get the shotgun from behind the counter of the White Castle”) the writing and dialogue is fairly solid. The game does rely on some old Hollywood cliches of making the bad guys “too bad” without providing any kind of context or reasoning behind their actions, and the characters are a little cliche at times, but it does work for the most part.The one thing that is frustrating is that there are no named enemies in the game, no major bad guy to defeat, just a horde of faceless Koreans in military uniforms waiting for you to mow them down. A single named character that you’re going after or being chased by would have made the game hum just a bit more and added a little more incentive and direction to the game.
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The last level of the game does make the rest of the game worth playing, though, as you lead an assault on the Golden Gate bridge. It’s a brilliant level as you have to climb up the legs of the bridge and then battle your way across it. However at one point you hear two US battleships come across the radio chatter to talk about joining the fight but once you reach the top of the bridge they are nowhere to be seen. This could have been an absolutely kick ass moment as the sight of two US battleships appearing in the battle could have been epic but the ships are there in voice only which was a significant disappointment. The main climax of the game is also quite abrupt so measure your expectations accordingly.
There are parts of the game where it is apparent the developers cut some corners to get the game out on time. These aren’t game breaking issues but rather things you would expect from a game released in 2011. The biggest of these is the collision detection in most of the maps. The best example I have is that there’s a playset in the backyard of one of the suburban homes and you would expect to be able to move under the set but instead you hit an invisible box that surrounds the it.
There are also numerous areas that you would expect to be able to explore but can’t because they are walled off by invisible walls. Constantly bumping into invisible walls is the kind of thing that might have been acceptable six or seven years ago but should not happen in 2011.
To be clear these are scope issues and not software bugs. I played through the entire build of the game without hitting a single bug or defect. Rather these are issues with how much immersion that the game provides to the player and there are spots in the game where you go from total immersion to out of the game every time you hit one of these bugs. It does make me wonder what the game would have been like if THQ had given Kaos another four to five months to polish it up.
The audio side of things is solid but also not overly notable. The guns sound like you would expect and there’s a nice orchestral score to help punctuate the dramatic moments of the game but it’s not something I’m going to run out and buy. The voices for the game are also solid but on occasion the man behind Conner forces the dialog a bit which occasionally pulls you out of the game.
If you looked at all the THQ advertising you would think Homefront was a single player only game. That’s a shame as the real fun of the game is in the multiplayer portion of the game.
When you first fire the game up there are only two multiplayer modes: Team Death Match and Ground Control. Team Death Match is exactly what you would expect and while there are people out there who love TDM, I’m not one of them, especially when the Ground Control mode is so much fun.When you play a Ground Control game the play field is broken into three segments, with the action starting in the middle segment. Within the segment are three capture points which when controlled by your team fill up your team meter. When you fill the meter up the first round is over and you advance into the segment of the team that lost the round. It’s best two of three and if the team that loses the first round wins the second you move back to that middle section. It’s the same kind of mode we’ve seen in the Battlefield games and in Frontlines: Fuel of War but the moving map part of the game is a nice twist on the genre and provides an extra sense of progress in the game.
As with all other modern online shooters you can experience points which allow you to unlock new weapons, extra customized class, loadouts, and other things you’ll use to kill people online efficiently. The real fun of Homefront’s multiplayer game comes when you hit level 7 when the Battle Commander mode is unlocked.
The Battle Commander is a mode that adds an in-game AI to the TDM and Ground Control modes which points out high value targets. A high value target is defined as anything that’s killing a lot of your teammates. For every three kills an enemy gets, they earn a star and an increase the bounty on that players head. The Battle Commander also provides you with a rough idea of where that player is to help you in your hunt.
Earning stars just doesn’t bring you added attention though as each star level grants you free abilities like extra armor, faster movement, and eventually the ability to see through walls. This does a great job of "incentivizing" players to rack up those kill streaks as well as for the opposing team to stop them.
Another fun thing about Homefront’s multiplayer is all the fun toys you get to play with. As you progress through a match you earn battle points for killing opponents, assisting on kills, taking capture points, and other combat-related activities. You can then spend these points on purchasable items like drones, vehicles, and more powerful weapons like RPGs and Hellfire missiles. We’ve seen the drones before in Kaos’s last game, Frontlines: Fuel of War, but they really upped the ante with Homefront as you can upgrade the drones as you earn higher and higher levels.
The only downside to these battle point abilities is that you’re going to have a hard time staying alive if you come in towards the end of a match. Kaos does balance out the heavy vehicles in the game by making the RPGs a fairly cheap purchase but expect to struggle if you come in towards the end of a match.
I came away from Homefront with mixed emotions. The single player campaign feels very rushed and not entirely there. It’s not that the game is really missing anything, it’s just that it doesn’t really meet the high expectations I had for the title. That said, the multiplayer portion of the game is a fantastic experience and easily on par with any other shooter on the market. I can honestly see myself investing a lot of hours leveling up my character so that I can play with some of the really fun toys in the game.
I hope that Homefront does well enough to justify a sequel and that the folks at Kaos get a little more time to flesh out their vision for the game and expand the world they’ve created. Of course I’m also hoping we’ll get some more of the kick-ass multiplayer goodness as well.