North Korea is quickly becoming the #1 enemy of just about every country, and with good reason. They are under the control of a complete madman and the country is an utter mess. Corruption doesn’t even begin to describe what goes on there. The reason this scares most people is because North Korea is like a ticking time bomb, just waiting to go off. They have an enormous army, nuclear weapons which they have threatened to use, and their leader, Kim Jong-il is an absolute lunatic. Hopefully they will never actually declare nuclear war, but what if they did? What if North Korea took over the world and installed a Nazi-esque regime over the United States? Well you can stop wondering because in Homefront, the latest from THQ and Kaos Studios, that’s exactly what happened.
It’s an interesting premise and a neat idea to base a game around but the question is, do we really need another FPS? Call of Duty: Black Ops is still where most people spend their time and Bulletstorm and Killzone 3 are currently eating away at our wallets. We also have Crysis 2 coming up shortly. So the question is, with all these AAA titles vying for our love and our money, what does Homefront really think it can do to grab our attention?
The year is 2027 and the Korean People’s Army has invaded America. North Korea is the world’s superpower and rules with an iron fist. They are part of a united Korea, which is under their rule. They have built a massive alliance in Asia and their rule is eerily similar to that of the Nazi’s. The United States has collapsed, the UN is out of commission, Europe is experiencing an economic downfall rendering them helpless and the United States Armed Forces are completely scattered. Walled towns and abandoned suburbs fill America and labour camps and detention centres are popping up everywhere. In summary, the world has gone to shit.
You play as Jacobs, a Gordon Freeman-esque character who does very little talking. Early on in the game, he joins the resistance and begins his fight against the Koreans. Unlike many FPS games, Jacobs has no special powers nor is he some super marine. He’s just an everyday man given an opportunity to make a difference. We never really find out a lot about him, and being a silent protagonist he doesn’t get to speak his mind much, but it’s still easy to sympathize with him as we witness his world turning into a complete shithole. We understand why he’s upset and why he wants to fight.
These days most videogames really lack in the story department. It’s becoming a trend and because of that, it has become almost acceptable. So many developers simply leave the story as an afterthought and focus more on the graphics and gameplay. Like I said, it’s essentially become acceptable and expected by this point. But, to be honest, it really doesn’t bug me too much. If I want a good story I’d watch a movie, not play a videogame. That being said, every once in a while when a game with a good story comes along, it’s a real treat.
Homefront is one of those games. The set up is intriguing, the story compelling and the setting fascinating. It works because it feels real. It may be a little far fetched but North Korea is still a problem in our world and the thought of them taking over has certainly crossed people’s minds. There’s something utterly gripping about seeing an America that is full of detention camps, mass graves and Korean soldiers and tanks roaming the streets. And part of what makes it seem even more real is the use of a recognizable America. For instance, we see stores like Tiger Direct, a well known brand, being used as a base camp for the Korean army. It’s eerie and creepy but it’s effective.
The story also works on an emotional level, pulling you into the fight and tugging you along the whole way. The game has been marketed heavily on its plot and setting and rightfully so. It’s one of the more interesting videogame stories that we’ve seen in a while and it’s very well done. Fleshed out and engaging, the story should keep gamers playing right till the end. Thanks to the terrific story, we have a reason to fight and move forward, and that alone gives the game tremendous heart. From the opening moments of the game, where you see KPA soldiers ruthlessly gun down two parents in front of their child, you are hooked. You’re fingers are ready to lay waste to some Koreans.
Homefront’s campaign is memorable but extremely short. I can’t see it taking players more than 6-8 hours on the normal difficulty setting. And to be quite honest, it’s probably closer to 6 then it is to 8. While it may be short, developers Kaos have made sure that every moment counts. It’s intense and exciting the whole way through. Set pieces are exhilarating and environments and atmosphere are never less than perfect. Just wait until the final mission, which takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge, then you’ll know the true meaning of spectacular. Missions rarely feel like filler and combat is varied enough to keep things feeling fresh. One mission may have you going Sam Fisher style and acting all stealthily, and another mission may have you up in the air, partaking in some helicopter combat.
Perhaps the only complaint I can make about the missions and mission structure is that there are far too many objectives that have you attempting to ‘Follow Connor’. Connor is a fellow resistance member and very often, you’re simply told to follow him. The problem with this is that firstly, it gets old. Secondly you’ll often follow him and find him stopped, either standing or kneeling on one knee. As you approach and reach him, you expect the objective to be ticked off but very often it doesn’t happen right away. You usually have to wait for a straggling AI member to reach Connor as well before you can move on. Furthermore, very often you’ll be at a door, ready to continue, but you’re stuck as you wait for an AI member, who has to kick the door open for you. It doesn’t seem like a big issue but it happens all the time and gets really annoying. Lastly, the game does feel a bit too linear at times. Invisible walls pop up a bit too often and it’s frustrating knowing that there is a bigger world out there but it’s beyond your reach.
When it comes to combat, it’s incredibly visceral and feels very real. Explosions are fantastic and the damage model only further adds to the immersion. The weapons are all fairly standard but they all pack a punch, especially the shotgun, which gives us some of the best blasts since the Gears of War shotgun. Each weapon feels different as well, providing unique sounds, weight and recoil. One interesting thing done with the weapons is the ammo. Guns in Homefront run out of ammo a lot faster than in other FPS games, which means you may be in the middle of a firefight and find yourself with only a knife. As you scramble to find cover and try to pick out a close range enemy to knife, you get a sense of urgency and panic, similar to what you would feel if you were actually fighting in a resistance movement where guns and ammo weren’t abundant.
Vehicles are equally as good and while you only get to physically drive one of them, the others all look and sound fantastic. The one vehicle that you do get to control (aside from a remote controlled mini-tank) is the helicopter. Surprisingly, it actually controls better than any other helicopter I’ve ever flown in a video game. I usually dread flying in videogames but I had no issues here. Overall, aside from a much needed cover system, the game’s combat is pretty much flawless.
The game also boasts some great AI, at least in terms of combat. I was shocked to see my AI partners actually doing something. Even if I was just sitting back, behind cover, my partners would actively work on eliminating enemies, and they were quite good at it as well. Enemy AI was also solid as instead of lining up for target practice, they would efficiently use cover and move around, trying to gain better vantage points.
Both visually and aurally, the game excels. Kaos has done a fantastic job of creating this ‘imagined’ world and it comes to life wonderfully. Some of the sights you’ll see are downright scary and you’ll find yourself often watching KPA soldiers in shock as they commit their atrocities. It all looks really good as well, with fantastic lighting and great polish found everywhere. The game also sounds great with a dramatic score and explosive sound effects littering the single player campaign. The voice acting is mediocre, sometimes sounding a bit drab and dull, but aside from that, it’s a great sounding title.
And then we come to the multiplayer, and like the single player, most people are probably wondering why they should care? Call of Duty: Black Ops is the king of online shooters right now and any FPS would be foolish to challenge it. It seems though as if Kaos was brave enough to step up to the plate and lucky for us, they’ve hit a home run.
Dedicated servers running 32 player matches are sure to keep Homefront in your console long after you’ve taken the fight to the KPA. Similar to almost any other online FPS, the game features an XP system that allows you to rank up. As you do, you’ll earn new weapons and gadgets. While playing, you can choose between a few classes, each with their own loadout. Once again, this feature is similar to most FPS games out there, allowing you to choose between Heavy, Tactical, Sniper, Assault etc. Each class has their pros and cons and each one has different weapons and gadgets. Also, like in Call of Duty, there are challenges to complete for each weapon.
Drones and vehicles are also thrown into the mix, making for battles that can take place on a bigger scale. Adding further to this is the environments which are quite large, allowing for a big battlefield to house the ensuing carnage. The 360 has eight maps and other consoles have seven and while DLC is most likely coming, I would have liked to have seen at least 10 maps ship with the game. That being said, what we have here is good and each map feels different and unique in its own way.
One neat feature is Battle Points. During the match, you’ll earn points for completing various actions. With these points, you can buy upgrades and special features during the match. They reset every match but while in the game, you can work on collecting them in hopes of grabbing some pretty cool stuff. You can buy flak jackets for extra protection, a tank to spawn in, various drones to use, airstrikes etc. Some of these things can only be bought when you die and respawn but some can be bought instantly as you run around the map.
There are a couple games modes here and most are fairly standard. The majority will feel instantly familiar if you’ve played any recent FPS game. You have Team Deathmatch, Ground Control (which has you capturing points on a map, trying to hold the area, once you do, more points will pop up on the map for you to capture), and two Battle Commander modes. In Battle Commander, you try to boost your star rating by earning kill streaks or completing impromptu missions generated during the match. Think of them as sub-objectives. Each team has a battle commander that gives out various missions throughout the match and it can get real interesting. For instance, if you’re doing really well and absolutely dominating, the other team’s battle commander may give them the mission of taking you out. Suddenly, you’ll have an entire team coming after you. Pretty scary eh?
All in all, the multiplayer is great fun. It isn’t as deep or extensive as say a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops, but it’s equally as enjoyable. In fact, I can easily see a lot of people preferring Homefront over Black Ops, just because it offers a bit more originality. The Battle Points are a unique and interesting feature and the much promised ‘large scale warfare’ is a reality. I can see Homefront gaining quite an online following and while I don’t think it will steal the crown from Call of Duty, it will certainly make for a worthy opponent.
Overall, Homefront is an extremely strong entry into the over-saturated FPS market. It’s a busy and expensive time to be a FPS gamer. There are a lot of choices out there and most of them are pretty good. As of now, I’d say Homefront deserves a place in your home. It has a fantastic, albeit short single player campaign and the multiplayer is strong enough to keep the disc in your console for quite a while. A worthy purchase indeed, Homefront is everything that was promised, and more.