|REVIEWS - VIDEOGAME REVIEWS|
In terms of multiplayer, Homefront is a unified success. Unfortunately, its much publicised single player is a long, long way from home...
There was a lot of hype in the run up to Homefront’s release. It was the game that was going to redefine the FPS narrative, offering a gritty single player campaign with a unique premise as well written as any film. And while the setting and background story offer something new, Homefront itself doesn’t offer much when it comes to new ideas for First Person Shooters. Kaos Studios have tried to beat Call of Duty by imitating many of the Activision behemoth's features, with the end product resulting in a short, lacklustre single player experience which feels sacrificed against its multiplayer counterpart.
Homefront’s single player campaign is based in an alternate future where an aggressive North Korea has absorbed South Korea and various other East Asian nations. It may sound farfetched at first, but pre-game narrative spells out various incidences between 2010 and 2025 which eventually lead to a Korean invasion of the USA. Economic downturns, bird flu, and high oil prices leave the United States weak and physically depleted. Meanwhile, North Korea – ruled by Kim Jong-un, son of current leader Kim Jong-il – has aggressively expanded to such an extent that, by 2025, they have the manpower and technology to occupy a weakened United States.
Homefront itself is set in the year 2027, with you filling the boots of Robert Jacobs, a former marine helicopter pilot who becomes part of a resistance plan to supply fuel to the remnants of the US army. The campaign opens with Jacobs being forced onto a bus to a re-education camp with the resulting journey very much setting out the plight of the American civilians. You’ll witness various brutal acts by the Korean forces against American civilians while you can do nothing but watch. Shortly after the journey begins, Jacobs is rescued by the resistance movement, and you soon find yourself fighting through the dilapidated, war torn American suburbs.
Unsurprisingly, the meat of Homefront’s run-and-gun gameplay feels very much like a Call of Duty title. You run forward, you use the shoulder buttons to aim down your iron sight, shoot and throw grenades. The sticks make your character sprint and use a melee attack. However, you’ll hardly use the melee attack during Homefront’s single player campaign, because you’ll mostly be behind your squad mates. You’re constantly being told to follow someone else as if you’re not to be trusted to lead the way. Indeed, when you do manage to rush ahead of your supporting characters, you’ll invariably have to wait for them to catch up and let you move onto the next section of the linear levels.
You see, Jacobs is apparently incapable of opening a door. You’ll watch Conner – your rather generic commander – push over various obstacles that are blocking doors before you’re allowed to move forward. However, it’s not only doorways that you have to wait for others to go through before pushing on; you’re not allowed to use any of Homefront’s many ladders before all of your squad mates have already done so. A significant section of Homefront’s five hour – yes, five hour – campaign seems to be spent waiting around to be told you’re allowed to move forward. Add to this the fact your A.I. companions also take priority over you on the battlefield – they’ll happily shove you out of your cover spot and take it themselves – and the core dynamics of the Homefront campaign can get frustrating.
When you’re not waiting around in doorways, or being shoved into oncoming fire, Homefront is mostly well paced, even if the cut scenes – in which your silent protagonist watches their rather generic squad mates mostly argue – sometimes take too long. The action sections are enjoyable enough, even if methodical players are punished by wave after wave of enemies appearing until getting past a certain choke point. The best sections of the campaign are those when you have remote control of a semi-autonomous combat vehicle called Goliath. The need to flip between regular weapons and the Goliath’s targeting system is rather fun.
The rest of Homefront’s single player campaign features various sections that we have come to expect from a modern shooter. Set pieces; the sniping section, the bit where you drive the vehicles, and the big finale. It all provides a decent enough FPS experience, but for all the hype surrounding the narrative, the campaign ultimately feels somewhat of a letdown. Your companions are generic – the military man, the sensitive one and the tech guy – the set pieces, while interesting, aren’t really anything new, while for the most part Homefront plays like every other FPS to such an extent that you may as well be playing the urban sections of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. On top of this, it's somewhat difficult to ignore the very short length of the campaign which could take FPS experts as little as four hours to complete. Homefront does feature an excellent multiplayer mode, but seeing the huge potential of the single player campaign brushed aside really is a damn shame.
Thankfully, Homefront’s multiplayer modes are very enjoyable, and go some way to making up for the disappointing single player campaign. While the basic components within are very similar to other games on the market – run, shoot, try not to die – the introduction of ‘Battle Points’ over the traditional Experience system make each Homefront multiplayer game a dynamic, yet constantly evolving, experience. For the record, the ‘story’ of the multiplayer mode takes place before the singe player campaign in the skirmish battles between the American and Korean forces which happened before the occupation.
There are three basic modes when it comes to Homefront’s multiplayer; the self explanatory Team Deathmatch; Ground Control, in which the two sides vie for control of three points of the map; and Skirmish, which switches between small games of the two. Nothing really revolutionary so far, but this is before the Battle Points system comes in. Battle Points are gained for all the usual objectives – killing enemies, kill assists, capturing control points, completing weapon based achievements etc – but rather than just acting as a 'levelling up' mechanic (although this is part of their role) they can be used to purchase items and abilities on the battlefield, some of which can be game changers.
The most prominent examples of what can be bought with Battle Points are vehicles; ranging from a Humvee, right though to both tanks and attack helicopters. All of the vehicles allow another player to hop in and control a second set of guns which means, if used at the right time – and in the right hands – a vehicle can massively change the outcome of a match. Naturally, the better the vehicle, the more points it costs, with some extreme saving up of Battle Points needed to purchase the chopper.
You could spend the entire match saving up for a specific vehicle you want, but what about using a Humvee or lower class tank as a distraction for the enemy; or to quickly get to a newly available control point instead? Split second decisions like this can dramatically alter battles, ultimately making for a faster, more enjoyable online experience. It's also worth noting that some of the most exhilarating combat I experienced took place between two moving vehicles.
Don’t want to save up for a helicopter? Then for a much lower price you can purchase a tiny mini helicopter. While the drone may not be as effective, it can be deadly when used correctly. The same goes for an even cheaper drone on wheels.
Naturally, these vehicles and drones aren’t all-powerful and do have weaknesses. They can be disabled for a short time with EMP grenades carried by some of the six player classes; destroyed with other vehicles; or – through the expenditure of a small amount of Battle Points – can be blown to pieces thanks to the credit-friendly rocket launcher available to purchase. The Battle Points system, combined with the vehicles and the drones they introduce, genuinely makes Homefront’s multiplayer an exciting, dynamic experience...and that’s before the Battle Commander mode is unlocked once the player has reached level seven.
Battle Commander adds another game changer to the regular game modes – hunting down specific targets. If you’re good enough to get a killstreak going, a bounty will be placed upon your head, with the area of the map that you’re in highlighted. The more enemies you kill without dying, the higher star threat (think 'wanted' levels in Grand Theft Auto) you’ll become, with the entire opposing team ordered to hunt you down...should you get to level five. Naturally, there’s a reward for the player who ends a marked opposing team member's killstreak in the form of Battle Points, which at higher threat levels can provide a very handsome reward. Like the vehicles, the appeal and of a bounty for hunting down a specific opposition team member can dramatically change the game as whole teams descend on one area of the map. The Battle Commander and Battle Points elements of Homefront ensure that – rather than being just another mindless online shooter – the FPS provides an experience that requires more than just freakish reactions to master.
As we have come to expect from a modern FPS, Homefront is another fine example of visual excellence, equal to that of Killzone or the highly-documented Call of Duty: Black Ops. The environments generally look excellent and the battered suburban landscapes – which feature a number of real world locations and all American retail outlets – do add a certain impact that makes the game feel very real. A special mention must go to Homefront’s lighting effects – particularly when it comes to the use of sunlight. The glare caused by the sun is highly accurate, to such an extent that looking directly into it isn’t good for the players’ vision at all. Unfortunately, Homefront is let down by a number of minor glitches – ranging from A.I. players getting caught on the environment to putting whole parts of their body through walls.
With all the hype – and promises of a single player campaign that would redefine the first person shooter – it’s hard not to be somewhat disappointed with Homefront. While the single player campaign is decent enough, it doesn’t live up to its potential. We were told we’d get a game with an excellent narrative, and while the background setting of Homefront is certainly very good, the story and dialogue of the single player campaign leave a lot to be desired. It isn’t a bad game, rather that many concepts feel underdeveloped. Furthermore, the five hour campaign I experienced is nothing short of insulting – especially if you have parted with £40 of your hard earned cash – running criminally short whilst feeling like a tacked on prelude to Homefront’s multiplayer mode.
While its multiplayer mode is excellent and has the potential to provide hundreds of hours of combat on ever-changing battlefields, it doesn’t excuse the single player campaign being such a letdown. Homefront is an attractive purchase as a multiplayer game alone; yet, while the multiplayer side of the game provides a certain value for money, £40 for an average-to-decent Call of Duty clone – with little to no original single player – feels like a bit much. Homefront is definitely worth looking into if you want a new multiplayer experience, but if you want a good, narrative led single player campaign, you’d be best looking elsewhere.
One does wonder though – if this is what the 'pinnacle' of narrative in an FPS represents these days, will we ever see a game in the genre reach the heights of 2004's Half Life 2; which, if you want a shooter with an immersive story, still remains the top dog?
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