As you are no doubt aware, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il died earlier last month on December 18, 2011. I rented Kaos Studio’s Homefront on December 19, 2011. I did so partially because I was curious to try out THQ’s much-hyped title from April, and see if the single player was worthwhile compared to other big 2011 shooters, but mostly because I’m an ironic twerp.
Homefront, if you’ve forgotten by now, is a first-person shooter taking place in an alternate future where a newly-united North and South Korea conquer the United States. Penned by Red Dawn screenwriter John Milius, Homefront is the tale of average Colorado rising up against invaders on foreign soil.
As an aside, I remember playing through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 back in 2009, and goggling at the first half of the game and its then-unseen-in-gaming spectacle of suburban America being caught in a modern war zone. Now, in 2011, they’ve made a whole game about it! That’s inflation for ya.
Anyway, the circumstances for this takeover are all detailed in the game’s opening cinematic, giving a timeline leading from 2010 until 2027 and highlighting several important events, including oil shortages and economic woes. It’s engaging and semi-plausible, and helps give context to how North Korea, with its economic woes and smaller population than Texas (and, let’s face it, Texas probably has just as many guns as North Korea), conquered at least three countries in less than four election cycles. Beats the hell out of using four or five title cards.
Once the game proper starts up, you take on the role of Robert Jacobs, a former Marine helicopter pilot who helps stick it to the North Korean government in Colorado, and creates hope that one day, the United States will dust itself off punch Jerry (or whatever name they have for the occupying forces) square in the jaw.
At least, this is my understanding of what happens. Unfortunately, I picked perhaps the worst week to rent through a game with the intention of completing it: the week right before I was scheduled to leave home and visit relatives (in Colorado, oddly enough). This left me with one (1) solid night to play through it. Big deal, I though, I’ll just power through it in four hours the way seemingly everyone else in the gaming press managed to. Well, I didn’t play it to completion, but I did get enough time in to formulate some general impressions.
I count myself as a fan of the uber-linear design popularized by Call of Duty 4. When used correctly, developers can deliver countless polished, explosive water cooler moments, like the Aftermath mission in Call Of Duty 4, or the Gulag extraction in Modern Warfare 2. When done poorly, however, the gameplay becomes hollow and mirthless, with the thrill of being expertly guided being replaced with the annoyance over lack of control. The amount of game I’ve experienced is still too slight to judge the entire experience against, but if I had to guess, I’d say that Homefront falls on the wrong side of the formula. Many of the events in the three missions I played (and nearly all of the very first one) were completely out of my hands; everything from the camera control to the speed of my movement was dictated by the AI, and I felt stifled rather than exhilarated. Infinity Ward’s success with this design comes from the illusion of choice they offer, allowing for interaction in even the most stringently scripted moments, which causes players (i.e. me) to feel as though the story is happening to them, rather than some dude they control.
Shooting is decent, but nothing special. Aim assist through the iron sights, pull the trigger, guy dies in a hail of bullets, proceed down the hall to do it again, yadda yadda yadda. Homefront has a wealth of different gun types and weapon attachments, but they all feel weak, lacking the deadly kick found in other genre contemporaries like Battlefield or Call of Duty (new rule: drink every time I mention Call of Duty in this post, including the previous thirty-six times).
One aspect that sets Homefront apart is the Goliath, a heavily armored, unmanned robot that assists you in several missions. Goliath acts as a futuristic attack dog—target a vehicle or soldier with a pair of binoculars, and Goliath wails on it with machineguns and missiles. Of the little that I’ve played in Homefront, nothing is as satisfying than getting a Jeep in my sights and saying “Sic ‘em, boy.”
This one bright spot aside, nothing about Homefront was memorable enough to inspire me to rent it again, despite Only getting a few hours of playtime out of it. Homefront has a neat concept (defend the US on our own soil), but the execution is too similar to myriad other games clogging up the shooter market, and while it certainly wasn’t shoddy, neither was it spectacular. Kaos Studios was closed shortly after Homefront launched, but the series is now being developed by Crytek. THQ was banking on Homefront to be their killer, triple-A franchise; hopefully the next entry will fulfill on the first game’s promise.