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Posted by drew10 on Mar 28, 2011
Homefront – Our Verdict (Xbox360/THQ-Kaos Studios)

Homefront – Our Verdict (Xbox360/THQ-Kaos Studios)

As it is approaching Easter it seems quite poetic that THQ stuffed all its eggs into one basket with Homefront. Was it a gamble that paid off? We look at the game and where it succeeds and where it fails.

The problem with modern gaming is that the hype generally supersedes the finished product, we could name some examples but the list would be endless. Homefront has been spoken about with hyperbole since the first few details and screens emerged. Finally we were to get a gritty action-packed, story-driven title that pulled no punches.

The story of Homefront (Written by John Milius who wrote/directed Red Dawn and co-wrote Apocalypse Now.) is laid out in a rather excellent title sequence that details a history of the near future where North and South Korea have united under Kim Jong-un and have risen to become the worlds foremost superpower. This in turn leads to an EMP attack on the US and eventually occupation. It is a superb scene with great artistic design and mood. So a good start then as the game appears to be living up to all expectations.

The games opening sequence plays out in a similar vein to that of Half Life, setting the scene with limited interaction. However this is simply the most harrowing of scenes ever seen in a game and really should set the tone for the whole game. You watch on helplessly from the window of a bus as the subjugated populous of the US are brutally treated at the hands of the Korean invaders. In fact so disturbing is this sequence it had me instantly questioning the decision to rate this game a 15.

After traversing this scene your bus is intercepted by the resistance and the story really begins. Unfortunately this is also where it loses its way. It feels as if Homefront simply can’t make up its mind what it is. It tries desperately to be a hard-hitting portrayal of life under an oppressive occupation with the battle being born out by normal people fighting for their country but rarely does it tug your heart-strings or allow you to grow real fondness for the main characters or their plight. The game moves from one fire-fight to another without ever really getting into the characters backgrounds to find out why they fight this cause. You also never really get the feeling that they are just average people in extraordinary situations, in fact some are so gung-ho that they act more like marines than normal people.

Even when the game gives you the chance to talk to the people in the resistance camp you are afforded no more than single line sound-bite answers that amount to nothing and serve no purpose to advancing the story in any way. You desperately want to empathise with these people, after all you are fighting alongside them  for your country yet the game never allows you to fully immerse yourself in their plight.

Once you get past the missed opportunity of the story-driven parts of the game you are left with a standard 1st-person shooter. Some of the set pieces still desperately try hold on to the original theme of the game with one scene in featuring a mass grave worthy of a mention, but in general it descends into a bog-standard shooter. On top of that it commits some cardinal sins. For example the gameplay dictates that you spend a great deal of time covering and shooting yet there is no real cover system and popping out from behind a cover point by just standing and crouching is a gameplay mechanic long since defunct. The feeling of being part of the team is simply ruined by waypoint markers on screen all of the time. You are ‘helpfully’ instructed to follow the squad leader with a white ‘follow’ sign which constantly hangs above his head. There is no way to turn it off and it greatly impacts on the feeling of ‘being there’.

The game has other annoying AI elements, at some points you can find yourself pushed out of cover by an NPC who is pre-determined to find the spot they have been given. These guys do not move for you either, you will only be able to climb a ladder or crawl through a space once all of the NPC’s have gone through first. This is not only annoying it is simply unnecessary.

With these criticisms you may think the Homefront is a bad game, it is not, it is just not as good as the hype would have had you believe. In fact it does have some really cool moments, controlling the Goliath (A six wheeled automatic tank) is a real joy as is flying the helicopter in the later levels. And some of the set pieces are simply heart-pounding with explosions and fire-fights going on all around you. The final scene on the Golden Gate Bridge is also superb.

However once more gameplay time issues raise their ugly head. The campaign in Homefront can be completed in a paltry five hours which is short even by today’s game standards. If you have paid £45 for this then you will be every bit entitled to feel cheated by the length of the single-player game. It even ends in one of the biggest anti-climax’s of any title yet played, presumably it is supposed to be a cliff-hanger for the sequel but never gets close.

With such a limited campaign the online side needed to be spectacular. Well, there are only two real gameplay modes, Deathmatch and Capture and Hold and you can only play as the US army or The Korean Army which, considering the fact you play as a freedom fighter all the way through the single player campaign is a little short sighted. However you can level-up and also collect ‘battle points’. This is where things get more interesting as you can collect these points to earn new items. You can get gear for just your character like better weapons on flak jackets or items for the whole team like White Phosphorous strikes that can take out many enemy soldiers in one go. You can also save up your points to gain vehicles. You can get drones that you can fly over the enemy to highlight each solider, this craft has no attack capabilities but the targets it highlights will be visible to your entire squad. There are other drones too that came with missiles and guns. If that isn’t enough for you, you can save your battle points up and get actual vehicles from Humvees to tanks and even Apache helicopters. If someone in your team has a vehicle you can even choose to spawn inside the vehicle and take over the guns, this is a cool touch!

Another cool feature inside the Battle Commander modes, mean instant rewards for performing well on the battlefield.  If you going on a killing spree you will earn gain automatic upgrades that can make you faster or more powerful. However now a star appears above your head on the map making you a marked man as killing a character with this mark earns great rewards.

Graphically Homefront is no slouch with great environments and decent animation yet the character models could have been better as could the face animation during conversation. Explosions are huge and fire effects are nicely done, it is also nice to see real variations on setting.

The audio also performs well but the script leaves a lot to be desired. The orchestral pieces in the music are very powerful and highlight the action and help to emote the scenes that lay before you.

Overall the feeling we were left with from Homefront was ‘close but no cigar’ if the depth and feeling that was hinted at by the early scenes had been carried on throughout the game then it could have been a classic. Yet you are left feeling cheated, by the poor execution of script, story and especially length of play. We know now that THQ have broken even on the title perhaps securing a sequel but unless harsh lessons are learned from this title we doubt it would sell.

 

 

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