March 17, 2011
Hype is a funny thing. Over-hyping a game can lead to high expectations, which are all too often dashed once the final product is seen in the cold light of day. Then again, too little hype can also be damaging, putting a game at a severe disadvantage when it releases, simply because no one has heard of it. So, what is the right amount of hype then? Is it the level of hype that's been thrown at Kaos Studios’ Frontlines: Fuel of War successor, namely Homefront? Perhaps not, but the real question is, does the hype mirror the game’s quality?
Homefront is a sobering 'what if?' yarn written by John Milius of Conan, Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now fame, in which you assume the role of ex-pilot Robert Jacobs, whose day is rudely interrupted when he's dragged off to a concentration camp in the wake of the Korean People's Army occupying the west coast of North America. Of course, he's duly rescued by freedom fighters and quickly becomes a leading member of the US resistance, fighting through the American suburbs for his home soil.
It's a pretty strong concept for an epic tale, whereby your ragtag band is thrust from pillar to post, fighting tooth and nail for their freedom, but Homefront fails to create a palpable sense of peril or oppression beyond its opening act, happily settling into familiar FPS territory as you follow Connor, Rianna, Boone and Hopper from location to location. There's some attempt to convey the desperation of the struggle of the Korean occupation in sections like the 'Oasis' haven, where survivors live a self-sufficient existence away from all of the violence and chaos out on the streets and there's affecting, disturbing sights like a baseball field that's been transformed into a mass grave, but that’s about it.
Homefront's characters are a little uninteresting however and you're never really made to care about their backstory or why they're fighting while everyone else is being herded like cattle. The few moments of downtime in the story between the freewheeling from set-piece to set-piece are wasted, as there's little attempt at character development, so the result is a somewhat soulless romp through a chorus of explosive action-packed moments that's over before it's even begun.
Lifting Call of Duty's control system wholesale, Homefront is immediately familiar and intuitive to play, so there's no need for tutorials, although there's on-screen prompts to help, in the unlikely event that you're struggling with the controls. All in all then, Homefront's single-player campaign is fairly standard fare, throwing up few surprises bar the occasional set-piece and a final mission that throws absolutely everything into the pot. Homefront ticks all of the requisite boxes, with the obligatory stealth section, an on-rails turret sequence and by the game's final act, you'll have covered pretty much every type of FPS set-piece cliché you could care to think of.
Unfortunately, Homefront's campaign is cripplingly short, weighing in at a mere 5-6 hours, meaning that you'll easily polish it off in a couple of sittings. While it’s apparent quite early on that Homefront’s strengths lie outside of its single-player, that doesn't excuse the brevity of the story, which is fine while it lasts. Like most FPS titles these days though, multiplayer seems to be the primary focus in Homefront and we must say, that it's pleasantly surprising and actually quite good. Its closest touchstone in terms of gameplay is Battlefield: Bad Company 2 with its objective-based game types and large-scale vehicular warfare. So, in Battle Commander mode for instance, you'll be capturing tactical points like Conquest or engaging in big Team Deathmatch games and so on. However, Homefront sets itself apart from the competition with its Battle Points (BP) system, which acts as an in-game currency that grants access to all manner of useful military hardware and gadgets, such as helicopters, tanks, aerial drones like the Parrot, remote-controlled mobile turrets such as the Wolverine and other support weapons like Hellfire missiles and rocket launchers.
Saving up BP or squandering them as soon as you get enough to buy the first thing that becomes available is a strategical decision that can potentially shape how the battle unfolds, so a losing team could quickly turn the tide of a hopeless match with a couple of Apache attack helicopters and a tank to dig out entrenched opponents and gain the upper hand. Alternatively, you could spend less points on a drone to mark up enemies, revealing them to everyone on your team, or you could go on a killing spree with a Wolverine for as long as the batteries hold out. The choice is yours, but any BP you accrue must be spent before the match ends or they're gone, so it's essentially a gamble.
While Homefront's 32-player multiplayer battles are uniformly excellent, it's not without its flaws, and like the single-player campaign, Homefront does suffer from a few odd bugs and glitches. These will likely be rectified with patches and none are particularly game-breaking, but some are fairly noticeable nonetheless. In multiplayer, the only thing we found were general visual bugs, glitches and a few minor issues with connectivity, but in single-player the AI occasionally gets in the way by getting momentarily stuck and sometimes objectives can be a little bit opaque in the way they're presented.
Textures are also a little on the muddy side too and there isn't a huge amount of visual flair on show in Homefront, making the game look rather rough around the edges in places. This graphical inconsistency is another negative aspect in Homefront, as some vistas are genuinely spectacular, while others are unintentionally murky and sparse. For the most part though, Homefront delivers as far as gameplay and narrative, but there's an unfinished quality to certain parts of the game that leave scuffs all over the rest of Homefront's otherwise glossy sheen.
Seeing as the campaign is so short, there's achievements to artificially extend the life of Homefront's single-player, with rewards for completing each mission without dying, completing each mission on the hardest Guerrilla difficulty and for executing specific actions within a mission, such as sparing burning KPA soldiers or killing them, or completing a certain objective within an allotted time. What few multiplayer achievements there are require grinding to a certain level or attaining certain awards for using weapons and gadgets, while others ask that you reach a certain threat level during a match. Then there's 61 hidden newspapers to collect throughout the campaign, which is as exciting as it sounds.
Given the hype surrounding Homefront, we expected a little more from its single-player campaign, especially when you consider that a Hollywood scriptwriter penned the story and so much emphasis was placed on it. You have to wonder why it doesn't quite click or resonate in the way we hoped it would. That's not to say that Homefront's story is a complete write-off, but you'll find far more life and enjoyment in multiplayer.
Homefront's score is powerful and dramatic, while the guns have an extremely realistic and brassy sound to them. Voice work is engaging for the most part and the soundtrack in general is a winner.
Whether Homefront is supposed to look muddy and rough, we're not entirely sure, but the visual style actually works pretty well. Rough textures let the side down a bit and some environments are a little on the bland side. It's fairly inconsistent overall.
Enjoyable in both single-player and multiplayer, Homefront's mechanics are every bit as tight and accomplished as any FPS worth its salt and the feedback from the game's weapons is immensely gratifying.
The campaign is simply far too short and lacking in dramatic heft, which means it's multiplayer to the rescue. Luckily, hopping online is great fun, offering 32-player gadget-laden mayhem with a neat twist in its Battle Points system.
Most of the achievements are centred around artificially extending the lifespan of the campaign, which is almost an admission of how short it is. You might have to finish the story three times to get them all and go through the joyless task of gathering glowing newspapers. Then there's the multiplayer achievements, which vary from straightforward to grinding.
Homefront's story-driven element is a disappointment, but you'll still probably return for a repeat visit. The multiplayer on the other hand is a far more inviting prospect and will likely burn up a fair few hours, days, weeks and even months if you catch the bug. Here's hoping that Homefront 2 gets the greenlight, as there's loads of potential for expansion and the end leaves Homefront wide open for a sequel.