There was a time before Homefront released where I was very excited to play this game. I was seeing billboards with the game’s stunning cover art and counting down the days till our review copy arrived on our doorstep. Then the game showed up and I started playing it. Interest was at an all time high when I cracked open the game’s case, but that interest quickly plummeted as I logged more and more hours into Homefront’s campaign. Thankfully, Homefront’s multiplayer washes a bit of that sour taste out of my mouth. But I’m still not walking away from this game satisfied in the slightest.
In the highly implausible future on 2027, North and South Korea have finally put aside their differences and banded together to take over the world, succeeding where Pinky and the Brain have failed. The Greater Korean Republic’s latest conquest is America, who has become susceptible to invasion due to a harsh economic downturn and the loss of foreign support. Now all that stands in the way of Korea’s total occupancy of the US is a small group of resistance freedom fighters.
Homefront does a great job dropping players into the dilapidated setting of a America overrun by Korean forces. The entire opening of the game is set on-rails as you watch Koreans toy with, torture and kill Americans out in the streets in cold blood from the window of a detention bus (I’m also pretty sure I saw the birth of an alternate reality Batman, by the way). This introduction to the cruel world of Homefront definitely succeeds in giving players motivation to shoot a lot of Koreans. Sadly, this is also the best part of Homefront’s campaign. Everything after this point is all downhill.
The setup to Homefront gives the game plenty of fascinating ideas and concepts to explore that few others titles on the market have the opportunity to delve into; however, Homefront chooses to ignore them and instead become the lowest common denominator: just another face in a sea of familiar fps titles. Maybe even worse, the moment you’re freed from your prison detention bus Homefront becomes, help me god for saying this, a less polished knock-off of Call of Duty. So look forward to more slow-motion door breaches, bombastic set pieces and everything else you’d expect from the Activision mega-franchise. Homefront doesn’t even try to avoid the linear level design and push forward mentality of the CoD franchise either. In fact, Homefront is essentially the suburbia battlefield level from Modern Warfare 2 stretched out over five hours instead of twenty minutes. The only point where Homefront’s campaign seems special, from a setting point of view, is at the game’s conclusion when you take back the Golden Gate Bridge.
What’s maybe even more shocking is that Homefront manages to make two things that don’t typically irk me about games stand out like sore thumbs. For one: the inability to progress forward until your NPC teammates deem you ready gets old real fast. You’ll reach a checkpoint and try to go through the door. Oh, wait, you can’t do that until your teammates make their way there, babble back and forth for a bit, then breach the door for you. This also applies to crawling under holes in fences, or going up ladders. The pace is completely dictated by the computer, not the player. And what makes this stick out in Homefront is that the computer always feels miles behind.
Secondly, what’s the deal with the obnoxious ad placement in Homefront? It’s clear that one of the top priorities for the developers were to appease their advertising partners. Missions success! Not only will you be defending the staples of American freedom from Korean oppression, AKA White Castle and Hooters, but you’ll also play your part in a level set completely in a TigerDirect.com department store. And if Homefront is anything to go by, it’s a big to-do. Maybe that’s why Korea invaded America in the first place: they needed some cheap ass computer parts. Not everyone can runStarCraft II on it’s highest settings over there, mind you.
Kaos Studios, the game’s developers, made a big fuss that Homefront was going to be a first-person shooter that truly delivered on the notion of a personal story. You are fighting for your country and freedom after all. But Kaos really dropped the ball in this department as well. I don’t know if John Milius’ (Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn) script was dumbed down when it was translated into gameplay, but Homefront does not offer anything redeeming about its main cast of characters. They are all war story cliches that are completely forgettable after spending only a couple hours by their side. Even worse, the character you play as, Jacobs, is a shell that’s just around to follow orders. Supposedly, he’s been recruited into the Resistance because he’s one of the only pilots left that can get them to San Francisco. Outside that fact, you learn nothing about his past or why he blindly follows the orders given to him; that even applies to the ones that fall on the shadier side of battle tactics.
And finally, after a whole lot of bitching, here’s the part where I detail the one redeeming quality of Homefront: multiplayer. After some off-putting trouble connecting to a match that wasn’t plagued with lag, I did find a lot to like. Firstly, I got to continue defending not only White Castles, but also the JanSport store – fun fact: it was not a week ago that I made fun of our own Mike White for continuing to rock one those backpacks. But to get back on track, and because it’s of more importance to this review, Homefront does feature a pretty unique take on XP currency. In Homefront, currency is known as "Battle Points," which can be earned for doing various deeds during combat — be it killing someone, earning and maintaining a kill streak, or taking an objective. Battle Points can then be spent mid-match on everything from flak jackets, to missile launchers, to drones and vehicles. These expenditures don’t carry over to future matches either. Once you get the money to buy a tank, it’s a one-off. So make sure you spend your BPs wisely.
Homefront also has a standard XP leveling system that allows you to upgrade equipment and deck out various classes with the gear that works best for your play-style. The combination of the standard leveling system and Battle Points makes sure players are happy with a lot of customization options. It also gives incentive to keep playing Homefront after wasting time on the game’s single player.
With how Homefront‘s campaign ends, THQ clearly wants to turn this into a sequel-spawning franchise. But they’re going to have to do a lot better than aping the style of another franchise and telling us the game will pull at our heart-strings just because it’s set on our home turf. Homefront definitely has the potential to me a major, big league franchise. THQ just has a lot of work to do to get it there.