With American screenwriter, John Milius, penning your latest narrative, one would assume the end product could redeem a hindered gameplay experience or technical bugs that constantly dog your every step. Somehow, the team at Kaos Studios still manages to muck up that opportunity. The single-player starts strong with a very downtrodden Half-Life 2 vibe setting the tone that quickly fumbles its momentum on an impressive list of shortcomings.
The campaign centers on the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and their conquest to seize world control. The beginning part of the story takes place in Montrose, Colorado, where the KPA are searching for pilots to retrain and civilians to silence. That’s where the main character comes in. You play as Robert Jacobs, an ex-Marine pilot who is forcibly removed from his stuffy abode to be conscripted by the KPA. Instead, you are captured/saved by the resistance to fly to San Francisco and halt the Korean's reinforcements. With that in mind, you fight alongside the gung-ho rebels through a wealth of shooting ranges to complete your mission.
While that summary may seem flat, it is some of the only story you are given as the player. Storytelling mainly consists of one-minute cutscenes before every level, delivered by a radio DJ known as the “Voice of Freedom.” The campaign, being three hours long, lacks the time to let the players familiarize themselves with their rescuers, making it hard to sympathize with their actions and personalities. The only one you receive any background on is Hopper, and even that brief insight is a dismissible thirty-second dialogue somewhere in the fifth chapter. No, rather than humanizing the characters to create a sense of compassion, the developers opted to portray them as bullet sponges that only know five lines of chatter. For example, when the resistance returns from assaulting a KPA depot, Boone, the resistance camp's leader, is found murdered, but since he was introduced merely 45 minutes ago, the man garners no empathy.
This is the real problem of Homefront. The developers built an alternate (hopefully…) timeline that could easily have supported a deep, dark tale of despair and a group of people with patriotism so embedded in their heads that they rise up against an oppressing force by shoving American flags through their enemies' heads, but instead craft a story of insane survivors with complete disregard for their or anyone else’s safety. This failure never amounts to a single-player highlighted by more than snipe clueless soldiers, sprint over the invisible spawn trigger, eliminate more hostiles, interact with the environment, rinse and repeat.
These soldiers do not want to hear Kim Jong-il impressions.
The multiplayer shows heartier life signs but not without a few glaring problems. The developers blend the Call of Duty and Battlefield formulas into a stout concoction. Deaths come quick and often due to the large player count, but implements a vehicle and class system more akin to Battlefield. The usual persistent unlock system rewards players with weapons, perks, and equipment as they level up, but Homefront introduces another mechanic into this war-time smoothie.
Within every individual match, the player earns separate points from their XP called BP (battle points). Everyone starts out with 500 BP and gains additional points every time they complete an action like capturing a flag, defending an objective, or destroying opposing vehicles. You may spend these credits to utilize special abilities depending on your selected class, such as a combat drone or extra armor, or if you so choose, spawn with a vehicle ranging from Humvees to helicopters that provide similar killstreaks.
Overall though, the multiplayer seems diverse enough to stave off the lingering Call of Duty-meets-Battlefield comparisons with a well-balanced system of rewards encouraging multiple hours of heated online competitions.
I feel safe in saying multiplayer will never see this sort of collaboration.
From a technical standpoint, this game falls pretty hard. The graphics look decent on the computer when limited to very low settings, but the console version fails to keep up with horribly dated textures embarrassing even for the Unreal Engine 3.
Sadly, the AI may yet be more atrocious. Enemies stand idle when getting shot, never moving to cover or blindly putting their backs to the player. Also, they seem to gravitate to certain pieces of debris, waiting for their buddies to be killed so they can crouch in the exact same position. Add that to the infinitely spawning hordes of these simpletons, and frustrating times plague the experience. The only factor Homefront gets right in this category is the controls, which are luckily the Call of Duty standard.
The locations of the game were a actually hyped aspect, with urban areas that reportedly mimic life as we know it. If that’s the case, then why are there barriers everywhere? The locales lack distinction except for the final three chapters of sneaking through a rural farm community and assaulting the Golden Gate Bridge. I was hoping for much more variety; however, all we get is needless repetition.
Homefront originally advertised a masterfully crafted story with interesting settings and engaging writing. Maybe it could have been, if not for the three-hour campaign. The single player lands far too short of its lofty ambitions, and technical problems drop this shooter to subpar levels. The only real saving grace is the multiplayer. If you want to throw money away, maybe you should rent Homefront, but do not buy it.
Developer: Kaos Studios (X360, PS3), Digital Extremes (PC)
Release date: March 15, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign) 2-32 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed)