THQ has been promoting the heck out of Homefront over the past few months, occasionally in ill-conceived ways such as dropping thousands of balloons into the San Fransisco Bay much to the ire of the SF citizens or a YouTube banner campaign that confused site users into believing that North Korea actually attacked the United States. Beyond the stunt marketing, Homefront is positioned in the forefront of THQ's lineup and they are hoping that Kaos Studios work on the title will appeal to millions of first person shooter fans. As for myself, I absolutely love alternate reality war games and jumped at the chance to review the game. Unfortunately, that excitement was demolished after playing the single player campaign in Homefront.
The story is set in 2027 after Korean forces, under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, set off a massive EMP device crippling the United States and scattering the military forces. When I read that John Milius (Red Dawn, Rome, Apocalypse Now) worked on the script for the game, I couldn't believe it. Why? Beyond the opening act of the game, the narrative absolutely stinks. I can believe that he was involved in the concept of the game, but there's no way that he saw it all the way through. The game lacks the emotional punch of any of his previous work. The prologue, however, is expertly crafted and makes you feel the emotions of a typical American that's fallen under a shockingly brutal Korean regime. Beyond that, the narrative devolves into a story devoid of emotion, mostly due to terrible character development. I didn't care about a single character by the time I reached the end, a nasty accomplishment for a game developer.
Combat is heavily scripted and forces the player into waiting for the team AI to accomplish most tasks. It's really just a series of point to point maneuvers in which you can use your teammates as bullet shields as effectively as Magruber using Ryan Phillipe (did anyone see that terrible movie?). Teammates are invincible; a depressing fact that made me wonder why they needed me to help them. They are also fairly stupid when in cover, waiting for you to trigger that scripted moment to move forward. It's even worse when something in the environment is supposed to trigger than progression and often leads to periods of waiting for the battle to continue. There's nothing really unique about battle either. You pick up an assault rifle or sniper rifle and start mowing down the enemy on each stage with the occasional vehicle interlude.
Looking past the single player campaign, there's a solid foundation for a multiplayer shooter. The bright point of the multiplayer are the implementation of Battle Points; a currency for purchasing new equipment / vehicles during a match. For instance, if you are stuck on the opposite side of the map, you can purchase an armored vehicle to move quicker on the landscape. You earn points be killing the enemy, defending teammates and completing tasks during the match. Beyond the points, you've also got a 70 level ranking system identical to the Call of Duty series that unlocks new abilities the more you play.
Ground Control was my favorite team based multiplayer mode. It requires you to hold and defend checkpoints on the map while expanding out to capture new ones. I'm hoping for more maps at some point, but the current seven are pretty entertaining and huge. Multiplayer ran very well and I didn't have any problems finding players. Beyond the multiplayer, you also have 47 achievements to tackle. The majority are weighted toward completing the game on different difficulties, but there are some unique tasks in there like reaching a sniper perch in less than 4 minutes or allowing 5 enemies to burn to death rather than putting them out of their misery. There are also news collectibles throughout the campaign and a few Xbox Live achievements.
I'd be curious to find out when the development began on this title. It's more on par with the first generation Xbox 360 titles rather than something as recent as Call of Duty Black Ops or Mass Effect 2. The choppy framerate absolutely slaughters the immersion during the large scale battles and clipping problems rear their ugly head continually during the campaign. The texture work and color scheme is pretty mundane, but the developer did do a great job of capturing the look of a war torn United States. The scripted nature of the game's progression also plays into the game's visuals. Do you remember your good friend the Invisible wall? You will meet Mr. Invisible several times in the game due to the scripted areas and occasionally get stuck with him for a while. All in all, the visual design and performance is lacking for a current Xbox 360 title.
Beyond the opening, the dialogue is comprised of your standard obscenity laced solider talk and the occasional mention of Hooters. You can tell the voice actors are trying their darnest to sell the script, but it's nearly impossible with the terrible writing. There's also no bedrock, well-known actor to anchor the cast and bring some authenticity to the audio work. On the other hand, the musical score is darn good and offers up the same emotional feeling of other war games. The sound effects are passable, nothing specifically exciting.
There's a vast barrage of black marks against Homefront's single player campaign, the most egregious being the 4 to 5 hour length over the seven chapters, sloppy game mechanics and a narrative that builds to a pathetic whimper. There were many scripted points in the campaign that clearly assume that you are an idiot and don't have the brain power to figure out what to do next, despite the strict linear design. The most disappointing part of this mess is that it starts off with such promise. The opening back story is to be commended and could have turned into something magical, but it all falls apart within the first 20 minutes of the game. Frankly, it's debatable if the campaign is worth the cost of a rental, much less the full MSRP.
On the other side of the coin, the multiplayer has enough great qualities for you to consider purchasing Homefront. It doesn't overthrow the Call of Duty franchise, but alters the formula enough to feel original. I loved being able to purchase items during the match and altering my strategy in real time. For a team based shooter, I'd say it's on par with the entertainment value of the early Battlefield games like 1942. In the end, you have to weigh how much value the multiplayer is going to be for you. If you love alternate reality shooters, I would say try renting the title before looking for a cheap used copy (assuming you love the team based multiplayer).