Reviewed: March 17, 2011
Released: March 15, 2011
NVIDIA 3D Vision Requirements
Homefront is one of the most hyped games of the year; at least when it comes to press events and pre-release coverage, but where are all the ads? It’s been a few days since the game hit stores and I have yet to see a single commercial, and that’s a shame because Homefront is one of the more remarkable FPS games you will play this year. Admittedly, Homefront doesn’t even try to expand upon the genre, but what it lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in a compelling single-player story that actually had me tearing up more than once – a first for any military game.|
Written by John Milius, who also wrote Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn, the story from Homefront doesn’t stray too far from the later film. In that movie Cuba launches a surprise attack on the USA and forces a bunch of high school rednecks to form a resistance and fight back. In Homefront, the story is ripped straight from today’s headlines with an opening movie that kicks off in present day and takes us 25 years into the future with a disturbing and believable tale of a world at war; a world where Korea becomes a unified nation and slowly achieves world dominance after invading the US, nuking the Mississippi River, and effectively dividing our crippled nation.
And this is where, as the title indicates, Homefront shines, by bringing the war home. The US has been involved in some sort of war for as long as I can remember, but most citizens go about their daily business and never think about it unless you are glued to the news or have a family member serving overseas. But what happens when tanks start rolling down your neighborhood – enemy tanks, and jets scream across the skies, and the men are taken from their homes and put into containment areas or when parents are executed on the street in front of their children?
Homefront brings the horrors of war home and serves as a rude awakening to those of us who have turned war into a game. There’s no glamor or sense of heroics when you are fighting in a bombed out family home or being forced to fight against and kill former US citizens who have gone a bit militant during the occupation. Homefront achieves this immersion both in concept and story as well as visuals by creating a few familiar locales. Sadly, somebody wasn’t too aggressive in the licensing department because it seems only TigerDirect and White Castle wanted to lend their brands to the game. The rest of the game could conceivably take place in Anywhere USA except for the epic final battle on the Golden Gate Bridge.
As a FPS game, Homefront doesn’t stray from the formula or the standard controls of the genre. You run around large and deceptively open levels while the game covertly guides you through the linear path with believable blockades like an overturned car or an enemy perimeter fence. Grab weapons, grab more weapons, grab new weapons, grab ammo, and fling the occasional grenade at hordes of Korean invaders as you fight alongside a seemingly well-organized resistance movement. If you’re lucky you’ll get to take control of Goliath, a giant remote-control Humvee with guided rockets for some real fun.
There is also an air support mission that, while on the surface, would appear to be fun, the chopper controls are ridiculously sloppy and unrealistic and the action is so scripted it’s hardly fun. I usually love these aerial missions in games like COD and Battlefield, but Homefront screwed the pooch on this one. At least the graphics engine was up for the task of drawing the visuals from a high altitude.
Visually, Homefront is excellent, doing a great job of creating a sense of home and then blowing the crap out of it. While I would have enjoyed a few more licensed establishments to make things a bit more real, the demolished neighborhoods, the high school football field turned prison camp, the creepy battle through the farmlands, and the dizzying fight up and across the Golden Gate Bridge were all amazing experiences. The level of detail was incredible, like the jumbo jet wreckage in the opening level with a piece of landing gear here and a drink cart over there and plane seats being used in surrounding homes.
The character animations were smooth and realistic and the weapons looked great. The sky box, lighting, shadows, smoke, fire, and explosions effects were all excellent as was texture details and color. There were a few moments where colors got a bit too bright and things went from realistic to slightly cartoonish – about the same difference you’d see between an Infinitely Ward and a Treyarch COD game – you know what I mean. But overall, my suspension of disbelief was unbreakable and I eagerly looked forward to each new level.
The audio was also spot-on with great voice acting from everyone. I love the use of real video clips used out of context to spin the story to the desired results. The news reports during the static loading screens were also a nice touch. Weapons sounded realistic and powerful; just as good as any other military game with the exception of Battlefield. There is a bit of music cued in for emotional plot points and some fun music when you get on the chopper in the final mission.
As with any game that is driven by a powerful story, the time it takes to finish it is closer to that of a film than a game. Homefront clocks in at about six hours on Normal difficulty, which is admittedly short and potentially disappointing, but personally, it was the perfect length for me. I would rather have a kickass emotional rollercoaster ride that lasts six hours than some inflated gameplay experience that has me meandering through meaningless levels to satisfy some preconceived notion of "game length equals value". If you want a 12-hour game then play it twice. Up the difficulty – hard is pretty brutal – and try finding all those hidden pieces of news items that all add to the situational immersion.
Of course you can also check out the multiplayer modes that support up to 32 players in some of the biggest and best online gaming the Xbox 360 has seen to date. Choose between Ground Control or Team Deathmatch and jump into some of the most surreal and disturbing maps you’ll play this year. Regardless of the mode, teamwork is paramount to success, high scores, and winning. There is loads of customization from weaponry and items to powerful vehicles. Just about any action you do earns you BP (Battle Points) that can be spent before or even during the mission for instant gratification on anything from a flak jacket to a tank. The levels are large, easily accommodating 32 players, and with cool challenges and team-focused game objectives, you’ll be doing battle on the Homefront for a long time to come.
The PC version of Homefront offers some ultra-high-res visuals and even 3D support if you have a monster video card. As with all FPS games on the PC, you have superior control with a mouse and keyboard, but you can also use a gamepad if you wish - even a 360 controller. I found the multiplayer worked just as smoothly on the PC once I was connected, but starting games and chatting while playing all just worked better on the console. So if your video card cost twice as much as an Xbox 360, chances are you're going to have a fantastic experience on the PC.
I love this game, and despite a few forgivable flaws Homefront is easily one of the most immersive and emotional campaigns that come to mind in my 30 years of gaming. Sure, the campaign is short. Deal with it. With that ending there is either going to be a sequel or some killer DLC. Meanwhile, you can reap the rewards and satisfaction of some of the best multiplayer combat we’ve seen so far in 2011.