Reviewed: March 22, 2011
Released: March 15, 2011
Homefront is a game that would have made a massive splash if it came out a few years ago. Itís not a bad game by any means, but when itís entering into a world dominated by Halo and Call of Duty, itís not really clear if being a technically proficient shooter with a good story and fun multiplayer is quite enough to compete. Without any massive innovation in the single-player, and with the multiplayerís core innovations all sort of being on the periphery of the battle, Homefront might end up as a game thatís doomed to obscurity by how entrenched its competition is.|
The rather short single-player puts the player in the shoes of a pilot in Korean-occupied America. Set over a decade in the future, Homefront posits a world where the global economy has collapsed, save for Korea, which becomes an ascendant empire. After annexing much of Southeast Asia, the Koreans turn their sights on America and, following a devastating EMP blast that renders the nation briefly helpless, claim most of the western half of the country, save for isolated pockets of resistance by both citizens and the army.
The pilot is rescued by one of these civilian resistance groups, and ends up involved in their plan to hijack a Korean fuel convoy departing their town in Colorado and deliver it to the remnants of the US Army fighting in San Francisco. Along the way, the pilot fights through locations that ought to be familiar to anyone whoís been in suburban America (although Homefront seems to posit a world where Tiger Direct is the only big box retail store, and White Castle is the only fast food restaurant left in America after the economic collapse), witnesses war crimes committed by both Koreans and Americans, and battles through the truly impressive number of Korean soldiers whoíve occupied a smallish southwestern city.
Despite my above gripes, the story is one of the most engaging, distressing, and genuinely impressive in first person shooters. Although the pacing becomes weird near the end when the resistance hijacks the convoy and gets to San Francisco, the story touches on the horrors of war and the ways that people react to it rather well. The biggest drawbacks come from the fact that, short of a helicopter sequence and brief targeting for an autonomous armored vehicle that the resistance took control of, thereís not much to break up whatís fairly standard first person shooter action. To make it worse, in a game where the story is the main draw, invisible walls pull the player out of the action with alarming regularity, and pretty much every narrative beat is followed by a section with a clear gap thatís invisibly walled off as the resistance discusses their next move. Additionally, the gameís ending makes it feel rather incomplete, with Homefrontís campaign feeling like the first act of a longer story, which isnít helped by the fact that the campaign only lasts a couple hours.
While the single-player is a competent, if troubled game with an excellent story, the multiplayer is where Homefront excels. A sort of hybrid between Battlefield and Call of Duty, the core multiplayer mode features a battle over control points that shifts as the battle progresses and one side drives the other back. With a currency system that awards kills, defense, and assaulting points, and the ability to buy upgrades mid-battle to accommodate your current need in the battle, Homefrontís action is fast and hard, with players driven to play well and given the tools they need to react to the opposing team.
Another big highlight of the game is the Battle Commander mode, which evokes the days of Battlefield 2 where a commander could react to their teamís squad leaders and offer assistance. Unfortunately, the Battle Commander is closer to an AI director, which looks for kill streaks or people doing other things to help their team, and gives them missions to keep doing that thing. While it mixes things up, and hunting down enemy all-stars, or being hunted yourself, adds a lot of tension to the match.
Itís something Iíd have liked to seen taken further, giving players more detailed objectives, and reacting more to the state of the battle, incentivizing going on the offensive and giving multiple people the same objective to organize coordinated offensives, rather than just giving bonuses to the guys who were best at lone-wolfing their way through a multiplayer battle. My highest rewards came when I decided to be John Rambo and cut my way through a few enemy players in a row, and not when I worked with my team to do things that led more directly to scoring the points we needed to win the game.
Ultimately, Homefront a mixed bag. Thereís a lot of good in the single player game, weighed down by older mechanics and events that pull the player out of the excellent story. Meanwhile, the multiplayer is fairly terrific, but would have been served well by going a little further with the Battle Commander. If Homefrontís going to become a franchise, itís got the potential to become a really good one, and I just hope that itís not smothered by its ascendant competition before it gets there.