First person shooters are a dime a dozen in the game industry so every new game in the genre needs to have a hook to capture the interest of its prospective audience. Developer Kaos Studios set out to one up the competition with Homefront by setting their game in a near future where a unified Korea has occupied the United States west of the Mississippi. It is a horrifying premise to be sure and to bolster the game’s credibility, Kaos has enlisted the help of John Milius, the writer and director of the 1984 film Red Dawn.
Beginning with real footage of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton condemning of the North Korean torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in 2010, Homefront sets the stage for a grim yet horrifically believable future where the United States collapses and succumbs to the invasion of a unified Korea. And then the game starts and all the effort they spent setting up this horrific vision of the future is wasted by setting it in a game that is so unbelievably flawed.
Players will play as Jacobs, an everyman pilot that is trying to live his life in occupied Colorado. Jacobs is arrested by the Korean military but it is not long before the local resistance cell busts him out, hands him a gun and thrusts him deep into the war against the Koreans. Jacobs was not busted out by chance though, the resistance is in need of a pilot for a secret mission that could help turn the tide.
As it turns out Jacobs is not just a pilot but he is also a crack shot who seemingly had more than a little bit of special forces training. So the resistance sets to work using Jacobs for all kinds of dangerous missions that no single person would ever be tasked to do. Need a sentry turret taken out? Jacobs is your guy. Need someone to target enemies using a fancy gizmo? Jacobs knows how to do that. How about sniping people from a football field away? Yep, Jacobs can do that too.
I know that as a game Homefront is trying to keep the player engaged by giving them a variety of different things to do but when coupled with the realistic setting that Kaos is going for, it seems a bit silly. Additionally the absurdity does not stop with Jacobs being the go to guy for everything, it is the little things that really take the player out of the experience. For instance resistance squad member Rianna wearing a stylish top that shows off her mid-drift, or Conner endangering the entire mission by running Rambo-style into a mass burial, and do not even get me started on the unbelievable final mission.
Narrative issues aside the game fails in the most important of areas, gameplay. Nearly every aspect of the design is poorly implemented. The shooting feels loose and sloppy. Squad A.I. is nearly useless and Jacobs must be dressed in a Lite Brite outfit because no matter how low of a threat level he may pose, the enemy will target and sustain fire on him exclusively. In addition to making the player into a virtual bullet sponge, the game has nasty difficulty spikes and magically appearing enemies making cheap deaths a normal occurrence. With the campaign clocking in around four to five hours and coupled with the numerous cheap deaths the game is probably far shorter than it seems.
If all of that were not bad enough, the level design is terribly uninspired and emanates with the vibe of “been there, done that”. Homefront’s campaign seems to be a game that had a high concept idea but Kaos did not know how to bring such an idea to fruition while still remaining fun and so instead of exploring other avenues in execution Kaos decided to run the tried and true rout ultimately making the game seem like a sub-par clone of Modern Warfare 2.
With the myriad of problems in the single player, one would assume that the multiplayer would be equally as problematic. That would be an incorrect assumption as Homefront actually delivers a solid, if extremely derivative multiplayer experience. Homefront’s main game modes are Ground Control and Team Deathmatch. Deathmatch speaks for itself and playing in that mode it really seems like a Modern Warfare clone. Ground Control on the other hand borrows extensively from the Battlefield series as it blends a mix of the standard Battlefield modes Rush and Conquest into something relatively new and exciting. In Ground Control both teams will be assigned neutral capture points. Capturing and holding the points for a set amount of time will force the losing team to retreat further into the map to protect new control points. The first team to capture and hold two sections of the map, wins.
Much like any modern-day shooter, Homefront features a persistent leveling system that is designed to retain players for long periods of time. By playing the game and leveling up, more and more unlocks become available making your virtual soldier harder to kill. In addition to weapons, equipment and abilities that can be unlocked there is a unique game type that can only be unlocked once players have reached level seven*. This game type Battle Commander is just a variant of Team Deathmatch and Ground Control. The added wrinkle being that when playing in Battle Commander players that are doing well are marked for elimination and a bounty is placed on their heads. On the surface it may not seem like a big deal but having a player on a spree marked adds a ton of pressure to that player and it may very well eliminate camping, at least in this game mode.
Battle Commander is not the only new addition to the tried and true formula though. For every action that is performed in a match the player gains battle points that can be used to buy vehicles or support upgrades. The battle points system works like a more balanced version of the Call of Duty kill-streak rewards and it introduces a risk reward type payoff where players can risk banking their points to unlock more powerful vehicles that could help turn the tide their way or they could just play selfishly and help themselves with personal upgrades.
Technically speaking the game is nothing to showcase in your living room but it is serviceable enough. Where the game falters though is in its presentation aspects. The menus and on-screen prompts are right out of 2003 making immersion into the world nearly impossible as Homefront reminds you at every turn that it is a game.
I think what is most disheartening about Homefront is that it spoiled a prime chance to create something different, something meaningful. Homefront is certainly not something different, it is the same game we have been playing for years. In a genre that is heavily populated with better quality, Homefront is just not worth spending time with, let alone money on.
2 out of 5
*While it holds no bearing on this review I personally despise the locking of game types in multiplayer game modes requiring players to “rank” up enough to unlock all game types.