Game Rant’s Andrew Dyce reviews Homefront
The past few years have been kind to fans of modern military shooters, with Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops and the upcoming Battlefield 3. But with so many studios trying to occupy the same space, repetition and similarities have become commonplace, and the challenge of making a new title stand out from the competition is getting harder and harder.
With Homefront, developer Kaos Studios decided to take a different route from many of its contemporaries, and base their game around a story written by John Milius, the mind behind the films Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn. Set in a fictional future where America has been invaded and occupied by unified Korea, Homefront puts players into the shoes of an everyday citizen fighting for their own freedom. At least, that’s what the team has set out to do. Whether or not they succeed is a separate issue entirely.
Homefront certainly gets off on the right foot, with the startling and disturbing opening cinematic portraying the downfall and invasion of the United States. From there the game introduces the player into the horrifying realities of the occupation, and although the now-infamous opening bus-ride is little more than a minute in length, it’s likely to upset to many gamers more than they’d like.
From that point on, the player is thrust headlong into the American Resistance as Robert Jacobs, taking on the Korean People’s Army in a former suburban neighborhood amidst terrified civilians and screaming babies. The juxtaposition of human suffering and combat is as groundbreaking as it is disturbing, and the game quickly seems to deliver on its promise of a previously-unseen shooter experience.
Upon being recruited into the Resistance, Jacobs is allowed to enter the hidden settlement known as ‘Oasis’ that the fighters of Montrose, Colorado call home. The slow and open-ended freedom to interact with the residents automatically explains what the developers meant when they said that Half-Life had been their greatest influence. But sadly, the NPC’s responses are limited to simple sentence replies, and the team soon gathers to plan their next mission.
After two more missions that continue to mix high-paced squad combat with truly jarring images of war, Homefront trades in serious emotional weight for pedal-to-the-metal gunfighting. So while the gripping story is delivered well within the first 2 hours, players hoping for a seriously gut-wrenching experience won’t be too thrilled with the rest of the game’s campaign.
After putting serious time into creating its own style and mood, Homefront cashes in all its chips to mimic Call of Duty: Black Ops in nearly every way possible. There’s no rule saying that a shooter can’t admire constantly-frantic gunfights in interesting locales, but it’s the fact that Homefront fails to pull off the feat as well as Treyarch did that will leave a bad taste in players’ mouths.
The guns don’t feel as satisfying or varied as Black Ops, and the squad AI is nowhere near as intelligent. Homefront has chosen to go with a white uppercase font for the ‘follow’ prompt hovering over Jacobs’ commanding officer’s head for approximately 95% of the game, so no one can accuse them of theft. Seriously, if someone can explain why a developer thinks that having a player look at the word ‘follow’ instead of their surroundings is a good decision, please speak up.
While the one or two AI partners aid the player fairly well in the early stages of the game, the larger squad AI is completely thrown out the window during large-scale firefights, becoming more of a liability than an advantage.
For example, Jacobs’ adopted squad of Hopper, Connor and Rianna are uniquely gifted with not only invincibility, but an absolutely fearless need to encourage the player to advance before all enemy characters have been dealt with. With a story so unfamiliar and politically charged, the lack of refinement in basic squad functions sticks out like a sore thumb.
This is the true fault of the game: halfway through, Homefront changes from a strong, story-based game with technical faults that are easily overlooked to a mindless orgy of shooting, giving the player no more than a basic understanding of what needs to be accomplished, but rarely the reasoning behind it. At no point is Jacobs given a specific character trait that would explain his actions. He simply ‘follows.’
If the game had maintained its focus on interesting and unexpectedly raw depictions of war, then the screen-tearing, character-ghosting, ridiculous AI animations and hovering objects might have been overlooked. But by emulating an action-first game like Black Ops as faithfully as possible, the lack of any such faults in their competition just makes Homefront seem broken or unfinished.