Friday, December 13, 2013

A Second Look @ Homefront

(NOTE: Unfortunately, I can't comment on the multiplayer aspect of Homefront. With THQ's closure came the shutting down of the servers for all three available platforms. I can't even glance over how it was because I never had the opportunity to play it. In that regard the multiplayer aspect has been omitted and it does no good to read up on how it was.)
(ALSO: I'm sorry if you've read this review after the original post date of December 8. While trying to edit a few misspellings using the Blogger phone app, it instead reverted the review back to the draft and I unknowingly posted that in its place. So here's the real review...)

 (Images taken from multiple sources)

Why Homefront was ignored is beyond me. It came out at a time where everyone was looking for the Call of Duty killer (which will eventually kill itself) and people only wanted big multiplayer action. Homefront definitely had that with large-number MP battles and an engaging single player story. Kaos Studios used a template that everyone was familiar with but apparently nobody wanted.
Where Homefront succeeded was in its delivery: big action for both the single and multiplayer modes, an intense story and relentless enemies. Sound design of the highest caliber and an attention to detail of how the story came to fruition that most other FPS's don't bother with.
Where it failed is in its overall game design: an all-out para-military shooter with little regards to the cast of characters and a miniscule story length. The multiplayer was the usual mess of XP levels and being outclassed by higher ranks. It was the same thing we had seen in other FPS games before. It could have been done better, but only by very little.

If the plot sounds like a rip-off of a certain movie or book, its more of an homage. According to Wikipedia, while John Millius, the original writer of Red Dawn, is credited as a writer, he had nothing to do with the game's script. Regardless of who did the writing, it and the direction are very well done, elevating current global news stories to an exciting and terrifying degree for a story set in the future of a little town in Montrose, Colorado. Unlike Red Dawn, the Korean army is less political and quick to shoot at any resistance, bringing in helicopters and moving whole platoons against a small guerrilla army. The opening of the game is more focused on the horrors of what's happening: a child watching his parents get executed, bodies lining the sidewalks, people being forced from their homes and into labor camps. Its so surreal that it had to be edited in order to be sold in the Asian markets for fear of backlash from North Korea.
The game puts you in control of Robert Jacobs, a former Marine helicopter pilot. Disregard that information because none of it comes into play. You never get to pilot a helicopter and that's a shame. While being taken from your home by the occupying Korean military, you are rescued by a couple of resistance fighters. Without much argument you pick up a gun and proceed to shoot your way through the town to safety. The game doesn't deal with the emotions of the characters at all and is instead more concentrated on the horrors of war. There's a lot of focus on the here-and-now and very little on the past. It could be said that it would not do well to dwell in that area but instead the game feels as though it could have used a little of it.

The game also goes through intense hand-holding as you're very rarely left alone. You are not the one-man army like in FPS games of the same era and does everything it can to remind you of this. You will quickly learn to rely on cover and your allies to overcome a firefight. They never get in the way but the repetitive dialogue out of combat breaks the immersion. The guns handle very accurately and a few well-placed shots can take someone down even if they're wearing riot gear. The same goes for you as there will be a lot of cheap bullet-sponge deaths with the enemies seeing you as their only primary target. You will take the bulk of the damage but health recovers quickly by taking cover and staying out of a firefight for a few seconds. Even then enemies may flank you, forcing you to stay on your toes. In this aspect it knows how to keep the game exciting but the automatic health recovery takes away from believability. There's little time or space to run from an enemy grenade and your partners will take hit after hit without loss of life or even flinching. 
There are no cars to drive in the single player campaign but you can use targeting binoculars to command a Goliath, a remote-controlled and converted Korean mobile missile launcher, to take out enemy vehicles. This only happens a few times but its just enough to be awesome. Besides that you're put in the gunner seat of a Hummvee for a minute while playing part in escaping the town.

Very linear but excellently detailed levels usher you through the main campaign all while being led around by a man with obvious PTSD. While you may want to go exploring the interesting little nooks you might see, the game is littered with invisible walls that hinder any curiosity. Scattered throughout are newspapers that offer stories of events leading up to the current time and gives depth to the backstory. They're not all hard to find but some are easy to miss, but in the end finding them all is just for an achievement on the 360. Its a shame that so much more could have been done in terms of level size and variety. The campaign is short but a lot takes place within the small levels that include neighborhood houses, stores, and the cliched bridge level (if you remember, I mentioned that in my Black review). While the individual level details are acceptable, the design is lacking in originality with narrow ways giving way to arenas as seen in most modern FPS games.
The game comes to a head during the assault on a TigerDirect store (there are several product placements throughout) where the resistance army uses white phosphorous against the Koreans. Its a brutal scene that grabs the player's attention but not one of the only big action moments.

(The infamous willy pete scene. It shocked me when I first saw it and heard Connor say "Let'em burn.")

While each voice lends itself well to the character, they lack any sort of personality besides "soldier" and you'll hear Connor the most during playtime. The other voice you hear a lot is during the level loads where the DJ for the Voice of Freedom radio network gives news to what you and your team have been doing. The game could have used more depth by exploring the short list of characters but its main focus is on the war. Understandable but a connection with them would have been a welcomed thing.
The main star of the game is the explosions, which some could rock a home theater system given the chance. Grenades and rockets give off nice booms and you feel a sense of urgency when you hear a helicopter off in the distance, knowing that you can't take it on by yourself. Each gun has its own unique sound and while they are fun to shoot, they go through so many bullets that you may not have time to pick a favorite. You'll be grabbing guns off the ground so often that the game gives off an air of "fire and forget."
The soundtrack ranges from a pure orchestral score that gives a sense of forlorn and can quickly change direction to a mix of rock- or techno-infused orchestra. Most of the time its background noise but given the chance its really very moving. The soundtrack is available to buy both physically and digitally for those who are into collecting game memorabilia. 

Since THQ is dead (R.I.P.) and the servers are gone, the game's single player campaign is now the only attraction left, but even without multiplayer its still worth picking up a copy for cheap just to experience the short but awesome campaign a couple of times. It will frustrate you a lot with the cheap deaths but changing tactics is a smart idea to follow and will save you from having to constantly restart checkpoints. You cannot take on the brunt of the enemies yourself and while this may lead to a new way of thinking, here its just to show you that you can only take about seven bullets before biting the dust.
Personally I want to keep playing it and I keep wishing that it had been longer with more situations to deal with. Throw in a decision-making moment that turns the tide of the game. Give us a chance to command others. A few vehicles to drive. Something!
We'll just have to wait and see what Crytek brings us with Homefront 2.

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