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Score: 4.5 / 10
In a previous review, I wrote about a time
when mascot games flooded the gaming market, with every publisher that
took sides in the great Nintendo/Sega war of the early 90’s scrambling
to out-mascot one another and cater to the current media gimmick.
Though technology has improved and competitors have changed, the mascot
gimmick still remains today, only this time instead of cuddly animals
treasure, it’s faceless soldiers massacring
a capital’s worth of enemies. We now live in an era where First Person
Shooters dominate the gaming market, with each and every publisher
trying to outdo one another while still sticking close to their guns
(pun not intended) on what is socially accepted as a quality FPS game.
In short, everyone is trying to be like Call of Duty while also trying
to overthrow it.
This is why, for a time, Homefront inspired hope among gamers hoping for
a new FPS that broke from the norm; the ad campaigns that showcased the
aesthetics of America being invaded by North Korea followed by the
name-dropping of famed writer/director John Milius certainly garnered
some attention, but it also set everyone’s hopes high. To that end,
publisher THQ may have succeeded in drawing in attention for Homefront
but perhaps they should have spent more of that ad money on polishing
the actual game.
Homefront opens up with a timeline movie showcasing the rise of North
Korea’s army into a regime powerful enough to overthrow most of America.
It’s a plausible enough scenario (as long as you’re thinking in
Hollywood logic), but it’s hard to become invested in the footage when
you have a giant “Press X To Skip” message plastered on the middle of
the screen with no way to remove it. It’s a sign of things to come.
The actual game takes place in the year 2027 in Colorado, which has been
entirely occupied by the Korean People’s Army. Players assume the role
of Robert Jacobs, a former Marine pilot who is saved from imprisonment
by the American Resistance, a small group of rebels who require Jacobs’
piloting skills to deliver fuel to their cohorts in San Francisco to aid
in the war to take back America from the “Norks."
If you’ve heard the meme “Ramirez, do everything!” in regards to Modern
Warfare 2, you’ll receive numerous flashbacks while Jacobs is constantly
ordered to take out a platoon of enemies, blow up a tank, control a
modified dune buggy, and take out enemy snipers…and that’s just the
first few levels. While the game would admittedly be boring if you were
just another grunt, you quickly start to feel like the only soldier
pulling his weight, especially when every enemy has his sights squarely
at you, often ignoring your AI companions completely.
The AI companions are especially useless and often hinder you more than
help by blocking your shots or inadvertently nudging you out of cover.
It also doesn’t help that they never stop barking orders at you, even
while you’re in the process of doing them, as well as the fact that
nearly all of them are incredibly unlikeable from a story perspective
(group leader Connor tells a frightened woman to keep her infant baby
quiet in the middle of a firefight).
When the NPCs aren’t beating you over the head with it, the imagery of
Homefront does have its moments; imagery meant to “anger” American
citizens are played out throughout the game, such as a football field
serving as a ditch for executed citizens, or a small child crying
frantically as both of his parents are shot in the middle of the street.
The most inspired campaign involves attacking a shopping center serving
as a Korean base with white phosphorus, the resulting carnage of burnt
soldiers horrifying your AI companions while also stating its necessity
in the war.
These moments would have a more profound impact of the visuals weren’t
so low-grade; while it’s been argued several times that graphics don’t
matter, in a game that has dedicated its ad-space to depicting a
modern-day setting overrun by modern-day fears, it most certainly does.
There is an ugliness that’s prevalent in the game, and it has nothing to
do with the dilapidated buildings or corpses. Textures constantly pop
out, dead enemies turn into wacky waving inflatable tube men, and
characters are constantly clashing with every background they’re
standing on like a bad blue-screen movie. There are a few decent set
pieces, particularly the final battle atop the Golden Gate Bridge, but
then you also have shootouts occurring in blatantly sponsored locales;
you lose a bit of dramatic effect when Connor yells at you to eliminate
the enemies stationed inside a Hooters.
The gameplay itself follows the same model of every FPS released in the
last decade, particularly a certain billion-dollar franchise owned by
Activision. You’ll breach a door down in slow motion, you’ll man an
attack helicopter while tracking enemies with night vision, you’ll take
out tanks with an RPG…the list of plagiarized gameplay elements is
shameless, but it also works for the most part. The real issue is the
stuff that’s missing, especially the inability to toss back grenades
thrown by your feet (it doesn’t help that the Norks also have perfect
accuracy, no matter where you’re hiding), or a much weaker health bar.
Perhaps it’s adding a touch of realism that your character can’t take
many hits, but with every single enemy gunning after you, often from
places you wouldn’t think to look, the frustration factor far exceeds
the hardcore factor.
If there’s one saving grace in Homefront, it’s the multiplayer mode.
Once again taking a page from Call of Duty with its use of killstreaks
and weapon upgrades upon ranking up, and taking a page from Battlefield
with its inclusion of controllable tanks and vehicles. Unfortunately, as
of this writing, any community that had a passing interest in the
multiplayer seems to be steadily dwindling and may ultimately move back
to more popular games.
Homefront is an ambitious title with a solid idea, but lacked the
courage to distance itself from the (media established) king of First
Person Shooters. Had Kaos Studios instead focused on telling its tale of
an oppressed America, focusing on aesthetics and solitude as seen in
titles like Metro 2033 (a solid, often overlooked game ironically from
the same publisher), it may have earned a place among the overstuffed
FPS market. Instead, it is doomed to fall into obscurity while
Activision’s cash cow continues to keep its dominance in history.