Countless nights have been drained through bottles and shots, hunched over booths, where my friends and I talk potential disaster scenarios. Deciding on M-14’s or silenced M9’s for zombies, where to hide in case of robots, how to seduce aliens when they invade (it’s really all you can do), and where to run in case of a supervolcano eruption. But how can you prepare for all in the cornucopia of doom? Now, an occupation, in which our military’s crippled and our basic human rights are thrown out the window, I can do something about. I’m not a Krav Maga master, and I’m not a Recon Marine, or even a recruit. Hell, I’ve never been in a fight, and I just shot my first gun a few months ago. But I know that that primal fury felt by my ancestor cavemen when other cavemen dared to raid hard-hunted kills, that tightening in your gut when you see someone picking on your kid sister at a playground, that searing lump in your throat when you catch someone breaking into your home, that voice that quietly grunts “No,” that impulse, I know, will propel me to do whatever I can. Be it using a paintball gun to cause a distraction, or throwing my first Molotov, I will act. When I first heard about Homefront, that’s what I first thought about: audacity in the face of desperation, scavenging anything to fight back. And I was intrigued because any game that can tap into that get-off-my-lawn sense of defense has to be rich in character. Any game that can do that, actually gives you a reason to care.
Fighting in the suburbs of Virginia in Modern Warfare 2 was impactful; fighting in the withered husk of shattered Colorado years after invasion was disturbingly refreshing. Homefront ’s 2027 America provides for some of the most unique combat zones in an FPS. While most conflict occurs in the ruins of sand-blasted towns or frozen mountainsides in today’s FPS theatres of war, it was a startling shift to run through the burnt out remains of White Castles and taking cover in mass graveyard baseball diamonds. It really drives the notion that America’s been hit, we’ve been hit, right at our doorstep. I also laud the game’s grounding in time. Though it’s 2027, Homefront reflects, unnervingly, the potential progress of the world should the current situation continue to degrade. I’m not saying that North Korea will be taking Hawaii in the next decade, but that progress seems stagnant: economic disaster, dwindling resources, a collapse in diplomacy. And most of all, especially in the opening cinematic, you sense desperation, and that’s even before North Korea invaded. Even the technology featured conveys stagnation. Yes there’s some advancement in the military sector but it’s nothing of the awesome tech revolution that future always seems to promise. Guns still feature use basic scopes and body armor is still limited to plates. There is definitely innovation in drone technology but even then, its abundance is limited. It felt like today’s innovations starting to show their age.
And it’s because of this lush setting that Homefront’s campaign falls short. You can’t have such a rich background and not provide an equally rich first-person experience. Overall, the progression of events and action felt no different from any other cover, shoot, and run campaign. There’s no point in having the GI Joe deluxe Cobra Lair Play set if you’re not going to imagine an equally explosive adventure for your action figures. Shortly after being released from my captors, I’m told to conserve ammo by going for headshots only and to not leave any ammo behind due to its shortage. I perked up at that because I like the prospect of desperation, true to resistance-cell fashion I thought. Well, like any other shooter, there was plenty of ammo lying around. Not once did I worry about being caught without a weapon. When I think underground resistance, I think of the French resistance from WWII. I mean those guys did plenty with a lot less. I also think of mass mayhem, creating as much chaos for the occupying force as possible and then immediately scurrying away and disappearing into the shadows. There was none of that. The little sneaking around there was, was always ruptured by my NPC commander‘s trigger-happy antics, all while he kept insisting on keeping our heads low and blending in. It was all large-scale infantry combat and no guerilla tactics. Honestly, I don’t see how North Korea took the country in the first place if a resistance cell can hold off its forces in full-scale open combat.
Unsurprisingly, where Homefront does shine is its multiplayer (hooray, more online team deathmatches, thanks industry.) State of developer direction aside, HF does provide for excellent multiplayer. What it offers may not seem that revolutionary, but when put into practice, it works marvelously, and even though I’m not a huge multiplayer fan, I really enjoy HF’s. First off, the maps are very balanced. They’re a great blend of clutter, open space, and high rise, providing for all styles of gameplay. Do you like rushing around until you run into someone? You can do that. There are plenty of ramshackle warehouses, power plants, homes, offices, and stores to weave in and out of. Want to snipe? There are several options with most buildings providing ladders. With many points to snipe, you won’t have to worry about people memorizing usual sniper positions as you would on most other smaller multiplayer maps. Yet, interspersed through the ruins of America are fields and roads just calling for you to drive and fly-through (and hopefully shoot through as well.) What does this equal? You feel like you’re in a full scale battle. Where well crafted spawn points provide concentrations of the enemy naturally holding particular areas. You might be flanking an enemy position while your friends hammer the enemy’s front with tanks and helicopters.
HF’s equipment system also provides progression to multiplayer. To access rocket launchers, radar, drones, or vehicles, you have to use Battle Points. These aren’t CoD bucks, THANK GOD, these are just real-time in combat points that you gain for every kill. What you then do with those is purchase items from customizable loadouts in mid combat with the D-pad. The result: you can always feel it in the last third of a battle. After plenty of hectic firefights and charges, you sense the rate of combat escalate as people that have been saving their points for vehicles like tanks and helicopters literally bring in the cavalry. All of a sudden, everything’s exploding as both sides struggle to top each other. It just adds a dynamic to multiplayer, which is usually such a linear experience. And don’t worry about people hoarding Battle Points from map to map; they expire at the end of each round so people can’t just spam helicopters or tanks in subsequent rounds.
Adding to that dynamic is the Battle Commander mode. Essentially, what this mode provides are in-combat objectives that provide you with greater amounts of battle points. Let’s say one player has really stuck it to your team and racked up an eight kill streak. An HUD prompt will alert you that this guy’s a primary target, placing a bounty on his head. When you’re nearing the target, or happen to run across him, you’ll see a notoriety indicator above his head. Inversely, this is very satisfying. As you continue to rack up a kill streak, you’re alerted that you’re now an objective, and seeing your notoriety meter always brings a smile as you know you’re public enemy number one.
Unfortunately, the hype train reached its last stop, and I felt a bit short-handed. After months of a highly strategic and multi-front marketing campaign, Homefront failed its primary objective. Kaos Studios can rest easy knowing it did provide for an expertly crafted multi-player experience though. As stated before, it’s fantastic and really breathes new life into an experience that’s usually static. Unfortunately, the campaign just isn’t up to the amazing potential provided, and it makes me long for the guerilla tactics of The Saboteur. The campaign isn’t bad, it’s just okay, just another 90’s action movie playing on TBS. But okay won’t cut it when there’s the promise of something unique, something that would move us, something that would touch that nerve where we pick up a rifle, a Molotov, a rock, a rusty pair of scissors, anything, to defend our homes.