Developed by Kaos Studios
Published by THQ
Homefront looked promising the first time I saw a trailer for it. A game about a resistance force fighting an enemy on US soil. Maybe not original (I can immediately think of Freedom Force), but I was excited. And then I played it. It’s hard to tell exactly when the excitement completely faded and I realized just what I was playing.
The story takes place in the near future where, after Kim Jong-Il’s death, Kim Jong-un’s actions led to the reunification of North and South Korea, the takeover of Japan, and an invasion of a weakened America. This is all explained in an opening cinematic over various newscasts, and expanded on through newspapers scattered throughout the game, which is actually a great use of a collectible to give the player more backstory. The game itself stars the mute Robert Jacobs, a former pilot who’s being captured by the Koreans before he’s rescued by the resistance.
The game actually has quite a few hard-hitting moral questions throughout, like the nature of war and the violence and terrible actions on both sides. And it handles all of this in the most hilariously incompetent way possible. It certainly doesn’t help that the campaign is a mere 7 levels long, and can be beaten in about 3 hours. I’m not complaining about the length, I like short games. But this is a case where the game scratches at the world it’s created and then shrugs and goes “We don’t have time for this”. We get hints of the racism that has become prevalent, with Americans killing any Koreans they find, even American-born citizens. But then the game just moves on. It never gets back to the point. Connors (and HOO-BOY will I get to Connors later) seems to have his own horrific tendencies, but he never develops as a character or becomes a villain or anything like that. And at one point, one of your resistance teammates sees the Koreans bombing an American shantytown, realizes it’s thanks to the resistance’s last operation, and has a “My God what have we done” moment…then somebody tells him to shut up. And the game just goes on. Tough moral ambiguity? Naw, go shoot some guys.
Of course, the story is also offset by several other problems. Let’s start with the product placement. For whatever reason, Hooters and White Castle have significant product placement in the game, and it’s damn hard to take a game seriously when you have Connors yelling at you “There’s enemies in the Hooters!” There’s also terrible scripting. While I’m hanging back and poking around for newspapers, my teammates are just moving on. Continuing on with dialogue that I can’t hear and can barely read in the subtitles, never mind if I had them off. The scripting also means that you’re constantly waiting for teammates to finish a conversation before they open the door to continue the level, or in one instance, crawl under something and remove the invisible wall. And there are LOTS of invisible walls. I haven’t seen this many in a long time.
The gameplay itself is…unremarkable. I mean, I just got done playing Modern Warfare 3, and say what you will about Call of Duty, but I think it’s perfected what it does. And you can tell that kind of thing when you play a game doing exactly what CoD does but not as good. There’s regenerating health. There’s a bunch of generic machine guns with different scopes as weapons. I’ve seen it all, and I’ve seen it better. The levels aren’t exciting. There’s some nice moments. One level that involves flying a helicopter around almost approaches genuinely good. The AI clearly becomes scripted. I’d die, go back, and watch the AI do the same exact thing it just did. The regenerating health also feels…off. I don’t know how to explain it. It regenerates too fast when you’re hiding, but at the same time, if you’re out in the open and getting shot, you die almost instantly. I guess you’re just expected to hide back in cover. Or, as Connors would say, “GET YOUR ASS TO COVER!”
Oh yes, I’m going to bring up Connors, and I’m going to talk about one of my least favorite things in games. It seems to be constantly plaguing games I would at least somewhat enjoy otherwise, and it is what I will call “MOVE YOUR ASS!” syndrome. It’s the feeling of the game that, if you don’t have somebody in your squad, preferably whichever person would be annoying on his own circumstances, constantly telling you to move and get to cover and shoot that guy and do this, you’re not going to do it. And it REALLY gets on my nerves. I just get tired of being constantly told to move my ass. And the game does it no matter where I am. I’m practically hugging Connor and he’s telling me to move my ass. I’m a mile in front of him and he tells me to move my ass. A scripted event happens, time to move my ass. Games need to let my ass do whatever it wants to do. I’ll go ahead and let this tangent go further off-topic by relating a story. In Half-Life 2: Episode I, Alyx was originally going to keep telling the player to keep moving forward. Valve, in their playtesting, realized everybody was hating Alyx, and quickly made her shut up. So what if the player ends up screwing around with the gravity gun. Let the player do what they want to do, and when they’re ready to move on, the game moves on with them.
At the end of Homefront, the game just kinda…ends. The final level’s a pretty cool location and all, but it just feels like you finished the second act, you’re pumped up for the third, and the credits start rolling. Kaos Studios shut down shortly afterwards, and now it looks like THQ is heading for the same place. Any hopes for a sequel that can actually take the game’s good ideas and make something great out of them are quickly diminishing. There’s just so much better out there.