The United States has spent much of the past five decades in the role of aggressor, undermining democratically elected governments and invading foreign lands under false pretences. Paradoxically, there also exists a growing body of fiction portraying the world’s most powerful country as the victim of tyrannical invaders. Video Games have certainly played their part, depicting a nation at the mercy of Russians (World in Conflict), Germans (Turning Point) and radicals (Shadow Complex). Homefront is the latest example of the subgenre, taking place two years after a unified Korea has invaded and occupied the United States. Thankfully, the opening montage does a decent job of convincing you that this is a remotely credible scenario.
Homefront is a linear, Call of Duty style first person shooter in which you take on the role of a resistance fighter. You begin the game in Korean custody, where you soon witness all manner of brutal war crimes. The Korean soldiers are, to a man, presented as heartless savages, incapable of even the smallest act of human kindness. The only attempt at even handedness is the suggestion that some Americans, though not many, may be just as devious and sadistic as their Korean counterparts. Of course, it is firmly implied that circumstances have driven them to it. Try to keep in mind that the story was penned by Red Dawn writer/director John Milius. If you’re even remotely familiar with that particular film, the ham fisted propaganda on display in Homefront will come as no surprise.
Once you’re liberated from custody, the game begins in earnest. You spend most of the story in the company of one or more AI buddies. While they tend to hold their own in fire fight, they do have one highly irritating tendency. They invariably dart towards and occupy the best cover points before you even have a chance to assess the battlefield. Trying to find cover is like playing (and almost always losing) a high-stakes game of musical chairs. Could it be that your companions are the true stars of the game? It certainly feels that way during the handful of scenes in which you are expected to converse with your fellow freedom fighters. You have no voice (audible or otherwise), leaving you with nothing to do but press a button in order to trigger their inane chatter.
The combat aspect of the game is more than competent, with swift movement, excellent level design and a good range of weapons, most of which are easy to use. It may not be entirely original, but some of the most compelling sequences involve fending off enemy infantry while picking out targets with a handheld device. This enables your remote vehicle to decimate particularly challenging enemy units with rocket fire. Many of the levels you’ve come to expect from military shooters are also present and accounted for. You’ll be operating a turret gun, piloting a helicopter gunship and protecting your allies by sniping enemies from a tower. Yes these are clichés, but for the most part, they’re reasonably well implemented.
Skirmishes often take place in familiar locations such as hardware stores, service stations, suburban backyards and fast food restaurants, with these little touchstones of American life serving as a constant reminder of what’s at stake. Developer Kaos Studios resists the urge to turn it up to 11 until the final level of the game, which sees you trade fire with the Koreans on of the nation’s most famous landmarks. Speaking of the conclusion, unless you elect to challenge yourself on a higher difficulty level, you may well reach it within five hours. While many games present you with an epic winner-take-all scenario, Homefront offers up one (comparatively) small operation within the context of a much larger war. It’s an interesting approach to storytelling and certainly ensures the gameplay doesn’t overstay its welcome. However, if your gaming budget is tight, it may be worth keeping in mind.
Fortunately, the class-based multiplayer component has the potential to add weeks, if not months, to your enjoyment of the game. Depending on the mode you select, you may find yourself mowing down enemies, capturing key locations or targeting the enemy commander. Every time you complete an objective, you earn points that can be used to access weapons and vehicles on the fly. So, you may begin a multiplayer game as a lowly infantryman, but finish it rumbling through the streets in a gargantuan tank. While these acquisitions vanish at the end of the game, Homefront also allows you to unlock persistent special abilities and equipment with which to customise and improve your character over time. The eight maps offer a nice mix of urban and rural environments, with each map being expansive and varied enough to accommodate a variety of approaches. With its more cavalier approach to combat, the single player campaign doesn’t really prepare you to succeed at multiplayer, which requires a great deal more patience and strategy.
With its solid shooting mechanics, quality level design and strong multiplayer, Homefront isn’t easily dismissed. As long as you’re prepared to overlook its brief running time, poor AI and over the top patriotism, you’re likely to have a good time.