This is the conversation I imagine led to Homefront’s creation: ‘Hi, Kaos Studios? It’s THQ. We’d like our own Call Of Duty, please. Only we need it made quicker and for less money. Think you can do it? Great!’ Imitating the very best isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the combat has that COD kick, and the multiplayer mixes the best of both that and Battlefield with some nice ideas of its own. But the influences are obvious.
At least the setting is original. It’s 2027 and everything has gone to hell in a hand basket for America. The oil-based economy has collapsed, leaving the States in a state. After a few years, North Korea attacks under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s slightly more proactive successor. The USA now belongs to the East.
Things kick off two years after the invasion as Korean forces smash down your door and arrest you. Going for the Half-Life approach to character design means all your story info comes from what you see.
Which probably explains why the hero is a bit of a void. At least Gordon Freeman had a few gentle chats with people to help establish who he was. In Homefront you wake up, get a few seconds to look out of a window, then men in masks beat you, shout a bit and throw you on a bus for a Disneyland-style theme park atrocity ride. ‘You must be at least this tall to ride the genocide.’
It’s a rushed opening. Unlike, say, Modern Warfare’s stylish presidential drive that portrays a country in turmoil as you head towards your own execution, Homefront offers all the horrors of war crammed into one street – people beaten, parents shot in front of their children.
Used sparingly it could have had more impact, but the ‘throw it at the wall, see what sticks’ approach means it’s more of a popcorn-chewing exploitation show reel of man’s inhumanity to man. Remember, you only got up five minutes ago and have very little idea what’s going on. (Which is still the case even if, somehow, you’ve read accompanying game novel The Voice Of Freedom.)
This hurried approach sets the tone for the rest of the game, which plays out like the last museum tour before closing: ‘Hurry along, vehicle based set-piece on your left, sniper level on your right – keep moving! – heartfelt character death ahead aaaand the gift shop. Thank you, goodbye.’ The first half of the game simply has no sense of pace. You’re rescued, people shout at you to shoot other people and GO, GO, GO!
Within a couple of hours you’ve barrelled through so much your head’s spinning and you’re still not entirely sure what’s happening.
The combat is good. Guns are meaty and plentiful, with enemies dropping numerous configurations of sights, magazines and so on. There’s a joy to just ditching guns when the bullets are gone and picking up whatever you find next.
The design behind the gameplay shows through, though. Corridor areas in which the supporting cast yell instructions at you give way to open areas where enemies spawn and you shoot them. It can be a bit Whac-A-Mole, too, with bad guys popping out of cover unless there’s a pre-scripted bit where they rush at you. Sure, it’s something that all games do – but most dress it up better than this.