A lot of people have been unsure about Homefront. It’s understandable, really – it’s a new IP, so it’s a far cry from the reliable (though still somehow debatable) quality of other, already established franchises.
The game, which is developed by Kaos Studios, the guys behind Frontlines: Fuel of War, is set in 2027 in a future where Kim Jong-il dies and Kim Jong-un takes his place. He unites North Korea and South Korea (and gets a Nobel Peace Prize for it), then effectively starts a war against most of the world. Japan surrenders after the Koreans destroy one of their nuclear facilities, the price of oil sky-rockets due to a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and America withdraw their troops from Korea, Japan and other places to try to handle instability at home. Eventually, the KPA (Korean People’s Army) occupies America.
This all happens a decade before the game even starts, so as you can tell, the background storyline here is incredibly well realised – as well it should be, coming from the writer/director of Red Dawn (who was also a co-writer on Apocalypse Now). All the backstory is gathered in newspaper form throughout the game – in total, there are 61 to collect littered around the levels (and we found less than 10 on our first playthrough).
It’s an easy way of providing a lot of back story without ramming it down your throat, with only what you need to know to understand what’s happening presented to you in well put together cut-scenes on starting the campaign (behind which the game loads, the cut-scenes can be skipped once it’s done loading). This style of storytelling is replicated in what amounts to a pirate radio broadcast between levels, from the ‘voice of freedom’, updating the public as to what is happening and what needs to be done.[drop]Whilst the back-story is excellent, setting the scene perfectly, the actual in-game storyline – i.e, what’s happening whilst you’re playing, is considerably more forgettable, we don’t even remember any specifics, just what we were actually doing. This isn’t helped by the fact that your character doesn’t say a single word throughout the whole game, which made it hard for us to identify with him.
Still, the game starts with what is one of the strongest opening scenes I’ve seen – you wake in a run down flat to a knock at the door. When you go to answer it, a few KPA soldiers burst through the door, pin you against a wall, deliver a short speech asking why you are not serving your country, then hit you.
The next scene involves you being in a bus, through the window of which you see some pretty horrible acts, such as a couple being pulled apart and people being shot and beaten for fun by the KPA. Chief amongst these and most chilling; a small child’s parents being killed in front of him by the KPA, and whilst the child screams and runs over to the bodies, the two KPA soldiers just wander off, uncaring. These scenes are genuinely shocking and, thanks in no small part to some utterly excellent animation, they perfectly illustrate the world in which the game is set.
The actual setting for the game, which is mostly in suburban America (a place called Montrose in Colorado), is a relatively fresh setting for a war FPS, and enables some genuinely cringe-worthy areas that make you almost not want to think what happened here. An example would be early in the game (the first chapter, in fact), when you’re asked to get into a tree house in a back garden to provide covering fire. There are childrens’ drawings pinned to the wall of the tree house, and a teddy bear on the floor, covered in blood.
From this your bus is taken out by the Resistance and you discover that you and the other prisoners in the bus were pilots, being rounded up because they’re in short supply. After this and a lot of being chased, you end up in a Resistance camp, where there are two sleeping children that are so wonderfully animated I feel they escaped the so-called uncanny valley, with the only thing that pulled me out of our amazement being that the animations did loop after a little while. The rest of the game’s animation is also pretty good, but not quite approaching the opening sequence or the sleeping children.
The game is generally nicely textured, with everything from walls to character models looking nice enough, though things can look a little blurry when you’re right up against them. It’s not quite Mass Effect 2, but it does the job well enough. Unfortunately, though, this is let down by some of the worst aliasing we’ve ever seen, everything more than a few feet away has noticeably jagged edges and anything further still looks like they were made in Minecraft. A fence from 10 metres is a horrible, jagged sight. At least it’s all shown at a completely solid framerate, though, as we didn’t see anything slowing down whatsoever throughout the whole of the campaign or the multiplayer we’ve played.
Guns both look and sound solid and beefy, our favourite weaponry being the sniper rifles and the grenade. They both have slightly unrealistic effects that nonetheless give you the ever-sought-after ‘oooh’ feeling as a grenade sends 4 enemies flying through the air, or a sniper shot slams an enemy back into the wall behind them. The voice acting is excellent all the way through the game, all of which is accompanied by a good soundtrack that fits most situations perfectly.
The campaign took us between 5 and 6 hours to complete on our first play through, making it the regular length for an FPS in these crazy modern times, though we did expect a little more when the credits began to roll. The campaign is full of thrilling moments (an example being the Resistance saving you from the bus mentioned earlier – the bus flips and the bodies bounce around inside quite realistically), many of which left us with that adrenal surge we got from the original Modern Warfare all those years ago.
As noted in our MP hands-on earlier in the week, the game handles and plays excellently, quick, but short of Call of Duty’s twitch-shooting; heavy, but lighter than Killzone. Various ideas are taken from a few places and rendered unrecognisable by both combinations with other ideas and unique ideas from Kaos themselves. The same holds true for single player, with the player often being thrown around due to explosions, plans that go wrong and ambushes that make things go a little awry. All this really reinforces that idea that you’re part of a resistance that is massively outnumbered and out-gunned, and are only being held together by a few people.
This isn’t Black Ops’ military, it’s civilians fighting a military occupation and things are liable to not go exactly to plan.[drop2]We’ve already covered most of the multiplayer in our MP hands-on through the link above, so we’ll just expand on that here and you can read the full story through there. Our favourite part of multiplayer was Battle Commander, the system that points out enemies with killstreaks and your nemesis (i.e, that guy who keeps killing you). It turns out that this section of the game is only available after level 7, at which point you unlock Battle Commander versions of the three modes.
This did, however, give us the opportunity to find out how fun the online is without the Battle Commander adding more variety. It’s still a great game, Battle Points still seperate it substantially from the rest of the market and the large maps still manage to be packed with tense, enjoyable action. Still, we missed the Battle Commander system and, now we’ve unlocked them, won’t be going back.
The game ships with 7 maps that are all large (easily dwarfing any Black Ops map, though probably not quite as big as the bigger Bad Company 2 maps), and what seems to be a large amount of perks – uh, I mean, abilities, and they seem quite varied – we heard someone talking about an ability that ejects you from a vehicle when it explodes, for example. You are given 6 default classes when you start multiplayer, each of which you can change everything about once you unlock the relevant unlocks (which is done by levelling up, as you might expect).
At the moment, however, the servers are taking a bit of a hammering. THQ and Kaos underestimated the sales considerably (which is understandable), so the servers are having a little trouble. However, they’re working on putting up more servers and already it’s easier to get into a game than it was the other day. Once you’re in one, the experience is lag-free and smooth, which is more than can be said for Black Ops, even this long after release. If you do have trouble getting into either the 32 player Ground Control playlist or the 24 player Team Deathmatch playlist, you can get into the skirmish playlist (16 players and a rotation of Ground Control and TDM) without any trouble as they run on peer to peer code instead of dedicated servers.
To be honest, we think full Homefront multiplayer (meaning with Battle Commander) could at least contribute to the next evolution in multiplayer FPS, if not embody it itself. The killstreak system is too brilliant to not catch on anywhere, and we’ll be severely disappointed if it doesn’t. We have a feeling I’ll be playing Homefront online for a long time.
- Solid, smooth and fluid gameplay.
- Excellent, detailed back-story coupled with disturbing imagery making an engaging game world.
- Not always to plan missions and set-pieces highlighting the struggle behind the war.
- Excellently acted throughout.
- Revolutionary multiplayer ideas.
- Lots of aliasing.
- The actual plot is a tiny bit weak after such a rich back-story.
- A couple of multiplayer launch hitches.
All together, Homefront was a huge surprise. Whilst we went into it hopefully, we didn’t quite expect such excellent gameplay in such a detailed world, and we certainly didn’t expect to find revolutionary multiplayer concepts. We know a lot of people have been unsure about jumping into the game for various reasons, such as the mixed reviews and reports of a short campaign, but the latter is untrue and the former puzzles me. The only real problem we found was the aliasing, and we can see past that to see a richly realised game world, tight, smooth gameplay and a multiplayer mode with its own unique innovations that will hopefully catch on elsewhere.