A lot of people may have groaned when they first heard of Homefront – after all, it’s another FPS in a saturated market of over-rated franchises and their copy-cats, with a few gems hidden in the rough. However, THQ quickly separated Homefront from the rest with some trailers showing off the multiplayer or, more specifically, some unique ideas that are going into the game. People, including me, quickly got interested, as people often do when confronted with new stuff to play with.
So after arriving in London, being utterly perplexed by the Underground and going to another THQ event, the day after I found myself in the same room, playing Homefront. We were sat down and thrown into one of two system-linked multiplayer matches, enabling us to experiment with some of the game’s unique concepts.
The multiplayer portion of the game revolves around Battle Points (BP). Getting kills (and completing other objectives which we’ll get to later) will give you BP, which you can spend on various things, such as rocket launchers, remote controlled mini-helicopters, UAVs and various other things. You can also use your BP to buy a vehicle to spawn in between lives, from humvees all the way up to Apache helicopters, which are a force to be reckoned with. The choice, however, is completely up to you in-game. Rather than having pre-defined killstreaks that you choose out of a match, you can adapt to the situation at hand while you are playing.[drop]If you’re presented with an opportunity to go behind enemy lines and seize a capture point, you can equip body armour for that little bit of extra protection you might need to fight your way through – if you’re using the appropriate class, of course.
Pinned down? Send out your helicopter drone and take out your antagonists with its rockets. This makes for smarter, more involved gameplay, where your BP is used for things that will immediately supplement what you are already doing rather than doing something else entirely. Thus, gameplay becomes less selfish – instead of fighting for a gunship to kill loads of dudes so you get loads of XP, you fight for things that will actually increase your effectiveness, not just your kill count.
The multiplayer is built around these Battle Points, offering multiple ways to earn more of them. The first one I noticed was, not to pull my own trigger, the killstreak system. When you start off a killstreak, instead of the CoD-style killstreak rewards, you’re marked as a priority target to two players on the opposite team and given some buffs, such as more damage and, most importantly, increased BP income. As your killstreak increases, your priority level goes up (from 1 to 5 stars), each star bringing more buffs but also more enemies to hunt you down.
As someone who is hunting down a priority target, a kill will earn you considerably more BP than a normal kill. Where, as the priority target, people are being funneled towards you. So, if you’re good enough, you can drastically increase your BP. This system is kept from being too unfair on the target by the hunters only being given a radius in which the target can be found, rather than pinpointing their location.
The second I noticed was the nemesis system. If somebody kills you multiple times, they’ll be marked as a nemesis, which is like a personal priority target. You’re given a radius that they are in and, if you hunt them down, you’ll get extra BP. If they keep killing you, they’ll get extra BP. It works very well and adds more decision and strategy to the game – if you go and kill that priority target, you’ll get extra BP and, due to the nature of things that BP is used to buy, they’ll increase both your own and your team’s effectiveness. So you can either go straight for the objective, or do a little extra to earn more firepower, a UAV, etc that will help your attack on the objective. It’s a nice line to walk that adds even more strategy into the way you play the game, even when you don’t notice that you’re being strategic.
Both the priority target and nemesis are part of the Battle Commander, which is the name given to the system that runs them, and presumably the voice that tells you when they’re available. Both ideas are brilliant. Such simple yet effective ways of adding more to the game that I wonder at how it hadn’t been thought of before.
Another wonder, then, when you consider the possible tanks, Apaches, helicopter drones, armoured people and everything else, is that the game is so meticulously balanced you never feel like it’s unfair. Unlike in Black Ops (or any CoD since Modern Warfare), where if someone gets a gunship you tend to want to cry in the corner until the mean man goes away. If someone gets an Apache, you still have a few choices on what you can do to take it out. You can buy yourself a rocket launcher, or send out your helicopter drone (which seems like an unlikely solution but I did manage to destroy an Apache with a drone while I was playing) or shoot it down with a tank. In Black Ops? You either shoot it down with the rocket launcher you already have, or try and hide.
The rest of the multiplayer is best described as a ‘Battlefield/Call of Duty crossover’. It is far from the twitch shooter that the Call of Duty games are but even still, it’s not the slower, distance-heavy multiplayer of Bad Company 2, either. It controls and feels somewhere between the two, perhaps a perfect storm of ideas cherry picked from both franchises, rendered almost unrecognisable by some brilliant ideas from Kaos Studios themselves.[drop2]Another similarity with Bad Company 2 is one of the multiplayer game modes, called the Ground Control, in which most of the preview took place. In Ground Control, you play what is essentially domination, capturing and holding 3 capture points. Whilst you’re in possession of capture points, your team earns points which fill up a progress bar. When one of the teams’ bars is filled, the objectives change, moving to elsewhere on the map – much like Bad Company 2.
This means that you can start off fighting in a relatively open space, with just a few buildings around, and then move onto fighting through warehouses or streets. Obviously, the two will need drastically different tactics, so the game is constantly changing not only from what’s actually going on around you, be it helicopters or groups of enemies, but from the way the match itself progresses.
Naturally, all these wonderful features mean nothing if the game isn’t fun to play. Thankfully, it is – the controls are responsive and tight and, being standard FPS controls, it doesn’t really require a learning curve. Graphically, the game works. They do their job and often look rather nice but not quite amazing. I don’t know whether or not it was because we were on pre-release code but there was quite a lot of aliasing. I’ll be reserving judgement on that until I get my hands on the final game. Something I did notice was really rather nice were the water effects. There are numerous puddles on the ground that, when walking through them, make a nice, realistic-looking ripple effect. Admittedly, this isn’t necessary the kind of thing you might look for in an FPS but it looks good so it seemed to be worth mentioning.
The game sounds good, too. This isn’t exactly the Frostbite engine but all the sounds you might expect are present and correct. There’s also the usual slight high pitched buzzing from nearby grenades, which also dulls the rest of the world. Again, not amazing but good. Expect more complete impressions when we’ve had a chance to play the complete game for our full review, due later this week.