Book Review: Homefront: The Voice of Freedom

A number of reviews of THQ’s recently-released shooter Homefront (including ours) mentioned one specific point: despite the elaborate and clearly very thought out historical background, the actual plot in the game itself was relatively weak. So until the inevitable sequel turns up, our next opportunity to return to the Homefront universe is with the licensed book The Voice of Freedom. Does it fall foul of the same fate? Yes and no – but it will likely surprise you.

Upon reading TVOF, one thing becomes clear very quickly: the sheer amount of work that went into establishing the series of events that lead from our time into the Korean-dominated world of the 2020s, by John Milius, Raymond Benson, Kaos and THQ, has absolutely paid off. Following a brief prologue (more on that later), you are dropped into 2025 Los Angeles, as seen through the eyes of reluctant gossip blogger Ben Walker. Even by this point in time, the United States are a mess. Decades of recession and fruitless war has returned the nation to a policy of isolationism, downsizing the nation’s military as well as establishing unemployment as the most common career path and religion and celebrity more important than government. Walker in no way wants to be doing the job he does, but as the States have grown weaker, the population has dumbed down, and no-one really reads newspapers or magazines any more.

The story is told largely from two perspectives: Waker’s, and a Korean operative with the codename Salmusa. Following a series of simultaneous terrorist attacks, Salmusa activates a virus that takes the vast majority of government and military systems offline. After observing the chaos that sweeps the nation he gives the order to explode the Korean satellite currently stationed over the US, secretly carrying a nuclear payload that causes a massive electromagnetic wave which destroys America’s electronic and communication systems in one fell swoop. The country descends into absolute carnage. Sure, the attack itself brings down aeroplanes and causes traffic accidents, but the real destruction comes in the days that follow. Gas, water and electricity supplies are deactivated. The internet is gone, and cash points are out of action – crucial when no-one carries money any more for fear of mugging. In the days immediately following the attacks, violence erupts in Los Angeles, and it’s not long before Walker makes the decision to leave.

Heading east on his motorbike (an older model that didn’t suffer too much damage from the EMP), Walker is searching for any clues as to what is going on, as well as for any military presence. It is here that The Voice of Freedom really shines. Whilst the going is slow given the number of abandoned vehicles  on the highways, Walker keeps moving in search of civilisation. It’s like something from a post-apocalyptic film, and aside from occasional meetings with other members of the public heading wherever they think is safer than where they’ve come from that help to flesh out what’s going on elsewhere in the country, or violent confrontations with the motorcycle gangs that roam the major roads, Walker is left on his own. The contrast between Walker’s reliance on rumour and hearsay and Salmusa’s command of events shows just how messed up such a technologically-driven nation can become following this sort of attack.

Eventually, of course, Walker finds some military men, and even a relatively stable society. But it’s following that, around halfway through the book, that things start going downhill. A love interest is introduced, with whom Walker falls completely in love over only a couple of pages, and it’s very clear that romance is not the strong point of the authors. But aside from Walker’s sudden desire to base his entire motives on someone he barely knows, after remaining low-key and cautious throughout his time on the move, the pace inexplicably speeds up a great deal. It takes more than 200 pages to get through a year in the first part of the book, yet the following ten months shoot by in little more than a hundred. This is largely down to huge chunks of time bypassed by just short entries into Walker’s journal. What actually happens in that time is really pretty good, it’s just that there’s little of it, and what does happen feels very rushed. That said, the Salmusa side-plot at least remains steadily compelling.

Even if you’ve stuck with the book all through the iffy second half, the ending chapter or two will likely disappoint. The two plot strands running through the latter half of the book are drawn out unnecessarily, whilst seemingly important plot points are brushed straight passed. The culmination of the strand relating to Walker’s personal life is made blindingly obvious from almost the first time it’s mentioned, almost forty pages before it is openly revealed. The second plot strand is ruined both by the book itself and the wider Homefront marketing machine; in the book, Salmusa’s side of the story reveals what Walker’s side doesn’t recognise for a good few chapters, and anyway, just a casual browse of the Homefront site will tell you straight up what the book takes more than a hundred pages to build up to. Oh, and whatever you do don’t read the blurb, basically everything that happens in the book is mentioned there.

But as much as the structure of the book’s latter half leaves a fair amount to be desired, TVOF is a surprisingly good book – and as far as game tie-ins go, it’s fantastic. The background laid by the game’s developers has provided a fantastic basis for a book that is part post-apocalyptic survival, part chase sequence, and part guerilla warfare. I’d recommend it as a decent book even to someone not even remotely interested in the game – you don’t need to know anything going in, and aside from a deliberate cliffhanger (that links more to the future of the Homefront franchise, in whatever form that takes, than the recent game), most story threads are all tied up by the end.

Pros:

  • Provides a detailed and personal backstory to the events of the game.
  • First half is well-written and compelling.
  • Salmusa’s sections provide context, allowing Walker’s lack of information about the developing situation to show the confusion that reigns nationwide.

Cons:

  • Second half feels rushed, to the detriment of the whole story.
  • Includes the world’s least romantic love interest side-plot.

If you’ve got a couple of spare coins lying around, the book will do a much better, and deeper, job of introducing you to the universe that Homefront is set in than the game’s introductory video. Having said that, you don’t need to have read this to understand what’s going on in the game, and that video will do a decent, if brief, job of covering much of what TVOF does. Equally, the book can definitely be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of or any intent to play the game – it stands very well on its own – you’ll just likely find yourself wishing that there was a hundred-or-so extra pages to flesh out the events towards the end.

Score 7/10

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5 Comments

  1. So is this written by the same guy who did Apocalypse Now or did someone else take the duties?

    • I’d *guess* it’s written by Raymond Benson, but on a rough plot by John Milius (ApocNow dude) – both of their names are equal on the front. It’s not made clear though.

  2. I’ve never really been interested by gaming books, mainly because the writing is never as strong, in my opinion. This does sound good though, so if I see it on the cheap I may look at getting it. The strongest aspect of Homefront was touted to be the back-story after all…

  3. May pick this up. I was hooked into the story of AC so followed on with the Comics and Book so I’ll do the same with Homefront.
    Just hope I can get through the first chapter without it crashing :p

  4. game was very average, so don’t think i’ll touch this one

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