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Friday, November 9, 2012

Backlog Review: Homefront

Like Call of Duty, but less entertaining and with more Koreans.

Homefront load screen

THQ, Kaos Studios, Digital Extremes
March 15th, 2011

Since its release in early 2011, Homefront has been known as "that mediocre shooter with the really short campaign." Hearing this over and over again made me a sad panda.

The game originally piqued my interest after I saw the trailer depicting a "future history" (albeit an unlikely one) that served as a backdrop for the title. Given that this was early 2011, with Call of Duty becoming stale (and alienating PC gamers) and Battlefield 3 not yet having seen the light of day, I was ready for something new and exciting to come along. Homefront was supposed to be that breath of fresh air.

There's a reason why Homefront failed to deliver a refreshing AAA shooter experience. As fate would have it, Polygon posted this fantastic article last Thursday, the day after I finished Homefront, detailing the game's troubled and lengthy development cycle. What was supposed to be "a leader in multiplayer FPS games" turned into a disappointing CoD clone saddled with an underwhelming campaign.

I can deal with short campaigns - hell, I only paid 5 bucks and wasn't expecting much in return. While Homefront's single-player experience is indeed short, the real problem is that it's a soulless shell of a game.

Homefront stadium

When I think of occupations and resistance groups I think of guerrilla-style house-to-house combat with resource-starved fighters who are forced to scavenge for supplies. Homefront is nothing like this. Instead, we're treated to a generic military shooter with gameplay ripped directly from the Call of Duty playbook. You're a super soldier who rains down hell upon the entire goddamn Korean People's Army in straight-up combat.

While the game's gunplay isn't horrendous, the AI on both sides is incredibly clunky and your progress is linear and heavily scripted. Your ragtag, ethnically-diverse band of teammates shrug off dozens of hits and keep moving like nothing has happened. You can actually shoot directly at them without consequence; the bullets go straight through. I used this "tactic" to beat one of the game's early levels by laying prone behind my teammates in the corner of a house and shooting through them.

One particularly frustrating part of the game is the AI's schizophrenic aiming ability. I played on the second-highest difficulty setting, and in general it wasn't too hard to shoot the bad guys and progress through a level. At times, though, the enemy flip flops from totally ignoring you to immediately zeroing in on your head as soon as you peek out from around a corner. Every once in a while you'll inch out from cover and die inexplicably in half of a second.

Homefront resistance
Vaguely-ethnic chick, African American male, and hardass white military dude? Check. A melting pot of destruction.

When it comes to Homefront's story, I can picture a meeting of the game's writers going through the campaign of CoD 4 and making a list of every scene they wanted to incorporate into their own "unique" experience. The intro sequence is a carbon copy ride through the streets in a vehicle, though this time it's a bus instead of a car. Every ubiquitous genre standard is thrown in there, from the "vehicle level" to the "stealth sniper mission." It's not any more interesting when you're on foot, either, as you face endless streams of enemy soldiers that keep respawning until you transition to the next linear section.

As if the levels themselves weren't bad enough, the game does a terrible job of connecting you to the story. Sure, there were a few dramatic moments and some scenes with shock value, but in the end the KPA is a faceless enemy pitted against a bunch of resistance soldiers who I didn't really give a shit about. There are a couple of sections that let you walk around and talk to different citizens in an effort to get you to sympathize with their situation. In reality, these sections are boring and slow and only served to artificially lengthen an already short campaign.

I can generally forgive a shitty single-player experience if an FPS game's multiplayer portion is on point. Homefront fails on both fronts: there's little to no recoil or weapon kick present and snipers dominate the battlefield. The "Battlepoint" system is the sole redeeming quality of the online experience, allowing players to accumulate points by performing helpful actions and then spend them on vehicles and weapons. Unfortunately it wasn't enough, as I didn't feel like playing more than 3 or 4 rounds on the game's lone populated server. Meh.

Homefront TigerDirect
The Battle of was hard fought.

In the end, Homefront strikes me as the FPS-equivalent of a World of Warcraft clone. Kaos and THQ obviously looked at Call of Duty, decided they wanted a piece of the action, and created a checklist of must-haves that would surely set them on the path to success. I would not describe this game as successful by a long shot. Homefront is a functional shooter that had the potential to be fantastic but ultimately fell short.

What's odd is that THQ decided not to cut and run: Crytek is developing Homefront 2, due in 2014. Sure, the overall premise is intriguing, but are gamers really going to give the sequel a fair shot? The Metacritic "user score" of the first game is 5.6. I don't forsee too many excited fans lining up at midnight to pick this one up.

  • The Good: Battlepoint multiplayer system
  • The So-so: Generic gunplay, average graphics, intriguing storyline that unfortunately falls flat
  • The Bad: Short campaign, subpar/inconsistent AI, linear gameplay, mediocre multiplayer

Graphics and Performance 1.5 / 2.0
Storyline and Writing 1.2 / 2.0
Gameplay 2.5 / 4.0
Enjoyment Factor 1.0 / 2.0
TOTAL 6.4 / 10

On a more positive note, Homefront gets bonus points for the best goat I've seen in a first-person shooter:

Homefront goat


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