It was 1999 and a new century was around the corner (more or less for those more technical types). For the past 15 years or so I had been eagerly awaiting a new Star Wars movie and with great happiness and more than a bit of wonder the time had arrived. I paid an extraordinary amount of money to be one of the first batch of people to see the movie. The money was going to a pediatric cancer research foundation so I figured I'd spend the money on a great cause and finally get to see the movie I have been waiting impatiently for. I grabbed some free popcorn and a Coke and settled into my seat near Weird Al Yankovic, Alyssa Milano, and Fran “The Nanny” Drescher. Two hours or so later I left the theater kind of excited but also confused. Later I realized it was full blown disappointment I was experiencing. I had high hopes that really were impossible for any movie to realistically fulfill, but I understood that. I mean, I wanted it to be awesome, but knew that would be difficult. What really bummed me out was not that it wasn't a life-changing event as I had hoped, but really knew wasn't possible, but that after all the hype and buildup it turned out that it wasn't a good movie. That experience ranks somewhere in the top three disappointments of my lifetime. So with an introduction like this you can probably guess my general view of Homefront, but while there was disappointment, it's much milder and even has surprise twist.
E3 last year was my first introduction to THQ's HomeFront, developed by Kaos Studios, and I was hooked right from the beginning. It was all in the premise and story. I really dug the idea of a near future history game where America was invaded and was having to prove our inner strength and resolve. The fact that it was not “too” implausible and played on the fear of a rouge nation quickly becoming a superpower was a terrific premise to me. Toss in some recent history that really plays into the game's fictional storyline and I was all-in. The idea in Homefront is that the US has had a very bad string of luck ranging from a bird flu epidemic to high gas prices to an aging satellite program. Meanwhile while America is dealing with some rough internal issues, North Korea decides it's time to start expanding its borders and there isn't much the US can do about it. A couple of leaps of faith here and there and the next thing you know it's 2027 and the newly formed Greater Korean Republic (GKR) has launched a friendly satellite of peace that naturally is a weapon that blasts the US with an electromagnetic pulse and does a great job of creating all sorts of chaos allowing their GKR the chance to invade. Some more bad things happen, the US is divided into two sections by a radioactive Mississippi river, and the very future of America is in great doubt. This is where you come in and join the freedom fighters/resistance/insurgents or whatever moniker you want to give it. The end result is that you are now the underpowered force in your own homeland.
As I said the story and concept were what intrigued me the most. Add the fact that a big name writer like John Milius (writer/director of the 1980s flick Red Dawn and writer of Apocalypse Now) was attached to the project and the hype meter started to ping. The reality is that while I still found the concept of the story cool the actual story in-game was a lot less emotional and interesting than I was expecting. I never found myself caring what happened to my character and even less about those around me. Heck, more than a few times I wanted to shoot the other main characters in the game myself, but more on that later. You play a character named Jacobs that is a pilot. The game start with you being taken by the GKR and tossed onto a bus heading for who knows what. The bus ride is really a long cut scene where you can look around but can't do anything else, kind of like the tram ride in Half-Life. Actually there were several areas to the game that reminded me of Half-Life, but only in the “this seems like something Half-Life did better over 10 years ago” kind of way. Anyway, along your bus ride you see the GKR doing terrible things to American civilians and I suppose I should have been all stirred up but for some reason I wasn't. Many times in the campaign I could tell what the game was trying to do, but it just wasn't working. The concept was there, the general execution was there, but the soul was missing. Walking through neighborhoods that were war torn was interesting but I never really felt like I was that connected. My teammates most of the time were a guy named Conner, who was basically the leader of the resistance cell I was in, and a woman named Rianna, who I believe was suppose to be the voice of sympathy and reason. I never liked either one of them and did not enjoy being around them. With an exception here and there I didn't see much of a reason to be doing the things I was being asked to do and just felt like a puppy following the others around.
The Homefront single player campaign sticks to the very basic and proven FPS style with little or no innovation. Honestly in some areas they regressed the genre. An example would be needing to let certain events happen before you can do something and I'm not talking about major events, that I can understand. What I mean is that in one area Conner tells us that we have to crawl under a fence or something. So I jump down to the ground and start heading to the hole in the fence only I can not get past it. I move around in all sorts of directions thinking that I was somehow not lined up correctly. Nope, that wasn't it. It turns out that I couldn't go through the fence until everyone else did and then the major hole in the fence would let me pass. Earlier I mentioned that I wanted to take out my teammates myself; well it was because of things like that and that they would snag a prime cover position and not get out of my way when I tried to move in. Just silly things like that kept getting in my way of having a really good time. As far as the weapons go they were kind of difficult to tell apart with the exception of a rapid fire shotgun I picked up for one scene but don't remember it showing up later. There was this beast of a tank-like vehicle called Goliath that packed some serious firepower and was fun but otherwise it was just a series of rifles with slightly different bullet capacities. A couple of the scripted events were neat, I did like the fight around a crashed aircraft, and the last third of the game is by far the strongest, so at least it ended on a high note. And just to cover the topic, the graphics are fine; nothing to be ashamed of, a little dated, but serviceable.