It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, Homefront is not A Tale of Two Cities, but it is a tale of two games, single player and multiplayer, one good, one not so good. If you're primarily interested in single player, you're probably going to be disappointed with Homefront. If you're just in it for the multiplayer, you're going to have some fun. If you're a whole game kind of gamer, well, it will be one of those mixed bag kinds of games. Let's start by looking at the single player campaign...
Homefront turns the tables on the typical modern shooter. Rather than following the well-worn path of putting you in the boots of an American soldier fighting insurgents, you're an insurgent battling a foreign power on your home soil. However, in Homefront's near future fiction you're an American insurgent, your home soil is Montrose, Colorado, and the foreign power is North Korea. Just how the US arrived at this unfortunate point in its history is detailed in this trailer, and although it stretches the limits of plausibility, once you're in the game it's all about defending your own little patch of turf and the big picture fades into the background.
|The war at home...|
The game opens in your apartment in Montrose with North Korean soldiers breaking down your front door and arresting you. A former military pilot, you're just the kind of guy the North Koreans want to keep under lock and key … or worse. You're put on a bus to make the trip to the prison camp and during your ride you're given a glimpse into how terrible life has become for Americans under the occupation as you bear witness to beatings and executions. Before the bus reaches the camp, though, a daring rescue by the local resistance frees you from your captors. It seems that they are in need of a pilot…
The single player campaign opens with a lot of promise, doubly so if you already know that the story was penned by Hollywood screenwriter, John Milius, whose credits include Red Dawn. A game that puts you in the role of a freedom fighter, especially one defending your own country, is an intriguing concept and is certainly a change of pace from most recent shooters. However, the campaign just doesn't live up to this potential. Part of the problem is that after the opening level the game doesn't really make you feel like a resistance fighter. The first level has you trying to escape your captors as you run through the backyards and backstreets of a suburban neighborhood. As you see war-damaged homes, encounter people terrified that your mere presence will bring North Korean reprisals, and pass a crashed airliner brought down by the EMP burst the North Koreans unleashed during their initial invasion of the US, you really do feel like your homeland has been taken from you. Unfortunately, the levels that follow can't carry the momentum of the opening level through the rest of the game. Part of the problem is that none of the remaining levels have the feel of the opening level, and the types of battles and missions you face are nothing like the kinds of missions real resistance fighters would engage in. There are a number of large-scale battles in which the sheer number of troops involved feel more like engagements between military forces rather than the small scale, hit and run type of engagements resistance fighters would undertake. And the citizens of Montrose who have taken up arms have managed to get their hands on advanced weapons like a mortar that fires phosphorous rounds capable of igniting dozens of enemies which each round and a remotely controlled armored vehicle with a high-powered cannon and missile launchers known as a Goliath. And the end missions border on the ridiculous and involve things like hijacking moving tanker trucks by blowing up the armored vehicles driving alongside them and then having people hop off the helicopter and into the trucks’ cabs. The last level takes place in San Francisco with you fighting alongside the US Army. Why the US Army is intact and functional enough to mount an assault on a West Coast city while the North Koreans are in complete control of cities almost 1,000 miles deeper into the country is a pretty good question.
Now I could put those issues aside, even for a game that supposedly went through so much trouble to craft its story and ground it in realism, if the game was simply flat-out fun to play. Unfortunately, it is often more frustrating than it is fun. One constant source of frustration is the poor AI of your fellow fighters. Your most common objective throughout the game is to follow one of your fellow freedom fighters, but there were plenty of times when the guy I had to follow would switch back and forth between two locations without moving forward. It felt like there were some broken triggers in the game or that they were sometimes hard to trip, and it was annoying to have to repeatedly figure out how to bust the guy out of whatever loop he was stuck in so that we could advance. Even worse, the friendly AI and enemy AI recognition of each other is terrible in the game. I lost many lives because I advanced to a spot where my allies were standing around doing nothing only to find that there was an unseen North Korean standing right next to them who would suddenly spring to live when I showed up and kill me. This happened with alarming regularity during the larger battles and the game's checkpoints in these battles were spread out too thinly. I had to repeat some stretches of these battles so many times that I would have been sorely tempted to quit the game if it weren’t for the fact that I had to write this review. There are also some problems with enemy line of sight and bullet clipping. There were times when I was shot by enemies that I couldn’t see or could only see the very top of their heads behind some obstruction, and somehow I was still taking bullets from them. The campaign had its moments, but the frustrating parts kept taking me out of the game and taking the fun out of it. And even though I was forced to play through a few stretches of the larger scale battles more times than I’d care to admit for the aforementioned reasons, I still managed to finish the game in about six hours, surprisingly short for a campaign.