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I should have paid attention to all the warning signs. Outlandish PR events. No pre-release beta. Tons of pre-release hype. Sure, outlandish PR events and tons of pre-release don’t necessarily mean a game won’t be great upon release, but not releasing a demo or beta is usually a sure sign that a developer and/or publisher lacks confidence in their product. Furthermore, their recent balloon fiasco in San Francisco during GDC smacked of “well guys, our game isn’t finished but we can start generating sales RIGHT NOW by pulling ridiculous stunts and getting negative press”.  Negative press sells games. Just ask Grand Theft Auto.

I’m talking about Homefront, Kaos Studio’s second game, published by THQ . A game that had a lot of promise but could’ve benefited from another year in the womb. The potential and talent shines through in certain spots but ultimately the game feels rushed.  Aurally and visually, everything is average. The shooting isn’t as fun as it could be, the campaign is devastatingly short and ends just as it fully engages the player (at least in my case) and the multiplayer is largely just more of the same.

The best and most unique thing Homefront has going for it is its setup and story. The year is 2026 and Korea has invaded the United States through a series of costal attacks and airborne troop drops in the midwest. The Korean invaders have utilized a massive EMP strike, crippling America’s infrastructures and denying her citizens the privileges of excessive texting, the joys of internet porn, and halting the development of  Call of Duty 24. The Military and National Guard are somehow scattered and disorganized and the Koreans have set up detainment camps to round up all Americans, dehumanizing  and committing atrocities against them all the while. Just think Nazi Germany in Poland, only it’s Korea in America. There are small groups of resistance fighters scattered throughout the land and the player, Robert Jacobs – a former Marine – is one such fighter.  That’s the setup, and historians and alternate reality fans should delight in it.

There’s also an interesting back story that details the events of Korea’s rise to power through the years and their forming of an alliance of nations, leading ultimately to the invasion and occupation of the United States, as well as the economic collapse that gradually grips the world, all told through collectable newspaper articles scattered throughout the campaign.  

It’s a relatively unique plot for a modern shooter and should have permitted for some very cool opportunities and game play scenarios.  Unfortunately, rather than playing to the strengths of the outmanned and outgunned insurgency theme, and having interesting scenarios of guerrilla warfare and insurgency, such as staging elaborate ambushes with IEDs or utilizing fast hit and run tactics, Homefront unfolds just like any other shooter out there. You team up with a few freedom fighters and bad-assedly traverse through generic levels mowing down waves of opponents while utilizing cover,  with the occasional sneaky/stealth scenario involving a suppressed weapon. Throw in the odd turret and vehicle sequences and you have a game that certainly went down the first person shooter “to do” list. It’s disappointing that a game with such a promising and unique story ends up being just another run of the mill shooter that borrows heavily from every modern shooter from recent years.

In fact, if you’ve missed all the modern shooters over the last few years and want to get caught up, consider Homefront the CliffsNotes of modern shooters as it condenses them all into a pathetically short four hour shooter experience.  Modern weaponry and rifles with a variety of scopes and optics? Check. Vehicle based turret sequences? Check. Blowing stuff up in an attack helo? Check.  Bombing enemies from an aerial vehicle while looking down on the battlefield in black and white?  Check. Watching squad members sneak up on bad guys and dispatch them with melee abilities? Check. Sniper level? Check. Multiplayer with leveling up and gear unlocks? Check.  Is this starting to sound familiar?

Check.

Graphically Homefront looks very nice, but not cutting edge. Coming off of playing Killzone 3 I was underwhelmed by Homefront’s visuals. Admittedly, playing it with settings maxed out on my PC and at 1680 x 1050 the game looks very nice. Unfortunately, this allowed for about a 10 fps frame rate on my aging 2 year old hardware.  Even with settings turned down a bit and at a lower resolution, with a good helping of anti-aliasing it looked okay. But again, it’s no Killzone 3 or Crysis 2. Homefront does have some really good explosions though, so I will give Kaos Studios that.  During some of the more dramatic moments when big things were blowing up all around me, I found myself grinning and exclaiming random compliments out loud. Weapon models are also impressive. The game’s various rifles are modified with quad rails outfitted with various grips and optics, all in pretty good detail.  I noticed a handful of visual glitches and odd frame rate hits during slow moments when no action was occurring, but nothing major. Overall the game ran smoothly for me.

Homefront’s sound effects and music are par for the course. Nothing special here. The soundtrack works but doesn’t really stand out as anything memorable, the voice acting is not terrible, but not great and the sound effects get the job done. I experienced a few minor audio bugs. In the middle of an intense firefight I backtracked a bit to explore a previous area I had already cleared, and the sound effects of the raging firefight never got quiter despite the fact that I was now further away. Also, there was audio stuttering at various points in the game.

My biggest gripe with Homefront is with the shooting in general. The game’s many guns lack that tactile feedback that makes aiming down the sight and shooting people in the face so fun. The various firearms offer very little recoil and all of the guns lack that loud, crisp punchiness that makes shooting in other games, Battlefield Bad Company 2 for example, so exciting and visceral.  Even with audio settings adjusted to emphasize the sound effects over the music and voices,  the guns still felt boring to shoot and underpowered, lacking heft and recoil.  If a first person shooter doesn’t have fun shooting, it isn’t a fun game. And while Homefront has it’s fun moments, the shooting is by far its weakest link. On the positive side, the sniper rifles are fun and there are some fun sniping scenarios in Homefront, so there’s that to look forward to.

Once I wrapped up Homefront’s short campaign mode, with many thoughts of “how in the hell do they get off charging full price for this game?!”, I sat down with a six pack of my favorite brew, pushed up my sleeves and dove into some multiplayer.  An hour later and two beers down, I was done. Consider this a disclaimer that while I did put multiplayer through its paces, tried a few classes and leveled up a few times, another Bitmob community member will probably provide a more in-depth review of Homefront’s competitive multiplayer modes.

Initially I had warm and fuzzy flashbacks to Battlefield 2, with the wide open environments and squad based movement. Then I had flashbacks of Wake Island and getting my ass bombed to oblivion the moment I spawned. I shrugged it off. Hey that sniper killed me again, for the third time! And he’s still up there on top of that tower! If only I could get to him without being decimated by one of the aircraft overhead strafing the entire map with bombs and bullets!  Wait a minute, did that guy just kill me with a submachine gun from halfway across the map?  Okay, I quit. 

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to grind my way to yet another level cap, especially not in the frustrating camp fest and insta-spawn death environment that is Homefront’s competitive multiplayer.  In a nutshell, you earn BPs (battle points) by killing dudes and blowing up stuff – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – which you can spend on upgrades which are unlocked as you level up. Or, if you’re in a pinch,  you can spend them in-match, purchasing temporary upgrades such as a flak vest or an RPG to take down that armored vehicle that's camping your spawn area. It’s a neat idea that expands on what other shooters before Homefront have done, but it’s not enough of an innovation to keep me playing. I’d rather move on to my next backlogged game.  

In short,  despite how negative this review probably reads, I did have fun with the campaign and wished there was more when it jarringly and disappointingly came to a screeching halt at the end. I don't dislike Homefront, I just wanted it to be better and I'm disappointed it isn't. Shooter fans looking to scratch the itch will likely enjoy Homefront, just wait until it hits the bargain bins or better yet rent it, as the campaign can easily be completed in under 5 hours on normal difficulty. If you’re not burned out from playing the multiplayer modes of all the triple-A titles that have come out recently, Homefront’s multiplayer mode might sustain you until the next big shooter comes out. Personally, I’m taking a break and recharging my batteries for Battlefield 3.

I did kill that pesky sniper finally, if you’re wondering. I climbed up the tower and knifed him in the back. Then I fell to my death because I failed to climb down the ladder properly.