Kaos Studios don’t do cheerful scenarios, but I don’t suppose a wargame can be based on a story about apple blossom and fluffy kittens. Their previous offering saw a Western alliance invading the former Soviet Union in a cataclysmic war over fuel, and Homefront, set in the USA in 2027, sees a Greater Korean Republican Army invading the American mainland and attempting to subjugate the civilian population. With a script written by John Milius (who co-wrote Apocalypse Now and wrote & directed Red Dawn) Homefront has some scarily plausible plot elements (this new Republic supposedly includes Indonesia, The Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia and is commanded by the now late Kim Jong-Il’s son, Kim Jong-Un) drip-fed to you via cut scenes and newspapers that you find along the way.
You play the non-speaking part of Robert Jacobs, a former Marine helicopter pilot seemingly eking out a living in abject squalor in a small Colorado town—no, not South Park, Montrose. The game starts as you are seized by an armed snatch squad and forcibly put on a bus bound for a prison camp. You’re soon shown that you’re one of the luckier ones as the bus passes scenes of the GKR invaders corralling and processing the civilian population in brutal fashion. Two rebels (the beautiful Rianna and Connor, who ironically sounds scarily like South Park co-creator Trey Parker) help you escape (by nearly killing you) and the game proper is underway…
The game’s story pans out over 7 missions that see you travel from Montrose to the game’s climax in San Francisco. The locations vary from suburban neighbourhoods to streets and open countryside. There’s a good selection of assault rifles, sniper rifles, sub-machine guns and LMGs, frag grenades and C4 to aid you in killing the invaders. You also get to control an UGV know as Goliath (which is based on a real military vehicle prototype know as The Crusher), but you don’t actually drive the thing, all you do is frantically designate enemies via a targeting scope, at which point it will usually kill them with maximum prejudice, but not always as quickly as you’d like. AI squad mates range from “stone killer deadeye dick” to “blind gun-shy pacifist” within the same level, but they do help, unlike the NPCs in certain other FPS.
The game features a rather set and non-customisable control setup but it works for most people with reload on ‘X’ and melee on the R3 click. ‘RB’ is the dedicated frag grenade button and on occasion you’ll find C4 that is thrown with ‘LB’ then detonated with the ‘R’ trigger. Crouch/prone/stand is mapped (CoD-style to ‘B’) and you click the ‘L3’ stick to sprint, but unlike CoD you can sprint forever. Movement is quick and aiming accurate, the game defaults to ‘aim assist’ which works fairly well although I turned it off the second or third time my weapon followed an enemy running across my path of aim rather than staying on the thing I wanted to aim at. Yet again there’s no cover mode in a game with a huge percentage of ducking and covering.
Visually Homefront varies hugely. Most of the scenery looks fine from a distance, explosions and lighting effects look good, the game doesn’t tear too badly and retains a decent frame rate throughout. But overall it has a slightly generic Unreal Technology look, the character models are nothing to write home about and the lip synch is poor, but they are well animated and move very realistically, with some top-notch ragdoll to make enemy deaths all the more pleasing. The scenery also lacks any destructible elements, so an enemy can hide behind the thinnest cover and be safe, which dates the gameplay somewhat.
Homefront’s multiplayer mode is set on a selection of 8 maps (Borderlands, Angel Island, Crossroads, Cul-De-Sac, Far, Green Zone, Lowlands, Suburb) based on the Colorado countryside and the other locations in the game, and the player may spawn as a member of the US Marines or the GKRA in multiplayer matches—not sure what happened to all the civilian resistance fighters but presumably similarly-uniformed Marines are easier to recognise in a deathmatch situation. You can set up a game and go explore the MP maps on your own if you wish, and when setting up a game you can make it public or ‘invite only’, set round time or score limit, and select which mode you want to play.
Ground Control is basically king of the hill as the two teams battle for control of points A, B and C on the map and when a round is won the control points move. Team Deathmatch is a straightforward battle to a set score. The other mode can be played during either Ground Control or TDM, called Battle Commander it adds a unique scoring system to the proceedings; you earn stars for a kill streak of 3, and further sets of 3 kills (without a death) earn you further stars. These unlock temporary ability boosts like a flak jacket, increased run speed or weapon damage. As you get a higher star ranking and approach 5 stars you’ll become a marked man and anyone killing you will receive a reward.
Dedicated servers allow for 2-32 player online warfare featuring a selection of unlockable vehicles including Humvees, LAVs, Main Battle Tanks, scout and attack choppers. There are also remotely controlled air and ground attack drones, but you need to be tucked away in a hidey-hole somewhere to use these. These vehicles are “bought” in-game with battle points earned for successful kills, assists, revenge and avenging kills and other feats of skill like headshots, blowing up vehicles, bringing down UAV drones etc. The big difference between Call of Duty and Homefront soon becomes apparent as the maps are huge (though not as massive as Kaos’ previous vehicle-centric game Frontlines: Fuel of War), and the combat, although of a similarly frantic nature at times, has a different feel to it from CoD’s addictive, but undeniably repetitious, running and gunning.
An XP-based leveling system sees you get promoted up through real military ranks as well as displaying a numerical rank (up to 75) that unlocks new weapons, attachments, perks and vehicles which allow for some very cool customization of the different trades, but the aforementioned “Battle Points” are completely separate and get left in-game, so it’s always important to use them in a timely and wise fashion. All in all although Homefront’s multiplayer game has more than a few faults (clipping and aiming issues, iffy spawn points, sticky scenery etc.) it plays a good enough game and is already well populated with CoD and Halo veterans looking for something different.
Homefront suffers from the same slightly-shorter-than-you’d-have-liked campaign as Black Ops, and the end of the game didn’t feel like the end of the story to me. I’d also like to mention that although there’s plenty of vehicular action in the multiplayer mode, a complete lack of vehicle driving (apart from a single mission where you fly a helicopter) won’t please fans of Kaos’ previous game Frontlines, which included a lot of armoured vehicle and UAV-based combat. It does mix play styles up well though, and each level has a distinct feel to it. A truly unforgettable final level is set on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and although bridges have featured memorably in many an FPS set piece before, I don’t think it’s ever been done better, it’s spectacular from the start and unexpectedly imaginative in the way it plays out. With some DLC campaign missions hinted at, Homefront could become quite a package, but as it stands the solo campaign will be over in around 5 hours, so if you don’t like online multiplayer shooters and are not the type to go looking for collectibles and achievements, then you might feel a little short-changed.