It’s 2027. North Korea has taken over much of the world, including the majority of the United States. This is where you come in, as a newly recruited member of ‘the resistance’ it’s your mission to liberate the American people and reclaim the country from the invaders.
And so goes Homefront, the latest in a long line of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare clones.
Whilst the storyline may be slightly different from what we’ve seen from this genre before (although it still shovels on the ‘we’re American therefore we fight in the name of liberty’ clichés) the gameplay offers almost nothing in the way of originality. It sticks so close to the standardised norm that it’s impossible to distinguish the majority of the campaign’s scenes from any number of other modern military first-person shooters.
Where Homefront tries to deviate from the norm is in its portrayal of the ‘human’ side of war. The Half-Life 2 style opening (in which you’re in a bus being taken God-knows-where by the Koreans) gives you control of the camera to view various acts of violent aggression against your countrymen; including a young couple being shot, execution-style, in front of their kid and bodies being dumped unceremoniously into ditches.
Homefront doesn’t use cut-scenes to tell its story so, between combat missions, you’ll often find yourself in and amongst your fellow freedom fighters with the option of ‘talking’ to them in a bid to further your understanding of the situation and how it’s affecting average people. Talking to them simply consists of listening to them reel off pre-determined lines until they’ve run out of things to say.
Due to the fact that you can’t actually interact with them (or any of the story events that play out throughout the 6-ish hour campaign) it all feels rather cheesy and irritatingly preachy; the ‘horrors of war’ act laid on so haphazardly that characters you should be wanting to help end up as ones you’d rather leave to die.
It’s this kind of sloppy story-telling and characterisation that provides ammunition for anyone arguing against videogames as a medium worthy of narrative respect.
The gameplay itself is entirely competent; movement feels ‘weighty’, guns are powerful and pack a nice amount of recoil (forcing you to shoot in bursts) and enemies present a fairly substantial challenge. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s all very Modern Warfare.
For starters it’s incredibly linear and, apart from a couple of sections that take place in a car park and supermarket, there’s only one way to approach each fire-fight. This worked for Modern Warfare because it presented such linearity with a flair and elegance that had rarely (if ever) been seen from a first-person shooter before but, Homefront’s approach is too similar to be as affecting or as exciting.
Homefront even implements Call of Duty’s less desirable aspects such as incompetent friendly A.I., regularly finding yourself caught on some inconspicuous piece of scenery and the ol’ enemies-continue-to-spawn-until-you-breach-the-invisible-line chestnut of game design. And yes, before you ask, Homefront also implements ‘go into slow-mo for some reason’ moments.
Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery but, flattery does not always a good game make.
Upon picking up your first gun (a standard pistol) you’re told to ‘make every shot count’, presumably because (as a poorly resourced underground resistance fighter) you’re low on ammo and can’t afford to waste them shooting thin air. However, a quick glance at your ammo count shows that you’re packing 150 rounds. This is the first of many moments in which Homefront attempts to trick you into believing some degree of intelligent play is required to successfully navigate its course.
The ‘semi-autonomous drone’, Goliath, for instance, is a snazzy, extremely nimble tank of sorts that rains down the pain on enemies with a rocket launcher and machine gun. When you first encounter this beast (and its abilities are briefly described to you) you expect to have to use it wisely in order to take advantage of its firepower and keep it in good working order for as long as possible. That is not the case however; Goliath is indestructible up until the moment the story demands it leaves you and the only control you have over it is to highlight targets for it to shoot. It’s disappointing in that you can’t help but feel an opportunity has been missed.
Despite these issues, if you’re looking for another single player experience in the Call of Duty mould then you could do a lot worse than Homefront’s entirely acceptable take on that kind of gameplay.
Perhaps as a result of removing the story elements, opening up the maps and providing much more in the way of variety, Homefront’s multiplayer modes fare somewhat better. It’s probably easiest to describe it as a mix between Call of Duty and Battlefield in that it takes the former’s class/perk system (as well as the ability to kill enemies with only a few shots) and combines it with the latter’s big maps, objective based game modes and wide range of vehicles and gadgets.
What Homefront adds is the ‘Battle Points’ system, whereby you earn points in any number of ways (kills, captures, assists, saving team-mates etc) and spend them on rewards that help you get one up over the enemy. You then have to choose between either saving up for the big, powerful stuff like tanks and helicopters or to continuously spend what you earn on lower-key assistance in the form of flak jackets, UAVs or small combat drones.
It’s a decent system that in part prevents people from ‘camping’ and encourages them to play as a team but it doesn’t go so far as to make it stand out from the competition. Still, no matter which way you look at it, the multiplayer is a great deal more enjoyable than the single player and (despite not offering much that we’ve not seen before) has been put together well enough to make it a worthwhile endeavour for online shooter nuts.
We’ll provide a more in-depth look at Homefront’s multiplayer elements in our ‘An Evening With’ feature just after the game hits retail.
Homefront is a probably best described as ‘competent’. While its attempts to tell its story in a new way fall flat, the gameplay (despite its predictability) is passable to the extent that it’ll satisfy those still hungering for more of the Call of Duty formula.
Just how long these clones can survive is anyone’s guess but, given the fact that Homefront is THQ’s most pre-ordered game of all time, it seems as though they’re going to be around for a while yet.
Version tested: Xbox 360
[Read our Homefront interview with Kaos Studios' Creative Director David Votypka here.]