Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Homefront (PS3/360)

There was a tremendous amount of hype leading up to the release of Homefront (THQ, Kaos Studios).  Since it first was mentioned, many were wondering, possibly even hoping that it could be a Call of Duty killer.  Not since 1984, with the film Red Dawn had there been so much yearning to kick some foreign butts on our home soil.  Surely not by coincidence, John Milius, writer and director of Red Dawn, also worked quite closely on Homefront.  

If you totally missed the media blitz surrounding Homefront, it takes place in the not too distant future, 2027.  Due to quite a few calamitous circumstances, North and South Korea have united and basically invaded and started occupying the United States.  Well that doesn't sit too well, with some of the people, so they form a grass roots kind of rebellious group, called of all things ..... the Resistance.

Beginning in Montrose, Colorade, you play as Jacobs, a former Marine pilot, the strong, silent type,  (who was obviously a former stuntman, given the amount of falling he does) along with your prototypical teammates:
  • Connor, the foul-mouthed, agitated, gung-ho, brash, leader wannabe.
  • Boone, the African-American representative, who is the brains behind the Resistance in Montrose
  • Rianna, the token tough-chick, who knows how to handle a weapon, and
  • Hopper, the Korean-American, tech-savvy member.

Now there is really not any backstory for the main characters, which is what I was craving.  Why is Jacobs so sought after he's worth a daring rescue?  What made Connor so angry?  How is Hopper dealing with this invasion, being of Korean lineage?  None of which were really answered through the story gameplay, which is a shame.  Now that the price has dropped $20 (or more), does it deserve a look?

Beginning with a cutscene that looks and feel like actual news footage (some of which is), you're kind of thrown into the action.  No shooting or anything, but you're pulled from your home, and placed on a bus, on your way to a detention center.  The scene, for me, was reminiscent of the beginning of Half-Life 2, which was a good thing.  Eerie, bleak, and caught my attention.  There are a few instances where the developers push the envelope and it earns its M rating.  Instead of shooting your way out, it set the tone, and made the occupation feel more real and the experience a bit more intense.  While the Call of Duty games are very cinematic, the single-player game still feels like it's missing something, like an atmosphere that feels dangerous.  There's lots of running and gunning but I don't feel all that invested in the story (sorry "Soap").  If I die, I know I can always restart.  Homefront gave me a different feeling.

That's not to say that Homefront doesn't feel predictable at times, but there are a variety of missions to undertake.  Jacobs is a pretty well-rounded soldier and is called on to do the obligatory gunning down, but also defends areas, snipes, sneaks, flies copters, and remote controls tanks.  While a few of the protagonists have military training, Homefront gives you the sense that most of the Resistance are made up of regular men and women, possibly picking up guns for the first time.

Once the action starts, it seems like North Korea transported their whole population over here.  Enemies will respawn infinitely until you reach a certain checkpoint.  It was early on in the game, and I was playing at the hardest difficulty level,  and I wanted to pick off all of the troops in order to move safely.  However, after about 15-20 minutes, I figured something was amiss.  I decided to run up ahead a bit, and  the troops stopped coming from the area there were spawning from.  Interesting.  Also, hit detection can be quite capricious at times.  I was sure I was making contact, but to no avail, they kept firing at me.  I also was able to fire through my teammates to hit enemies, at times.  Ammo, at least on Hard mode, was not plentiful, and you really had to conserve, to be prepared for the enemy onslaughts.

The gameplay itself is quite linear.  Invisible walls really put a downer on many missions.  The setting sometimes look expansive, but you can only traverse through a small corridor, or go so far until your teammates catch up.  My team was running through some suburban backyards, and I wanted to run through a swing set, but wasn't allowed.  From a game that wanted to be, and occasionally feels, epic, this was a huge step back.  I wasn't looking for a total sandbox experience, but I wanted to be creative in the setting.  As for collectibles, there are newspapers scattered throughout which broaden the scope of the story.  The trouble was that when in the midst of battle, I didn't really want to stop to read a newspaper, but there is no other way to access them.  Of course I didn't realize this until pretty late in the game.  Seems like a waste, considering a lot of time was put into the articles, they should be available to read in an extras section of the menu.

The campaign is pretty short, and the pacing is off at times, but luckily there is online multiplayer, which can support up to 32 players.  While there are only two modes (the obligatory Team Deathmatch, and Ground Control, basically CoD's Domination), online multiplayer really saves Homefront from being a total disaster, and tries to shake things up a bit in the process.  During matches, you earn Battle Points, which are then to be used in-game, for upgrades and purchases for yourself, or to help out the team.  No more waiting until the match ends, you earned them, use them when you want.  They can be used for some pretty cool things, too.  From controlling ground and air drones which can mark players, to different bomb strikes and driving large vehicles like Humvees, along with tanks and helicopters.  As a side note, I will say that I played for a couple of hours straight, and did not get disconnected from a match once, which is something that is rare for CoD.  The online multiplayer is actually fun, and does not feel just tacked on.

Graphics:  The graphics in Homefront are not exceptional, but get the job done nicely.  The  environments are especially well done, as you get the sense that since the invasion, things have really gone to hell.  The NPCs have this strange quality, where it looks as if they were cut out and placed in the locales, as they have a kind of outline around them which was distracting at times.  There are also instances where your teammates will get stuck in doorways or once I witnessed a Korean soldier doing the "Running Man" on a rooftop.  There is quite a bit of product placement in Homefront, which I actually didn't mind, as I thought it gave more of a realistic feel to the setting, even though some of the choices were interesting.

Replay Value:  After the campaign is completed, there really isn't much reason to revisit it, unless you're a trophy or achievement hunter.  The online multiplayer while fun (there are a couple of DLC packs), with only two game modes, does not have the diversity that today's players crave, although I could still play with full teams.  

Score: 7.25

There are memorable, as well as shocking moments in Homefront, but the brevity of the campaign is a big distraction.  Even if they had only doubled the length of the campaign, I wouldn't have been as critical.  Just when you start getting into it, the campaign ends.  This makes Homefront feel rushed and incomplete.  I definitely would have felt ripped off, when this game was $60.  While it will probably spawn a sequel, without fixing some of it's downfalls, it will have a difficult time competing with the Modern Warfare or Battlefield games coming out shortly.

Homefront is currently available for MSRP of $39.99.

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