Developer: Kaos Studios / Digital Extremes (PC)
Released: March 2011
Set 2 years after the 2025 Korean invasion and occupation of the United States west coast, Homefront is a first-person shooter that tells the story of Robert Jacobs, recruited into the resistance movement for his pilot and combat training. The resistance is planning a major offensive to take back San Francisco, and they need your help.
Homefront received mostly moderate reviews, averaging 70% across all platforms. Critics were divided on the story, with some liking and some disliking it. The game's short length, however, was pretty much universally disliked. The multiplayer was generally well received but some said it felt "too familiar".
The PC version received a bit of extra attention with DX11 graphics and first-person views in vehicles. There was a small patch to fix some issues with multiplayer.
THQ has stated that a sequel is in development by Crytek.
Close to Home
Homefront brings war to familiar locations: the suburbs, the Hooters, the White Castle, the baseball diamond. These are the kind of landmarks you don't expect to see on the battlefield, and their presence grounds you squarely in the USA instead of some generic brown war zone. I've seen locations like these in F.E.A.R. 2 and 3, but Homefront is more realistic (ie no ghosts or monsters), so the impact is stronger.
There are over 60 hidden newspapers that piece together the events that led up to the invasion and occupation. The papers present a surprisingly realistic, complex, and gradual chain of events with far more to it than a simple "Korea invades the US". It takes into account global politics and tensions as well as economics and tech developments. Each step along the way seems perfectly reasonable, and as a result the scenario is definitely plausible, if not necessarily likely.
Your first few missions feel pretty rough and improvised, as though the resistance is just gaining ground. You face more opposition than expected, and plenty of unexpected troop movements and patrols. Halfway through the game the resistance manages an organized assault on a larger base, and it feels like things are coming together and the resistance is picking up speed. And finally towards the end of the game you gain some much better gear and vehicles, and the resistance pulls together a major attack on a key city. You get a few major segments in vehicles - an attack helicopter and the gunner seat of a hummer. The last level features a large-scale assault and explosions everywhere - a much different atmosphere than the earlier guerilla missions.
It is a little weird how quickly everything comes together, though. I guess you don't get the full perspective on everything that's going on, but it kind of seems that the resistance pulls together from a few ragtag guerilla groups into an organized military with dozens of helicopters, jets, and tanks at their disposal.
Your squad is constantly shouting, but it's not the crap you hear in some games. Much of the chatter is actually useful - "sniper in the second floor window", "machine gunners to the right", "they're flanking from the left", "reinforcements ahead", and other handy tips. You don't have a map or anything, but listening to your allies can give you a pretty solid idea of the current threats on the field, as well as their positions.
One line that did annoy me, though, was Connors shouting "Go, I'll cover you!" so I ran out to hit the gate button and immediately got shredded. Great cover, Connors. Thanks.
It took me under four hours to clear the story. I've played some short games, but as far as I remember this is the shortest AAA title I've ever seen. As always, not necessarily bad, but be aware before going in.
On the plus side, the game isn't actually long enough for the lack of enemy variety and simple AI to start feeling repetitive.
I like the music, but I don't think it fits the game. Homefront's soundtrack is brassy and fairly upbeat. It sounds like it should be in a war epic, but Homefront doesn't seem to want to be a war epic. It wants to show you the horrors of war by hitting close to home. That goal is eroded a bit by the heroic soundtrack.
Homefront tries to show the horrors of war in a way that hasn't really been done in video games: present a plausible near-future scenario in which the United States is invaded and occupied, and demonstrate the atrocities that occur when the occupation is run by a ruthless regime. It fails for two reasons.
The first is that it starts off strong, but quickly gets too wrapped up in the story of the resistance. The game tries to convince me that war is bad, but then turns around and tells me that any level of sacrifice and violence is acceptable, and has me mow down hundreds of soldiers in the name of peace and freedom.
The second is that, as a Canadian, I can't help but think of the bad PR the US has received for its own invasions and occupations. Not to say that Canada's hands are totally clean, of course, but it seems kind of hypocritical to say "look how bad military occupation is when it's happening to us!" without even mentioning any of the US's controversial military operations.
What's most disappointing is that the game touches on some themes and ideas that hold promise, but doesn't explore them enough. Some members of the resistance are willing to sacrifice any number of their own for victory. That's presented as kind of bad, but swept under the rug. Many Americans have become xenophobic and violent towards anyone who looks even vaguely Asian, but again, that's relegated to a couple of lines and isn't fleshed out. And other Americans, dubbed "survivalists", have gone kind of crazy living on their own in the wilderness away from the occupied zones. You have to fight some of these survivalists at one point, and one of your squadmates is a little distressed at shooting Americans instead of Koreans. But, sadly, you simply cut them down and move on for the sake of the plot.
Homefront feels like the middle of a story. It begins two years into the occupation and ends with the first major counterattack. Without reading all the optional newspapers, you don't get a strong sense of how or why Korea invaded the US, and by the end you don't have a real conclusion or any idea of whether the resistance's victory even means anything. For all the game tells us, the Koreans might just decide to bomb the city, and there's not really anything the resistance could do about it.
Most of the time it isn't really an issue, but there's a bit in the final level where you fall off the bridge and everyone thinks you're dead, and now no one has a plan to deal with the automated chaingun sentries. Given that everyone has a radio, you'd think Jacobs would be able to shout out "Hey guys, I'm not dead" and maybe even a "I'm under the bridge, I can get behind the sentries, hold tight". But no, apparently Jacobs would rather keep everyone in suspense and in the line of fire of two automatic chainguns.
There are a couple of points where you walk through a friendly area with your gun down. When you're in this walking mode, the view bob is twice the speed of the sound of the footsteps. It makes it seem as though one foot is silent and the other is heavy or dragging.
Recommendation: don't bother.
Homefront had promise and some good ideas, but it doesn't really take anything far enough to make a statement or even be ironic. Any message, philosophy, or political commentary tends to be swept under the rug to keep the action going. Gameplay and graphics are solid enough, but not enough to make it worth playing if you're looking for story. Unless for some reason you enjoy experiencing the middle of a story but not the beginning or end.