‘Homefront’ was set to be THQ’s answer to Activision’s ‘Call of Duty’ and EA’s ‘Battlefield’ franchises. It was developed by a Kaos Studios, a developer which originally began life as a group of modders working on Battlefield 1942 modifications, so Kaos didn’t quite wear the same big boy pants as the likes of Infinity Ward, Treyarch and EA DICE.
The first-person shooter sold a million units within ten days, so it wasn’t a complete failure. However, consumer and critical reaction was a lukewarm mix from bad to average and its online components were plagued with problems at launch. THQ has certainly created a recognizable franchise name, but is it one we can trust?
‘Homefront’ was released just over a year ago now, in March 2011. It’s clear that THQ wanted to get it out before the impending releases of EA’s ‘Battlefield 3’ in October and Activision’s ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ in November. They were banking on grabbing the attention of the masses of first-person shooter fans who were waiting for those major releases.
Promising to be a modern day version of ‘Red Dawn’, ‘Homefront’ was set against a backdrop of a large scale invasion of the United States by, instead of the Russians, the now reunited North and South Korea, known as the Greater Korean Republic. Instead of a group of high school students as in ‘Red Dawn’, players are cast in the role Robert Jacobs, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot who finds himself becoming involved in the American Resistance, a guerilla militia movement comprised of United States citizens opposed to the Greater Korean Republic. Its story poses an interesting change to other modern first-person shooters and it was a massive draw for the game for me, personally. To make the deal even sweeter, ‘Homefront’s’ story was actually written by John Milius, the writer and director of 1984’s ‘Red Dawn’, which was mentioned earlier.
While its story is an interesting and mostly original idea in modern day shooters (‘Freedom Fighters’ actually had a similar story, back in 2003), it’s the execution of the idea which suffers. Much like the ‘Call of Duty’ franchise it hoped to dethrone, ‘Homefront’s’ single player campaign suffers from being a short-lived, very linear experience. Although its set pieces are suitably grim and effective in their portrayal of an unprofessional militia force fighting against the military force of the Korean People’s Army in a war-ravaged country that wasn’t prepared for invasion – women and child are slaughtered by the KPA, a member of the American Resistance misfires a mortar strike, burning both KPA and Resistance fighters alike to death, and a group of insane survivalists manage to outdo even the KPA on the ‘evil’ front – they are, ultimately, just a series of linear set-pieces which follow the usual FPS format of fight, set-piece, fight, set-piece, fight, etc. It may be enjoyable, but it’s the same shallow, short-lived game experience we’ve been getting from most FPS games for years now.
Kaos Studios only developed one game prior to ‘Homefront’, and that game was 2008’s ‘Frontlines: Fuel of War’ which was, well, it was okay. As a developer, Kaos Studios were still finding their feet and ‘Homefront’ definitely showed some signs of improvement, so it’s unfortunate that Kaos are no longer around. I think one thing that they got right, and I’m sure there will be many who won’t agree with me on this, was ‘Homefront’s’ multiplayer. It wasn’t perfect by any means, and it really struggled with bugs and lag at launch, which really didn’t help its case, but it offers an enjoyable multiplayer experience none the less.
‘Homefront’s’ multiplayer plays like something in between ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Battlefield’ – it offers gunplay and controls similar to the former, and the scale of the latter with its 32 player games and use of vehicles. It utilises the ‘battle points (BP)’ system – players earn battle points by killing enemies, gaining assists, destroying vehicles and completing objectives. These battle points can then be redeemed and spent towards things like RPGs, radar scans, air strikes and even vehicles like tanks and helicopters; it’s similar to ‘Call of Duty’s’ killstreak system, except a player doesn’t need to achieve a certain amount of kills without dying to earn anything. These battle points ensure that, provided it’s selected in a classes’ loadout, anyone has access to both vehicles and means to counter them. It also means that, unlike ‘Battlefield 3’, players have to earn their usage of tanks or helicopters and can’t hop in them from the start and begin a spawn camping spree. It mostly works, and it’s a rewarding experience to gather a whole lot of battle points from a good performance.
If the battle points system is a success, then the unlock system is not. Most modern shooters feature unlock systems which rank players up through experience or points, and reward them with better gear, guns and attachments. The problem with the unlock system in ‘Homefront’ is that, well, there’s not really a whole lot of incentive to unlock anything when you’re given the best weapon in the game from the start. ‘Homefront’s’ portrayal of the M4 assault rifle features high damage, high accuracy and an incredibly fast rate of fire. On top of all this, it has little-to-no recoil and even comes complete with a holographic sight from the get-go. The only downside to the firearm is the fast rate of fire means it chews through ammunition pretty quickly, but even with some missed shots, a full clip is enough to net you at least a few kills. It’s an enjoyable and satisfying weapon to use but it’s also the only weapon to use on the multiplayer battlefield if you want to stand a chance against the competition. It even acts as a decent counter-measure against snipers which, although isn’t very fair on sniper rifle lovers, I personally have no problem with.
Ultimately, ‘Homefront’ was marketed as an alternative to the ‘Call of Duty’ franchise and that, along with a spotty release complete with online issues and lag, was its downfall. It didn’t attempt to beat ‘Call of Duty’ so much as it went out to emulate it, while throwing a few additions into the mix. Graphically, it even looks very similar to its rival series. But it wasn’t all bad – it had some interesting ideas and offered a really enjoyable, true 32 player multiplayer experience on console as well as PC; even ‘Battlefield 3’ only offers 24 player matches on console (but 64 players on PC, so maybe that makes up for it?) Its single player campaign, although it was short and linear, offered an interesting story which differs from the norm seen in other current first-person shooters, which is always good to see.
I picked up ‘Homefront’ for just £5 (about under $10) in my local used game store a few months ago, and from the amount of time and enjoyment I’ve gotten out of it, I would have gladly paid more than that. If you want to pick it up, or already own it and fancy getting back into the multiplayer game, it’s still possible to find full 32 player matches even today and the online issues have long since been ironed out.
And, hey, ‘Homefront 2’ is being developed by Crytek UK. They made the ‘TimeSplitters’ series (as Free Radical Design), and ‘TimeSplitters’ was freaking awesome.