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Review: Homefront – home is where the fun is?

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on March 27, 2011

Game: Homefront

Platform: XBox 360
Publisher: THQ, 2011
Developer: Kaos Studios
ESRB: M
Genre: FPS
Setting: speculative fiction
Players: 1/32 (offline / online)


Introduction

When I consider all the games that will be published this year and especially the shooter games, then actually 2011 is a great time for fans of the Xbox 360 and for all those who still look for their holy grail of shooters. I know, because that’s my personal quest this year (to use a bit of RPG language). So many big names and so many not-so-big-names are competing for the shooter crown this year that I think the chance to find this sort of a holy grail in the genre can’t get any better. I mean, there has to be one or more real hit when you read the 2011 titles like Gears of War 3, Bulletstorm, Brink, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Section 8: Prejudice, Earth Defense Force: Armageddon, Battlefield 3, Call of Duty Black Ops, Crysis 2, Halo: Reach, Medal of Honor, Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and many many more.I don’t know why 2011 is such a shooter-heavy year, but it is – and I like it.

The US under Korean occupation

So, as an Xbox 360 guy, I am prepared to play some great games this year and as a wargamer, shooters are part of my hobby and I was – and still am – really looking forward to playing some hopefully good or even outstanding shooter games.

I played CoD: Black Ops, which was extremely disappointing as a single player experience (I loved the SP campaigns of MW 1 and MW 2, but Treyarch simply can’t create convincing campaigns, the campaign in World at War wasn’t that much fun, either. This time, though, they just packed in as many enemies as possible, in as tight corridors as possible, turned off the AI completely and said ‘go, shoot everything that moves or that just stands dumb around and have… ehh… ‘fun’), but which is probably the best CoD multiplayer so far. It’s interesting that a game can be as shitty and as great all at the same time, but unfortunately if you are not an online gaming competition guy, you don’t get much for your money. Anyway, this is not about BLOPS, but the SP/MP dichotomy reminds me a bit of Homefront.

I also played Bulletstorm, which is a great game, in the SP campaign and the MP coop mode, it’s completely over the top in what it does, and it does it all damn well. It’s extremely fun to play, it’s that simple. But BS is not a game I play as a wargamer and so I was still waiting for a game that would give me a certain military setting and a bit more sim-like combat than the usual military arcade shooter fun. And so things got interesting when I first heard about Homefront.

Homefront is a game done by the folks who did Frontlines: Fuel of War, which I did not play (except for the demo). I don’t remember why that game wasn’t on my to-play-list, but when it returned to my radar, noone was playing it anymore, so it was pointless to start playing it online. That’s a general problem with online shooters (except for the really big names in the field) – if you come too late to the party, everybody else has already moved on to the next battlefield and the online area is a wasteland.

The Homefront launch was supported by a big public relations campaign or one might say propaganda machine. Ads everywhere, Microsoft made a special deal with THQ that DLC will come out for the 360 first, the developers hyped their own game over the top at any given opprtunity, they got more than one nomination and you got the impression it’s the best thing you could play on any system, new features, new setting, ‘we will make everything better than everybody else’, ‘we can compete with the Big Ones’, ‘yes, we CAN beat CoD‘, a game that will get you really into emotion and so on. They sounded really convincing and from what I could watch (all the trailers and interviews and movies and stuff) and read, everything looked actually damn fine. They had experience with online shooters as well and said they will bring 32 player together which is a rare thing on consoles (Frontlines even had 50 something on the Xbox 360) and that convinced me to preorder it. I also read the novel (which is quite enjoyable) and watched the movie Red Dawn (which is downright trash and not enjoyable), so I was prepared with a background story and ready for a great game and excited when the game eventually arrived from the UK.

This is just to tell you that I wanted to like this game, I really wanted to like it and I was open for what the developers would show me as a new emotional, immersive shooter experience. They said they wanted to establish their own universe, their own big shooter franchise with Homefront and there were even early talks about sequels and all, so after reading the novel I was prepared to be part of the Resistance and get it going… and so I put the game into my console and started the campaign. Here’s what I found in this great new shooter, fasten your seatbelt, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is going to be a helluva rough ride and a crash landing, enjoy your drinks while you can.

Story or what’s all the hype about?

Well, you may call it story or plot or whatever you like, but so far it’s a matter of fact that shooters seldom introduce you to stellar storytelling. Usually you get some short hints why you are the one killing everybody in sight over the next hours and that you have to do it, either because you are a cool guy, or you belong to a band of cool guys, or at least some cool guy has to be rescued by you, stuff like that. You listen to it, you read it, while thinking ‘jeez, stop it already and let’s go on with it, I have been playing these games for years now, it’s just shoot and don’t get shot, so let’s do this.’

Bad-ass evil Koreans torturing and killing helpless US citizens!

KAOS had the story and plot penned by John Milius, the co-writer of Apocalypse Now and the director and writer of Red Dawn (this trash movie I mentioned already) so at least there was some potential of a good story in the game. So, first the rough outline of the story, so you know what’s it all about.

The story Homefront is telling you is certainly far from being convincing, or something you never heard before so you are thrilled because of that. Nope, it’s sort of an alternate reality where North Korea is more powerful than she is in our reality and both the USA and the States of the European Union are much less powerful than they are in real life. It is assumed that North Korea first is the driving factor for the reunion with South Korea (LOL) and then starts a war with Japan and after that is preparing a sinister plan to invade the USA after shutting down all systems with an EMP blast from the sky.

It is said that Americans have this underlying fear of being invaded, and so the idea that paratroopers drop from the sky right into your nice little gardens where intruders want to establish a new world order for the American way of life sounds at least interesting, even if not plausible at all, and it may explain the interest the game started in the USA. I think that’s something which can be successful big time only in the US, because I can’t imagine that such a setting in Germany would really grab folks emotionally. Fighting in our homeland against evil Asian intruders to keep our freedom… really, who gives a shit? We just don’t have this kind of emotional patriotic fuel anymore, we burned it all in two World Wars and there’s nothing left for such games I suppose :P.

So, that may explain why the game is selling well, mostly in the USA I believe, despite what to call flaws would be an understatement. Anyway, the game starts with a cinematic introduction of what happened and finally led to the occupation with a mix of real life TV clips and computer clips and this intro works well and looks stunning.

Unfortunately, it isn’t really new and in my view too much of a direct copy of what has been done by Treyarch in CoD: World at War (video link) before and it is the first time (not the last time, though) you realize that KAOS tried hard to copy the feel of the successful Call of Duty games.

After the intro, you learn that you are one Robert Jacobs, a Marine helicopter pilot living during the time of the occupation. One morning, you are surprised by Korean soldiers knocking at the door who then take you away as a prisoner. It doesn’t become clear why, but you are taken away after being knocked down with the rifle butt, learning to follow the hard way (and the whole game is indeed about learning to follow, as we will see…). You end up sitting chained in a bus which is supposed to drive you to some concentration camp and this gives you plenty of time to look around and to see what’s going on (an idea which isn’t entirely new; the car ride to your own execution in Modern Warfare 1 was a similar experience).

Here the game introduces you to the reality of occupied America: you see Korean soldiers shooting people, torturing people, killing parents in front of their children and all that in the open, on the streets on a sunny day. The developers said that this sort of emotional scenes will be a big part of the game in order to grab you emotionally by what’s going on, and you shall learn to hate the occupants because of what you see – which will give you the reason to join the resistance and fight for freedom.

The reviews which were all praise for the game or also those which at least said, it’s ‘quite a good one’ agreed that “this is a strong aspect of the game” and that “it works, there have never been such emotions in a shooter before”… aha, good to know.

You don’t sit long in the bus, though, before a truck rams it. You get almost knocked out by the impact and then you are rescued by a guy telling you ‘you can thank me later’ and that you should grab a gun or something and when you follow him around the next corner, a gunfight starts immediately with the first waves of enemies and you realize ‘oh! I’m in the Resistance now’…

An oasis in occupied America. No, you can’t explore it and learn more about your fellow Resistance members.

After this firefight, you are introduced to Boone Karlson, a former police officer and now the guy responsible for a resistance cell which is hiding in a small American town and living there in some sort of little Findhorn community or so it seems when you walk around, called the Oasis. Energy is generated by solar power, you see children playing while the sun is shining, people are working, a guy using a stepper for pumping water by manpower, Little Eden so to say. You don’t have much time to hang around, though, because the first mission is starting already and from then on it’s all generic shooting and the usual stuff you can expect from any average shooter. You can walk around and talk to your fellow resistance fighters, women and men, by pressing the x button, but they don’t tell you much except for forgettable one-liners about nothing. The location is also very restricted, so that you can’t go and talk to everybody there, just to a few guys and that was something which gave me a bad taste already. I mean, the idea is here to use this as a way to further get to know the background of the folks involved and all, and then you can only ask a few folks giving you some blabla replies… I don’t expect RPG-like dialogue options, but if it is that pointless, then better skip this ‘press x to talk’ altogether.

So that’s where you are at the beginning of this ’emotional story-centric’ new shooter, you don’t know much about what is going on (it helps if you read the novel before, but not all players will do that and they said the game will tell you a great story, not the novel) and then the first mission simply starts. For those who like to crawl around in shooters: there are some newspapers to find as ‘collectibles’ (stuff I hate in shooters, I don’t slow down the action to search for damned collectibles… a friend of mine is addicted to searching things like that and after each fight everything goes into slow-mo and the room will be inspected, interior decoration will be destroyed to see if something is hidden there… it completely takes out any drive in a shooter) and the newspaper articles expand your knowledge about the background of the story a bit. But that’s not the best way to introduce the player to what is really going on because if you don’t like that searching around in this and that corner, you will simply take whatever newspaper you find and not bother with the ones you didn’t come across.

Gameplay or why it’s a blessing the game is over in 5 hours…

These turrets are threatening… when you meet them for the first time. Like all good ideas, they are greatly over-used, so after a while, they become lame

There’s been a trend in shooter games over the last years and that is: the campaign a.k.a. the single player experience is getting shorter and shorter and the online multiplayer part is getting bigger and more elaborated. Usually this is not really a good deal, because a game should deliver the whole package for both, the player wanting to play the campaign/story and the player who is into multiplayer online competition. Reviews about Homefront of course now mention that this game has an even shorter campaign than the CoD: Modern Warfare and Black Ops titles, which were all around 5-6 hours or so and they complain about it… but there’s one good reason that a game has such a short campaign. It’s probably not true for all games and I liked the MW single player experience a good deal and they could have made them a bit longer if you ask me, but the 5 hours in Homefront were enough. The game is so short because it’s so bad and the developers seemed to have some compassion to not make it longer and for that I’m thankful. It started to get boring real soon and the campaign fails big-time when you compare it with all the hype that was made about it and with what the designers told us would be their goal.

Follow me…

Of course, the campaign is utilizing different tools and ways to introduce you to the overall story, other than, say, the novel does, but to make a story convincing at all, you need some emotional link to what is happening around you. That connection should have been the identification of the player with the character they are playing. The fact that this character has no voice is part of the developers’ clever strategy to help you identifying with that character. That’s not my interpretation, it’s what one KAOS guy said in an interview and hey, what better way to feel yourself well represented in a game than by a mute guy who’s is always following orders, even if it just to move here or there.

If that’s not really you, then you’ll have to adapt to that fast because the game is barking orders at you all the timedo this, don’t do that, move here, not there, come here now, shoot him, shoot him now, pick up this, pick up that, come back’ and you have only seconds to realize what you are expected to do in a given situation before a NPC will remind you again what to do now by repeating the order over and over again. After 1 hour in the game you feel like a brainwashed dumbass moving around like a puppet on someone’s strings.

Just in case you forget where to go…

To ensure that you don’t forget that, you have to follow a guy named Connor through the campaign. It’s that tough guy stereotype who is part of all these games and movies. He is hating the Koreans to the bone and is always happy to pull the trigger to put one of them out of his misery. He’s the leader on the missions and so you have to follow him. Since it wouldn’t help you to just be told that once (obviously, KAOS makes games for the average gamer who is supposed to be not that bright), a white dot is always hovering over Connors’ head with the word ‘follow‘ (another reminder just in case you forgot what the white dot is there for)…

It strongly reminded me of that yellow dot with the word ‘follow’ in the campaign of CoD: Black Ops, and it’s as silly and destroying any immersion. Sure, in an open world game you might get lost and then you would probably miss some great scripted scenes the game has in offer for you… but even if that was the idea behind it, it’s nonsense, because the game is tunneling you through one of the tightest corridor designs I ever played. CoD levels feel wide open compared to that, you cannot go left or right, there’s exactly one way you can go while someone is constantly barking ‘follow me’ and you see that white dot with the word ‘follow’ before you… or behind you!

…but slowly

Rianna, the sterotype belly-top chick with gun… the face animations strongly remind of Morrowind (XBox 1)

Yes, behind you. Connor, an ex-military, who is supposed to be the leader of the troop, an electrical engineer and a mechanic named Hopper Lee (a third generation Korean-American to spice up the characters a bit it seems, you know, tension because of identity, hate from Americans because he looks like the occupants etc. – but nothing is done to actually explore and develop that character background, he’s merely a third generation Korean-American, that’s all), a survival-expert women named Rianna and you, the dumb pilot from nowhere, are shambling around like Romero Zombies. Movement is generally very slow in the game and even running feels slow, it’s like you are constantly walking through thick snow or something like that. When you played a fast shooter before, it will drive you crazy first, later you will adapt to it, sure, but chances are good that the campaign is over just in time when you feel comfortable with the ‘speed’ of the game.

So, you have exactly two choices when playing the campaign. You either walk even slower than Connor to actually follow him, which is like walking in Indian file, or you move like a normal man would do and then the guy you have to follow is always behind you, the big white dot and the word ‘follow’ always on your screen, behind you… it’s so damn silly that it actually made me laugh more than once, but it is not funny, trust me, it’s getting on your nerves. You might say now, ‘just forget the follow thingy and move on’ but that isn’t what the designers had in mind because there’s a strict order in the Resistance how things happen and especially how people move through a door.

Another stereotype: the aggressive, narrow-minded ex-military “kill’em all” bad-ass guy with army-style Mohawk haircut

Part of the clever campaign design is that each mission takes place in a certain location where all the shooting happens. In order to get from one location to the next, you usually have to open a door, so you can move through a house, a fence or a hallway. But you can not do it yourself because of the ranking perhaps (except for one door in the whole game, where you seem to be trusted enough now by your Resistance friends that you are actually allowed to gently press the X button to smash a door open – and it felt great, really, this freedom… awesome). So every time you come across a door (which is sometimes disguised as a locker or something like that in front of a hole) – and there are many doors indeed – the following happens:

Connor and Rianna are in front of you and Connor gets slowly into position on the left side, Rianna on the right side of the door. You stand there, dumb and listening, because every time some blabla starts and you are again told what to do, then Connor or Rianna opens the door (usually by just smashing it) and then first Connor moves – sloooowly – through the open door, then Rianna does the same, also slooowly and then it’s your time to, yep dude, you know what comes now, ‘follow’ them. This happens all the time!

It will make you shoot at Connor sooner or later… but nothing happens if you do that. If you shoot friendlies, which I usually do just to see the reaction of the AI, nothing happens, the bullets hit them and they look at you like cows, no comment, no nothing. Silly. I remember Operation Flashpoint: Elite on the Xbox 1 where fellow soldiers first said ‘hold your fire’ when you hit them and if you wouldn’t stop, they shot you dead – mission over. Such details help to create an illusion that the NPCs act in a reasonable way which will help you to enjoy the whole experience a lot more. Not in Homefront, NPCs are bots and you can see it with every step they do. So we come to…

Mission design and AI…

The missions in the campaign then try to suck you into the story of ‘occupation by Asian bad boys – fighting in your homeland – defend Burger King – you fight for young American ladies and their crying baby’ stuff, but unfortunately they do this by sending you out on the average shooter mission again and again. Go there and destroy that, go there and shoot him, come back and then go again to do it all over again. There’s no mission that would give you the feeling of being part of something interesting or new, let alone emotional. It’s always this bad taste in your gamer mouth of been there, done that.. and that in several other games and often much better than what Homefront is trying to do.

I remember watching a video with a presentation by one of the designers where he played a mission when the Resistance fighters had to hold off some Korean soldiers who were attacking a house with a young mother and a crying baby inside. He was so excited to show us just an example of how different Homefront would be because now you have some real task, to protect a little baby and a desperate mother, it’s not just defending a position, it’s defending an American baby crying because of all the shooting around. He said it’s an example how Homefront does something never done before by ‘marrying FPS experience with great storytelling’.  Although I agree that such a situation is able to evoke more emotions than the usual ‘hold position until the next script kicks in’ order, what I saw was not that immersive or impressive because the AI seemed to be extremely dumb, just standing there and shooting… ok, it was a presentation and not the final game, so I had great hopes for such situations to really pull it off emotionally. Here’s it, the great storytelling and what was never done before:

I mean come on, relax, here’s nothing new at all and no there’s no ‘different pathing’ as he says in the video, since why the heck would you jump out of that window in such a situation? To use such a ‘path’ must have some sense in battle and regarding the situation he talks about, you would then simply stand in front of the house, there’s no way to outflank the enemies because the game wants you to fight inside the house and then move through a door at the opposite side of that window. When I actually played this mission in the game, it was as boring as this presentation because the AI appeared out of nowhere and started to flood in en masse and then just stood there shooting like robots. No ducking, no taking cover, no real maneuver, nothing… and then the baby crying behind you all the time was not something that would cause some immersion, but it was just annoying as hell because it didn’t fit to what was going on in the mission and the firefight was quite long. In addition, the Mother was shouting the same speech samples over and over again, which added to the acoustic annoyance. So you were shooting these brainless enemies for several minutes, wave after wave streaming into that house while the baby was crying and the Mother was shouting her one line “Don’t hurt my Baby!”.

Not very touching: a baby with a plain texture face

There was no danger neither for yourself nor for the mother with her child. No bullets hit them, nor you because these robots couldn’t shoot that well (you remember the stormtroopers from the Star Wars movies, don’t you? These guys are sharpshooters compared to the Koreans I encountered in that innovative  ‘defend the baby’ mission) and so the overall experience was lame and boring. Better AI and less enemies able to scare the player by coming into the house and using cover and aiming well and actually capable of inflicting collateral damage to the mother and her baby if you are not good enough to defend their lifes… that could have been a great mission if it were not that badly designed. This mission was the first of many occasions when I realized that the designers had some good ideas and the game as such had great potential but it was not used at all, they threw out of the window what they had by simply failing to design a good mission while apparently believing they had created the Stone of the Wise regarding missions and overall gameplay.

And they tried so hard to play with the Big Ones (which was what we were told over and over in the interviews before the game came out) and you can actually see it. From start to finish of the game, you can actually feel how desperately KAOS tried to copy the known Call of Duty-Cinematic-Script-Orgy, but they absolutely fail in being successful here. Part of it is the boring design of the missions and they are so boring that even if something loud and blinding happens once in a while, you are not thrilled at all, you just feel disturbed by it in your general weariness the game puts you in from the start of the campaign. A big bam here and there and stuff flying into your face once in a while is just not enough if the overall cinematic design is simply bad.

There is more than one mission where we can see Korean soldiers set on fire and screaming due to some explosion and it gets old when it happens that often. And it clearly is trying to copy some CoD:WaW scenes but with the bad gfx, it has no emotional impact, it just looks bad. And the usual good guy/bad guy stereotype…whenever I came across screaming burning soldiers, Rianna told me to make an end of their suffering *oh that emotional gameplay* while tough-as-nails Connor said something like ‘let them burn, the motherfuckers’… yeah I didn’t expect something different. That’s the great narrative and emotional setting that was never done before in shooters? Give me a break, really…

AI soldiers are masters of the “retro-dance”: duck behind cover – head pops up – shoots – duck behind cover – head pops up – shoots… rinse and repeat!

There are also logical errors in the design of some missions. For example, you walk around in sunshine in the Resistance hiding place and Boone and Connor tell you something like ‘grab a gun, we need you on tonights’ mission blabla’ and then you immediately follow them through a tunnel (having severe difficulties to get down the ladder because you have to wait for the ‘press x button’ message which will only appear if you stand exactly where the game expects you to stand) and on the other side of the tunnel some 50 meters way at best, it’s suddenly night and pitch dark outside. Just doesn’t make sense, the sun isn’t going down that fast, not even under Korean occupation, it’s bad design, someone didn’t pay attention to what was going on in the mission. Someone told me about a similar experience, he went into a house while it was dark outside. He enters the house and looks through a window – and the sun is shining brightly outside… I don’t remember that, but if it happens once, there’s a good chance that it happens twice. Such things kill any immersion. Pay attention when designing your games, gosh darn it!

And then the great AI, it is as thick as two short planks, both the Korean soldiers and your Resistance fighters. Enemies are always standing around and seldom use cover and if they do, they then make the ‘retro dance‘ we all know so well from older games, head goes down, head comes up, guy is shooting, head goes down, head pops up at the very same part of the cover, guy shoots, head goes down. Killing any fun in a firefight. Team-mates also like to stare at the wall while the action is in front of the wall, very innovative really…

I once had the situation (in the mission where you have to protect the Goliath against the EMP guys in the junkyard) that the enemies were on one side of the map only and my two bright partners were shooting like hell not only into the opposite direction but also into the sky! That looked as silly as it sounds and because of not being useful in the firefight, I again had to do it all alone against all enemies. When I then listen to the Devs speaking about the cool squad feeling and all, I can only laugh.

The script was written by the same author as Red Dawn… which explains a lot…

In another situation, Connor, Rianna and I were hiding behind a wall because a group of Korean soldiers was passing by. Connor told us to hide until they were out of sight and then dash across the street (wey hey, how stealthy!). Just before the formation was out of sight, one Korean soldier suddenly turned around and marched backwards. But this didn’t faze Connor; he gave the order: “Now! Move!” and he and Rianna ran out of cover and across the street, right in front of the Korean, who was totally disinterested. I then decided to follow them and almost bumped into the Korean who was stoically continuing his erratic path in the opposite direction. I even stopped in front of him and ‘waved at him’ by moving my rifle and jumping up and down, but he ignored me and stared into nowhere, still deserting his formation by walking towards the end of the map.

The enemies are also totally ignoring your team-mates and always go after the player, even if a Resistance fighter is standing right next to them. I once had Rianna walking – not running as you would expect in such a situation – to a door (hah! again, a closed door!) in a firefight and then she just stood there besides a Korean soldier behind cover. Nothing happened… neither she nor him were doing anything. When I wanted to follow her, the soldier got into action (I had obviously activated some trigger), doing his retro dance, throwing nades over to me, shooting, yelling… while Rianna stood there doing nothing. They also like to break through doors and windows all at once, so 10 guys make BOOM and they are there, immediately, like a well planned ambush big style. But it isn’t, you see that a trigger is activating all soldiers at once which looks just silly. You have to cross these trigger lines to make something happen at all, of course, or you’ll stand there forever without anything happening in a given situation.

Then KAOS goes back to using the old CoD trick of never ending enemy waves as well, which is one of  the things I don’t want to see anymore in a shooter. If you don’t get pass the trigger point which will make the enemy wave stop, you’ll sit there until the cows come home. If you shoot someone, a clone soldier will immediately come and stand in the exact same position as his friend before did, doing exactly the same animation as his predecesssor did. Boring and bad design I say and not what we want to the see anymore.

Here’s an example of the great AI in Homefront

The checkpoints in the game are not well chosen either, especially not when you consider the way the missions are designed with all the wave respawning and the endless chatter before something happens. Imagine you listen for 25 seconds or longer to the blabla of your team-mates and then you go with them to get the job done. If you get killed, you will have to start again at the last checkpoint and this is usually before the chatter with your friends has started, so you sit there and have to listen to the same chatter again and there’s no way to get around this, you can’t skip it. If this happens more than twice because something stupid got you killed, you are close to simply quitting the game and playing something more enjoyable.

And sometimes you will get killed – because there’s no way to prevent it. I received more than once what seemed to me like a lovely ‘message’ from the designers in form of a grenade without warning, which kills you when you try to move to a place were you are just not allowed to be. Yep, such things happen. You try to move to that corner where some cover seems usable and BAM! you are dead because of an invisible grenade or mysterious explosion. You don’t see any guy throwing the grenade (because there isn’t any), there’s no warning symbol on your screen showing that and from where a nade is thrown at you, nothing, you are just dead – and then back to the checkpoint, my friend, which is as I said, usually before your team opened one of the myriad doors in the game and you know now what that means… Connor slowly going to the left side, Rianna on the right side, chatter blabla, smash open, Conner goes slowly first, then Rianna, then you…

Don’t move too close to an object… the textures get muddy and blurry really soon

The fact that the locations are very small, thus giving you not enough room to maneuver, will also get you killed more than once. You are under fire, you look around and there’s a way… you run… and you realize there’s something between you and the cover, get shot dead, back to last checkpoint and the door. If you don’t follow the way the designers prepared for you, you will get killed, that’s my experience.

This location design combined with so many enemies at once and extremely stupid AI on both sides is a call for trouble, since you have to do it all alone and it just feels horrible. You can’t use tactics in these locations and there’s no cover system for shooting from behind objects. Best thing you can do is crawl behind cover and then give away only so much of your body which is needed to shoot at the enemies. But often the only good cover is used by your team-mates, so you either use a less appropriate object or you also use the same cover as they do, which means you stick behind them and see them idiotically stand up and shoot, then get shot several times but they won’t die from the shots and usually not doing damage to the enemy, either. In such situations you start to yell at the TV…

There’s no destruction and no penetration, every little thin object will make an enemy completely invulnerable. Even if there’s no destruction used in a game, penetration is essential, even CoD does have it, not to speak about the Battlefield games, because the weapons feel weird if you can only use them when you have a LOS to the enemy. Often the collision detection is bad, too, and that combined with the indestructible objects will cause the game not detecting a hit on your enemy if he is only barely visible. That is also true for the multiplayer where it is coming close to a game breaker when you see players going prone on a rooftop or crouch behind a wooden fence and while they can see and hit you, you can see them but not hit them because the game seems to think you hit the roof or the fence. By the way, you can see through a wire mash fence, but you cannot shoot through it. These are last-gen physics!

uncool and pointless: flying a helicopter in a tight, restricted area without any maneuvering options

There’s one mission in which you have to fly a helicopter (you are a pilot remember? That’s what makes you important for the Resistance!) and that at first seemed to be a more enjoyable mission… until I realized that there also was a very tight corridor, too tight for any flight maneuvers. Whenever I moved the heli into another direction to get a better shot at the enemies, I was warned by the game not to leave the battle zone. You have 15 seconds to get back on track or else it is mission over for you. It made flying absolutely pointless because you only try to stay as close to the convoy you have to protect (how often have we seen such missions? As the Devs said, innovation is key to Homefront…) as possible in order to avoid the ‘objective failed message’ and to avoid to start it all over again from the last checkpoint. KAOS, if you don’t want to give me some freedom to fly the damned thing, then for fuxx sake don’t put a helicopter in your game in the first place! Just make it a cut scene if you need a helicopter in your game… or let me fly 5 meter to the right or left!

Then there are silly glitches in the game, like you standing in one’s assault rifle which goes right thru your head or even in another person, for example Rianna or Connor. Folks are going through a ladder etc.. Then, sometimes the game has some weird ‘results’: In the mission where I was a sniper covering my team, I had to wait until a target had been marked so that I was allowed to shoot him. The guy comes round and has the wait marker above his head but the position was good so I shot – ‘mission over, objective failed’… clever design, it gives you such a great feeling of being a sniper who knows best when the sweet spot for the kill is reached. Ok, back to checkpoint and again. This time I waited until the ‘wait’ marker changed into the marker telling me that I’m now officially allowed to shoot, which I did like the robot I had been in this game from the first mission on. I pull the trigger, I hit the guy, the van next to him makes ‘whoosh’ and moves like a torpedo across the whole map killing another guy standing there…’mission over, objective failed, only shoot the marked target’. Ok, the guy killed by the torpedo van wasn’t marked and so the game rightfully sent me back to the checkpoint.

Such things make you actually pray that all the reviews were wrong and that the game doesn’t last as long as 5 hours…play-testing? Quality control?

Graphics

The ‘epic moments’ with which the game tries to impress you also fail because of the outdated graphics. Homefront often looks like a Xbox 1 game, poor textures, the characters look like made of papier-mâché, their faces look dull without any expression and sometimes strongly reminded me of the face animations in Morrowind (XBox 1). The movement animations of the NPCs is looking terrible, stiff and dead like a dried fish at the wall.

No, the AI isn’t clever and this screenshot is lying… at least the lighting effects are nice

The lighting is very good, I’ll give them this much, and combined with the shadows it sometimes can make a scene look good (especially outside), but generally this game doesn’t look like a current-gen game, sometimes it’s looking more like a comic. I played the game on a HDTV on 1080i and then I would call the graphics ‘functional’ at best, it looks worse on 720p because it gets much rougher and much more blurry and it looks downright bad on any SDTV. That’s especially true for the multiplayer part, where it is sometimes really hard to see an enemy because of the graphics. The game has considerable tearing, so if you can’t stand that in a game, you’ll have a hard time playing it. Homefront uses a modified Unreal Engine 3 and the modification is mainly about the lighting, which looks great sometimes as I mentioned already. But otherwise the game seems to be not really running in High-Res and often has texture pop-ups and frame rate issues. Usually games run smoother when you install them on the 360 HDD, but Homefront doesn’t get better after the installation, alas.

Apologetics say it’s “because of the Unreal Engine and all”, and that you can’t expect very good graphics with the maps being huge etc.. but that’s nonsense. First of all, the maps in the single player campaign are not that large and even the maps in the Multiplayer are not really large. Many other games like Bulletstorm, Batman: Arkham Assylum or Gears of War also use the Unreal Engine and they look fantastic, so it’s certainly not the engines’ fault nor the Xbox 360’s fault, because look at Crysis 2 and see what can be done!

In one scene in Homefront, you enter a room with three guys who are looking at a map to plan some mission or something like that, and when you get a closer look at the map and see a texture with a white, a black and a green blur on it to portray a map, then you know the mission they plan with that map can only fail…

Audio

The music in the game is quite nice and especially the opening music in the multiplayer lobby is kinda cool and I like it. The weapons sound very good and you can hear the punch an assault rifle is able to deliver. The effects in firefights or when you drive a vehicle are good.

But otherwise, the game has a completely screwed up audio setting, it makes you ask yourself why the hell did you pay for a 5.1 system? I didn’t realize it at first, but after some time playing the game it became obvious that there’s always a voice beside you, no matter where the speaker is actually standing. So if you – or rather the other way round, because as I said you can’t talk – well, ok then, if someone is talking to you, then you will hear the voice and you will hear it according to his direction as it should be. But this surround effect is strangely mild and it’s not that easy to tell where exactly the speaker is standing. But it gets weird when the speaker is walking away from you and he is still as loud as before when he was standing right next to you. This can become really silly in larger areas, you’ll always hear everything as if it was spoken next to you even if spoken at the other side of the map. And no, they don’t talk by radio. In the sniper mission, you might explain it as talking by radio in your ear etc. but it simply is screwed up audio, that’s all. How that could make it through the quality checking is beyond me. It’s of course also killing any immersion that may have been left in the game.

Multiplayer

Considering all the mistakes the games makes and the bad design approach and the technical problems and flaws and such, it would score with a solid 2 out 10 for me. It feels rushed out and incomplete. Luckily the game has a multiplayer, something every shooter must have these days and when a studio is talking about working on a ‘CoD killer’, they usually don’t aim at the single player experience but at the multiplayer. The multiplayer is where most action will taken place, where it is decided whether a game will last for a longer time or be back on eBay after the first play-through.

Provides a good overview: when you die, the camera zooms from high above into the battlefield

KAOS Studios started as Trauma Studios when they developed the Desert Combat mod for the game Battlefield 1942 and later were also working on the Battlefield series under direction of DICE. They then were hired by THQ to work on FPS games and under the new name KAOS developed the Xbox 360 game Frontlines: Fuel of War. So they have some experience when it comes to online multiplayer in shooters and Homefront here actually is able to show what the designers can do. It’s not without problems and it’s far from being the holy grail of online shooters, but the good points outweigh the flaws here.

The multiplayer setting is same as in the single player campaign, so you have two sides, the Korean soldiers and – no, not the Resistance but – the US Army fighting each other in the hometowns of the United States. Therefore the multiplayer setting is portraying the time when the invasion starts and so takes place before the single player campaign of the game. It’s nice to play before and after the occupation, but sometimes while playing the multiplayer, I thought about possible interesting new modes when the multiplayer setting would be the same as in the campaign. Playing as either Resistance, US Military, or Korean occupants in a possible three sides scenario could have been cool, if done right.

Anyway, you have two sides in the MP part of the game and it consists of 2 modes further differentiated though into certain sub-modes. The main modes are the standard Team Deathmatch with 12 vs 12 players and then a 16 vs 16 player Ground Control mode, which is  similar to the Battlefield Conquest mode. These basic modes can be played in their standard form, or in Skirmish mode, which is Team Deathmatch and Ground Control with just 8 vs 8 players. The most innovative and interesting feature of the multiplayer, though, is the Battle Commander mode, which again can be played as TDM or GC, but you have to rank up to level 7 before it becomes available.

Battle Commander

In the Battle Commander mode, each side is fighting under the command of an AI commander who is watching the battle and who will make out specific targets in the course of the match. Players revceive stars and a sort of in-match promotion by their own Battle Commander when they start to eliminate enemies and manage to stay alive. Think of it as a form of “in-match only” killstreaks: the more enemy players you eliminate while staying alive, the more stars you get (ranking from 1 to 5 stars). With each star, your Battle Commander will give you some nice abilities, e.g. more damage, more health, something useful to keep his best soldier alive as long as possible. On the other side, the enemy Battle Commander will also see that someone is doing great in the enemy team and will give out orders to individual players on his side to eliminate this threat. The more stars a player on the opposing team earns, the more players will receive orders by their own Battle Commander to go and take him out. He will mark an area on the map which is roughly the area the enemy star-soldier is currently located in and then every player who got such an order is able to search that player and try to get him down. If someone manages to do so, then this player will receive a good amount of Battle Points as a reward, which then can be spent on weapons, equipment or technical stuff such like drones, or vehicles.

A cool idea which adds an interesting side-objective: The Battle Commander

So, this is an interesting way to keep the matches fresh because any time you can receive an individual order which is then your personal side-mission in the overall battle and if you are able to eliminate the player (you will be given the name of that player which makes it more personal and spices things up), you have the advantage of getting more Battle Points than by just fighting the usual fight. Since the matches can be over in 7-10 minutes, it’s essential to get as much Battle Points as possible to have a wider range of tools and equipment at your disposal.

The Battle Commander will also deny snipers the lame option of spawn-killing or at least will make it much more difficult for them to keep doing it. First, campers generally have a harder time in the BC mode because (although they will certainly rank up quite fast by accumulating stars), with 4 or 5 stars on their head they will have to fight against the whole opposing team because the enemy battle commander will give every single soldier on his side the order to take that threat out ASAP. If the Battle Commander is recognizing that a camper is actually spawn killing players, then this player won’t get any points from these kills and is marked as a target immediately for all and hopefully taken out fast.

Generally the Battle Commander works great and the modes where this feature is turned on are more fun than the standard TDM and GC, so I usually play them. The other side of the coin is that it becomes a bit unrealistic because you often feel like running around with a big ‘Here! Shoot me first‘ marker on your back the better you become and there’s less and less opportunity to seek cover and hide yourself.

Calling in an airstrike feels cooool… but if 10 players have the same idea, it becomes quite annoying

Personally I don’t have a problem with camping because I think it’s a realistic tactic to not run around like a headless chicken always guns ablaze, simply because everybody in a real battle would try to stay alive and not take any unnecessary risks. Spawn Killing is a no-go, of course, so here HF is going into the right direction by just not counting any kills made that way. Shooters should generally limit the number of snipers in matches because camping only becomes a problem when a sniper is camping, since he can be so far away that you are dead before are able to get to him. Or make the sniper an option in the killstreak process, so that a good player can choose to become one for a limited time. There are ways to counter the sniper-camping problem, but it would generally be a good idea not to allow the kiddies their favorite class just from start, so that this class has to be earned by mature, successful playing first.

Being the target of the other sides’ Battle Commander makes the game all the more thrilling because you know everybody step by step gets to know your name now and is told that you are a threat worth of being taken out fast, great for boosting your gamer ego 😉

Battle Points

The use of Battle Points is another innovative feature of HF in all MP modes of the game. It’s a form of in-match currency like the CoD points in Blops, but while you can use the CoD points to create your class and buy the weapons you like instead of unlocking and auto-buying them by ranking up, in HF this currency is only available to you in the current match. You rank up normally and get new weapons and attachments by doing so, but Battle Points have nothing to do with that. In the Armory you create your class setup and choose what stuff you want in your ‘slots’ (this can be a Rocket Launcher, a drone, a flak jacket and so on).

You customize your classes between matches and “unlock” your equipment by spending Battle Points during the match

Then, when you start the game, you collect BPs by killing enemies or – in GC – by conquering specific areas on the map. What you have earned in a given match,  you can spend on the stuff you assigned to your slots. So, say when you want to be able to defend against tanks in the match, you may assign a RPG launcher to one of your available slots and when you are in the game, you can immediately ‘buy’ such a weapon by just pressing the d-pad to activate that slot. An RPG launcher costs 250 BPs and as long as you have enough money, you can buy that weapon again and again (but when you die, your weapon is gone and you have to buy a new one).

Things get interesting because of a tactical decision which is added to the matches now. Do I collect enough BPs so I’m able to ‘buy’ an expensive Tank or an Apache Helicopter later in the game? Or do I use more cheap stuff like drones and weapons? Vehicles are costly and you first need to rank up to get access to customizable vehicle loadouts, but after that you can choose to spawn in that vehicle when you got shot, which eliminates the Battlefield problem of ‘whoever gets first to the vehicle spawn point, can use it’, since you directly spawn in the chosen vehicle – you paid for it, after all! Team mates can then join you for free if a vehicle still has seats available. Nice, but there’s always a ‘but’…

Although it works well so far, this also has a negative side. Since any vehicle is open to all team members, you cannot be sure to operate a tank with your party members and friends because in the time you need to get to them, the open seat is taken by another team mate already who just has to press the button when it’s their time to spawn back on the battlefield. Furthermore, because these vehicles are so costly, you have to wait and collect enough BPs first before you can use them to buy the vehicle of your choice. The game can be almost over by the time you can afford that mighty M1A3 Abrams tank for 2000 BPs, which means you won’t be using any weapon or drone before in the match because you are collecting money for the tank… and then you can drive around for 6 seconds before the game ends is – and that is, well, not much fun. So although HF has vehicles in the MP, it’s not as much fun for those who like to mainly use vehicles or to train themselves as tank drivers or pilots as it is e.g. in Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

Generally, the idea is that everybody is an infantryman and later on when people start getting enough BPs, the battle escalates as more and more heavy vehicles, helis and such appear on the map. A match certainly gets more intense then. So far that seems to work more in theory than in the real matches because of the above mentioned problem of the matches being over quite fast.

Spawning in an airstrike isn’t very entertaining

Since you can also buy airstrikes, like hellfire rockets, white phosphor, cluster bombs etc. this also can be a bit annoying. The maps are large, that’s true, at least larger as those in the infantry-centric CoD games, but not so large that constant airstrikes won’t ruin your day. We often thought while playing HF we were playing CoD: Modern Warfare 2 because we had this deja vu of too much happening too often above our heads.

Airstrikes are problematic because of mainly two things in combination with the not large enough areas:
1. the kills you make with such airstrikes lead to ‘stacking’ rewards, which means the BPs you get through an airstrike are directly available again. Since airstrikes can kill many players at once, it means there’s a chance to keep these airstrikes rolling in one after another while the players on the ground can’t do much about it and get killed, often spawn killed by that. Not fun!
2. In a match where a lot of players chose an airstrike in their slots, these will become available for most if not all of them roughly at the same time (given they are good enough to get the BPs together). If so, you will constantly hear the warning ‘Enemy airstrike coming in’ and you’ll get killed again and again, because it’s simply too much, which can be quite annoying.

Maps & Gameplay

The maps in HF are a bit disappointing because they all look and feel quite the same and there are not that many (8, in fact). Granted, that’s more than we got in Bad Company 2, but there the maps always looked quite differently in the course of a battle due to the destruction feature of the engine. In Homefront, the maps don’t change their appearance.  It’s always a town area of some sort and you quickly get the feeling of been there done that. There’s always the obligatory Donut, silo, and town church. Certainly the US have many small and even bigger towns, but there are woods, too, and I heard sometimes you will even be able to discover snow somewhere… so there are plenty of options to design maps that don’t look all like the same town just from different angles. The problems because of the lack of penetration and destruction were already mentioned, so beware if you see someone prone on the rooftop of a building or crouching behind a fence or even standing behind mashed wire – many times the game won’t let a hit count as a hit, although you clearly had him in sight when taken the shot.

Extremely annoying is the map limitation which will get you killed within 5 seconds by the Hand of God. The areas on the maps that can be used depend on the mode you play, but each map is always a restricted area and there are certain places where you are allowed to go – and where you are not. You can see the invisible (but passable!) map border on the mini-map as a red area and if you cross the line and walk into that red district, a warning message will appear on your screen telling you that you have 5 seconds to return to the battlefield. 5 seconds are not a long time and it’s not always clear where you are going right now in the heat of battle. If you are fighting close to the border, it can easily happen that you find yourself confronted with that message counting down from 5 to 0 simply because you hadn’t the time to look at the mini-map.

This official artwork looks dramatic. Unfortunately, the campaign isn’t.

Or there was no other way out of the situation, three enemies in front of you and you tried to get out of there and the way to escape appeared to be clear and open and all, but unfortunately not legal to use, so you are dead. Sometimes you simply slip down a roof or slope and can’t control where you are going, and if you happen to land in the red zone and you can’t get to legal terrain in 5 secs… you are dead. That’s not fun and just lame. KAOS, either allow the players to use the whole map or – if you don’t want that – make the part you don’t want to have players running around in inaccessible. If I can’t reach it, I can’t go there, it’s that simple. But to have a legal area and a likewise open but illegal area, and then to simply penalize the player with instant death if he finds himself in the wrong part of the map, is just lame.

There are also certain points that can be reached through the red zone in 5 secs and when you are there it is considered legal by the game because you are in a small sweet spot that happens to be just inside the legal area again. Sometimes you can shoot from such a spot into the legal area and if players don’t know that spot, they first will have to fight the red-area-timer before they are able to reach you and get you down, so plenty of time for you to kill them. It’s not as glitchy as being completely under the map, but it comes very close.

Not actually a problem of the maps as such, but a problem nonetheless and only relevant in the multiplayer maps, are the player names  hovering on top of the other players. That’s something I don’t like at all because it’s actually hindering your LOS and therefore making the game more difficult than it should be. Every player has their name hovering above the head in either green or red, depending on the side the player is currently belonging to (friendly/enemy) and gamer names can often be quite long. Add to that a possible clan tag (a feature that the game allows after you reach to a certain rank) and this text can become really long. Now imagine several players running around in the same area, defending a position or attacking the enemy, and all you see is this text wall on your screen. It always depends on the range and at a certain closer range, the text does disappear, but it still can be a major drawback that you can’t really see what’s going on.

Your name is also always visible from afar for the enemies, so keep in mind that you always have your name in red letters above your head. Lying prone in a good position is kinda pointless when the enemy can see you like a lighted Christmas tree and just has to aim a bit under your name to hit you, even if he can’t see you directly. There’s no hardcore mode in Homefronts MP that would address this problem and there’s no possibility to change the player names in any form. In CoD: Black Ops for example you can choose how you want the player names to be portrayed, in full length or abbreviated and this helps a lot in circumventing this text wall problem.

The MP is not really suited for a slow tactical approach because there’s much going on around you and especially above you, you get marked in the BC modes, your name is visible to the enemies and one shot or burst weapons like the M16 or Scar (you have to work with what you get, you can’t switch between single-shot and auto-fire) are neither fish nor meat in combat, because you won’t see the snipers in long range engagements before they see you and in QCB you are dead when someone with a SMG comes round the corner. You have to be patient if you want to rack up some points with an assault rile and later I found it much easier to just also grab a SMG and run and gun through the maps as most people seem to do. You will get much more kills this way, that means you’ll earn much more BPs and that means you can quicker use vehicles and/or airstrikes to make even more in-game money.

The sound in MP matches is good and has enough Omph! for effects, weapons and vehicles. The in-game characters speak automatically and give out warnings and ask for cover when reloading, so the atmosphere is good and the information you get from this auto-speak feature is accurate. Unfortunately, it has the same weird effect as in the SP – you will always hear folks speaking right next to you even if no one is actually near you. It’s not as confusing as in the SP because the heat of battle in MP will seldom allow you to look around to see who’s speaking to you, but the audio is problematic in the game, that’s a fact.

Vehicles feel good, there’s nothing more disappointing than driving a heavy battle tank that drives like an empty shoe box (like it was in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, where vehicles didn’t seem to have any weight) but in Homefront each vehicle has the right feel and weight and it’s great fun to use them. Unfortunately the console versions of the game don’t have the first person-view for vehicles, so there’s no cockpit in the Apache, or a gunner view in a tank. That really affects the atmosphere when using vehicles, since I like to have the inside view even if I can’t see as much as in the third person view, it just feels more authentic to me. The PC version does have these views and the SP of the console versions also has a cockpit view when you fly the helicopter, so I see no reason to not have this in MP too – other than to give the PC folks more features. Anyway, one can adapt to that and the controls are good for all vehicles.

Server Problems

That said the MP is fun, although it has its problems, but one can adapt to all that and enjoy the matches. At least if you are able to join the game in the first place. Homefront has pretty severe server connection issues and since the game is out and this is for weeks now it’s unacceptable that you have to be lucky to join a game at all. I usually get the ‘beacon not found’ error which can be circumvented by restarting the game. But it doesn’t always work and even if it does it’s certainly not how I want to play my games on Xbox Live, which is a service I pay for. The game uses a battle code which is a code you find in a new bought game and after entering the code online you are able to play the multiplayer. If you don’t own the code you can only play up to rank 5, so if you buy the game second hand, you have to pay for that code to play it online as it is meant to be played. Imagine you do that and then you simply can’t play it because the severs don’t work properly. Not fun!

Even burning Koreans get old after the 100th explosion…

I even got booted from the server in the middle of a match several times and now had two days where I was not able to join a game at all. Two weeks or what after a game is on the market and not being able to join at all for days… that’s not how you will beat CoD or Battlefield, KAOS, surely not. A patch has been announced and certainly that’s what they have to do, but I suppose many people have already sold the game before the patch is available and moved on to next – hopefully better – game. As I said in the introduction, this year is the big clash of shooters and games that have such problems won’t be considered worth playing and will end up as the usual wasteland online.

Update: The game was recently patched and the connection issues appear to be resolved, at least in my experience matchmaking isn’t as problematic as it was during the first weeks. Although many people still complain about problems when trying to join games as a party and say that they still get kicked in the middle of a match quite often.

Another server issue which hasn’t been fixed yet: THQ uses dedicated servers for Homefront (which is of course a good thing, as we all know the problems with bad connections in the CoD style peer-to-peer mode games), but we often have yellow and even red dots in the lobby, which means we are far away from such servers. KAOS, if you are not able or willing to have servers for your games in all countries and enough that everybody can find a server to which they can connect in a way that the connection is green = good, then you can as well use the peer-to-peer connection, since it makes the whole dedicated server thing pointless.

Conclusion

So, what we have here is a shooter that simply fails in the story driven single player campaign – despite the lead level designer’s announcements that KAOS studio wanted the game to “be story-centric and that the narrative is focus here”. They wanted to give us real emotions and they did – in perhaps three scenes of the game, and for me the only emotion the game is able to evoke on a regular base and which it keeps at a high level, is boredom. The story is of course nonsense, but that goes for many (if not all) other shooters out there, so if you take your silly story and at least present it kickass-like and in a convincing way, all is fine. And that was what I was actually expecting. Fighting occupants in the USA, being a civilian and not a top-secret-SpecOps or Masterchief-Supersoldier, fighting in an American small town, not assaulting the beaches of Normandy etc. – this would have been kinda new and this was your chance, KAOS. You blew it by making the story as a whole a lot less than what any of the bits of it seemed to promise gameplay-wise.

What about the emotional connection? I see Korean soldiers kill the parents of a small child on the streets and then walking away. I see them torturing civilians, I see civilians getting shot in the streets. All this in the first minutes of the game. Fine, the stage is set, these are evil guys and I don’t want to let happen what they do. Are there more who don’t want to let that happen? Where are they? Can I be of any help? Do they have a story? Can I talk with them? Nothing of this is of any interest in the game. So the  overly simplistic “see a cruel scene -> get emotional ->do some average shooting ->see another cruel scene ->play some more shooting now with a bit more emotion ->see another cruel scene -> fight on, don’t lose your emotional reaction ->end fight -> see credits” strategy didn’t work.

What did KAOS think? Is that what they learned from the CoD series they tried to copy so desperately? If so, then go back and play MW1 and 2 again to see what you did wrong. The opportunity was there to use a fresh story and a new perspective, to make a really good game and to establish a new shooter franchise.

Very convincing: the average US citizen controls an ass-kicking Goliath

They talked about the next Homefront perhaps taking place in London… sure why not? If you are able to create a background that is interesting and allows for a wider perspective, then of course sequels could expand on that, I could even imagine a Homefront in Berlin. The Korean army occupying the USA and later even Europe, there’s some story on a global scale and a real game in there, but you have to do it right. The first game should have been the base for that possible future expansion of the scenario and that means I was expecting something more than just the average shooter, and to say the truth the campaign with all the bland missions, the outdated gfx, the bad AI and audio and all is not even average.

KAOS announced that they “were ready to play with the Big Guys now” and I hoped that this would be true, because the more good shooter franchises out there, the better for all of us and it’s no secret that the shooter genre is not really moving forward with all the sequels of well established franchises, innovation is lacking and KAOS had that chance right in their hands – and threw it out of the window with an ugly looking  ‘poor man’s CoD‘ game.

The multiplayer surely is the best part of the game and everyone who likes military shooters like Battlefield with good weapons and vehicles and some future twist like the drones and all should definitely try it out, but these people should also save 5 hours of their life and not play the single player! Sit yourself on the couch with a bottle of Jacky and get drunk, that’s a better use of your time than to play this boring ‘dumbass follows orders in tight corridors of a game that looks bad and sounds weird and where he fights against even dumber AI’ campaign.

North Korea – a threatening super power!

Just in case that you seem to think that I’m losing patience with crappy game designs these days let me tell you… you are damn right. These games cost a lot of money and get shorter and shorter, you sometimes have to pay again if you buy them used and want to play online. The consoles are perhaps behind the PC regarding hardware and all, because they have a fixed hardware setting and are not meant for upgrades, all true, but they are extremely powerful compared to the previous generations of machines and so I don’t want to see graphics on Xbox 1 niveau anymore.Take a look at Crysis 2 and you know what’s still possible on the good old XBox 360!

I don’t want to play against extremely dumb AI, I want convincing combats. It can be done, it’s not a question of hardware power it’s a question of design approach and talent. Play some Halo or some GoW. And I don’t want the same game over and over just with a different title and from a different publisher. We have the CoD franchise, we know what this game series is known for and what is good and bad about it, so don’t simply copy that and then actually make a fool of yourself in failing to do so after a big hype that painted a larger-than-life picture for this ‘innovative new shooter’ that we can all expect.

If you have an idea, something that’s new, use it wisely and realize what you have there, an opportunity that might bring the whole genre out of the sequel-after-sequel-and-just-more-of-the-same-paralysis. You’ll need to take some risks, of course it can still go bust, but it also can become a huge success, see Borderlands. This game came out of nothing, was very well supported with good DLC, has nothing to do with CoD and is very innovative – and we all want to play more of it.

I can’t say that for Homefront, alas – fall out soldier!

3 Responses to “Review: Homefront – home is where the fun is?”

  1. hipshotau said

    not a good game. Glitchy all teh usual story and ai issues. This had potential tho.
    You nailed it on MP..sigh…lame. NEXT.

  2. Max Qubit said

    That was a long but very enjoyable read. I do play Homefront but only the multiplayer. I didn’t touch the campaign, I seldom do in shooters and even more rare for me to actually finish campaigns. Reason, dumb AI, lineair, predictible and boring, oh and ‘Americana’:) But the campaign of Homefront at least made you write a funny review, I had a good laugh. But, I think the MP is quite enjoyable although server problems spoil the fun.

    Cheers, Max

    • Thanks Max, glad you like the review 🙂
      The MP is fun as I said in my review, but even server probs aside (which is bad enough of course)the MP is way behind of the possibilities the designers had in their hands and that’s the disappointing thing about the whole game and something I don’t get, really. When I am a designer and know there’s something interesting I can bring to the genre and that people seem to be highly interested in my idea for a game and then don’t see how I completely spoil my own idea and conception with a more than mediocre realization, that’s something I don’t understand. You can do it the other way round, i.e. not doing anything new, just doing with each sequel what you always did before, but constantly improving the technical aspect, the options for the players and the overall ‘flow’ of a game – which is what Call of Duty is doing and it seems to work considering that the sales are going through the roof with each new game of the series.

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