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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.’

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Review: Toy Soldiers – a diorama coming alive!

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on October 14, 2010

Game: Toy Soldiers

Platform: XBox 360 Arcade
Publisher: Microsoft, 2010
Developer: Signal Studios
ESRB: T
Genre: Tower Defense, Strategy
Setting: World War I
Players: 1-2 (offline / online)



Our Rating (1-10):

 

Graphics: 9
Audio: 10
Gameplay:
9
Longevity:
8

Overall Rating: 9/10

PRO Awesome presentation (one of the best looking Arcade games ever!), impressive sound effects, cool music, strategically and tactically challenging, WWI-setting with attention to detail, 2 single player campaigns (Allied and German), multiplayer online and local split screen
CONTRA Only 5 multiplayer maps (more are added with DLC)

 

 

Introduction

A WWI diorama

I suppose every wargamer is aware of the existence of a certain subgenre within our hobby which is mainly about portraying battles with little tin or plastic soldiers in so-called dioramas. That’s sort of the adult version of the battles we all did as kids with toy soldiers in our room, where the magic of imagination changed the floor into something completely different… soldiers marching off to war, while we were the commander. I really like to look at dioramas and I love the dedication these guys put into their hobby –  it’s a really time-consuming hobby and quite expensive. You have to buy the figures, paint them, arrange them, create terrain (even explosions!), you need some big table (or better an entire room) to show the beauty of it all and it’s simply not for everyone. Usually a diorama is not intended for actually playing out the battle, it’s more like a picture taken in 3D showing a certain  moment of the battle in question, a detailed study of uniforms and terrain, but not a wargame.  You can play with such figures, of course, in tabletop games – which could be called a “diorama in action”.

Toy Commander on Sega Dreamcast

Back in the good old days of the Sega Dreamcast console, there was a great game called Toy Commander which allowed the player to be a kid again, playing with little soldiers and toy vehicles, cars, tanks, fighter planes, helicopters. There was a complete house at your free disposal where these battles were fought while it was supposed that everything within the game was controlled by a young boy and his imagination. The introduction of the game did a great job in showing  how the imagination of a child can make everything real so there’s the moment when the boy fades away holding the aircraft and there’s only the plane flying around then… check out the intro movie to see what I mean.But this review isn’t about Toy Commander, is it? No, it’s not – but that was the immediate reminiscence I had when I first played Toy Soldiers on the XBox 360.

The game takes place in a room where a table with a World War I diorama stands. You see a battlefield, little soldiers, a toy box and all the stuff a kid needs to fight out great battles. I don’t like Real Time Strategy games very much, they are too confusing for my taste, everything happens at once, you’re constantly looking for your units which are always running around where they should not be, while you are suffering from supply problems and are forced to build and protect a base which is in turn attacked almost immediately by the enemy, while it is expected that you destroy the enemy’s base… very stressful. Strategy-wise I enjoy turn-based games much more. RTS is more about clicking faster than your opponent while turn-based games are more about the strategy,  about thinking and decision-making, at least that is what I think.

The WWI diorama in your room

When I first read something about Toy Soldiers I was quite thrilled because it sounded so much like my old favorite Toy Commander – just in a World War I setting, but then after trying out the multiplayer demo on the Xbox 360, it seemed to be just another RTS style game. So after playing a few matches against Denny, the game disappeared from my radar. Interestingly in the meanwhile I got somehow hooked on a specific sub-genre of RTS games – Tower Defense – after playing Monday Night Combat on XBox Live Arcade which is a mix of Tower Defense and Third Person Shooter (it’s also a mix of these genres with gladiator sports and strategy – a weird mix for sure, but a highly strategic game and entertaining game and I wholeheartedly recommend it!).

Monday Night Combat inspired me to look for other good Tower Defense games  and that was when I came across Toy Soldiers again – which was  coincidentally “Deal of the Week” on XBox Live Arcade then where it dropped from 1200 Microsoft Points down to 800 points, so I decided to get the full game and try it out again in the Single Player.

What is it about?

You always have a good overview over your battlefield

What I got was probably one of the most fun games I ever played – and I speak as a wargamer here! As I previously mentioned, the game is about WWI and you can play through an Allied and a German campaign taking place on some famous battlefields like Langemarck, Verdun, and several other places. The campaign consists of 12 single missions which take place in a diorama standing in the virtual room and the soldiers are made of plastic. But what starts as a game with plastic soldiers actually turns out to be a rather brutal and realistic portrayal of the nasty battles known from WWI. There’s no blood – plastic soldiers don’t bleed – but everything else is done so realistically that you soon forget that you are playing with plastic soldiers in a diorama  – and that’s the beauty of this game!

When you start a mission, the camera will first show part of the room and the diorama and then it zooms into the battlefield, so the player is on the ground, actually within the diorama. When the battle starts with all the little soldiers running over open terrain mowed down by your troops manning their plastic machine guns, you yourself sitting in the sniper tower shooting from afar, soldiers dying and screaming because of chemical weapons and flamethrowers or being squelched by tanks while bombs are falling from the sky and the arty is screaming, shells coming in over your head… you simply forget it’s a virtual diorama and plastic and you get immersed in some really intense war action.

There’s a considerable lack of WWI video games with so many games concentrating on WWII, so Toy Soldiers actually fills a gap and luckily it is a good strategy game as well. When you are a wargamer and you have a 360, then read on why this is the game for you!

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