[Reviewed on Xbox 360]
I’m wondering if gaming is starting to stagnate, or if I’m just becoming jaded. You read so many reviews that cry for innovation that you start to cling to the tiniest of changes. But then some other titles come along, ones like Homefront, and that charade comes crashing down.
For all its pomp and bravado, Homefront is almost the perfectly generic game. I don’t mean that in the derogatory sense as much as I do in the very literal sense: Homefront is everything you expect from a first-person shooter, and absolutely nothing more.
We’ll deal with the big selling point first. Yes, the game is written by the chap behind Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now, but if you’re looking for a cinematic masterwork you will be sorely disappointed. The plot is a largely inconsequential – and heavily telegraphed – string of swearing, studded with genuinely horrific scenes. Oddly, it’s the horrific scenes that work best, although they do feel heavily artificial. It doesn’t help that both occur early in the game, with the first – parents being brutally murdered by Korean MPs right in front of their infant son – happening within the first five minutes. The second, a genuinely spectacular white phosphorous mortaring of a motor pool, is about an hour in. From then on, there’s very little to care about.
The plot exists, in this case, to paint the Korean army as something akin to the very worst of the Third Reich. Mass graves, execution camps, ghettos, as far as the plot is concerned, Korea is cruel for cruelty’s sake. I am not so naïve as to assume that these atrocities are impossible, and perhaps the incomprehensible nature of them is part of the point, but again it feels forced.
And then, halfway through, the penny dropped. I understood what he was going for, although it still didn’t make things better. When you find the mass graves, your angry AI partner declares that this means the American guerillas are winning, as the Koreans are having to dehumanise their opponents. Dehumanise, as the game does to the Koreans within, providing no motivation and no character beyond mindless militarism and brutality. It is so very nearly an interesting point trapped within a mire of disappointment, but the rest of the product is so mediocre as to make me believe it was an accident.
Moving away from the plot, however, doesn’t make things much better. The controls are competent, and the presence of a handy snap-to aim is welcome without being overpowered, but they fail to make the shooting fun. The firefights play out almost entirely in a manner akin to a carnival shooting gallery – bland set pieces where wave after wave of soldiers rock up with pinpoint accuracy and grenades aplenty. This becomes yet more apparent when you realise how often your progress to the next gallery is barred by a door or a filing cabinet that requires your AI partners to move. Even worse, the filing cabinet doors are always opened away from the blockade anyway, making the barricade more or less useless in the first place.
I don’t normally care about such petty things. Unfortunately, the game is so short that each of these doors feels like a cheeky way to lengthen the game to the pitiful five hours it manages. There are just so many of these doors, and every one has to be opened by an AI companion, something that frequently gets itself lost somewhere in the scenery during a gunfight and has to catch you up. It’s soul-destroying.
Worst of all, though, is the feeling that it could have been so much better. The snapshots of occupied America show such forethought, from the smoking remains of suburbia to the secret guerilla oasis. The history of the world up to that point has clearly been heavily researched, newspaper clippings scattered throughout the levels giving context to Korea’s rise to power. There could have been something powerful in here. Instead, what we get is a brutal, gratuitous and characterless jaunt through a series of irritating and badly designed shooting galleries.
In multiplayer, the competent controls of the single-player game are given free rein to show that they work, and for the most part it is a fun and engaging experience. There isn’t that much new, with your typical team deathmatch and point capture modes being the mainstays, but the maps are generally good enough to hold up. In fact, the simplest way to describe the multiplayer component is to think of Bad Company 2 without its destructible terrain.
You pick your class and then you spend your Battle Points – a currency earned from doing useful things for your team, including capturing points and killing opponents – to buy vehicles and other upgrades. It’s an interesting incentive to play intelligently, but when coupled with the levelled unlocks for certain weapons, you can get into the unpleasant situation of having to deal with a marauding chopper with only a pathetically weak RPG devoid of lock-on.
It works in multiplayer, though. You can garner a good bit of fun if you can put off swearing at the screen from time when enemy armour rocks into your vicinity. But then, I can hardly recommend it over Bad Company 2. It’s just not different enough to feel like its own entity, and although Bad Company may have its own problems, it still surpasses Homefront in every way that matters.
The result is a game that disappoints in almost every way. Its single-player mode relies too heavily on genre conventions and game-story segmentation to the point of being dreary, and the multiplayer is too similar to other things on the market. Homefront isn’t a truly awful game – although at times it comes close – but it’s never anything like the exciting blockbuster shooter we were promised.