First-person shooters are quickly becoming the reality show of video games. No, Jeff Probst isn't going to weasel his way into Call of Duty, but first-person shooters, like reality shows on television, are everywhere. Both are saturated categories full of a lot of uninspired, derivative entries. So when there's a new offering in an overused genre, it has to be special to get noticed.
Thankfully for Kaos Studios, Homefront does indeed do something special. It's not in the way the game plays but rather in its plot and setting. Homefront tells the tale of a United States that's barely recognizable today. Victimized by a hard-hitting series of events that have collapsed America's economy and prestige, the U.S. is as vulnerable as it's ever been. An unlikely foil rises in the power vacuum left by the U.S. -- a unified Korea -- and by the year 2027, Korea has launched an all-out attack on the American mainland.
Is the story over-the-top? Perhaps. You can decide for yourself (as I've already extensively discussed the story and setting of Homefront). But what's important is the scene that's set is something unique and interesting. This isn't a war shooter in the classic sense. Homefront is something totally different. There are no big set-pieces or large scale battles here. You'll be fighting your enemies in abandoned cul-de-sacs, seized warehouses, and even survivalist compounds. Homefront doesn't shy away from overt acts of violence, grisly scenes of human carnage, or other realities of war and occupation. All of this goes a long way towards making the world of Homefront feel real.
This presentation is easily the strongest thing Homefront has going for it. And considering I'm a huge fan of alternate history and future history (as well as movies like Red Dawn penned by John Milius, the game's writer), the plot and themes certainly resonated with me. I liked the story that's told and how focused it is. I enjoyed the characters, and I especially enjoyed how everything melded together to create a compelling environment for a shooter.
In terms of gameplay, however, Homefront is unremarkable. That's not to say that it's not fun, because it is. But while Homefront tries to do everything different with its presentation, it doesn't buck any trends with the way it plays. This is a shooter you'll be familiar and comfortable with, but it's not a paradigm-shifting product that will force you to think about shooters differently. You'll be aiming down the sights of assault and sniper rifles, chucking grenades (with a laughably bad animation), and killing loads and loads of enemies. This is classic shooter fare.
The single-player campaign is a lot of fun, but its inexcusable shortness is also Homefront's greatest downfall. Homefront is going to run you $60 new, and if you're not at all interested in multiplayer, then the value Homefront delivers to you as a consumer is minimal. The campaign's seven chapters can easily be completed in five hours. And while there's reason for some to go back for a second playthrough (including Trophy/Achievement hunting or scouring environments for the game's collectibles in the form of story-telling newspaper clippings), most gamers will find themselves satiated with a single playthrough.
Multiplayer is another story. While the actual modes of Homefront's multiplayer offering are limited, I still found myself lost in how much fun I was having with it. The two primary modes – Ground Control and Team Deathmatch – are based on old ideas but feel fun and fresh. This is largely due to the way these matches are scored, since gaining experience points as a team is more important than individual kill counts or other statistics. It's also due to the awesome maps that convey the crumbling, hopeless feel of an occupied United States.
Get used to fighting in your own backyard.
Better yet, there's a lot of customization in multiplayer, and plenty of accessories to mess around with. You can use all of your standard FPS weaponry in multiplayer as well as drive an assortment of vehicles, from Humvees and LAVs to Scout and Attack Helicopters. Everything you do has "Battle Points" (or BP) associated with it, which is used to level your character up, as well as to unlock new weapons and the like. BP can even be spent mid-battle to give your character a flak vest, an RPG, or a number of other items. When you combine all of this with the in-game multiplayer-centric Challenges, you'll find that multiplayer in Homefront is quite deep.
That's not to say that Homefront should be considered amongst the elite shooters of this generation, because it isn't. It looks old, and its sound effects and voice-acting, while functional, are both unremarkable. Moreover, Homefront suffers from some pacing problems, issues with scripted events, and a few technical hiccups. The single-player game never froze on me and barely stuttered, but online locked-up on me multiple times, forcing me to hard restart my console. Yet, I kept coming back for more. I guess that just goes to show how addicting and fun Homefront's multiplayer can be.