STAFF REVIEW of Homefront (Xbox 360)

Friday, March 11, 2011.
by Ken Laffrenier

Homefront    Box art Home Sweet Home. Is there any aspect of life that provides greater fulfillment than that of our homes. Our memories, our personal growth and accomplishments, our tears and joy are all contained within the walls. When we leave the house we long to return, to relax, to celebrate the end of the day. We are blessed in North America to have tied so much of our home life to our community involvement and in turn, to national pride. A big part of home involves taking in the world around us; watching with barely contained excitement as the country rally's behind the Olympics or flinching with abject horror as we hear of another senseless injustice. While we are able to take comfort amoung family and friends in our homes, it is our national unity that reminds us of why we call it home.

There are many out there that once stated that our petroleum resources were secure and we'd never see $1 a litre for fuel. Very few ever foresaw the recent housing collapse and subsequent economic meltdown. There are some that have regularly dismissed the idea of the United States maintaining its status as a world wide superpower. Have any of us questioned the military dominance of North America? Could the events in the middle east be slowly eating away at how the world views our peace loving nation? Is it possible that North Korea could be systematically preparing for a global takeover?

As early as a few months ago the story line of THQ Studios and KAOS Studios newest videogame was dismissed as 'near science fiction', but much of what they have envisioned is quietly coming to pass: rising resource prices, economic and military uncertainty, skewed worldwide perceptions, the promotion of North Korea's Kim Jong Il's son to general and most recently the announcement that North Korea is developing an Electro-Pulse Weapon that has been used to jam South Korean GPS and communications equipment. Now as much as I would love to hail the development teams abilities to see into the future, I can tell you, I won't be contacting them to give me a heads up on upcoming lottery numbers just yet.

What the team at THQ and KAOS have done is to utilize the combined knowledge of the US national intelligence agencies along with the writing prowess of John Milius. Together they have created an experience that delivers genre defining storytelling. This is not simply putting a weapon in your hand and giving you targets; we are given a reason to fight, a reason to move forward....this is not a mystery to solve but rather freedom to strive for. And therein lies the heart of this unforgettable game.

We are first introduced to the 2027 vision of the Western United States following a calculated and largely decisive strike against this once great nation. Its citizens live in fear, surrounded by decay and death. The outlook is grim and the propaganda is overwhelming. As we are wrenched from the meager hovel we awake from and loaded onto a re-purposed school bus it is abundantly clear that we are under siege. Immediately your senses are invaded with the cries and devastation that is taking over. When the time comes, in all it's cinematic glory, you are eager and willing to take the fight to the enemy.

You are not alone in your fight; as you meet up with fellow resistance fighters you are introduced to the team that will help guide you through the fight ahead. The tough as nails and quick to the fight Connor Morgan, Rianna is the survivalist of the group, struggling to maintain a sense of right while fighting for the masses, Boone Karlson is the ex-policeman that has taken to lead this band and finally Hopper Lee, Lee is a Korean American and a hell of a mechanic, he continues to fight for his country even after his countrymen question his loyalties, simply because of his race. Along the way you will meet up with many other 'characters' that will both advance and hamper your cause, but it's this small group of guerrilla fighters that will form the cross-section of American freedom.

The game starts with you fighting in and through the suburbs of small town America; Montrose, Colorado. The story quickly identifies an opportunity to take the fight to the North Koreans on a grander scale and you find yourself scrambling from streets to rivers, from parking lots to big box stores, from fast food to fields all in an effort to overcome your oppressors. Keeping in line with the survivalist/oppressed narrative, you will find yourself wrestling with the moral decisions taking place around you and your enemies may not just be the invading forces.

The visuals are outstanding, although the character models could have used a bit more polish. There is a real sense of home throughout the game. Whether it be the sunset on the horizon over a group of homes or the way yards are littered with debris, everything is identifiable. The sense of familiarity is further demonstrated with the brands that the developers must have went to great lengths to utilize. You can't help but feel embittered as you take shelter in a White Castle or battle through a Tiger Direct store.

The sound is a shining example of how some attention to detail to the score can create an actual secondary participant in a videogame. I can't think of another FPS that has used sounds to such a degree as to evoke so many emotions, while maintaining pace and dialogue. This is so much more than the rat-tat-tat of a shooter; you are inundated with such an array of auditory input that your pulse will quicken with the beat and your heart will sink with the drone of the orchestra. The score was substantial to the point that the Homefront soundtrack was released on March 8th featuring all of the finer points to be heard in the game.

From a multimedia perspective the soundtrack is really just a taste of what is available to help round out the Homefront universe. Gamers should make an effort to pick up the Homefront Novel, which helps to escalate the core story by detailing some of the happenings behind the scenes, both before and during the game. The book is written through the eyes of 'The Voice of Freedom?, an unwitting pirate radio host that helps to guide resistance members while informing the masses of the secrets behind the Greater Korean Republic's (KPA) propaganda. The 'Voice of Freedom' is an intricate character in the game as well as being the voice narrating the story between levels and encouraging the population to stay strong. Having read the book really helped to push the story deeper. Rather than simply retelling the same story, I could actually connect the two medias together allowing for a richer experience overall.

Every detail in this game delivers immersive, emotional depth; even when you get killed you are treated to 'photographs' and quotes that showcase the humanity of the struggle playing out through the game. Scattered throughout the game world are a series of collectables in the form of news articles. Each article helps to tell the tale of the events leading up to and including, America's eventual occupation. Some can be found amoung piles of garbage, others on tables and others scattered through overgrown yards. Keeping your eyes open for these papers can be tricky as I've found a few while embroiled in the middle of an intense fire fight not just when leisurely exploring side areas.

There are a few nods to John Milius' past work, Red Dawn fans should keep their eyes open for the iconic 'Go Wolverines' banner. On the note of Red Dawn; Homefront plays out as I would imagine a futuristic movie tribute would. I know that there is a newly envisioned movie on the horizon but THQ maintains the position that this is not a tie-in game, in reality it's too bad, because it would have been one of only a few times we've seen a great movie/game crossover.

Just because we are in occupied states is no reason for us not to have access to some extraordinary weaponry. Once again the developers made sure to keep the game grounded in reality by including technology and firepower that is entirely conceivable (the Goliath is stretching a bit, but more on that later). As expected of Americans being overrun, there are a few stashes of some heavy hitting noisemakers but, as with many FPS's much of the expanded weaponry will come directly from the arms of the recently taken down KPA forces.

Of course, not to be outdone, the single player campaign is rife with vehicle interactions.. From the seat of a GAU-19A Humvee mounted 50 caliber machine gun or piloting a rocket/machinegun infused helicopter, you still will not achieve the level of pure mayhem as when you take control of the Goliath. Goliath is a 6 wheeled, all wheel drive 'autonomous' vehicle equipped with a machinegun and a quad mount rocket launcher, that allows the player to bring the battle to the enemy using a hand held 'targeter'. Using the targeter you 'paint' your targets and Goliath rains down destruction. As with other elements in the game, Goliath is introduced and interacted with, in such a way, as to become another character in the game. At first you wonder how we could have been invaded with such technology at our disposal but you soon realize that what can be your greatest strength can also be a weakness.

As with many FPS's in the market, the multiplayer is meant to expand your game time and your overall enjoyment. Homefront scores on both counts by not just creating depth but by offering new and innovative elements to the multiplayer arena. I can say unequivocally that the multiplayer in Homefront is, by far, my multiplayer of choice in the FPS genre. There are so many equalizers to ensure that even the most casual gamer will be ranking up quickly, while at the same time creating specialized prestige moments, like 'Battle Commander' to reward the hardcore gamer. Some of the multiplayer aspects have been covered in numerous previews out there and there will surely be no lack of multiplayer insights from the many media outlets. I am going to outline some of the key multiplayer elements;

Game modes include Ground Control ? dominate and secure key objectives while engaging the enemy. Keep your eye on the scoring limits because objectives will shift to advance your line.
Team Deathmatch ? the classic predator vs. prey across varying maps.
Battle Commander ? delivered in both Ground Control and Team Deathmatch modes, Battle Commander will set up specialized missions within the multiplayer arena and place bounties on high priority targets.

The key aspect of Homefront's multiplayer is the Battle Points (BP) system. Points are acquired through various aspects; taking objectives, kills and focused achievements will advance your points. These points can then be used to secure weaponry, drones and air-strikes. Points can also be saved to be utilized at spawn screens to put yourself directly into the seat of some advanced vehicles like humvees, tanks and helicopters.

All of the familiar tools such as load-outs, armory and records are here, allowing every player type to be fully represented and custom load-outs will assist every level of gamer. The introduction of various drones including anti-personnel, anti-vehicle ground based drones, patrol drones and attack heli-drones will get you in the action regardless if you are a camper or run&gun gamer. The various environments, explosive combat and increasingly mechanized conflicts will have every gamer staying up way too late and missing way to many days of work (not myself of course, I really am sick today....or rather, my aunt is sick....or my dog died.....really, I'm not playing Homefront).

THQ has already set personal records for preorders and I have no doubt that Homefront will be their hit this year. Combining so many elements into such a cohesive story, THQ has reminded me why I love gaming. The only fault I could find other than the character models was the relatively short single player campaign; on the hard level I finished the game in less than 7 hours. As a casual gamer I found the hard setting just difficult enough to be engaging while allowing steady progression. I didn't find all the collectibles and there are plenty of achievements I'll be going back to hunt for but I was disappointed that there wasn?t' more. As much as this is a fault I think it speaks volumes to the quality of the story itself, you see, I wasn't disappointed that the game was short....I was disappointed that I couldn't spend more time in the Homefront universe. With that being said, I offer an open invitation and request to THQ and KAOS....get on some DLC...NOW!!! You've created a detailed and emotionally charged game you need to expand the experience by giving us more. It seems that your greatest strength may become a developers've set the bar and like you have stated time and again; Home is where the heart WAR is!

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.8 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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