Last month, I was fortunate to be in THQ's brand new (and massive) new development studio, THQ Montreal. It's a beautiful place, with all sorts of snazzy offerings for the future Quebecois employees. However, while that's all grand and good, THQ actually had something they wanted to show off: the single player for Homefront, their upcoming first person shooter due next spring. Hamza checked out the multiplayer last month, but you'll want to hear how the single player pans out. Believe me, this pseudo-realistic interpretation of the downfall of American society is pretty damn interesting, something you'll want to read up on. Follow for more.
Homefront (Xbox 360 [previewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
From the get-go, it's clear that Homefront is very evocative of the 1980s classic Red Dawn. And for good reason, as both Homefront and Red Dawn were written by the same guy, John Milius. No wonder they both detail the collapse of the United States in the face of a united evil. Basically, in the pseudo-future of 2027, North Korea, lead by Kim Jong-Il's son, Kim Jong-Un, has united South Korea and Japan, and they've invaded the west coast of America, with San Francisco as a base. Thanks to a massive electromagnetic pulse orchestrated by the Koreans in 2025, every electrical device in America died, leaving the nation weak for an invasion. With over half the country under control by the Koreans, freedom fighters are working to liberate the nation, while the American government wallows in recover on the east coast. It's the starting point for what may continue as a series, and THQ and Kaos Studios have worked hard to make this a game that remains accurate to real-world possibilities.
A very strong focus Kaos placed upon the game is creating an immediately recognizable world, and twist enough to make it that much more unnerving. The first level takes place in Montrose, a suburban Colorado town so disgustingly and stereotypically “small town” that the fact that it is overrun with North Korean tanks, soldiers, and the rubble of department stores makes for an intense juxtaposition. Hell, after your main character is placed into a school bus jury-rigged to transport prisoners, we're given a first person view of the transformation of this suburb. Young couples are torn apart, Americans of all races are forced through chain mazes for transport to labor camps, parents are shot in front of their loudly screaming toddler, a man's brains are splattered to the side of the bus. It's a startling set-up, and I have to give Kaos Studios props for creating a game world that replicates the disturbing feeling of an occupied United States.
When the single player campaign boots up, player character Robert Jacobs is awoken in his ramshackle home, a real shit hole. Dragged out while the radio blares on with propaganda, he is taken to the bus to be punished. After driving past the remains of this Colorado town, the bus is rammed by a massive truck, and two American freedom fighters, foul-mouthed Connor and Rianna, charge into the bus, rescuing him. From here they gun through destroyed shops, boarded up homes, even the remains of a crashed passenger airplane to meet up with the rest of their resistance group.
Unlike many other shooters, Homefront is not exactly a title in which players will be running through hallways and open areas, killing the predetermined number of enemies. Rather, Homefront feels much more like a series of congestion points where shooting takes place, and there is usually a specific object or enemy to destroy while waves of North Korean soldiers charge toward the player. Sometimes players have to take out a specific soldier, or climb through some rubble to grab some grenades, or defend a woman and her baby as soldiers rush the freedom fighters. Each packet of fighting often has a different focus that players have to figure out.
At some point, I was able to gain control of the Goliath, a vehicle of obscene power that's more like an RC car than a drivable vehicle. While I'm focusing on enemy soldiers, I can switch to a different vision option and order the Goliath to move to a new area or rain hell upon enemy soldiers. After feeling very underpowered as Jacobs, ordering the Goliath to overpower the enemy was a blast.
Visually, Homefront is striking. Clearly, Kaos Studios is working hard to make this an impressive looking game, with fantastic particle effects and AI direction that creates the feeling of living in a war-torn America. The level designers have done a great job of filling the world with small details that bring it to life. Using a tree house to recon the next area, one can find within a few feet children's drawings, tricycles, balls, swing sets. Down the street, a tattered "for sale" signs still advertise in front of a home, while the city hall still retains it's Fourth of July paraphernalia on the facade. Running through these areas, it's fascinating to see how Kaos Studios has reimagined America as a war zone.
I would be lying if I didn't find the over-the-top “Proud to be an American” patriotism to be a little...concerning. Something about Homefront feels arrogant in the way it creates an “us vs them” mentality that foreigners find nauseating, and one of my fellow journalists, a Chinese-American, found the representations of Asians to be particularly offensive. From my time with the game, Homefront could be feeding into the fear-mongering that plagues the United States. No wonder some of my fellow journalists came away a little unsettled by the narrative focus.
However, I must qualify this statement that my time with the first level alone is not particularly indicative of the main game. With the standard 6-10 hours of gameplay, there is still an opportunity for Kaos Studios to surprise us all. I'm not expecting Jacobs to just take off the blindfold we've seen in all the promotional material and suddenly find out he's Asian, but I do hope that Kaos Studios will be thoughtful and surprise us all. There's a lot of opportunity to create a game of an invaded United States, and do it in a way that doesn't offend half the planet to be entertaining.
I've come away from Homefront with good feelings. For a first-person shooter, the themes are certainly unique, and a lot of effort has been placed upon creating a full realized world. I'm hopeful that the plot will surprise, and not pander to what is expected. Between the single player and the multiplayer Hamza previewed last month, there's a good chance Homefront could be the game to beat next spring.