For veterans of the first person shooter, being ordered around is nothing to write home about and some of the subtler commands present within the genre have even come to represent a quasi-code of sorts. For example, stumbling across a crate of RPGs is generally a good indicator that you're about to be duking it out with a helicopter. Tool up or die. Bundling into a vehicle, you can expect a vapid and utterly dull turret section and even something as benign as opening a door has become the cue for absurd bullet-time sequences.
These are Ė to lesser and greater degrees - genre tropes, as much at home in your everyday modern combat fps as loincloths and long swords in a fantasy rpg. Homefront is down with that, hell Homefront thrives on that. It's never remotely subtle though.
Pick up that gun. Get out of the parking lot. Destroy that turret. Follow me. Get down. Climb that ladder. Cover me. Wait. Toss me off. Just a selection of the unavoidable commands present in the game.
Homefront drags you kicking and screaming through its war-torn suburban vision of future America and if you donít play by its rules, you aren't fit for duty. Unfortunately it takes that a little too far. Case in point the befuddling: press X to jump in mass grave.
Press X to jump in mass grave is a genuine and unavoidable command in Homefront, a game about as sly as piss in the swimming pool and as intelligent as a Michael Bay rendition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest might be. It dedicates its introductory ten minutes to thrashing home the bleak atrociousness of war before tossing out the rifles and ooh ahíing back to stupid land. Every now and again however, it remembers that it tried to make a profound point and throws in a gratuitous 'war is hell' moment. You're forced to jump into the mass grave to conceal yourself, but you could have probably hidden behind the nearby shipping containers. Or just, you know, shot everyone like usual.
Letís rewind. Itís the year 2027, Kim Jong-il checked out a decade or so prior and his successor, Kim Jong-un, has united the two Koreas. Asian Bird Flu rocks the western world, oil prices rise, America enters financial turmoil and the newly Unified Korea goes all Third Reich on the worldís ass and invades the glorious You Ess of Ey. Itís a thoughtful and mildly captivating set up. American on the back foot? I can go for that.
In events too shocking to comprehend, thatís where you come in. You play as Mr. Jacobs Ė an unspoken character vacuum and ex-marine pilot. At the onset, Jacobs is doing his best to blend in with the crowd and avoid inevitable death but thatís no fun and so within a few paltry seconds of peace heís ousted from his dingy hiding place and herded onto a school bus.
But this is no jaunt to the monthly PTA meeting and in true COD4 style youíre left to observe anarchy as the bus trundles through occupied suburbia. Cut of the jib: Koreans are a nasty bunch. They butcher parents in front of munchkins, whack women with rifles and shoot honest American men (who, incidentally, all chose to sport black jumpers and jeans on this terrible day). Invisible orphans cry, people are ushered into slave camps and someone on the bus profoundly remarks, ďThis is fucked.Ē Fucking boring more like.
Wouldn't it be nice if Belgium invaded the USA? Or Switzerland ditched the poker face and nuked us all into a parallel universe? Maybe even us Brits could reignite our passion for imperialism and embark on a new murderous crusade. I havenít been to Korea but Iím sure theyíre not all USA hating, kiddy-killing sadists.
Anyway they are in Homefront. Luckily for Jacobs resistance fighters Conner and Rianna liberate him from impending slave duties and so the fun shooting times commence. Which is why that opening imagery doesnít sit right. Ten minutes of battering in the tragedy followed by hours of mindless murder. Hmm.
You've got to hand it to Kaos though, they've addressed one irk gnawing away at the heart of most modern combat fps titles. In Homefront your allies actually aid your fight. In fact they do most of it for you.
So much so that a task as menial as opening a door is Connerís domain. You cannot open doors nor walk through them before everybody else in your party has and the invisible Jacob-barring wall parts way. Iíve never played a game that harbors such unbridled contempt for its player. Conner narrates the war like heís playing Red Alert 2; his every line a directive whether itís to follow him, risk your life darting across the front lines so he doesn't have to or simply stand still and wait while he builds another airbase back at HQ. Conner is an ignorant, narcissistic jackass.
But he serves a valuable purpose because Homefront's campaign stretches across a paltry 5 hours. Without an extended pause at every door, ladder and molehill the game probably wouldnít make it beyond the four-hour mark. Itís really that short. The artificial elongation is at its most erroneous when you reach the exit of a flaming, rapidly crumbling building at which point youíre forced to pause for thirty seconds while the flames of death tickle your ear cavities. Why? So Conner can catch his breath and kick down the door. I could have done that. SHUT UP MAGGOT.
That wouldnít be quite the catch-22 if those five hours boasted the greatest burst of gunplay, vengeance and ass kicking since the equally brief Vanquish. But this is a hackneyed corridor shooter, fettered by its desire to be Call of Duty and loaded with platitudes: instant death, grenade spamming, infinite enemies, awful checkpoints, etcetera. This is old Call of Duty, set to the admittedly intriguing backdrop of war-torn suburban America.
And with its hardware stores, elementary schools and baseball parks, white-picket-fence-ville proves to be a refreshing milieu. But any interest in it is quickly suffocated by sluggish mechanics and a vestigial story endeavoring at every turn to tug at the heartstrings without ever putting something on the line. At one point you turn up at a collection of civilian houses, a cul-de-sac free from the blight of the Koreans. Turns out those Koreans followed you and proceed to machine-gun the civilians into oblivion. Oops. But who cares? Youíre never given any reason to.
There are moments of slight brilliance. A scene spent inside a makeshift pocket of old America (aptly named Oasis) shines from beneath the muck. Contrasted with the bleak outside world, Oasis, with its busy playground and working society, is an oddly intelligent inclusion. Suddenly thereís something at stake and with the inner workings of a society in motion the world feels likely. The residents have built tunnels to conceal their entry and are at work cooking, fixing radios and filtering water. There's a sense of community and comradeship completely absent when you're hanging out with Conner and the other one. Why didn't the game start here? Unlike Jacobs' dismal bachelor pad, Oasis makes holding off on that suicide note signature seem like the rational choice. Like Metro 2033 and Half Life 2 thereís real thought gone into this microcosm of the old world and Connerís nowhere to be seen.
But moments like this rarely puncture the nondescript firefights and prolonged, pointless walks. Save for a few pansy sniping missions, the shooty stuff fails to reach the exhilarating heights of Homefrontís contemporaries.
It looks pretty enough, with blue skies and white picket fences juxtaposing the raw barbarity of body bags, burned out Fords and deserted homes. But thereís nothing here to make you clamber to the rooftops and sing its praises. In the first level alone I Ramboíd at least 50 bad guys and probably utilised a dozen different weapons. Where next? Oh right, more of that. Where's the foreplay?
There's no nice way of saying this and no reason to be nice, beneath the crippling support cast and turgid story quivers a vanilla Call of Duty replica. And there are plenty of them out there already.
Press X to eject disc then. Freedom Fighters did America-invaded better.
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