THQ’s Homefront is aiming to be the “definitive large-scale warfare experience on console and PC,” explained the game’s lead multiplayer designer, Erin Daly, at a recent press event focusing on the multiplayer component of the near-future FPS. At the demo, held last week in New York — Kaos Studios’ home turf — Hamza and I spent multiple hours with a few of the game’s maps and modes, and it became clear that the developer is bringing a brand of combat that combines the best and most popular aspects of the biggest shooters on the market today.
But will it be enough to make Homefront stand out in a highly saturated genre with little margin for error? From what I played last week, it certainly appears that it will.
Homefront (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], PC)
Developer: Kaos Studios
To be released: March 8, 2011 (NA) / March 10, 2011 (AUS) / March 11, 2011 (EU) / April 29, 2011 (JP)
Hamza saw an early build of Homefront’s multiplayer mode in October, and even back then, it looked promising. The key to this game is that you earn two different kinds of rewards for accomplishing tasks: experience, which goes toward your overall rank, and Battle Points (BP), an in-game currency system of sorts that allows you to customize your play experience and make on-the-fly adjustments. Each time you do something like score a kill or capture a control point, you’ll receive some BP, and it will add up over the course of a match (BP don’t carry over from round to round). Battle Points are used to “purchase” special items and services during a match.
While you’re waiting between games in the lobby, you can enter the Armory, where you can assign the stuff you’ve unlocked so far (by ranking up) to the D-pad. Equipment that can be bought with BP includes weapons (like an RPG), vehicles (such as drones, tanks, and helicopters), services (like a UAV sweep for personal mini-map radar), and gear (such as flak jackets). Each item has a BP cost associated with it.
Say you’ve filled up your two D-pad slots (you unlock the full four as you rank up) with an RPG (500 BP) and an Apache assault helicopter (1100 BP), and you’ve racked up 750 BP in a round of team deathmatch. You’re saving up for the Apache so you can tear it up in the air, but what if you see an enemy tank going on a rampage? Here’s where personal play styles come in: do you whip out your RPG, which allows you to blow up the tank but sets you back to 250 BP, or ignore the tank until you’ve accrued enough BP to take it out with your Apache? The BP system brings an important strategic element to Homefront. These kinds of decisions happen within games as well as between them — if your team is being decimated by an enemy drone, you’re going to want to go into the Armory and outfit yourself with EMP grenades or proximity launchers to disable them in the next game.
The drones are particularly powerful for players who figure out how to keep moving while firing. If you can stay out of harm’s way, it’s possible to go on long killstreaks in a drone — especially with the Battle Commander feature. Kaos introduced Battle Commander at last week’s event, and in Daly’s words, it adds “strategic depth and emergent gameplay” to Homefront. Battle Commander is a CPU “general” who keeps track of everybody in the game. If one player (or group of players) is doing particularly well and tipping the balance in favor of his team, they will receive a one-star Battle Commandership. This comprises a personal sub-mission — often, it’s simply “get more kills to reach the next level.”
As your star level increases, the game gives you buffs to help sustain your streak — increased speed, a flak jacket for extra health, a personal UAV sweep — and at the same time, the other team’s Battle Commander is making its members aware of your deeds. That is, enemy players are assigned their own sub-mission: to take you out and end your rampage. The higher your star level, the more players on the opposing team are alerted to your presence (a yellow circle appears on their mini-map to indicate your general area). At the highest level — five stars — the entire enemy team is told to hunt you down, and only skilled players will be able to stay alive for long with up to 16 players gunning for them.
“It makes large-scale warfare personal” because it “supports basic revenge instincts,” explained, senior designer Brian Holinka, and Battle Commander isn’t only a way for pros to rule the battlefield. Sure, hardcore players will be the ones achieving five-star Battle Commanderships, but novices are encouraged to get in on the action — there’s a huge BP incentive to take out wanted players.
The smartest way to attain stars is to use a vehicle, and all of them support Battle Commander in different ways. The Recon Drone is a mini-helicopter that’s used only to mark enemy targets, but as the drone pilot, you get killstreak credits when your teammates take out marked opponents. The Attack Drone’s two rockets deal a good amount of damage, but since it’s vulnerable to enemy gunfire, you’re going to want to quickly get that star level up so you get recharging “health.” Tanks might have an easier time of it, but they’re not invulnerable.
Battle Commander impressed me because, like BP, it allows you to play Homefront your way. You can go lone wolf and try to get to five stars, but Rex Dickson, the game’s lead level designer, noted that it also promotes team play. He recounted a match in which one of his teammates achieved a five-star level and was marked as the enemy nemesis. At that point, he had the option of continuing to do his own thing, or helping to keep his ass-kicking comrade alive. Since none of the objectives that Battle Commander poses are required, it’s all up to you.
We checked out four maps (the game will ship with seven on PS3, but the 360 version will have eight maps — Suburb is a timed exclusive) and two gametypes. Cul-de-Sac, a smaller, infantry-only map, was similar to Suburb in that both featured American suburbia in the unnerving context of a military occupation. Houses were boarded up and falling apart, offering lots of hiding places. We played 24-player team deathmatch on those maps, and then switched to 32-player Ground Control on Farm and Crossroad.
In Ground Control, a mode that seemed like a combination of the Rush and Conquest gametypes in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, we fought over three control points that had to be taken and held. After holding the points for a certain amount of time, our team would “win” that area and push forward while the enemy would fall back to a different section of the map with three more control points. The first team to two “wins” would win the round. Farm was a wide-open, uh, farm, with wooden buildings and a bridge over a stream. In Crossroad, a collapsed freeway overpass offered great sniping spots to watch the control points. I preferred Ground Control to team deathmatch not just because of the objectives it features, but because I liked the expansive maps better, too.
Homefront is shaping up to be a legitimate contender for your shooter playtime this March. The speed of the game is somewhere between the quick, almost twitch gameplay of Call of Duty and the slow strategy of Halo, and I think it does a great job of setting itself apart from those popular games. The campaign might attract attention for its story, but the multiplayer component is not to be overlooked.