Giant Bomb Review

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Homefront Review

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A solidly crafted multiplayer component is the only thing that redeems Homefront's brief, nearly tensionless campaign.

There is a moment in Homefront's single-player campaign that sums up the whole shebang in its entirety. You're walking with your fellow freedom fighters through what was once a baseball stadium, but now doubles as both an internment camp for American civilians and a dumping ground for their bodies. You stumble upon a group of Korean soldiers dutifully shoveling corpses into a mass grave. This is, of course, awful. Dramatic, sad music swells, and one of your compatriots begins to tremble angrily, and as his temper builds, he finally cracks, pulling his rifle and shooting blindly at any soldier he sees. Then all the Korean soldiers run and find cover, and you spend 20 minutes sluggishly shooting at them while your AI-controlled friends stand around, sometimes shooting, and other times blocking your path.

Homefront is a five-hour anticlimax. It is endless buildup toward horror and shock, constantly kneecapped by the developer's unwillingness to make good on its threats of emotional impact. Its "terrifyingly plausible" tale of an America overrun by a newly powerful unified Korean regime seems like the stuff of paranoid nightmare, the kind of story that certainly could make for a troubling, intense video game experience. Instead, developer Kaos Studios plays it safe, out and out refusing every opportunity to explore its own narrative and instead resting entirely on a series of dully standard shooting missions, periodically punctuated by scenes of terrible things happening to characters you've developed zero attachment to. Were that action of a more visceral and exciting quality, and not merely a generally easy, periodically frustrating, and largely uninspired copy of every other modern shooter of the era--with one particularly modern game of warfare among them--you might be able to forgive Homefront's disinterest in storytelling. Instead, excitement often eludes the game, and were it not for a small handful of genuinely interesting setpiece battles and a decent multiplayer suite, Homefront would be completely dismissible.

 At some point, this dude will refuse to get out of your way.
Homefront's story puts you in the role of a faceless, voiceless protagonist named Jacobs, a former pilot who finds himself rousted from his bed and shoved onto a makeshift prison bus by cruel and murderous Korean soldiers. It's the year 2027, and the United States is little more than a shell of its former self. An opening preamble combines real life footage of Hillary Clinton discussing the South Korean military boat sunk by the North with manufactured news footage featuring the rise of Kim Jong-Un as North Korea's new great leader, his reunification of the two Koreas and outward expansion into Japan and other vulnerable Asian nations, and eventual attack on America via an EMP weapon. This leads to an invasion of America's West Coast and irradiating of the Mississippi River, to keep American forces in the east separated from the armies in the west. All of this in just 17 years, and now you're on a bus headed to God knows where, while you watch innocent civilians--parents, in front of their children, even--gunned down by faceless soldiers of an invading enemy.
 
And then you go shoot some dudes. 
 
After a daring rescue attempt by resistance fighters, you're whisked away, handed a gun, and told to just start firing away. While that makes some sense in the beginning, Homefront never breaks from this pattern of showing you something horrible (usually from a very safe distance) and then hurrying you off into a standard bout of duck-and-shoot firefighting. There are feeble attempts at emotional resonance, but for as much time as you spend with the characters in your squad of freedom fighters and seeing innocents beaten, bludgeoned, and shot to death, shockingly little impression is made. Characters appear and disappear frequently, making one wonder if the whole resistance is made up of like five actual people and some random extras. Flirtations with infighting--including tensions involving your Korean-American team member, and a sequence where a fellow fighter botches a launch of white phosphorus that kills as many friendlies as foes--are set-up and then cast aside. Opportunities for extrapolation, exploration, real emotion are constantly tossed away in favor of rote gunplay. Other, better shooters have found ways to marry their story and their action in creative ways. In Homefront, action and drama feel completely divorced from one another.

It's a shame, given the supposed involvement of writer John Milius, who co-wrote Apocalypse Now and both wrote and directed the Cold War paranoia cult classic Red Dawn. Who better than he to plug into the fear inherent to American culture of a sadistic invading army stepping foot on US soil? Who better to flesh out these characters, or at least give them some cheesily memorable personality? Either Milius' involvement is grossly overstated, or the guy has just lost his touch. At no point do you get any sense of gravity or reality in this story, nor do you get the kind of rah-rah, everyman vs. an evil army vibe so prevalent in Red Dawn. That movie certainly lacked realism, but it's chock full of standout lines and significant characters. Milius knows how to write dialogue. This is the guy who wrote the "Indianapolis" speech from Jaws, and the "Do you feel lucky?" monologue from Dirty Harry. The most memorable lines from Homefront? A Bruce Campbell reference, a Korean barbecue crack about some burning enemy soldiers (which really feels like it should have been followed by a sad trombone for maximum impact), and the time someone on my squad shouted about enemies occupying a Hooters.

 Suffice it to say, this did not go entirely according to plan.
That the action fails to pick up the story's slack is Homefront's greatest disappointment. We're used to games failing to deliver on their cinematic storytelling goals, but given the inroads made by developers in first-person shooting over the last few years, it's shocking how underwhelming much of Homefront's action truly is. Indeed, there are moments that impress. While the game is plagued by a dingy, often indistinguishable color-palette and crusty, blurry textures (which make the game's pervasively janky frame rate all the more confusing), Kaos Studios has managed to craft some appropriately decrepit and heartbreaking scenery to fight through--ruined, blood-soaked suburbs and an artillery-laden Golden Gate Bridge are particular standouts--and as you fight through them, the battlefields are rife with explosions, ambient gunfire, and a kind of controlled chaos; the kind you can trudge through without feeling like the shaky-cam and constant waves of enemies are throwing off your equilibrium.

On the flipside, few moments in Homefront feel truly dangerous. There is a constantly guided feel to the game's progression, not to mention a distinct lack of challenge. A few particularly intense firefights will lead to repeated death, but on the normal difficulty level, most missions are a breeze (the hardest level is an improvement, but not exactly gut-wrenching.) Most of this breezy feel is the result of the game's definition of "squad tactics." You're nearly always accompanied by a few other resistance fighters, and most times you're just following them around to wherever it is they decide to go. These cohorts aren't crack shots, but they're also invincible, meaning you can often just use them as temporary bullet shields, and following them will always result in you finding the best cover spots.

As much as that aids the game's ease of play, it also adds some frustration. That your AI compatriots take cover at all feels a bit like a cruel joke, since they can't get hurt. Ostensibly they're supposed to be real soldiers like you, so of course they'd want to use tactics to avoid getting shot. But then they take the best cover spots, and refuse to move out of your way while you're running around getting pelted by enemy fire. And while following your friends around makes for a bit of a brainless progression, periodic bouts of AI weirdness sometimes trap you in one spot. There are random moments where they just refuse to move for periods of time--the longest of which ended up being about half a minute--until some inexplicable trigger happens that makes them realize, "Oh, right, war is happening. Time to go!" Perhaps this is the developer's way of trying to pad out the campaign's disturbingly brief run time, which ends up being somewhere around four to five hours on the default difficulty.

Despite THQ's blitzkrieg promotion of Homefront's single-player story, the multiplayer is where it feels like most of the developmental effort went. Maybe the publisher was frightened of getting crushed by the all-absorbing multiplayer Akira monster that is Call of Duty, and perhaps with good reason. If you are a developer making a first-person shooter with a modern-ish setting and the usual slate of modes, it takes a Herculean effort to pull players away from the great time burglars of the genre. Homefront's effort isn't quite Herculean, but it's a good try.

Modes are all team-based, with a standard team deathmatch, and a ground control mode, where your team captures specific points on a given map. Battle Commander is a mode that alternates between these two match types, and also tosses in the benefit of an AI commander for both teams, which assigns special mission objectives and highlights players with particularly high kill streaks as threats. Meeting those objectives and killing off targeted players earns you bonus points.

Fighting through the suburbs is a neat idea--it just never delivers the promised impact.
Battle points are the game's currency, but they're spent in an unusual way. When you choose your class at the beginning of a match or right before a respawn, you see a number of other weapons, drones and other gadgetry that your class has unique access to. These objects can be purchased on the fly during the course of a game. So, say an enemy has jumped into a humvee and is coming barreling at your heavy weapons-class soldier. Now might be a good time to spend a few points and bust out a rocket launcher. Vehicles also cost points, so if you're particularly interested in flying a helicopter or driving a tank right over some unsuspecting players, it's best to save up your points.

The feel of the multiplayer is solid. It's fast-paced without feeling too arcadey, and the vehicles are easy to use and fun to control. The variety in classes occasionally lacks definition--the difference between a sniper and a heavy weapons fighter are obvious; others less so--but nearly all are fun to play with. There aren't a ton of maps, though one can probably expect more via DLC at some juncture--an all-too-obvious Alcatraz map, perhaps? The Xbox 360 DLC store is already replete with stuff, including such Avatar-focused gems as the Kim Jong-Il suit and glasses (each sold separately). Maybe it's just me, but that feels dangerously close to the territory of downloadable Hitler mustaches and Gaddafi robes.

Whether or not you decide to pick up Homefront should rely entirely on how much you want to play its multiplayer. It's not quite exciting or remarkable enough to trump the current giants of online dude-shooting, but it's a solidly crafted mode made comparatively impressive by just how tremendously mediocre the game's single-player campaign proves to be. Kaos obviously had ideas for this game, yet seemingly couldn't bring any of those ideas to total fruition. The end result is a brief, brittle campaign bereft of impactful storytelling or creatively designed action, one that ends not with a bang, but with the build-up to a bang, followed by a title card. Alex Navarro on Google+
122 Comments
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Edited by yani

I was hoping this would be better

Edited by FrederickOggVorbis

Definitely worth a look, probably will check it out during a steam chirstmas sale or something like that

Posted by Babylonian

Biting.

Posted by isles

eek.

Posted by RobotHamster

About what I expected.

Posted by ApertureSilence

Alex's tone sounds much more like two stars to me.

Posted by HydraHam

3/5 still isn't that bad of a score, im only about 3 hours in the SP and im loving every minute, played only about 10 minutes of MP so far and i dug it more than i did the last 5 call of duty games.
 
from what i have played it's easily a 4/5, but like i have said before play before you judge and don't let reviews dictate what you play.

Posted by sagesebas

i think it's kinda weird how alex is becoming kind of a member of giantbomb

Posted by Undeadpool

Sad, this game was looking like the spiritual successor to Freedom Fighters for a bit, but without that emotional resonance...well, frankly, who gives a fuck?

Posted by DystopiaX

Not really surprised. Also, that 87 metacrotic rating before embargoes is up is bullshit. Hope more publishers don't end up doing that as well.

Posted by Mystyr_E

everytime I think of Call of Duty now, I'm gonna think of a gigantic blob-sized Tetsuo....and motorcycles

Posted by Jackel2072
@yani
I was hoping this would be better.
Me too. But they did rip off David jaffee's idea
Even though that idea was for the PSP of all things.
Posted by meandmoves

SOUNDS RAD
Posted by louiedog
@MurderByDeath said:
" Alex's tone sounds much more like two stars to me. "
That's just his generation. Have you listened to their music?
Posted by The_Laughing_Man
@Styl3s said:
" 3/5 still isn't that bad of a score, im only about 3 hours in the SP and im loving every minute, played only about 10 minutes of MP so far and i dug it more than i did the last 5 call of duty games.  from what i have played it's easily a 4/5, but like i have said before play before you judge and don't let reviews dictate what you play. "
Then you have two hours till you finish the game. 
Posted by DaemonBlack

Is it just me or does alex do more game reviews than the Giantbomb staff these days :/

Posted by Bones8677

With EA marketing Dante's Inferno like crazy and the game not turning out great, and THQ doing similar things to this game. I'm starting to feel that oppressive marketing means overcompensation for a mediocre title.

Posted by Depth

Good work as usual Alex.

Posted by TadThuggish

You can tell a game will be mediocre-to-poor when the publisher has to launch a massive "controversial" ad campaign. 
 
THQ clogging the San Francisco bay with balloons was akin to EA staging fake protests about Dante's Inferno; it's a big cry of "We're sorry this is going to suck on its own merits, please keep paying attention."

Posted by tmj

 Alex Navarro. The man, the myth and the only person who could review this game truthfully.
 
On a related note, I sit here with my sealed copy for 360 with my free headset from BestBuy. Feels like I should just return all this and wait for SOCOM4 or Portal 2 or Duke Nukem or something.

Edited by Solh0und

So it's basically 2011's Frontlines: Fuel of War? Which means the single player is meh but multiplayer makes up for it. Looks like I'll be putting this in my Gamefly queue.

Posted by LethalKi11ler

Really curious about the multiplayer, excited to check it out.

Posted by Jayross

Looks worth a rent.

Posted by Agent47

Ehhh I was hoping Ryan or Jeff would review this.I never really trust Alex's review.Seeing as most of the time he never fully understands a game.A good example would be in Metro 2033, I thought it was going to be ok or bad, but I ended up loving it.The quicklook just had Alex confused, he couldn't even figure out that he could use the lighter with the journal I mean WOW.Doesn't take that much thought to try it.

Posted by Hailinel

A video game version of Red Dawn with the North Koreans as the bad guys didn't really seem like the soundest premise to begin with.  Doesn't sound like the developer put enough effort into making it believable, either.

Online
Posted by Alex
@Agent47: 
 
I wasn't even in the quick look for Metro 2033.
Staff
Posted by buckybit

Great review, Alex. 
 
What a bummer! I had high hopes. John Milius! True legend - one of my personal heroes of the 'New Hollywood' era. If game devs cannot deliver on their part, first-class writers are going to avoid games as a 'new' legit path, for their craft?
 
Filling the space with 'narrative' between (mindless) repetitive FPS shooting & press-button for next cut-scene events, isn't going to fly - even if Modern Warfare, MoH, BLOPS, & BFBC2 tried hard?

Posted by wfolse1

Yikes. It's waiting for me at home...

Posted by MaddProdigy

I wasn't planning on buying this, glad I made the right choice. 

Posted by bloodsoul5

Don't ever listen to the haters Alex. Keep up the good work.

Posted by chilibean_3
@louiedog:  HA!
Posted by Jimbo

Bummer.  Let's see if Crysis 2 can handle an invasion of the US any better I guess.  At least we know Crysis 2 has a more plausible scenario.

Posted by BaconGames

That's a shame.  They really sold the "this is actually a story-focused military shooter with characters that matter" at E3 but now it looks like they failed to deliver.  The worst of it is probably the fact that multiplayer was a focus to begin with.  I really don't like it when I can clearly see which games are directly competing with COD and it's sad that it had to be this one.
 
Thanks for the review Alex, told me everything I needed to know.

Edited by Chris2KLee
@sagesebas said:

" i think it's kinda weird how alex is becoming kind of a member of giantbomb "

He's been reviewing games with the crew since back in the Gamspot days, and I'm pretty sure on the Bombcast where they announced Screened.com he said he would be helping out with reviews here and there.
 
Great review.
Edited by Tennmuerti

Oh, it came out?
PASS
Just finished DA2, need to move on to Shogun 2 asap.
 
oh and cool review, if singleplayer is too short and mediocre, I'd rather play multiplayer in MP focused shooters

Posted by Bolgirk

Nice review, thanks for the info

Posted by buft

I'm truly disappointed, i was really looking forward to this but now i probably won't buy it until the price comes down.

Posted by handlas
@Agent47 said:
" Ehhh I was hoping Ryan or Jeff would review this.I never really trust Alex's review.Seeing as most of the time he never fully understands a game.A good example would be in Metro 2033, I thought it was going to be ok or bad, but I ended up loving it.The quicklook just had Alex confused, he couldn't even figure out that he could use the lighter with the journal I mean WOW.Doesn't take that much thought to try it. "
that was Dave, my friend. And as much as I wanted to love Metro 2033...it's a pretty broken mess. Was hoping it would be broken in the sense that Cryostasis for PC is broken. An amazing game with a few techinical issues here and there. But Metro 2033 just had bad shooting and everything.
Edited by Cincaid

@Agent47 said:

"Ehhh I was hoping Ryan or Jeff would review this.I never really trust Alex's review.Seeing as most of the time he never fully understands a game.A good example would be in Metro 2033, I thought it was going to be ok or bad, but I ended up loving it.The quicklook just had Alex confused, he couldn't even figure out that he could use the lighter with the journal I mean WOW.Doesn't take that much thought to try it. "

 
That was Dave. But keep on doing what you do, you bring laughter to the rest of us.

Posted by McGhee
@MurderByDeath said:
" Alex's tone sounds much more like two stars to me. "
Posted by Bane

A five hour campaign and zero interest in the multiplayer means this is a no-go for me. Five hours? Really? WTF.
 
Nice review, Alex. Thanks.

Posted by Video_Game_King

So it's as much a digital patriotism boner as I imagined?

Posted by MisterMouse

well at least a good multiplayer for the eventual TNT!

Edited by Underachiever007

Wasn't expecting much from this game to begin with. Good review, Alex.

Posted by RYNO9881

Still cranking out great reviews Alex.

Posted by Metal_Mills
@sagesebas said:
" i think it's kinda weird how alex is becoming kind of a member of giantbomb "
He's the back-up dude with all of them out of the office for GDC then PAX and sick(from the sounds of the poker QL).
Edited by benjaebe

Yeah, this game was a pretty big let-down all around. I was hoping for something more innovative.
Great review though.

Posted by SpudBug

Giant Bomb continues to show why I trust them first for reviews. 
  
Other reviewers obviously affected by PR or just simply don't care about the details of a game rated this game highly.

Edited by ajamafalous
@sagesebas said:

" i think it's kinda weird how alex is becoming kind of a member of giantbomb "

You know he and Rorie worked with them at Gamespot, right?
Posted by blacklab
      It's a shame, given the supposed involvement of writer John Milius, who co-wroteApocalypse Now and both wrote and directed the Cold War paranoia cult classic Red Dawn.  
If the industry keeps fucking over literary and cinematic talent like this, I don't hold much hope for its future.  Turns out Epic didn't have to make that fake Duty Calls shooter - these guys did it for them. Boring! Boring! Boring! 
 
And Alex, I generally give you a lot of shit, but nice job with the review. Keep up the good work. 
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