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Homefront (Xbox 360) artwork

Homefront (Xbox 360) review

"Reading this Review of the original Homefront may be more fun than playing the new one!"

First let me start and say that I had high hopes for Homefront as a game ever since I played Frontlines: Fuel of War for well over a year thanks to its highly addictive multiplayer. Frontlines was clearly a first effort from a young studio, but it showed promise and had a charm that many big budget games from publishers with deeper pockets don't. When I heard Homefront was in development by Kaos Studios and THQ, I was overjoyed and fully expected a further realized and more polished spiritual sequel to my beloved Frontlines. Upon completion of the Homefront single player and spending over a month with the multi player, it was clear that it was not a sequel to Frontlines and must be judged on its own merits, as its own game. This is not a review of what I hoped Frontlines 2 would be, in that regard I am disappointed in the direction they chose to go in, this is a review of Homefront as its own game and series. Homefront is in fact quite fun, it is more of a mix between Call of Duty and the Battlefield: Bad Company franchises with influences in both the single and multi player portions of the game.

Homefront is clearly a multi player centric game, as was Frontlines before it. I always knew this but many will pick up this game primarily, if not solely, for the single player so the campaign must be weighed accordingly. THQ and Kaos Studios have pushed the single player hard, put quite a bit of work into it and throw around John Milius' name and previous work such as Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn quite liberally. The single player is not meant to be a throw away campaign yet when all is said and done it is all too forgettable. On the back of the Homefront case is written, "From the writer of Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now", there is even a book released to lay down a backstory for the game (which I read). Kaos even went on record citing Half-Life 2 as an inspiration for how their campaign was put together yet after having completed the campaign you will be wondering just how much John Milius actually had to do with this project and how long it has been since anyone at Kaos has played either of the Half-Life games.

The single player campaign is not terrible by any means, but it certainly isn't great. The biggest problem is the pacing, which is ironic considering the mentioned Half-Life influence and anyone familiar with Valve knows their approach to developing Half-Life involves making sure the pacing is just right to always keep the gamer interested and immersed in the experience. The Half-Life games are the video game equivalent of a page turner, Homefront is not. John Milius' work has the tendency to conjure up all sorts of emotion within you yet Homefront fails to do so in its campaign. The game is one action set piece after another with rather straight forward and at times generic First Person Shooter gameplay. There is no meaningful character development, no ups and downs in the story telling and no real build up to the climax; there isn't even a proper ending as the game just sort of stops after 7 chapters. Homefront does end strongly with a rather intense finale, but it was not enough to save the campaign from being an average overall experience.

The game starts off promising where you wake up in your dingy apartment in a Korean occupied America. You have a brief moment to look around your apartment until you hear some loud and determined knocking on your door from soldiers of the Greater Korean Republic. As soon as you walk to the door it triggers an in game cut scene where the soldiers kick the door in, have a few words for you about needing your services as a pilot and haul you off to a bus which will take you to a re-education center to ensure your loyalty to the Koreans. In this bus you are free to look around as it drives by the ravaged and occupied suburban town that could easily be any one of our neighborhoods. You see some pretty disturbing stuff on this short bus trip until a resistance cell, also in need of your services as a pilot, interferes with the bus trip and frees you. From here on out you basically follow Rihanna, an attractive but feisty femme fatale, Connor, a brazen and gung ho fighter, and Hopper, a tech geek Korean-American through 7 chapters of firefights.

The core gameplay consists of following them and shooting enemy soldiers, making your way to highlighted objectives, standing your ground at a highlighted point of interest and essentially fighting your way from point A to point B in each chapter. The game is heavily scripted, which is normally perfectly fine except in Homefront it often intrudes on the gameplay. You play for a bit, complete an objective and the action stops while the characters talk or something happens. It is frequent and interferes with the flow of the game. The game is linear, which is also perfectly fine, except the actual shooting can be rather bland where you take some hits, find cover to regenerate health, pop your head out to find the enemy, wait for him to pop his head out and shoot it off; it is the whack a mole approach to the FPS and it feels dated. There are moments when you get to control a remote controlled drone called Goliath which consists of pressing the right trigger to highlight enemy targets so Goliath can shoot rockets at them, which does mix up the gameplay somewhat and is relatively fun, but you're limited to what you can do with Goliath and it would have been nice to have more drones at your disposal as single player went on. There are some segments where you serve as the gunner on a Humvee, nothing that hasn't been done before, and there are a couple pretty cool but all too short Helicopter flight sequences where you serve as the pilot in one and a passenger in the other. You have your standard sniper level and night level but nothing truly stands out. The final two chapters in the game offer a nice change of pace where the action really gets going and flows quite nicely, but even here the level design can get somewhat derivative.

The game uses the same control scheme as the Call of Duty games which I am sure most people here are familiar with so I won't get into it too much. Right trigger shoots, left trigger aims down the sight, Right bumper throws grenade which you can hold to "cook" the grenade so it explodes quicker after release, left bumper throws secondary grenade/explosive like C4, Y button switches weapons, X button reloads, B button is to crouch and you hold it to go prone, A button jumps, click left stick to sprint and click right stick to melee, standard dual analog movement and aiming. The controls work and are responsive but it would be nice to see one developer, one of these days, try to do something different in this genre so their game feels different.

The graphics in this campaign look fine to me, nothing spectacular but attractive enough and the sound is decent, though grenades didn't seem to make the appropriate clanging sound they should have when landing near me. No real environmental destruction here either like in Red Faction or Bad Company unless it is scripted destruction.

As mentioned before, the campaign is laid out where you move from one action set piece to another. It's like a Michael Bay film with one in your face high explosive moment after another neglecting both character and plot development. I could not establish an emotional attachment to any of the characters and though I did not like seeing my country and innocent civilians terrorized, I really couldn't feel much as I'm constantly being lead (or dragged) by a leash to the next action set piece. There was a lot of potential in the story too, John Milius' involvement aside, but I just felt rushed the whole way through. One big appeal of the Half-Life games is how the whole experience was all so seamless, like you felt you were really progressing towards something big, but Homefront is divided up into 7 loosely knit chapters and they just didn't flow together. I would say the single player is worth a rental, it has its moments, but the game is not worth a purchase for the single player alone. I completed the game in 6 and a half hours on the second hardest difficulty setting, a lot of trial and error dying took up my time so I would imagine on the easier settings that each chapter is quite short.

Multiplayer is what Homefront is really all about. KAOS comes from a multi player centric background with their Battlefield: Desert Combat Mod several years ago and their first full retail title in 2008, Frontlines: Fuel of War, which was heavily inspired by the Battlefield franchise. Homefront serves up a complex, balanced and very fun multi player experience which holds its own against the competition from other console shooters.

The Homefront multi player takes place before the Korean occupation and pits American military against KPR forces. You will have access to a wide range of vehicles, drones, weapons and perks to use as you see fit on rather large maps which average around three times the size of your typical Call of Duty map and compare with those of Bad Company 2. The action is pretty intense and fast paced, much more so than Bad Company 2, but surprisingly balanced considering all that is offered and feels like a great mix of both Bad Company 2 and Call of Duty; it's basically what Medal of Honor should have been.

The multi player experience centers around Battle Points which you earn for completing various actions such as killing an enemy, assisting with an enemy kill, EMP assisting a vehicle kill, destroying a vehicle, protecting a teammate, avenging a teammate, capturing an objective, protecting an objective, going on a kill streak and even going on a death streak (for those who are struggling but still want to earn points to get in on the fun). Battle Points can be used to "purchase" certain special weapons such as an RPG to help take out an enemy vehicle, personal support such as a personal UAV or flak jacket, a drone when needed for scout or assault, calling in air strikes and yes, calling in vehicles such as heavy tanks. Battle Points have often been incorrectly compared to Kill Steaks in COD since both are a point system which unlocks special abilities but as just mentioned, you get these points for doing much more than just killing and if you die, your points carry over into your next spawn. Aside from the obvious thrill of unlocking a Heavy Tank or Apache Chopper when you save up enough Battle Points (BP), there is a strategic element to when and how you use your BP; do you want to wait until you have enough BP to spend on a powerful vehicle to punish the enemy team with or will you spend your BP early on RPGs and proximity launchers to take down enemy vehicles or purchase a light armored vehicle with an anti air attack to take down the enemy chopper? Perhaps you should spend the BP on a personal UAV to help you defend or secure an objective which is undermanned or call in a scout drone to mark the enemy's position on the map to help your team push them back and win. Sitting on your BP and waiting for that chopper may cost your team a victory while spending it when needed helps everyone out and can actually accelerate your BP gain as you become responsible for more and more positive results which the game often astutely recognizes and rewards you for. I've been playing the game for a month now and so far everything seems appropriately priced when it comes to BP. The only real gripe I have right now is that there is a bug which needs to be patched for vehicle assists. If you EMP a vehicle and it gets destroyed, you get an assist, but if you do most of the work destroying a drone or vehicle and someone else gets the final shot which destroys it, you get nothing. KAOS said they are aware of this bug and working on it, otherwise the game rewards you when you deserve it.

Another benefit to the BP system is the lack of static vehicle spawns which means no vehicle camping. In Battlefield games or Homefront it would be a common sight to see as much as half of your team hanging around the chopper spawn just waiting for their turn to fly while the rest of the team gets slaughtered in battle. With Homefront, your team is forced to take part in the action if they want to earn any of the cool toys (emphasis on the word EARN). There are still camping snipers as there are in any game, but they are more pests than game changers and don't rack up the BP points as much as you'd expect. The downside to no vehicle spawns is you can't rush behind enemy lines and steal unguarded vehicles as you often could in classic Battlefield games or Frontlines, and though it's nice the enemy team can't do this to you either, I still miss the added threat and responsibility of having to watch out for our own vehicles being used against us.

A major draw to the multiplayer is the use of vehicles and drones during battle. There is a respectable variety to choose from with 2 different types of Helicopter, 1 Heavy Tank, 1 Light Armored vehicle and 1 Humvee for each team and for drones you have two flight based and two ground based. Each vehicle and drone serves its own purpose and when used correctly, everything has an answer for something else. Add in air strikes such as a Hellfire missile or White Phosphorous and you have quite a bit to work for in a match in addition to the different weapons and perks you earn for leveling up over time (a system lifted right out of COD).

The weapons and perks are typical of what you would see in a military shooter such as this, if you've played COD then you pretty much know what to expect here (Assault Rifles, SMGs, Shotguns, Pistol, Sniper Rifle, Knife). Some complain that the weapon sounds aren't all that satisfying or that there is not enough to choose from but I personally thought they sounded just fine and would take weapon balance over weapon quantity any day. The perks are again pretty standard fare but work well with the game without anything jumping out as being too outrageous save for the knife lunge perk which isn't as bad as it was in MW2. If you get high enough kill streaks with each weapon you can pimp out your gun Army of Two style with some wild designs. It might not be particularly inconspicuous, but it's a lot of fun to use the "I love my gun" design which gives you a hot pink gun covered in hearts.

As far as multi player game modes, Homefront claims to have 4 different modes: Ground Control (GC), Ground Control with Battle Commander, Team Death Match (TDM) and Team Death Match with Battle Commander. Battle Commander is a variation on the GC and TDM modes where an A.I. commander will mark specific targets for you and some others on your team to destroy to gain extra BP to spend. It definitely adds to the experience of each mode but it is more of a variation than a whole different game mode. Ground Control is the meat of the multi player, it is to Homefront what Rush is to Bad Company and Conquest was to classic Battlefield. In GC each team starts off battling over 3 objectives while a points bar fills up for each team. The more objectives you secure and hold and the more of the enemy team you destroy, the faster your bar will fill up and once full the enemy gets pushed back to another set of 3 objectives. If you beat them down a second time you win as it is a best of 3 for each match. In each match of ground control you have 3 sets of objectives: the starting set, one you push your enemy back to and one your enemy can push you back to; matches can often end where you don't ever get to one set of objectives as one team was never pushed back to it. The battles for these objectives are pretty furious and each map starts off slow and quickly builds the pace until it's a complete clusterfark at the end with vehicles, drones and explosions everywhere. Ground Control is fun and strategic, but it's not quite strong enough of a mode to carry this game.

Many matches often end too quick, sometimes as quick as 10 minutes. The battles are concentrated on the objectives with little reason to rush behind enemy lines (no vehicle spawning so no need to steal or sabotage enemy vehicles) or hang back behind your lines (to prevent enemies stealing or sabotaging your vehicles) which takes away the quasi-sandbox feel of KAOS' previous game, Frontlines: Fuel of War, which had many little side battles in addition to the main battles over the objectives. All you can do with an objective is stand there and secure it, there is no demolition or hacking or any other requirement to take an objective which would mix up the game play some. Ground Control just doesn't feel as open or expansive as Battlefield's Conquest mode or Frontlines' Frontlines mode. It would be nice if there was an enemy base of sorts that had to be conquered after you push the enemy back to it, but instead you spend your time usually fighting over 2 sets of objectives back and forth which means Ground Control plays smaller than the maps they take place on. The spawn system is a good example of this as there is no squad spawning or spawn selection, the game picks it for you. I suppose they didn't want too many people spawning right on the objectives but at least let me choose which objective I can spawn near, I'm just going to run across the map to where my friends are anyway as I trust them to watch my back than some random without a microphone. The nice thing about the spawn system is as you are zooming in to your spawn point, you get a brief glimpse of the map and locations of your enemies and allies; this is handy because you can easily spot camping spawn killers. There is a nice tug of war feel to the GC mode, but it is nowhere near as rewarding or intense as what Frontlines had.

The map selection is also limited with Ground Control. There are 8 listed maps, but only 5 are available with regular GC and with others opened up for GC:BC. Each map is well designed but they all play very similar. One thing I loved about Frontlines was how each map not only had its own distinct personality, but also offered up its own gaming experience with certain vehicles being exclusive to certain maps, different ways to capture each objective and even one different game mode for a specific map. One map in Frontlines would be infantry only while another would be massive with Jets and landing strips, it did much to add to the re-playability of that game where every map almost felt like a different game. The maps here, with the modes provided, just don't offer up the same diversity which is a shame. Judging Homefront as its own game, it is fun, but judging it against its spiritual predecessor it can come up short. The other mode, Team Death Match, is your typical Team Death Match except vehicles and drones are introduced. I am not a big TDM player, but it is well done for what it is and quite challenging.

The graphics in the multi player have been criticized by many reviewers but I personally think they are just fine considering the player count, large maps and amount of mayhem which takes place on the screen. The lack of destructibility of any kind is a real drag, especially when a tank can't destroy a picket fence, but there really isn't any other game (save Frontlines) on the 360 which offers this kind of selection in terms of vehicles and drones. 4 Apaches in the sky with 3 heavy tanks and drones aplenty is a pretty impressive sight, all with 32 players on one server. The graphics may not be great, but they aren't terrible either.

Homefront is a good game, Homefront is a fun game. The single player is short and fails to live up to what it could have been, but it has its moments. Considering how it is marketed as being from the writer of Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn, it is a disappointment. The multi player is definitely fun and more than makes up for the single player, but the lack of maps, game modes and limited nature of Ground Control means I may have had a blast playing for this past month, but I don't see this game having anywhere near the legs that Frontlines or the classic Battlefield games had. I wanted this game to be Frontlines 2, a sequel to Kaos Studios' previous effort on the 360, but it came up short. I can judge Homefront as its own game, and have done so in this review, but in the end it's not as good as what a Frontlines 2 could have been. Still, if you enjoy Call of Duty and Bad Company 2, you might as well pick up Homefront as it offers a pretty fun mix of the two.


Daemonocracy's avatar
Community review by Daemonocracy (May 21, 2016)

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