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Homefront (Xbox 360) artwork

Homefront (Xbox 360) review

"That Homefront permits us to wage warfare in our neighbour’s backyard is an instant coup; the gritty, literally grassroots shootouts elevate the experience from me-too shooter; a role which most other FPS games have seemed content to fill, constantly improving graphics and increasingly outlandish plots notwithstanding."

The year is 2027. North Korea has annexed South Korea and they've taken over the world. Even the mighty United States of America has fallen, and has been occupied by the son of Kim Jong-il. But pockets of resistance fight on. Liberty will not die: Boone Carlson, Connor Morgan, Robert Jacobs (that's you) and others are seeing to that.

Some will think the premise preposterous; that's debatable. What's not up for debate, is that the premise works, and it's incontrovertibly compelling. Regrettably, Homefront is fraught with flaws, and the ultimate measure of how much you enjoy it depends on how far the premise carries you.

As is the case with nearly all the big name FPS titles to come down the pike post-Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Homefront is a tale of two games: campaign and multiplayer. Shockingly, nobody has effectively managed the fine balance of making us care about the story and indulge in the multiplayer like heroin since Infinity Ward did, so many years ago (MW2’s Team Deathmatch lobbies are still packed, even now).

Not the greatly anticipated Medal of Honor, for all its authentic Tier 1 jargon and modus operandi; not Treyarch’s top-selling Black Ops where they've made the multiplayer fairer, but the campaign at once uninteresting and ridiculous.

And not Homefront, with its multiplayer mode steeped in PS2 quality visuals and absolute barebones play options.

But Homefront’s campaign is the most engaging I’ve played since even the first Modern Warfare game, of way back when. If the developers at Kaos did anything at all right, it was to ensure that the disc lived up to its tagline: Home is where the war is.

It’s critical to try to do things differently in this FPS-inundated market where every gamer wants to go to war and every gamer is tired of going to war. That Homefront permits us to wage warfare in our neighbour’s backyard is an instant coup; the gritty, literally grassroots shootouts elevate the experience from me-too shooter; a role which most other FPS games have seemed content to fill, constantly improving graphics and increasingly outlandish plots notwithstanding.

It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel -- certainly nobody is saying that. Typical campaign conventions are expected and present: controller setup, in-story tutorial, knife melee kills, shotgun fire from-the-hip, light machine guns, assault rifles, ACOG and Red Dot Sights. The sniper level, the overwatch helicopter level – the laze targets for big bad artillery level – it’s all here.

But Homefront has you carry out the sniper level in rural America – the Heartland, is what the game dubs the mission. The enemies of freedom receive their headshots on American soil.

Overwatch is carried out above a highway similar to one you might travel on to get to school or work. You’ll track mud and blood through children’s rooms, find cover behind swing sets, call in infantry support through front yard fences.

This is Homefront’s world, a world of treehouse sniping -- and it’s nothing if not engaging.

That everything to do with the campaign could have been done with more style, more finesse, is as indisputable as it is irrelevant in our current market. The Korean occupation is handled without a trace of subtlety: NKA soldiers execute innocents on the street, discard American bodies in mass graves like so much trash. The plight of the Korean American rebel on your team goes disappointingly unexplored. The sniper/stealth level permits you to remain impossibly undetected while in plain sight. The campaign is short, and it's raw and rough around the edges.

But Homefront's grim reality of an occupied United States smacks more of Half-Life 2’s dystopian, crumbling last vestiges of Gordon Freeman’s world than it does of any Afghanistan or Russian-based Call of Duty mission, and I'm incredibly grateful for that.

I stopped caring about how washed out and grainy the game looked at an early stage; I was simply happy to be in a position to liberate our downtrodden and disenfranchised rather than say, pretending to be surprised at being "screwed over" once again by corrupt or misguided big wigs at homebase while I’m over there risking my neck -- the bastards!

The multiplayer story doesn't end so happily.

Homefront does things differently here as well, but not in a positive way. The game's flaws are magnified without the weight of the story to help us overlook them. In multiplayer, it strikes us that Homefront looks exquisitely bad. The font used throughout looks like something you might see in an Intellivision game. Worse than simply an aesthetic issue, it actually makes things difficult to read, from menus to subtitles.

Perhaps I'm spoiled by the satisfying punch that weapons provide while racking up kills in similar games, but the way bringing down opponents feels in Homefront's multiplayer isn't good. Several default weapon classes are made available from the onset; the best of which includes the submachine gun, mostly because it uses a red dot by default, which makes it easier to hit your targets -- and you'll need the help, since the other players will seem pixelated from a distance, as if we're playing Doom.

The sniper rifle seemed like a good idea at first, since the game facilitates camping; then I realized that it's slow to fire and more often than not does not reward you with a one-shot kill.

There are also precious few options on offer. Button layout, for example, is limited to default and southpaw. No tactical, no legacy -- nothing. I found this particularly troubling since I like to use the right analog stick not for melee attacks, but for crouching. Tough beans.

Play modes are even more limited. You've got two multiplayer modes. Two! Team Deathmatch, and Ground Control. Each of the two modes has Battle Commander variations, where a bounty is placed on the head of whoever is on the most impressive killing streak -- an admittedly nice touch. The fact that killstreaks earn experience points which can be used to purchase items in-match is a welcome change of pace too.

Overall, however, multiplayer is unsightly, severely limited, and largely forgettable. Meanwhile, the Homefront story is largely entertaining. I genuinely enjoyed striking out with my ragtag cabal and clawing our way to the rebel rendezvous point -- like this game's version of Mospeada's Reflex Point -- where we would fight for the Golden Gate Bridge and for freedom. And so Homefront is still worth at least a rental for fans of the genre, for the opportunity to blaze through an FPS campaign experience with far less polish and far more heart than the usual fare.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (April 02, 2011)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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EmP posted April 02, 2011:

Brilliant review. You've showcased the game as my views on Medal of Honor screwed on backwards and told me exactly why. We don't agree on many FPS titles, you and I, but I get the feeling that we'll agree on this one.

My one nitpick is how you use examples of cover and use children's (item) twice in quick succsession. I would say that the treehouse example doesn't need that particular subheader.

Otherwise, some of the examples are very well executed. As are the slew of dissapointments. Thumbs up.
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Leroux posted April 02, 2011:

A quick point on the subtleties of word choice I noticed:

Suskie: "Homefront is set in a near future in which a unified Korea has invaded the United States."

Masters: "North Korea has annexed South Korea and they've taken over the world."

The difference is between "unified" and "annexed", which although the dictionary would suggest they have similar meanings, have developed different connotations (one more peaceful, another unwanted and involving occupation). When I read Suskie's review, a unified Korea sounded implausible and was an immediate turnoff. Marc's review, as implausible as this fictional North Korean takeover is, doesn't paint the picture of millions suddenly won over and unifying with a military dictatorship and makes the story seems less ignorant of the current climate of both countries.

Which is why it is better to have two great reviews of this game than one. Nice work all around.
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Masters posted April 02, 2011:

Thanks, dudes.
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Suskie posted April 03, 2011:

"United" is actually the word that the game's intro uses; I know this because I just double-checked. So clearly my thesis is better.

But I jest. I greatly enjoyed reading this one, Masters, and the differences in our opinions are one of the reasons I'm happy it exists.
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Masters posted April 03, 2011:

Actually, I used the word "annexed" purposefully. You'll notice there's no talk of any South Korean leader, or that country's part in the new state's creation. It's simply that the great North Korean leader "unified" the two countries, implying that he got South Korea to 'get on board' rather than assist with any sort of symbiotic collaboration...

Anyway, glad you enjoyed it, Mike.
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wolfqueen001 posted April 05, 2011:

This is a good review. I especially liked the last two-thirds of it when you started going into detail about level design and such. And the multiplayer thing was interesting to read about, too. It really sounds terrible, like... unplayable. I really don't get why developers can't make both elements good.
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Masters posted April 05, 2011:

Thanks, Leslie.

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