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Homefront hands-on preview

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Homefront strikes a rare nerve with its premise. The moment we began the single-player campaign, something unusual in videogames happened to us: we became terrified simply by a premise. Surely it has to do with a startlingly realistic idea that challenges the comfort of US supremacy in the modern era. We would imagine, though, that it has the potential for hitting a similar nerve for UK gamers, since although it doesn’t take place on “home” soil for those of you across the Atlantic, it still presents an unsettling, unfamiliar situation that neither the US nor UK has experienced in recent memory: military occupation. Considering how much occupying us westerners have been doing throughout the 20th century, will players of Homefront see opportunity for insight within its horrifying role reversal?

The main focus of our recent play time with Homefront was with the multiplayer, but because the game’s premise is central to its identity, we’ll talk a bit about the single-player first. Homefront is essentially a retelling of the guerilla-fantasy film Red Dawn, which today looks like a ridiculous, unrealistic exploitation of Cold War fears. In that film, a group of teenagers in Colorado somehow fight off the entire Soviet/Cuban invasion of America with guns, explosives, and the good ‘ol fierce American spirit. The most unrealistic part of the movie is not that these teenagers could kick so much ass, but that Russians could somehow fly all the way into the middle of the US and just parachute in without any resistance (and for that matter, why would Colorado be of any strategic importance?). Even so, to our child brains back in the 80s, it was chilling in its implications: aside from numerous alien invasions, we’d never really seen what it could be like to be invaded and occupied.

Homefront updates Red Dawn by having the invading force originate from North Korea. It also takes place in the near future, when depleting resources and a weakened US dollar lead to a vulnerable nation, which is quite realistic considering current global economic conditions and the myopic dependence on oil the US military is still clinging to. With the US distracted with its own problems, North Korea conquers South Korea and then proceeds to take over eastern Asia with its growing ranks of soldiers (and North Korea today already has a gigantic military considering the small population). The new Korean People’s Army, or KPA, then uses a satellite EMP to punch a hole in US defenses and launch an invasion, using Hawaii as a stepping-stone. Much more believable than Soviet planes just waltzing across thousands of miles of US territory bristling with anti-air defenses. We should note that the script is written by John Milius, scribe of Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn, so it seems he’s maintained his sense of the horrors of war while also stepping back and re-evaluating what worked in Red Dawn and what didn’t.

Homefront’s setup does something most FPS games don’t: it invests real motivation in you to overcome the enemy. It starts with you hiding out in a run-down apartment building, your only comfort a bare mattress. The KPA comes banging on the door, and before you can answer it they bash through and knock you out. You wake up on a bus, being taken somewhere – and you know it can’t be good. Along the way, the ordinarily quiet streets of America’s heart have turned into a landscape of terror: citizens kneel with hands on heads as soldiers bark threats at them, KPA can be seem casually tossing bodies into a mass grave, and in one of the most shocking moments we’ve ever seen in a videogame, two parents are executed in front of their small child, who’s left crying on the street corner as the soldiers walk away.

It is, then, that we fought with particular vigor once guerillas hit our bus and freed us from probable doom. In its fundamental mechanics, Homefront isn’t any different than other “real-world” shooters, so it comes down to how appealing its premise is – how horrifically realistic do you want your shooter to be? So far, we have to praise its audacity at attempting serious storytelling.

All of this setup becomes a bit of a question mark when we switch to multiplayer. The setting retains its relevancy – battles are fought on Midwestern farms, tranquil suburbs, and other icons of what most players consider normally safe places, instead of parking garages, office buildings, and oil derricks, which have become videogame shorthand for the OK Corral. Yet gone are the civilians in peril, leaving a typically empty arena-style environment in which to score headshots. The game goes from being a grave meditation on US occupation policies and the moral ambiguities of insurgent forces to simply a shooter where noobs and pros vie for digital dominance. When we think about it, maybe AI civilians in peril could have spiced things up – we’re thinking Hostage game modes from Counter-Strike.

There are two key components that separate Homefront’s multiplayer from the FPS pack: Battle Points and drones. Battle Points are earned through actions relevant to the game type. Simply killing enemies won’t score you much, so going after objectives becomes critical. Once you earn BP, a quick tap of the relevant purchase button and you now have a drone, a flak jacket, or a rocket launcher. Homefront features the standard leveling system, and so higher levels unlock more interesting and powerful purchase options. After a few levels you’ll be able to purchase a Humvee, while later levels unlock APCs, tanks, and helicopters. These vehicles can’t be bought in the middle of battle like the smaller items because it wouldn’t be fair if you could suddenly spawn a tank on top of yourself in a firefight. So, instead you can purchase vehicles at the respawn screen. Taking a cue from Battlefield Bad Company, Homefront also allows you to instantly spawn inside a friendly vehicle, although we didn’t see other, on-foot, team spawning options.

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20 comments

  • Garg - February 16, 2011 7:56 p.m.

    Plot sounds somewhat similar to Freedom Fighters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_Fighters_(video_game). I had to take a few brakes on the last level because my heart was pounding so hard.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - January 24, 2011 8:21 p.m.

    If I just said "It's like Frontlines" then that wouldn't be helpful to the people who haven't played that game. Besides, it isn't "just like it" and has its own details, however small. Perhaps I should have specified, when talking about Red Dawn, that the invaders were shown taking over a high school and a random small town. I don't recall the movie showing them taking NORAD or anything else that would make sense from a strategic standpoint.
  • R3DRUN - January 24, 2011 6:37 a.m.

    I am a little excited for this game. Can't wait.
  • tyler_14_420 - January 24, 2011 12:56 a.m.

    The idea of Soviets flying directly into the States isn't all that shocking. The USSR was reported as having rediculous amounts of anti-air weaponry due to the whole Cold War Fanaticism, which was largely proven long by a pilot who flew his plane into the USSR and landed it in front of the Kremlin. He ended up being in Jail for 20 years and wrote about his experiences. No country is invincible.
  • Z-man427 - January 23, 2011 2:37 a.m.

    In Red Dawn, it was briefly mentioned that Russia had already invaded and taken over Mexico via Cuba
  • colorado20 - January 22, 2011 6:51 p.m.

    Why would Colorado be of importance? Forget all of our military bases and weapon stock piles the real reason they would invade Colorado is because they want control of Red Rocks Amphitheater.
  • Baron164 - January 22, 2011 6:38 p.m.

    From what I remember of Red Dawn the Russians Nuked China and invaded the US from the West cost up to the Mississippi river where the US Military was finally able to stop the advancement. I don't remember much from the movie so I could be missing a few details. I remember it being similar to how World in Conflict did it but in that game the Russian's didn't get much further than California. But in any case I find the setting really interesting and I fully intend to pick this up day one if only for the campaign experience. I don't know how much time I'll put into the multiplayer, will have to wait and see how it works when it launches.
  • TheWerebear - January 22, 2011 4:45 p.m.

    Honestly, "why would Colorado be of any strategic importance?" There are a LOT of reasons, some of which have already been mentioned so I'll just mention another. We have a huge store of mustard gas munitions from WWI which would be quite a bonus for an invading/occupying force. On another note completely, I want this game quite a bit and entirely for the campaign experience. I play CoD for it's multiplayer because I honestly can't get over the lame nonsensical story structure of it's campaign. Homefront looks like a shooter that will finally deliver on a PLOT.
  • RicePuddingUK - January 22, 2011 11:36 a.m.

    This game looks promising, I'm looking forward to the campaign, haven't played a decent campaign since Mass Effect 2 and Alan Wake. Didn't the developers say the sequel or DLC would be set in London? British gamers or more rather English gamers will be getting the homefront treatment.
  • shadyteadybear - January 22, 2011 10:12 a.m.

    guy's it's it s own game stop comparing it to other games like Cod just because it's kinda in the near future, it has potential to be a great game but it's not out yet so it could still fail which i dont think it will
  • pr0tostar - January 22, 2011 9:06 a.m.

    "why would Colorado be of any strategic importance?" nuthin much, just NORAD HQ.
  • GwaR - January 22, 2011 8 a.m.

    Yes, as AxiamWolfe said, you could've made it a lot easier on yourselves if you just said 'multiplayer is almost exactly like frontline: fuels of war'. Maybe the previewer failed to realize that it was the same studio making Homefront as Frontlines, or more likely he just never played Frontlines...
  • AxiamWolfe - January 22, 2011 4:30 a.m.

    Hmm, seems to take quite a few cues form Frontlines: Fuel of War, namely the "Frontline" thing as well as the RC drones. But what else to expect? Same devs. Vehicles as spawn points: Ain't that more BF2142 (APCs) than BC/BC2?
  • Sy87 - January 22, 2011 4:18 a.m.

    You see this alot one game does something awesome someone else has to copy same game plan. I will admit it looks good, but why can't they make a game where the U.S. goes imperialistic in the since that we go conquering other countries. I mean come on how many people would sign up for the Empire in Star wars and say rebels are losers. Just like everyone picks on the germans and japanese in WWII games. I think it would be cool to see their perspective. Be open minded. Anyway sorry to rant. Wolverines!!!!!!
  • excaliburps - January 22, 2011 4:12 a.m.

    And this is why I think DICE has nailed infantry-based vehicular combat down to a science. It's extremely hard to balance and be fun at the same time. I know I don't want to play a game where every one has UAVs, Drones that take out the whole time with little to no consequences. Just my two cents.
  • Danielmemo - January 22, 2011 3:50 a.m.

    In Red Dawn Colorado is probably invaded because of the Air Force there. But if there is Airforce, then WTF are they invading without trouble/ But anyway, I can't wait for this game. For once the bad guy is also not a Russian terrorist/army/spy/hot chick villain.
  • Hobojedi - January 22, 2011 3:17 a.m.

    I was hoping for more campaign coverage..
  • UberNoob - January 22, 2011 2:24 a.m.

    Looks like a nice game. It seems to remind me of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 though...
  • Chaoscoolperson - January 22, 2011 2:23 a.m.

    yeah Iguess youre right about balancing issues but the multiplayer still looks more fun then CoD and Halo combined(I can't believe I just typed that)
  • Chaoscoolperson - January 22, 2011 2:21 a.m.

    First maybe? OMG I cant wait for this game!

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