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Homefront hands-on preview

In case you missed it, we previously talked about how Homefront’s a sort-of videogame remake of Red Dawn in our earlier preview, where we focused on the first level of the single-player campaign as well as several hours of play in the multiplayer. Homefront is a prime example of incongruous single-player and multiplayer components: the former is a brutal, politically savvy meditation on the ramifications of the US being the world’s sole superpower, while the latter is a piece of pure entertainment where you shoot other people over the internet with miniature rockets from remote-controlled helicopters.

We’ve now played through the second and third missions of Homefront’s campaign and we must say things are looking even more promising than when we just played the first mission. Sure, the game mechanics are run-of-the-mill first-person shooter stuff, but they’re nicely polished from what we’ve seen and feel like no knock-off modern military game trying to ape the big boys. There are a lot of weapons and they all work as you’d expect, and despite the near-future setting we’re not dealing with laser guns, so gamers who like realistic firearms need not despair. However, the shooting is not the star of the show here: the story is. And so far, it’s impressive.

We already talked about how in the first mission Homefront goes straight for the throat and lets you know this is no silly Michael Bay version of war – this is as horrifying as real war, replete with mass graves and parents being executed in front of their wailing toddlers. We’re actually a bit surprised there hasn’t been a media furor over the game’s brutality, although maybe that’s because said brutality is always performed by NPCs. Or maybe the game just isn’t high-profile enough.

After the end of the first mission, where we fought off the Korean People’s Army (KPA) using a rather large remote-controlled tank/buggy thing called a Goliath, we find ourselves inside a small resistance camp. It’s a sanctuary for those hiding from the KPA and it really gives a sense of a world lived in by actual, desperate people. The detail in the scene is incredible: upturned paint buckets hanging from rafters serve as planters for tomatoes, one guy is on a stairmaster and using it as a jerry-rigged water pump, another guy is raising goats in a tiny pen, and children are nestled in sleeping bags by a crackling fireplace. It’s an amazing display of attention to detail and the minds of developers clearly sitting down and thinking “What would these people really need to survive secretly in an occupation?”

Homefront also introduces a light RPG-ish element by allowing you to just walk around this encampment and talk to all of the inhabitants and to learn about who they are and why they’re there. Like the initial setup where you see innocent civilians brutalized by the KPA, it adds a very human element to the story, bringing more emotional weight to the combat than your typical shooter. You’ll be led to really, really hate the KPA, but then the developers let you know that hey, you can take that hate too far and into totally irrational areas.

From the suburban sanctuary we sneak through an underground tunnel that leads us to a concentration camp. We’re there for information, but as we wander around inside trying to look like prisoners, we find that the real prisoners aren’t too happy that we’re there. See, they don’t want us poking the hornet’s nest with our “futile” resistance. And they certainly don’t want to be seen talking to resistance members, so we’re not greeted as heroes but as part of the problem. Again, complexity where most shooters are straightforward about who’s good and who’s bad.

In a matter of moments we get to see the ugly side of “us versus them” when we go deeper into the concentration camp. We come across a few men huddled around a fire and one of them suddenly gets in the face of one of our squad members and yells “Get away from me. Your kind are nothing but trouble!” As you can guess, that member of our group is Asian. He replies that he was born in Oakland, in what is clearly an American accent. His response doesn’t matter to the man who has decided exactly who is the Enemy.

30 comments

  • Fiirestorm21 - March 3, 2011 8:33 p.m.

    Day one purchase for me. No question about it. To those bitching about the idea of a unified Korea: The concept is that a new leader, one who ISN'T Kim Jong Il, in that he is much more competent in leading his own people, much more politically savvy, and someone who comes off as an inspiring speaker, but one who still harbors anti-American sentiment. Through these traits, and with America in the backstory going downhill a bit because of the economy (which in the game never really got better and got even worse a bit) and thus not having as much influence as we do today, was able to convince South Korea that they should put their conflicts behind them and unify as fellow countrymen. I should point that a great deal of that kind of sentiment already exists with many Koreans, especially those living closer to the border. Families got broken up, and they still remember that. Is it plausible? We can surely debate that, but it'd be silly to just write it off as an unexplained "and then Korea united" contrived backstory. It's definitely not.
  • Fiirestorm21 - March 3, 2011 8:30 p.m.

    Day one purchase for me. No question about it. To those bitching about the idea of a unified Korea: The concept is that a new leader, one who ISN'T Kim Jong Il, in that he is much more competent in leading his own people, much more politically savvy, and someone who comes off as an inspiring speaker, but one who still harbors anti-American sentiment. Through these traits, and with America in the backstory going downhill a bit because of the economy (which in the game never really got better and got even worse a bit) and thus not having as much influence as we do today, was able to convince South Korea that they should put their conflicts behind them and unify as fellow countrymen. I should point that a great deal of that kind of sentiment already exists with many Koreans, especially those living closer to the border. Families got broken up, and they still remember that. Is it plausible? We can surely debate that, but it'd be silly to just write it off as an unexplained "and then Korea united" contrived backstory. It's definitely not.
  • inconceivable - February 24, 2011 5:59 p.m.

    I wasn't sure about this game at first, but after reading this, it sounds like it's going to be amazing.
  • greenthumb66 - February 24, 2011 11:07 a.m.

    I am definatly getting this game it looks and sounds awesome.
  • Yeager1122 - February 24, 2011 2:25 a.m.

    The stroy sounds good to me looks like standard shooter gameplay but that doesnt mean it wont be fun and the mulitplayer from what i saw of it looked like alot of fun.
  • kyle94 - February 23, 2011 11:07 p.m.

    @FOZ: Ok, what are you even saying now? You said that Homefront was implausible, which it is and allowed to be since it's a game. I mention how no one complains about implausibility in games since it's common, and I brought up how implausible Medal of Honor was. Now you're saying that there is a chance that Homefront might be as implausible as Medal of Honor? So why are you complaining about it then, instead of Medal of Honor? And you don't understand the connection between gameplay and story in games, do you? Let's take Medal of Honor again, since you don't seem to get my point. As far as I can tell, your point is that the Medal of Honor series is implausible because of the gameplay, and not the story. The gameplay DRIVES the story. As you play the game, you're driving the story forward. What happens in the game is tied to the story. Let's take Freedom Fighters. The gameplay doesn't have you try to capture the news station and media center for no reason, it's to take out the propaganda and send a message out, which is a story-related event. Finally, my comparison was not between Homefront and Medal of Honor Allied Assault, which is another thing you don't seem to understand. You said the plot of Homefront is implausible. I said that all video game plots are implausible, and gave the much-used "Single soldier conquers the Nazis" plot, specifically MOH. If you're still not getting it, I'll make it even simpler. Homefront = implausible. Video games = implausible. If you're going to start complaining about one, why not complain about everything? You might as well complain about God of War by saying that a single demigod taking out so many gods is implausible. Video games don't have to be plausible, and if you start criticizing them because they're not, then you're missing the point of the entire genre.
  • IceBlueKirby - February 23, 2011 10:09 p.m.

    This is one of my most anticipated titles of this year. I don't think much of most shooters normally, but from what I've read about this one so far it's definitely not one to overlook. I'll probably grab this the day it releases.
  • FOZ - February 23, 2011 7:50 p.m.

    Your comparison still makes no sense. You don't KNOW the plot of this game, do you? It's not unlikely at all to suggest this game is going to involve single-handedly destroying armored vehicles. You're comparing a basic summary to detailing specific levels of a different game? For all we know the gameplay in Homefront will be nearly as implausible as in MOHAA. How is that a fair comparison if we don't know the specifics of Homefront's gameplay and missions? Story isn't going to make me want to spend $60 on an average shooter. So what if the story is "unique," and we're only assuming here, for all we know Homefront will be predictable and uninteresting, why does that mean the gameplay can be generic? Human Revolution needs to have a good story and great gameplay to satisfy anyone. Didn't anyone play Freedom Fighters? It didn't have a great plot, but the gameplay was so well-done that it doesn't really matter. Unique gameplay is entirely preferable to unique story, and "North Korea invades U.S." isn't a good enough hook for me to care about a game that has done nothing to reassure that it won't be standard CoD gameplay.
  • potpan0 - February 23, 2011 3:44 p.m.

    I think the concept of this game would be a lot better if it was just the American government was the antagonist. It would stop the 'Bloody foreigners, America for life!' sort of vibe I'm worried this game will take. And before people say this is unrealistic, they would never vote in a totalatarian, facist government, take 1930's Germany for example. They voted in Hitler, before he made it overly obvious that he was the Hitler we all know. The same could happen in any democratic country in a time of need (which the games backstory has already shown.)
  • RicePuddingUK - February 23, 2011 3:25 p.m.

    Funny how whenever a game involves America being invaded, game journalists always describe the story as "A Hypothetical Invasion", yet any other game it just says "Invasion" as if America can't be touched. America isn't invinsible, that is all.
  • Syncmaster - February 23, 2011 2:30 p.m.

    enough playing with the good guys, why cant we invade the us instead of defending it? heard they are producing weapons of mass destruction. ohhh that would make fox news love games even more
  • AnonymouZ - February 23, 2011 2:04 p.m.

    couldn't care less about the story. the trailers were bad ass. also, i got the game just so i could get metro 2033 for free on steam. which is luls... cuz i don't think i can run THIS one. xD
  • kyle94 - February 23, 2011 10:45 a.m.

    @FOZ: How is it not a legitimate comparison? In one, the gameplay is used to create the storyline. In the other, the storyline is semi-independent of the limitations of gameplay. And if you're saying that in the story, it never says that the one soldier is able to do so much, then you're just crazy. Let's take Medal of Honor Allied Assault, and see what the player-character does: Single-handily rescues a POW, destroys several tanks, trucks, and anti-aircraft guns, and then sends off the signal that started the bloody Allied invasion of North Africa. Destroyed a German U-boat in a Norwegian port and destroyed an experimental RADAR device that could've tipped the Battle of the Atlantic back to the Germans' favor. Survived Operation Overlord only to go deeper into Normandy to take out German artillery guns. Rescues a pilot, and then infiltrates a German base to capture information about troop movements and the new German King Tiger. Helps a team of soldiers and engineers to capture a King Tiger, and ends the mission by single-handily defending a bridge from enemy sappers. Destroys a German mustard-gas factory. So, how exactly is the ridiculous story of that different than the Koreans invading the US?
  • EDfromRED - February 23, 2011 10:16 a.m.

    I am really looking forward to this game. The story sounds very gritty and gripping, and the 32 player multiplayer has me pumped for more larger sized skirmishes. Unless critics rip it a new one in reviews, it's a day one buy for me too.
  • Shamanix - February 23, 2011 8:30 a.m.

    Yeh i dont know what all the hate is about either i really like the look of this game and it has a awesome story, feed up of the same old call of duty bullshit this should make a welcome change! def pick this up
  • kingdom - February 23, 2011 6:14 a.m.

    I really don't follow your logic FOZ, as far as the single player element goes story is definitely paramount. CoD has become so pop-music formulated that a good and somewhat original story can make a huge difference. If they have solid multiplayer, an interesting, intriguing story to single player, and make it a point to communicate with the community and patch quickly when there are issues I will assume that I won't be the only one thinking blops looks a bit sad in comparison. Either way I feel this game has a great deal of potential, mainly dependent on how the gameplay actually turns out because they have pretty much sold me on the concept so far.
  • KingOfFighters - February 23, 2011 5:33 a.m.

    This is shaping up to be a very good story. I'm still in the Day One buy category.
  • FOZ - February 23, 2011 5:26 a.m.

    The "one soldiers wins WWII" is gameplay, not story. That's not a legitimate comparison. My concern is that the story is getting all of the publicity, and I'm getting no assurance that the actual game is going to be good. I was never particularly interested in the game, but every time I try to read an article, it's just gushing about the story. Controversy and a "gritty" story don't turn an average shooter into a great shooter, do they? And the terrible cliche of somebody bitching at one of your squadmates because he happens to be Asian really makes me wonder if these game is going to maintain any kind of uniqueness at all aside from various "shock" set pieces. I guess I should be off posting this in some forum, but I've already typed this out, so okay. I'm not saying the game is going to be terrible, but I'm not going to be following it closely.
  • OddWoN ER - February 23, 2011 3:38 a.m.

    the point of selecting a unified korea is because it doesn't exist and is less likely to offend. having china be the "bad guys" would be insulting.... point is though its not about who the "bad guys" are really.. its more about who the "good guys" are...us. and giving us a flavor that hasnt been tasted since our origins as a nation.
  • kyle94 - February 23, 2011 3:35 a.m.

    I too don't really understand the hate, mostly when it comes to the storyline. Are people really so upset by the unrealistic nature of a game? Where were these people when soldiers were winning wars all by themselves in WW2 and in the present day? Hell, it's written by the game guy who wrote Red Dawn. Were there people who complained about how a group of high school students fought a guerrilla war against the Soviets, who just decide to paradrop soldiers into the Midwest before any news from any invasions from the rest of the country showed up? It's a movie, and this is a game. It's not designed to be completely realistic. Hell, unless it's non-fiction, no medium is completely realistic.

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