So what would happen if - in the year 2027 - the United States of America had its ass handed to it by a unified and nuclear-armed Korea? Homefront, the new first-person shooter from Frontlines: Fuel of War developer, Kaos Studios, pulls no punches answering that very question in the game's properly shocking opening 10 minutes.
After being rounded-up by the none-too-friendly soldiers of the Korean People's Army and bundled on a bus with other captive suburbanites, a drive through a besieged American neighbourhood paints a pretty bleak picture.
There's fear. There's panic. There's brutality. There are cold-blooded executions. Terrified citizens are led away to their fates. Rows and rows of body bags litter the sidewalks like giant leeches. Dead ones. Sobbing parents are gunned down in front of their distraught children. A man on his knees has a plastic bag roughly shoved over his head and squirms desperately as the life is suffocated out of him.
Above: Not what you want to see when you wake up in the morning
Actually, bleak doesn't do it justice. What's going on is inhumane sickness. In comparison, it makes the backseat ride at the start of Call of Duty 4 seem like a quick poke in the Tunnel of Love. And, according to Kaos, the intro sets the tone for what we can expect throughout the game's single-player campaign.
In Homefront's future, the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave is being burglarised by the very hostile, very aggressive Korean People's Army. Such a scenario would not be resolved with tea and cake and a few hands of Canasta by the fire with Bing Crosby. So before players even join the ragtag resistance, the opening scenes make it absolutely clear that shit is going to get uglier than a pack of pit bulls bum-rushing a home for abandoned kittens.
Above: Bob quickly discovered that being invaded by the Koreans was a real drag
The level that follows the harsh intro is certainly relentless and comes with a few shock moments of its own. After being dramatically busted out of the bus, it's straight into the fray with your rescuers, grabbing weapons and ammo whenever you can as you shoot your way through almost overwhelming numbers of the KPA.
Some of the first level set-pieces have an echo of the familiar about them. There's a shootout at an abandoned petrol station, a classic 'flank the tank and plant some C4 on it' moment and a battle through the wreckage of a downed passenger plane. But, to be honest, the bullets keep flying at such an intensity that there's not really any time to stand still and think about it for too long.
Above: Homefront's battles are fought in the streets and houses of suburbia. The clue's in the name, I guess
Residents still live in the neighbourhoods that you fight through and some of the citizens don't exactly welcome the resistance with hugs and kisses. They figure that if you're stomping through their kitchens, the KPA isn't going to be too far behind. And they don't want to be suffocated with plastic bags under suspicion of being in cahoots with the resistance. Which is fair enough, even if it's not particularly patriotic.
It's the presence of some innocents caught in the crossfire that helps make one of the shootouts particularly memorable. You take up position in a house and as you shoot through the windows at the advancing KPA, the distressed occupants - a mother and her screaming baby - are a constant noise in the background. It makes the situation pretty fraught and there's a real sense of relief as they make it out safely.
Above: This vehicle is called 'Goliath'. It's controlled remotely and is particularly useful for killing Koreans that are invading your neighbourhood
The crying baby was really playing on my mind and I felt compelled to ask Kaos if there will be any ickle baby fatalities in the game. I was assured that while Homefront hammers away on the shock strings, at no point during the game does a baby actually take a bullet. Phew, mega-controversy averted for another day.
Overall, I've got to say that I'm pretty hyped for Homefront's campaign. I was keen from the first moment I heard about the whole 'future Korea tea-bagging USA in their own backyard' story concept. Now, having played it, I'm hopeful that if Kaos can maintain the pace of the first level throughout the whole game, we should be in for a shooter that's got more than just an intriguing storyline to shout about.
Homefront will be out for PC, PS3 and 360 early next year. You can read our Homefront multiplayer preview here.
November 8, 2010