Homefront hands-on preview

In case you missed it, we previously talked about how Homefront’s a sort-of videogame remake of Red Dawn inour 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.

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.