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Homefront hands-on preview

From this rosy encounter we move on to a football field where we discover a mass grave. Bodies are just piled up in a huge trench. Seeing this, the more hotheaded member of our group goes ballistic and enters berserker mode against overwhelming odds, forcing us to back him up. After we sneak around the perimeter and eliminate automated sentries that remind us of the HK tanks from the Terminator future scenes, we meet up to ponder the mass grave. We don’t have much time to think, though, as a fleet of helicopters comes in and we have nowhere to run. That means the unthinkable: climbing down in amongst the bodies and hiding. We even have to prop a corpse’s arm over our head, which dangles unpleasantly from the top of the screen as we peek at the KPA soldiers looming above the grave. Sanitized depiction of war, this most certainly is not.

After this particularly horrifying development, it seems our hothead friend wants payback, and what he does is put in a special order to change the conventional explosives we were supposed to get to white phosphorous. In case you haven’t heard of it, white phosphorous is some seriously horrible shit. It’s banned by the Geneva Convention for use against civilians because it has a lovely habit of attaching to a person’s skin and then burning them, creating a weapon of not efficiency, but of agony. Granted, the KPA doesn’t qualify as a civilian force, but the morality of using white phosphorous against them is still questionable. The rest of the resistance isn’t happy about this, but they begrudgingly go along because they need all the weaponry they can get.

This leads to an intense mission where we’re tasked with providing sniper support while the resistance lures a mass of KPA soldiers into an area we can bombard with phosphorous. When the explosion goes off, it’s spectacular… at first. What starts as awe turns to unease as we watch KPA burning alive and screaming horrifically. We don’t feel happy at all about what we’ve done. From there, it gets much worse. Suddenly the weapons misfire and gleaming white fire is raining down on our own forces. Now the “good guys” are screaming and burning, and we see how we pay for the excess of our wrath.

So far, the way Homefront’s story develops is extremely well done and leaves us with high hopes for the rest of the game, although of course the plot could always turn ridiculous. The characters feel complex, the setting comes across as uncomfortably realistic, and the dialogue is well written. The action is standard stuff but certainly intense, and we noted that the game’s difficulty ramped up like crazy just into the second mission – we died multiple times on one small skirmish, so it’s not going to be a cakewalk, which is probably appropriate considering the overall grim tone of the game. We hope that the game pulls out some original gameplay touches, because as it is we have a solid FPS wrapped in a very promising story, so some creative touches in the weapons and combat could make for a fantastic game.

Feb 22, 2010