The first thing you will notice about Homefront is that its story is rubbish. For months now, promotional footage of this game has gone out of its was to remind us that it’s written by John Milius of Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now and that he’s created an oh-so-plausible future of Korean expansion and domination. You’ve probably seen the infamous opening sequence in which you are dragged from your home, put in a bus and forced to watch the brutality of Korean occupation. People are beaten, tied up and a child watches as his parents are shot. All very dramatic stuff, all very shocking. It gives you a reason to hate the enemy, something that’s been sorely lacking in a first person shooter since gamers decided they’d had enough of Nazi’s. Sadly, that opening sequence is one of the only times this game achieves anything dramatic and shocking. It will try later on, but will rarely succeed. Considering how much they promoted John Milius’s involvement and how much they talked about the setup of events, you would expect a strong story and interesting characters. But what you get is a game that has no story and relies on shock moments to pretend it’s deep. It really isn’t and I assure you, no one is more disappointed about that than I am. I had such high expectations for this game, it’s story and it’s bold depiction of an occupation. Once that initial bus ride was over the game might as well have said, “Right, we’ve shown you they’re bastards, now go kill them.” Everything just turns into an uninspired, generic, third person shooter with a story that at best, is simply going through the motions.
What a joke
For example, early on once I was rescued from the bus, I was taken to a rebel hideaway. I was told about the place and it was suggested to me that I talk to the locals before heading off on the next mission. I talked to two of them before realising I getting one line answers from people who wouldn’t even look at me while they said it. I decided to just go on the mission straight away. Later, I came back from a mission to find the Koreans had found the base and killed everyone. The woman did her crying shtick and the guy did his whole, “Farewell, old friend, I’ll cry when no one’s looking,” routine. But me? I felt nothing.
Apparently, I’m suppose to give a shit that this guy’s dead.
Compare this to a sequence in Half-Life 2 which, in many ways is quite similar: you meet up with the other characters, hang out, chat, then it all goes tits-up. You watch Alyx have the tiff with another scientist, her father has a chat with you and then Alyx then takes you on a tour of the facility. Remember her words, “That’s the old passage to Ravenholm. We don’t go there any more,”? They’re full of sorrow, without being overplayed. We feel for her, but then we enjoy her company as we play fetch with Dog. What makes Half-Life 2’s attempt so much more successful is, it works to make you, the player, connect emotionally with the characters around you. Homefront does not. While Half-Life 2 has character interact with you and talk to you, Homefront’s character’s regard you the way they would regard an invisible, non-corporeal life form: like you aren’t there.
If the game had had me spend more time with these people, and had me care about them, I might give a damn when they die, but it didn’t. Failing this, the game tries other ways of making you feel the human drama, but these attempts similarly fall flat on their faces. Once event early on has you defend a house in which a woman and her baby are inside. That baby does nothing but cry from the moment the first shot is fired. Realistic perhaps, but also infuriating. Imagine your favourite gun fight in Modern Warfare 2, then imagine a baby crying over it. It doesn’t help either that the child’s mother was constantly screaming things like “Don’t hurt my baby!” I was sorely tempted to leave America to its fate right there and then.
The only other time the game came close to evoking an emotional feeling in me was the now infamous mass-grave moment, in which you and your team mates climb in among the bodies and play dead in order to avoid a patrol team. You lie there for a good minute or so, staring at dead faces, while in the background the Koreans have a scout around. It’s quite disturbing, and evokes memories of World War 2 documentaries, though sadly much was made about it prior to release so I knew it was coming.
Had they not publicised this so much, it might have been a truly disturbing moment.
Unfortunately, for a game that wants us to think about the human element to war, the other man on your group seems emotionally detached. He tells you to get into the bodies like he’s telling you to hide behind a rock. A little less “Stop being a pussy” sentiments and a little more “Oh, Jesus, we’re climbing into a mass-grave” would have helped.
You have three team mates, who have the personality of a wooden chair. The game tries to make these people interesting by having them argue with one another, but it usually ends up being an annoyance. Leaving aside the fact that they are badly written, walking stereotypes (the guy’s overly aggressive, the woman’s overly emotional and the other one’s a token Korean-American), their arguments always happen after hitting the checkpoint, not before, and they usually come just before you storm through a door. So if your die and go back to the checkpoint and you have to listen to their drivel all over again, instead of just being able to storm the door again. Pretty soon, I was cringing every time these people opened their mouths. They never had anything interesting to say or add to the moment and most of the time I really wished they would just stay quiet. Add to that, the voice actors are badly directed and conversations just don’t flow together properly. It feels more like they’re talking at each other than to each other.
The other major problem is on a technical level. More often than not, people’s dialogue cuts out mid-line, before the other person starts talking only to stop mid line. I heard people holding conversations with someone who wasn’t responding to them, I saw people voices go out of sync with their lip movements. I saw people holding conversations with very noticeable gaps between lines. And then, of course, there were the one liners in battle, and if ever there was a reason to go into the menu and just turn the voice volume down to zero, this is it. These guys have one or two lines at most and they say them over and over. Angry-Guy’s favourite was “Take that, you fucks!” and he must say it about four or fives times a fight. Thinking on how many fights there are in the average First Person Shooter, I assure you, those fuck took that. A lot.
I hate these guys.
Gameplay has its ups and downs. The first person shooter elements are competent, if uninspired. It’s pretty much a copy-cat of Call of Duty: you look down your sight, aim the red dot, enemies go down in a few shots. Enemies do have an annoying tendency to re-spawn and keep coming until you move forward and trigger the next event. The animation of these guys is also a bit ropey, and at times they don’t so much stand up from behind cover as pop up out of thin air. Their AI is also rather suspect and they tend to run into your cross hair before adding themselves to the growing pile of bodies on the floor. While the game is a bit more forgiving when it comes to how much damage a grenade will do to you, you will go down in just a few hits and the game can be a bit cheap about this. It seemed like the enemies could shoot through some kinds of cover, which is expected in shooters these days, but when I made a point of trying to shoot through the same cover myself, I couldn’t. I also noticed far to many times that the cover itself was not always high enough to keep me fully covered while crouched. I could have gone prone, I suppose, but that seems more like a design fault that basic cover wont protect me from enemy fire.
There’s more than just the enemies getting in your way, though. First off, there’s your team mates. In far more competent games like Modern Warfare, if you want to stand in a spot another soldier is occupying, he’ll move out of your way. In Homefront, your team mate aren’t moving for diddlysquat, and they hold their ground like a tank. Even brushing past them can stop you in your tracks and you have to give them a wide berth before moving on. What will also grind you to a halt is bits of debris or rubbish on the ground. At one point I was hiding behind a concrete barrier that was torn apart by machine gun fire. I tried to run for new cover, but was stuck in place. By debris.
You’re team mates are also morons and while they do occasionally shoot at something, they mostly just aim at nothing and shout their stupid one liners.
Maybe there’s a bad guy inside the walls…
They’re also very guilty of causing events to grind to a halt. They’ll yell at you to do something like charge through a door or crawl through a hole in a wall, but it’s pretty obvious the game wants them to go through first. Instead of being able to pass through the door I would hit an invisible wall and would have to wait for them to pass through first (usually after another pointless conversation.) One time they were yelling at me to run up a stairwell to get to the roof. I went running past them and to the stairs only to realise, when I got to the top, that they hadn’t followed. They were still down the bottom, yelling at me to get up the stairs. I had to run back down and stand behind them in order to get them to go up.
I’ve heard some people complain that the game has far to much “Hollywood Blockbuster” moments in it, too much over the top action in it. Really, that didn’t bother me so much. It bothers me in Modern Warfare 2, because I know that series can do better than over the top action and shock moments. Homefront can’t, and I know it can’t, so the over the top action was all I could look forward to. Things like the white phosphorous going wrong were honestly fun to watch, and I also enjoyed the change of pace at the half way point where I was sneaking about and sniping people from a bell tower. But still, it’s not enough to make you forget that this game has no central villain, no boss battles and no real stand out game play moments.
You really get the feeling that Homefront’s trying, but it never gets there. When Batman: Arkham Asylum was delayed, it was to take the extra time to give the game a polish, and it showed. Homefront could have done with the same. It wouldn’t have fixed all of the games problems, but it may have sorted some of them. Gamers and critics are happy to ignore the stupid story in Modern Warfare 2 because the game play is superb. But the hollow, near non-existent story, in combination with a lot of game play annoyances come together to make one big mess of a game. I had high hopes for Homefront and more than anger or annoyance I just felt disappointment from beginning to end.