has somewhat slipped under the radar to date, which is surprising considering it's a military first-person shooter with triple-A aspirations from publishing giant THQ
. The game's story, penned by Apocalypse Now
co-writer John Milius, offers a "plausible, but not probable" alternate future vision involving an aggressive North Korea conquering and occupying the US.
The single-player campaign focuses on the dogged, grassroots resistance movement, as bloody war comes to the white picket fences and mum 'n' pop diners of small town America. Developer Kaos Studios has worked with genuine CIA consultants to inject realism into the speculative fiction, including scenarios and weapons that are scarily based on real-world technology and ideas. Add in a multiplayer mode supporting 32-player battles and Homefront
starts to sound like a pretty potent mix. Digital Spy
joined the resistance to put the game's single-player campaign through its paces.
In the world of Homefront
, the US is deep in the economic mire as a post-peak oil state - in which the world's oil supplies have peaked and fallen into decline - has led to a near total collapse of the American way of life. Due to the crippling financial problems, US military forces have withdrawn from Asia, enabling the communist North Korea - under the ambitious Kim Jong-un, son of the late Kim Jong-il - to unify the country with the South. The newly-formed Korean People's Republic then embarks on a programme of expansion throughout China, Japan and other Asian countries, creating a new world superpower. The story officially starts in 2025, as the Korean government launches a satellite into space on a so-called 'goodwill' mission. However, the satellite actually delivers a crippling electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack to America, bringing the country to its knees.
Taking on the role of former pilot Robert Jacobs, the player's journey starts two years later with America under the iron grip of occupation. After waking up in a dirty shack, Jacobs is roughly apprehended by the Korean People's Army (KPA). A soldier brutally rifle-butts him in the face, before dragging him outside to be transported to a prison camp. Immediately, the impact of the occupation is apparent as the transport is actually a quintessential big, yellow American school bus. Instead of happy children boarding the vehicle, however, it is surrounded by a hellish reality of torture, pain and death. Hurled onto the bus, Jacobs watched from the window at the madness outside.
In the unnamed American town, men, women and children were being rounded up by the KPA - beaten, battered, tortured and killed. A man tried to run away from the soldiers but was shot, spattering a mess of blood and tissue onto the window next to Jacobs. A fellow passenger on the bus explained that the oppression runs deep in America and people are being taken away to labour camps to be worked to death. However, he revealed that there is an active resistance force in operation, fighting against the occupiers. On cue, a truck steamed out of nowhere and slammed into the bus, followed by two resistance fighters named Connor and Rianna boarding the stricken vehicle to free Jacobs. Straight away, we assumed free control of the character, picked up a pistol and jumped head-first into the battle.Homefront
is essentially a very linear shooter, tracking a set path through the story while offering few moral choices or particular deviations. The game therefore relies very heavily on its narrative, gameplay, pacing and set pieces; thankfully, these all seem pretty decent. The controls are virtually a clone of the Call Of Duty
setup, so most players will feel instantly at home when jumping in. Everything seems responsive and reasonably tight, but don't expect a shooter revolution from Homefront
. This game is very much FPS by the numbers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
After exiting the bus, we immediately had to take out the KPA forces with the pistol before quickly scavenging a machine gun. Accompanying Connor and Rianna, we guided Jacobs through the battered buildings, periodically eliminating KPA soldiers, before getting stuck in a petrol station as helicopters dropped a small army in front. What ensued was a frantic firefight as we tried to peg back the swarming horde with guns and grenades. Pleasingly, the game throws everything but the kitchen sink at the player right from the outset, raining down gunfire, explosions and frenetic action. The enemy AI is fairly basic, but that is offset by the sheer volume of soldiers to cope with. Eventually, the garage petrol pumps ignited, wiping the enemies off the map.
Connor and Riana are among the core group of characters who will accompany Jacobs on the Homefront
journey. Connor is slightly unhinged and aggressive, while Riana - a former hunter - is much more measured. Along the way, Jacobs will encounter various individuals all dealing with the occupation in different ways: some resisting, some just trying to live their lives and others actively colluding with the enemy. The nuances of these relationships may well prove Homefront
's trump card as it competes with other shooters on the market.
After fighting through more backyards and broken-down homes, Connor, Riana and Jacobs reached Boone Carlson, the spiritual leader of the resistance. Carlson explained that Jacobs is required to lend his pilot experience to help them bring fuel to San Francisco, where the US army forces are massing to launch a counter-strike on the KPA. However, the residents in the neighbourhood immediately came out of their homes and urged the resistance to leave, fearful that their presence will bring unwelcome attention. Illustrating the point, the KPA descended on the cul de sac in numbers, triggering another massive firefight inside a house. We had to keep a keen eye on the front and side-entrances as the soldiers were simultaneously storming from both sides, and it was important to use bullets and grenade strikes intelligently to weather the onslaught.
As KPA tanks arrived on the scene, Riana told Jacobs to get on a nifty piece of kit called the Goliath. The weapon is basically a heavily armed vehicle that is remote-controlled by a laser-targeting visor. Targets can be designated remotely for the Goliath to bring the pain. The gameplay mechanic of using a laser designator is nothing new in FPS gaming, but the twist of using an improvised vehicle is well handled and interesting. The Goliath uses massive cannons and rockets, causing some pretty satisfying devastation on the infinitely superior KPA forces. After smashing the soldiers to pieces with the Goliath and finishing off the stragglers with the rifle, our demo ended.
An interesting aspect to the combat in Homefront
that could set the game apart from other shooters is that it's not a shooter for the spray-happy. Ammo is scarce and the resistance generally has to relay on munitions dropped by fallen enemies to survive. In the demo, it become abundantly clear that headshot kills were always preferable. Kaos Studios said that this scarcity of ammo will become even more pressing in higher difficulty settings, which will no doubt please the more hardcore gamers. The feel of Homefront
obviously draws many parallels with military shooters such as Call Of Duty
, but the game possibly has more in common with the Resistance
series, particularly Resistance 2
in the US occupation stages. Most battles ensue in quintessential small American town (albeit, a nightmarish version thereof), but other environments apparently appear later on, such as woodland, countryside and urban environments.
The graphics in Homefront
are not the most jaw-dropping in the FPS genre - the textures are a little muddy and there is a general lack of sharpness in the presentation. However, the overall feel of the game is solid, particularly the attention to detail in creating the sense of occupation. There are some great little touches, such as "looters will be shot" spray painted on a backyard garage, or a massive aeroplane wheel crashed into a garden after its host body fell from the sky in the EMP strike. Played on an alpha build, the demo unfortunately showed some pretty hefty jitters in the framerate, especially at moments of frantic action. Hopefully Kaos will sort out these issues before the game drops in a few months. Also, the hit detection felt a tad skittish at times, as though hits didn't always register properly. However, this could be part of the drive to make players more frugal and realistic with their ammo and tighter with their aim. This is a matter of survival, after all. Homefront
also has a multiplayer mode supporting up 32 players in US versus KPA battles. The multiplayer is staged in 2025, right at the onset of the occupation, meaning the US forces are still a well-oiled military machine. Players will be able to access a Battlefront
-style range of vehicles and high tech kit, along with a points system for in-game purchases of weapons, kit and upgrades. Where the game's single-player campaign may fall down is with an overly short and un-engaging story that fails to rise above its rather basic presentation and derivative control system. Instead, Homefront
could really shine by bringing its distinctive and compelling premise to bear with an intelligent mix of action and chilling storytelling. These particular battle lines will certainly be drawn come the spring.Homefront will be available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on March 8 in North America and March 11 in Europe.