At the moment, it seems like Homefront’s strongest point is in its realisation that it’s not alone. THQ and Kaos Studios have actively reiterated time and time again they know the military shooter market is saturated and that within that saturation rests some seriously kickass games. They’re not afraid to tell us they know they’re going up against some of the best in the biz, in fact, it’s half the reason they seem to be doing it.
This isn’t because they think they can do it better, or revolutionise it. It’s because they have a story to tell, and a great foundation with which to tell it.
“You know, part of our design philosophy was to build upon proven mechanics,” explains Jeremy Greiner, community manager for Kaos Studios while handing us an Xbox 360 controller for our first hands-on with Homefront’s single-player campaign. “But while implementing our new, innovative features, and in single-player, it’s our story.”
The idea that, for these guys, story is
an innovative feature for the genre says a lot, but the proof, as it were, is in the words, and the game’s single-player narrative has been guided with a hand from John Milius (Apocalypse Now), who’s no stranger to crafting stories that combine paced action against deathly odds and charged characters.
“This isn’t a game about flag-waving; you’re not marching down with the American flag,” Jeremy says passionately. “Your back’s against the wall, you’re a resistance fighter [and] you’re not playing to get from checkpoint to checkpoint, you’re playing through an emotional series of events.”
You are, and we did. The game’s opening is an immediately jarring reminder of just how you got here. “Future history” is what the guys have been calling it, and it’s incredibly rooted in foundational fact
. But the here and now is the important part of Homefront, the future history stuff is just that, history
, the “here and now” is the time to shape your own future destiny
The game kicks off proper as you, Jacob, are absconded and arrested by the Korean People's Army, who are now in clear control of the US. The arrest itself is an immediate chokehold on the player, as everything here is presented in the first-person, and so in essence, you’re being taken captive by the game, posing as virtual future occupiers of a decimated United States.
Forced onto a bus, the world of Homefront is delivered to you in moving form. A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this first section of the game, you’re basically reading a novel of information. Citizens are being rounded up as you drive past; arrested, frisked and even shot, there appears to be no departure from the invading force. Bodies are thrown into drains while tanks roll past and enemy units patrol the streets - it’s a literary chapter of turmoil, torment and emotional torture. A would be escapee adds an exclamation point to your introduction, as his brains and fragments of his skull paint the bus window you’re viewing this terrifying world though, remaining there in plain sight for the duration of your journey. The most painful image though, struck when a mother and father were killed in front of their toddler, whose desperate scream and intense crying only exacerbated the image of him clutching his tiny hands at their lifeless bodies. The whole scene was bitterly gruelling, and it stayed with me for the whole demo.
It’s not long before you’re able to get some revenge though, and in this instance, it was oh-so-sweet. For reasons I won’t spoil, you’re sprung from your tour bus and joined by two renegades, Connor and Rhianna, who arm you and lead you through an ever-changing set-piece of pursuing enemy soldiers, shattered buildings, plane carcasses, backyards and even tree-houses. The corridor-shooter component of the game came as quick and fast as that - one minute your heart is pounding through your chest because of the slow roll-out of the reality of where you, the next you're picking off enemy soldiers with two strangers through a suburban maze. And that’s the beauty of Homefront, it’s ebb and flow. If I walked away from my hands-on confident about one thing, it’s that Kaos have nailed the pacing.
From a gameplay standpoint, the affair is fairly standard, in a Triple A kind of way. You’ll power through corridors and guided pathways before coming into chokepoints filled with enemies. It’s not nearly as driven as that, as the pacing and story offer something of a natural progression to this gameplay context. You’re not specifically moving and then stopping at a wall of enemies, they get there through explosions, or you come across patrols that are on the move - everything is alive and in keeping with the game’s theme of occupation and resistance.
I felt immediately comfortable with the controls, which take the Call of Duty lay out - something the team have openly admitted was conscious. They want people to feel comfortable when they get behind the wheel - it’s Kaos’ scenic route that differentiates them from the rest, and it’s what they’ve focused on most.
After what seemed like 10-minutes of avoiding, evading or confronting enemy patrols, I was finally given a chance to not be back against the wall, to feel all-powerful and get some revenge, and this came in the form of the semi-automated drone, Goliath.
If you’ve ever played Half-Life 2, you probably remember DOG. Goliath is essentially Homefront’s DOG, except you have full control over his missiles, which decimate the enemy. I’ve never felt so validated in a game of this nature before, so sickly happy to totally dominate the enemy and Goliath’s grunts and grinds as it moves with deliberation against your foes only fans your flames of malcontent. He’s like a moving Javeline - just look through the remote reciever you use to control him, wait until you get a lock on your enemies (vehicular or alive) and fire away - the rest is explosive future history.
“This chapter here is basically how this resistance cell forms up,” Jeremy explains once the demo comes to a conclusion. “You’re Jacobs, you met Connor - he’s the badass. You met Boon, he was the one with the civilians, and then Hopper was the one who gave you the controls to Goliath and then Rhianna, obviously... and you’re a cell of freedom fighters kind of torn from your regular life; forced to fight for freedom and doing your small part for the greater good. Your campaign is about acquiring a lot of fuel and a convoy and just bringing it across to the west to help the greater effort - so it’s about the small part that these individuals play to help the greater good in an occupied America.”
The way this is portrayed in some 20-odd minutes is actually brilliant. The characters banter important nuggets of information; constantly fleshing out the game-world at large for you. There’s a massive war going on, and there’s likely to be small resistance movements all over the US, but portraying all of that, as a whole, in a single game would not work and so how Kaos have approached this is in organic beauty, it’s the perfect set-up for a game like this, and fosters notions of an even more grand tale to be told when Homefront itself has come to a conclusion. You, as a character do feel special, but you also feel small - which is a real feat here.
“Everything in this Homefront universe is about the story, it’s about the fiction and it’s about the emotion,” Jeremy says. “Without giving it away, you will come across other groups in the game - that’s all part of the story as well; how that unfolds is all about developing this fiction, this world... and everything may not be as it seems on the cover, you may explore and find things you didn’t expect.”
From a constructive point, I did feel like the player’s forward momentum was a tad sluggish. The multiplayer is very fast-paced, so it could have been that I came off that expecting the single-player to move just as quickly, or it could have been the desperation of the situation I was facing, but I would have preferred Jacob to be a little quicker. Moreover, I often backed into my friendly AI who wouldn’t dynamically move - often leaving me stuck and out in the open for the enemy to pick off. But really, these were my only two issues, and the code I played was pre-alpha, so hopefully previews like this and Q&A testing prior to release picks stuff like this up.
Homefront is also looking a lot better than when I saw it in New York earlier in the year. I still feel it needs more polish, but everything is looking tighter and more rich from a visual stand-point. Animations are rock-solid, hit detection and collision detection are spot-on, while the game’s lighting (specifically bloom lighting) looks great. Explosions too, which often misrepresent in games like this, did an incredible job of adding to the intense action.
In all, I was thoroughly impressed, and the team’s push for the story to be its crowd-pleaser is offered up front, and in spades. I can’t stress how immediately engaging this terrifying world Kaos have created is, or how compellingly well crafted the desire to push through it is, but I’m sold and I’m ready to fight. Sign me up for your resistance Kaos Studios - I want to fight the good fight.