Homefront: hands on

First person shooter video games are big business. Over the last few years, publishers have tried to make them more relevant and adult by concentrating on things like writing and plot, with varying degrees of success (Modern Warfare 2, anyone?). Homefront, created by Kaos Studios and published by THQ, is pulling out all the stops with its frighteningly prescient storyline. Written by John ‘Apocalypse Now’ Milius, the game is set in the near future in the year 2027, and charts the military and economic rise of North Korea under its new leader, Kim Jong-un, who replaces Kim Jong-il following his death. Under its new leader, North Korea unifies with its neighbour in the south and gradually begins to take over the Asia-Pacific region.

The carefully planned storyline mirrors recent news headlines, and takes them further still, imagining an America invaded by North Korean forces following an EMP burst, leaving the US military in tatters and the country annexed by enemy forces. As a civilian you can either capitulate or fight back. Like Milius’ previous invasion story, Red Dawn, you choose to fight back.

It’s a great story, and we’re sure the single player game will rock. But increasingly, it’s the multiplayer component of shooters that is most important, and Homefront is no exception. It’s bigger than most console shooters, offering matches of 16 versus 16 on a variety of urban and rural maps, and throws in everything from the M1 Abrams tank, LAV infantry vehicle and AH64 Apache, as well as futuristic weapons like aerial and ground-based drones armed with heavy machine guns. As is standard for the genre, you progress in-game by accumulating XP in every match, but in a new twist, Homefront features ‘Battle Points’. These are earned for kills and mission objectives and can be ‘spent’ in-game on ammo or, once you’ve earned enough, on UAV drones armed with rockets, tanks or even an Apache gunship. Buy one of those and you spawn in it, rather than have to find it on the battlefield and fight the rest of your team for it. Buy a recon UAV and you can ‘paint’ enemy soldiers, earning points every time a team mate kills them. It’s a neat system that works very well in practice.

The game mode we played, Ground Control, will be familiar to anyone who’s played Domination in MW2. Capture three map points and stop them from falling into enemy hands. Simple and fun. Your weapons are pretty par for the FPS course, too, with primary and secondary load outs, and class slots for snipers, infantry, heavy machine gunners, specialist (i.e. silenced Spec Ops) and so on. In a nod to your future tech, you can arm yourself with EMP grenades to disable vehicles, which is another nice touch. Each class also has access to different Battle Point rewards, which means you have to tailor your play style to the kill streak…ahem, bonus attack weapon of your choice.

We were let loose on a pre Alpha build of the game by THQ, and it’s a blast. We played on two maps, Cul-de-Sac and Farm, which both offer different gameplay styles. Cul-de-Sac is anytown USA, a tight urban suburb with big houses, open streets and gardens, a petrol station and lots of parked cars and barricades for cover.

Rushing through the alleys and gardens of Cul-de-Sac, first impressions are of a surprisingly polished game, given its pre-alpha status. The graphics aren’t final, but they’re surprisingly good and reminiscent of Bad Company, with a slightly golden, autumnal look to the scenery. Characters are well drawn and you seem to have more ‘weight’ than in, say, MW2, giving the game more of a Bad Company feel to it, although in this build movement still felt a little floaty. Weapons all have a decent heft, with recoil, which means burst fire gets results at long range, and using the drones is seriously good fun. Surprisingly, the recon UAV proved to be the most enjoyable, probably because you earn Battle Points for ‘painting’ enemies as well as when your team mates kill them. Spawn points all seemed to be pretty good in the games we played; we didn’t suddenly appear in front of enemy soldiers, for example, or end up being spawn trapped and slaughtered. As you spawn you drop down into the map, offering you a view of both enemy and friendly troop placements; it’s a good way of highlighting areas to avoid!

Farm, meanwhile, is a far more open environment that lends itself more to vehicular combat, with Apaches and Abrams tearing the landscape up. The buildings are bigger, offering good vantage points for snipers, while spending your Battle Points on Javelin missiles will earn you a fortune as you take down opposing tanks and choppers. The action is just as the developers wanted it: frantic. There are fewer obvious choke points on a sprawling map like this, and there are a few more routes to objectives, which leads to more running battles and less camping. But with so many vehicles hurtling around, staying alive means diving from cover to cover.

With controls that will be familiar to anyone who’s played a first person shooter in the last few years, Homefront is a serious contender for top shooting honours. The real killer for serious players? Kaos are promising that consoles and PCs will run from dedicated servers. With the game already looking very slick and playing smoothly, the remaining few months before launch can only help polish things even more. Homefront should definitely be on your radar when it’s released in the New Year on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, at a time when the FPS titles released at the end of this year may well be feeling a little too familiar for most gamers.

Guest Writer: David Rider

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4 comments

  1. With this and Brink, 2011 is gonna kick off with a bang.

  2. half_empty80 /

    I’m looking forward to this one. The MP I can take or leave, but if the story is right the SP should be great. I’m hoping of a whole Red Dawn /Freedom Fighters vibe

  3. If it ain’t got a sweet multiplayer, it ain’t gonna be worth it.

    • Sarodimin /

      Erm… half life 1&2 didn’t have multiplayer (save Half life:deathmatch) neither did Metal Gears 1-4 (the multiplayer in 3 and 4 sucked) a lot of games are great SP but suck in MP, personally, i find a good single player campaign negates a bad MP, while a great MP never can really replace a terrible SP. Take the Stalker series, phenomenal levels and gameplay, terrible multiplayer.

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