Home is where the bullets are
There's something about Homefront I like, even though you can probably finish the single player in 4 to 5 hours tops, the mix of gunplay and set pieces are fairly well paced (apart from a few places), there's not enough here to add a significant replay value onto the package but what it does come with is a Frontline's style multiplayer mode that builds on the original game and packs in a few nice additions.
Set in the near future, after some serious oil shortages and financial troubles have left the US in a right state, Homefront tells the story of Korea's occupation of the US and the crippled war machine that cannot fight back without some help. Enter the Resistance and the story that's told from the viewpoint of one of those members: Jacobs. Once again, I'm not going to spoil the plot or any of the moment to moment play in single player. It tells a very Red Dawn style story but doesn't quite pan out due to some pacing issues and choices.
You can expect to look down the scopes and iron-sights of an ever-changing arsenal of weapons, this isn't some finely tuned war-machine you're part of, you're down and dirty freedom fighters and you're scavenging everything you can get your hands on. The arsenal for the game is pretty impressive with some nice guns and some heavy weapons, such as rocket launchers and air to air missile launchers. Mix in a few grenades and c4 and you have the typical FPS loadout that you might expect. There's no weapon customisation in single player but you can pick up weapon variants from the dead soldiers to round out your collection. Of course you're also limited to carrying 2 weapons and a few grenades, so don't think you can Rambo this game.
The usual FPS controls are used, the game has a fairly nice feel to it in terms of running and gunning, popping grenades and sighting the enemy. It's possible to snap the crosshair onto targets to some extent ala Call of Duty 4 and get quick headshot kills one after the other against the AI enemies. The levels offer a linear but open approach to cover and usually you'll be able to slaughter the defenders of an area until the last man before you can move on. There are some doors that can only be opened by an AI compatriot and that gets irksome when their AI suffers a pathfinding error and takes a while to get to the door.
It is very much a generic cookie-cutter shooter in that respect, it won't wow you as much as some of the previous shooters in the genre have done. However, that said, there are plenty of cool moments in Homefront that do present the feeling of occupation and desperation. There are also some nicely harrowing moments in the single player that really show just how ruthless the occupation force is and why the freedom fighters are battling so hard against the Korean forces. There are a few in-vehicle gunner moments, as well as a couple where you direct the Goliath, a powerful remote-control APC armed with a rocket mount and chain-guns. You can use a pair of goggles to direct the Goliath to attack various targets and then sit back and watch the carnage.
There is even a chopper flying sequence that's fun and enjoyable, which was a change from some games that present helicopters in their missions and make them on rails or just plain terrible to control. Add into this a few other gameplay mechanics seen in a few other genre shooters and you've got a competent enough shooting package that needed to be longer in single player.
There are checkpoints throughout and some of them are placed a little too far apart, with your character being outgunned and the semi-useful AI will occasionally help out but most of the time it'll hang back and do nothing at all. I had to restart some sections several times until I worked out exactly what it was I was doing wrong, so along with a feeling of frustration there was at least some accomplishment that balanced it out.
There were no real problems with aiming and shooting during the single player section of the game, no miss-target moments where the sight didn't pin down the Korean bad guy that I was aiming at. They might have taken a few more bullets based on their enemy type, but there was a feeling of weight to those shots.
The game does a good job in presenting the atmosphere of an occupied US and making you want to fight for your freedom. Not bad really. It has regenerating health like many CoD games before it and keeping to cover is a valid strategy, as long as the calibre of bullet doesn't blast it away.
Homefront presents the graphics fairly well, they're not up there with some of the best shooters like CoD 4 or MW2, need we say: Black Ops. But they work well enough to create the kind of atmosphere that Homefront needs. Yes the textures aren't as crisp as they could be; they're not as sharp as we've seen elsewhere. The levels of detail aren't quite as insane as in Crysis 2 for example but this is Homefront not Crysis 2. They're reasonable and the game remains solid throughout running at a fair lick, without any stutters or noticeable pop in when things are presented further away. There are a few hitscan problems with objects in the environment blocking bullets when they really should simply just pass right across, this persists across multiplayer as well.
These little niggles are annoying leading to some wasted ammo, which is of course not something you want to lose in a game where you're robbing the dead guys of their weapons to replenish your stocks on a favourite pistol or rifle.
They're not the best out there but they do a good enough job in conveying the emotion of the characters, the effect of the weapons, the various death animations and set piece fights that often happen when you're not expecting them. Again, it's all done decently but there's nothing that really really shines here and it's a shame in that respect. Characters do move reasonably well and the AI can take cover whilst of course Jacobs has to crouch behind something, rather than being able to stick to cover or peek around things. Prone crawling animation is fairly decent as well, though you can't actually see your character's legs and looking down gives an impression of floating.
Ragdoll physics is good enough, some environmental objects can be destroyed and there's a really nice feeling of satisfaction when a group of bad guys are thrown around by a well placed explosion or grenade. Some cover can be blown apart by heavy munitions and bullets, so beware where you're hiding; it might not be there for long.
It's decent enough, which is pretty much sums up the whole Homefront single player experience. Your partner AI can become a little flaky and decide to hang back or shoot the wrong way now and then. It's not a regular occurrence and it doesn't really spoil the game unless you really need to rely on their distraction to be able to take down a particular tough enemy or get a good flanking move. Enemy AI is ruthless with a decent level of tactics, close quarters attacks and accuracy. They use cover fairly well and can work together to perform coordinated assaults.
A decent level of sound design makes the game good enough for audio atmosphere, the sounds of the dying as the Koreans are obviously attacking more and more neighbourhoods provide a gritty backdrop to the moment to moment action. This combines with various suburban audio along with distant gunfire to give a feeling of occupation and resistance. Weapon sounds are good enough and vehicles have some solid audio too.
The music to Homefront is good stuff, there's a nice mix of lament themes and stirring war motifs that add to the atmosphere.
There's nothing here that really stands out, but it's not terrible. The voice actors do a good enough job with their roles and they don't sound as flat or bored as some games I've played in the past where it's obvious someone has done it for a paycheque. The script and story varies from chapter to chapter but manages to do a good enough job apart from a few pacing problems. It was written by the guy that wrote Red Dawn, so if you think it seems somewhat familiar, there's the reason.
With such a short single player, it's a good job that Homefront (now) has a robust multiplayer. At first it was plagued by lag, constant servers disconnect and terrible wait times to get into a game for many players. These problems seem to have been mostly resolved and I've been able to get into the meat and potatoes of the game quite a few times and play for a good few hours. What I've played of it, I've liked and this is why.
You can play on ranked servers for XP or play privately on your server with friends.
Homefront has 3 core modes.
Team Deathmatch: The usual team versus team on big maps, supports up to 24 players and the servers are usually rammed full of people playing. Wait times aren't too bad here and you can get some great games once you're on a stable server. You'll take turns being put on both teams and matched up with various ranked players.
Skirmish: Deathmatch for up to 16 players. Wait times here were oddly higher than normal; I had to join a few extra matches now and then until I got in a good game. It's because apparently Skirmish uses P2P hosting and the player that leaves because they're getting owned ruins it for everyone else. So if you're hosting a Homefront match, just stick it out. Not as fun as team deathmatch.
Ground Control: Probably the most fun mode, there are points to capture and hold, gaining ground as you assault the enemy positions. This will push the frontline forwards and eventually allow the teams to win. This mode has a mixed server response and many of the games I joined were fine and virtually lag free.
There are also quite a few maps to Homefront, they're large and there's a lot of ground to cover that allows for a sniper class to excel particularly. There are several classes open to begin with, such as Assault, Heavy, Sniper and so on. It's possible to customise your base class with new weapon loadouts, a perks system similar to that used in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, as well as loading up with two inventory items that can be used on d-pad up and down. The key feature to this game however is the use of Battle Points, an in-game currency that can be traded right there and then for those inventory items or used in a spawn menu to come back into the fight in a vehicle. You can also spawn into team vehicles as a secondary gunner and help against the enemy that way.
Battle Points tend to come thick and fast as long as you get in there and play hard. You can get assists for helping out team members, killing enemies with headshots and all sorts of other reasons. Once you start racking up those points you're going to start unlocking new equipment and ranks, with better sights and scopes available as you progress through the unlocks. Also, each weapon does have associated challenges involving kills and kill streaks.
It's the fact you can pay in-game for items that really makes the game a solid multiplayer contender so far, bringing an Anti-Tank rocket to the party when overwhelmed by a tank is fantastic. Having one on the d-pad means that if you have the BP to spend, you can whip that out and use it right there and then without needing to navigate a clumsy menu.
When you hit rank 7 there's a variant mode that you can activate, called: Battle Commander - this essentially puts an AI Commander on each team. The commanders scan the battle, and determine who is doing well or so on and gives those bonuses, missions and other objectives. If you're doing nothing, it'll give you someone to shoot. Of course the enemy commander is doing the same thing and if you're racking up the kills, eventually his AI eye is going to turn to you and make you a valid kill target. You'll get a huge BP bounty on your head and the enemy that kills you racks up the points for that kill.
It's a simple system that makes the Ground Control and Team Deathmatch modes even more fun, with some extra incentive to play and succeed.
Home, Home on the Range!
This game is definitely worth playing in multiplayer. Stick to Team Deathmatch and GC modes though because Skirmish isn't all that fun compared to both of those. The short single player really does let it down and the lack of replay in that respect may put you off. Homefront really shines online though and that's where you'll find a well designed and addictive online experience waiting to draw you in. It may not win over the CoD crowd or those of you (like me) who cut their teeth on Quake mp and Battlefield...it does the job though and really does make working as part of a team a good thing. It innovates in a few places but doesn't quite make the leap to awesome game sadly.