Homefront Review

Russ Pitts | 15 Mar 2011 11:00
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Homefront really pisses me off. I don't mean in that controller-throwing, armchair-beating, small-animal-kicking way that the most difficult and frustrating games elicit (although Homefront has that going for it in spades). I mean in the way that we were so close - so close! - to finally proving that narrative in games is at least as important as gameplay, that to see a game with so much going for it -narratively - come so close to awesomeness yet fail due to lackluster design is crushing.

What the game gets right is to create an effective modern combat shooter with a stirring message. Said message being that we will all be royally fucked in the event of an invasion of the US. That hits close to home, literally. And the game does such a good job of painting a realistic and believable portrait of that suckitude that playing it reminds me that I still have to stock up on batteries and beans and take a few first aid classes.

Homefront's story was created by the same guy who brought us the original Red Dawn, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Whereas Red Dawn was about a Soviet invasion of the US, Homefront is about an invasion by the forces of North Korea following a sneak attack by EMP blast that knocks out everything with an on/off switch (as the stewardess says).

Yet the game - narratively anyway - goes well beyond simple post-apocalypsism. The game's story picks up in the year 2026, 15 years from the present, and projecting the state of the world in the event the absolute worst current world circumstances continue unabated. In other words, imagine the current world economic decline never stops. Imagine the United States military never stops being overstretched. Imagine the Middle East continues to unravel. Imagine, in other words, nothing goes right for the next 15 years - except for in North Korea, who somehow manages to conquer its southern neighbor, assimilate Japan and slowly, systematically absorb a number of Southeast-Asian nations to become the world's single superpower, taking over from Japan to be the sole proprietor of radios and microwaves for the entire world that is somehow able to buy them in spite of being economically depressed. Then imagine it decides to poke the United States with a stick large enough to set the stage for you to star in a thrilling FPS adventure on American soil. That's Homefront.

I'm no stranger to post-apocalyptic narratives, but the picture this game paints is so grim it's almost mind-numbing. The entire first 15 minutes of the game is eaten up with the expository cinematic followed by your character being subdued by uniformed North Korean soldier - in Colorado - then shoved into a bus and made to watch as the bus rolls by some of the most horrific scenes of wartime atrocity ever put into a videogame. By the time the bus reaches the end of its journey you will have either gotten the message loud and clear that these Koreans are bad, bad dudes, or you'll be sick to your stomach. Probably both. Honestly, I see what the game is going for here, but there's no excuse for this kind of shock-mongering.

Gameplay-wise, Homefront is straight up modern shooter, by which I mean a Modern Warfare clone. The weapons are numerous and gun-porn-tastic. The enemies are smart and tough. You will die plenty of times while scrambling for cover only to find that that concrete barrier isn't a tough as you thought it would be. You can only take barely more punishment than the baddies and when you shoot them, they leak blood and crumple in extremely satisfying ways. If you like your shooters gritty and right on the knife edge between realism and "fun to play," then Homefront will not disappoint.

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