Preview: Homefront

Steve Butts | 11 Nov 2010 10:00
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To celebrate the opening of THQ Montreal, projected to be the largest studio in the publisher's system within five years, THQ invited dozens of journalists from around the world to tour the studio and play through the latest build of Homefront. THQ's upcoming shooter puts players in the boots of an American guerilla, fighting in the resistance movement against a successful North Korean invasion of the United States. The fiction for the game postulates increased North Korean aggression - the team jokes that the current North Korean regime has been "very cooperative" in supporting that image - first against its Asian neighbors and then against the US. Combined with a worsening economic situation in the States, US troops are unable to keep Korean forces from staging a successful invasion. Now it's up to the player to fight for his homeland.

Though it's developed by Kaos Studios, the new game displays much of the philosophy that seems to drive the Montreal team. This is a game aimed squarely at the hardcore, with little in the way of concessions for the casual audience. "There's no room for average games in the world," the developers told us, and Homefront hopes to stand out on the basis of its compelling story and comfortable shooter gameplay.

The team members hope to focus on the memorable moments that define certain games, but were quick to remind us that "games aren't driven by story first." Mechanics must come first, according to the creators in Montreal, and the fiction is just there to "make the mechanics sticky." More than once, we were told that Half-Life 2 was a particular inspiration in this regard, primarily for the way it allows story and gameplay to occupy the same moment.

To a certain extent, much of the story of the game is just part of the background. The difference between fighting enemy invaders in Colorado and fighting Covenant on Halo or the Taliban in Afghanistan is basically that the billboards are in English rather than alien gibberish or Farsi. But there's a certain visceral reaction that players will have to seeing more familiar suburban backdrops to these battles. Merely showing the ways that war can damage such a familiar and comfortable setting helps reinforce both the overall purpose and the lingering unease inherent in the premise.

It's all part of the fundamental teenage fantasy so perfectly captured in John Milius's script for the film Red Dawn. This shouldn't be particularly surprising; Milius is also the writer behind this game. On some level, most of us crave the drama (at least in a vicarious or virtual form) of fighting for the places we love. And what's nearer to our hearts than the America we live in? It offers a ready answer to the question "Why am I shooting these people?"

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