Here’s the thing about Homefront: it tries really, really, really hard to be something it doesn’t quite have the fortitude to be. It has the foundation; it has the correct vision; it has the ambition to be something great. It just doesn’t have the chops. Perhaps a fair analogy would be an amateur athlete that works like a dog, that hits the gym at 6 a.m. and is the first guy on the practice field, but just doesn’t have the raw talent to hit the big time. In that way, it’s actually a little depressing that Kaos Studios’ title didn’t succeed in leaping over a lofty bar, because I can appreciate drive and motivation. That all being said, while the end result isn’t enough to be considered “elite,” sometimes it feels as if the individual highlights are better than the overall production…kind of like the opposite of “better than the sum of its parts.” Certain things will stand out; I can promise you that.
Visually, this one surprised me a bit. The developers were able to correctly capture the dark, intimidating uncertainty of a military engagement on domestic soil. It’s something we Americans haven’t known since the Revolutionary War but in Homefront, we wage war with North Korea within U.S. boundaries, and that is a chilling proposition. It also requires a capable graphical presentation that doesn’t skimp on the detail and sharpness; that flings grit and dirt directly in our shocked and dismayed faces. For the most part, we do get a visual palette that succeeds in delivering an atmosphere and environment that hits to the very core and often leaves us breathless. Unfortunately, there are several technical mistakes; i.e., clipping and collision detection, and a few other minor issues that hinder the intense style. In short, it has its memorable moments without being impressive.
In terms of sound, a lot of the audio reminds me of a mix of Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, and much like the graphics, there are times when the sound stands out. During some of the more hectic campaign moments, the audio carries the day with crisp, explosive effects and a fair amount of decent – even great – music. As you continue to press forward through the campaign, the sound continues to shine, even if the balance falls through during certain segments. In a game loaded with distinct peaks and valleys, the sound follows the rollercoaster trend: at one time, a two-minute cut-scene is left ringing in your ears and your pulse quickens; the next, we downshift to generic action and sound effects that simply settle for “okay.” It’s as if they spent more time and effort on the technical elements at particular times, and while intriguing, it’s a little unsettling.
Homefront starts with a bang and never really lets up. That’s the good news. The bad news is it lets up all too soon when the game ends abruptly after the 6-hour mark. There’s little doubt that the emotional drama inherent in Kaos’ hard-hitting shooter allows the game to stand apart, because we’re often shocked at what we see. We sometimes even sit on the edge of our seats, preparing to wince and hoping we'll soon get our chance to administer some sweet justice. The pacing works out very well as we will build to important encounters featuring multiple allies and opponents, and the instant it’s over, we’re doing something very different; something slower that plays on the senses and nerves. Granted, the characters aren’t intricately drawn and you’ll forget most the minute you’re done with the campaign, but the impact is unquestionable. You will feel both frightened and powerful when on the battlefield and your luck can swing quickly and unexpectedly.
Despite what may be assumed based on the overall score, I want to make this clear: it’s fun because it really does try to separate itself from the sea of FPSs out there and while the taste it leaves in your mouth is bittersweet, the “sweet” parts are wholly satisfying. The control works just fine, every scene features an engaging environment with a compelling goal, and you always feel as if you have control over your own destiny. The only problem is that, as I said above, it doesn’t have the strength to see it through to the end- frankly, it just doesn’t finish what it starts. In the first two hours, I was going, “damn, this is pretty freakin’ cool,” but in the second half of the game, I started to lose interested and heard myself saying, “yeah…okay…and…?” It’s as if they started building a very appealing architectural structure and just slapped on something generic halfway through. "It would've been beautiful," you'll say...
The story falls off, the intensity falls off and in short, one finds the drama attempts to cover a straightforward and mostly unimpressive gameplay format. It’s a shooter. It’s a competent, reliable, fun shooter, to be sure, but it’s still just a shooter. It doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, it doesn’t implement any refreshing mechanics, and although the multiplayer is a highlight, there isn’t anything you won’t expect, either. There just aren’t enough modes when playing online, but at least the experience is familiar; I call that a plus because it’s easy to dive in and get started. You’ll earn experience, level up, buy new weapons and snag a few cool perks along the way, and I have to say, I did enjoy the map layouts. The remote-controlled stuff is way cool, too, and I’m hoping more FPSs will take advantage of the military drone in the future; it’s one of the most strategic and entertaining multiplayer features out there.
Then there are vehicles and plenty of chances to impress the hell out of your teammates. Also, you may have noticed that THQ mentioned those dedicated servers, so I’ll make sure to note them as a bonus in this review. It’s just that, whether you’re playing single-player or multiplayer online, you sort of get this slightly unsatisfied feeling. After you finished the short campaign, you’ll be recalling all the most intense moments with a gleam in your eye and a pounding heart, but you’ll also be inclined to feel slightly disappointed. It’s a complex disappointment, too: it’s not that you didn’t enjoy yourself and it’s not that there were a multitude of glaring flaws. It’s that Kaos set the bar very high, sprinted forward to leap over that bar, and looked great somewhere in mid-air. Then they nicked the bar and fell straight down. It’s weird.
Homefront isn’t a bad game and it does a lot of things right. And unlike other designers who are happy with the same ol’, same ‘ol, Kaos Studios strives to reach another level in regards to true human drama. At the start, you’re more than hopeful. When the eyebrow-raising moments roar onto the screen, you’ll be immersed. And even though the campaign ends too soon, you’ll jump into the familiar online multiplayer, frown briefly at the lack of options, and then once again begin to revel in a singular atmosphere. Unfortunately, you’ll always know that nothing else about the game is “singular” and where they reached for the stars, they didn’t get through the first layer of clouds. It’s one of those instances where if you go in with high expectations, you’re bound to be left feeling a tad empty, but if you’re more moderated in your anticipation, you’ll be better off. The campaign is worth playing; there’s no doubt about that.
But there are extenuating circumstances…
The Good: Hard-hitting campaign with several huge highlights. Great atmosphere and environment. Some nice music. Solid, responsive control. Multiplayer works well. Drama is well-scripted and implemented.
The Bad: It’s all over too quickly. Campaign ending feels abrupt and unsatisfactory. Lacking multiplayer options. Generic action.
The Ugly: “Wait…it’s over…?”
3/20/2011 Ben Dutka