It has probably been well established that I consistently harp on generic, non-inspired games, especially first-person shooters. This genre is ripe for ripping off others to get a cut of that big money pool that a good FPS that reaches the masses can create. The problem is, once you play the cream of the crop, most games below that high bar can feel flat. Homefront is a prime example of this. Homefront isn’t a bad game but all of this has been done with more polish and higher production values.
Gameplay aside, Homefront takes a different approach to its story mode. Set in the near future, North and South Korea have been united and this means bad news for the rest of the world. Soon after, this new Korea went door to door selling Girl Scout cookies to people in every country turning the world into a better, happier (and fatter) place. Actually, they went around doing the complete opposite by murdering and invading countless countries seemingly trying to take over the world. The United States has also been hit by the new menace and an EMP and is in a dire state. If the citizens haven’t been captured, they are either dead or living in a secluded area hoping the Korean forces won’t find them and their families. It’s an undeniably a cool premise because it is something not often explored in games. Yes, war is a common theme but rarely does it hit home like this. You don’t shoot Nazis or Middle Eastern terrorists in a foreign desert that you have no relation to, but Koreans in a Hooter’s restaurant in Colorado. Games of this ilk don’t usually try something this ballsy and for that, I salute Homefront.
However that salute is almost quickly retracted by the story and the way it is presented along with the characters. You play some nameless muted chump forcefully tossed into the resistance. That sentence alone sets off an alert. Muted characters are incredibly hard to make likeable due to the fact they never react to anything. Almost every time I’m thrown in a situation like this, I feel like I’m a person watching another person watch what is going on. This is what I call “Camera Face Syndrome” and it’s disconnecting to say the least. Similar to Crysis 2, there is a specific moment where if your character could talk, it would save everyone some work. At one point, your squad breaks up and thinks you are dead. They kept shouting my “death” over the radio when a simple “I’m still alive!” would have sufficed. Moments like these broke my immersion almost beyond repair leaving me to wonder why muted characters keep appearing.
Lame characters don’t stop there. Everyone you meet up with is underdeveloped so almost everyone comes off as a shouting idiot. The redneck, the hard chick, the Asian soldier, and the somewhat likeable cop round out your crew and each, with exception of the cop, is strictly two-dimensional. I know the war is going on, but it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit humorous at times (which helps them have character). If characters are serious all of the time, I can’t take them seriously. As contradictory as it sounds, real people aren’t always this stone-faced so when no effort is made to have them say something light-hearted, they are just boring caricatures.
At least the dumb characters match the dumb plot. A setting like this deserves a strong narrative to reflect the hard work in creating this universe. The mission here is to collect three fuel trucks from the enemy. Yup. Fuel trucks. Exciting stuff right? Not at all! Besides the admittedly cool set piece moments or surprise explosions and whatnot, I couldn’t believe how boring the actual story was. What was essentially Grand Theft Auto: Fuel Tanks completely craps all over what could have been and that is a large offense.
What if your mindset is fully focused on the action, discarding the husk of a potential story? What could have been the meat and potatoes of this game ends up being soggy salad and a side of old, stale garlic bread. Shooting isn’t bad per se, I had some fun with it, but it ends up being frustrating and tedious. Frustration stems from guns feeling inaccurate but not in the traditional sense. The red dot sights on the guns are extremely small and enemies are usually a fair distance away leading to a frenzy of trying to get the dot to land on a fidgety target. There were also times where I’d spray with my crosshairs on an enemy, only to miss half or all of the clip, and since reload times are lengthy, this always led to instant death (even on easy). This might sound odd but I blame this on the bullets being “small” as well. Other games have bullets feeling the size of a small golf ball, allowing for some leeway, but here bullets feel like the size of thumb tacks. Throwing grenades is even a little busted because there is no arc on the toss. It’s more of a forward thrust, leaving it likely that it will hit the cover in front of you. Even if you get it over the cover, it is a total crapshoot you’ll hit, let alone kill, anything. My grenade strategy devolved into chucking as many grenades into random places and hoping for some kills, which is pathetic.
Tedium ensues when these problems are colliding with the fact that there are always vast numbers of Korean soldiers in the combat area and how easy it is to die. I guess his armor is made out of tissues and bubble gum. After two short levels, I had to knock it down to “easy,” which still was no cakewalk. Combat did have its occasional bright moments as shooting a guy has its core thrills, but most of it had me wishing to move on.
You’ll actually move along fairly quickly and not because the pacing is speedy, but mostly because the game is very brief. I don’t like to criticize a game on its length if it is a quality product, but Homefront is rather shallow and short, not allowing anything to develop or evolve. This is part of the reason the story never gets off the ground, simply because there isn’t enough time. I’d usually say if it was short but sweet, then it’s okay, but even I have a hard time justifying a four or five hour game. The fact the shooting is shallow is just salt in the wound. Multiplayer* might extend the life of Homefront because the campaign sure as hell won’t.
Homefront could have done it. Homefront could have been that story-driven first-person shooter competitor to the big boys. A premise besides “Middle Eastern War” is good enough, but the fact that they went above and beyond in this department is refreshing. It’s just too bad that at the end of the day, especially now, you need to make a shooter firing on all cylinders, not just on one.
+Memorable set pieces
+Intriguing, gritty premise
-Dumb characters, including the player
-Combat is mostly tedious
-Story isn’t given the care it deserves
-Does nothing slightly innovative in gameplay
-Short, difficult campaign
Final Score: 6.5/10
*Due to circumstances out of my control, I couldn’t review the multiplayer. I don’t usually review multiplayer unless otherwise stated, but I figured since online is such a big component, I’d mention I didn’t have a chance to try it.