You may remember, back in 2003, a little gem of a game on the Xbox and PS2 called Freedom Fighters. Created by IO interactive, the creator of the Hitman series, it cast players as American freedom fighters who were battling against a Russian invasion of the United States. It was a novel and surprisingly well executed idea, and if you’ve not played it, you really should hunt it down and give it a go.
Well, no sooner has America fought off an invading red army than it has to do so all over again, thanks to new FPS, Homefront. Set in the near future, the game depicts an alternate timeline (well, let’s hope so, anyway) where North and South Korea have unified and have begun to spread their military might across the world. Not only this, but the U.S. economy hits rock bottom and bird flu becomes a rampant disease.
With America weakened, Korea, which, having created a larger Eastern alliance is now known as the Greater Korean Republic, invades the U.S. and quickly dominates the remaining military forces and seizes control of everything west of the Mississippi.
This is where you come in. As Robert Jacobs, you’re drafted into local resistance and have to use guerrilla tactics to fight back against the invading forces alongside your allied AI-controlled partners.
It’s quite a grim story, and one that’s actually very well thought up and delivered. The game’s intro builds up a convincing series of believable, albeit unlikely events leading to the U.S. invasion, and the in-game prologue, which unapologetically rips of Half Life 2, right down to similar SFX, is fairly stirring, with a particularly shocking inclusion of a young child seeing his parent shot in front of him.
It all tries to build up a genuine sense of despair and Orwellian control and does work, until the game begins.
Once you’re in control, Homefront‘s demeanour changes quite a lot and it reveals what is a distinctly mid-table shooter that, although it tries desperately to be in the same league as CoD, misses the target by quite a wide margin.
The game itself isn’t all that bad, and it is an enjoyable affair. Controls are smooth and aiming is precise and tight enough, and there’s a sprinkling of new ideas to help set the title apart, but the overall feel and presentation lets it down.
Filling up the game’s brief single player campaign is a series of missions that are chock full of scripted and overly linear situations. And by overly linear, I mean that you don’t even have to think about what to do next. Your AI partners are always on hand and you’ll always have a ‘follow’ indicator telling you where to go, just in case you dare to risk going off on your own.
Come to a door blocked by an overturned fridge or cupboard? Tough! You’ll have to wait for the AI to catch up and move it out of the way in a scripted manner. Hell, you can’t even open a damn door on your own without an AI ally kicking it down.
It’s this level of control over the player’s experience that goes some way to ruining the game’s initial impressive delivery of the story, and rather than feeling like you’re a part of the resistance, fighting a righteous war against your evil oppressors, you feel redundant, unable to make your mark.
Other shooters have done this, of course, even CoD, but it’s so prevalent here that it stifles the game’s flow. It’s made worse, thanks to the crumbly AI of your partners, who often get stuck and take ages to even get to one of theses scripted door-opening moments, leaving you to wait around like a child who’s been told to wait by the car by his dad.
Duck and cover (if you can)
This isn’t the biggest beef I have with Homefront, though, and even though it’s far too scripted for its own good, it commits other crimes that are more damaging, perhaps none more so than environmental cover.
Especially noticeable on the harder difficulty settings, Homefront has some of the worst collision detection I’ve seen in recent times when it comes to ballistic fire. Unless you’re seated firmly behind a solid object, with several meters between you and open space, you’re at risk of getting hit, often lethally.
You can be, for all appearances, safe behind an old car or low wall, with no clear view of incoming fire, which is likewise for the enemy, who can’t possibly see you, but you’ll still takes hits.
Now, this is no Battlefield-style cover destruction (which does feature in limited doses), or CoD bullet penetration. It’s just bad development. It’s as if your character’s hitbox (or whatever collision detection method is used) is oversized, and extends past your physical form, extending outside of cover.
This leads to a very shaky experience during major firefights, as you can never be sure that you’re safe behind cover. You feel as though you need to sacrifice a small furry animal to the god of bad programming for some solid protection. Often the only cover you have is smaller walls and vehicles, leaving you with a gamble of which place is less likely to get you killed.
In fact, so problematic is this, that you’ll often meet your maker without knowing why. You can be killed all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, by an unseen enemy who can inexplicably kill you through several meters of solid concrete.
Add to this an often late grenade indicator that appears only nanoseconds before said explosive goes off, killing you in the process, and you’ve got a game that can become an exercise in trial and error frustration.
And, although not overly important to good gameplay, the visuals are equally as hit and miss as the cover. Sometimes you’ll looks at the game and think, “Yeah, that looks cool.” While other times you’ll be struck by low quality, murky textures and ugly animation. It’s certainly not an example of fine next gen presentation, and even borders on previous generation quality at times.
Fight the good fight
It’s not all bad, though, and I have to be fair to Homefront on some of the things it does right. There are some nice features, including a good range of weapons and well designed levels, and the inclusion of Goliath, a radio-controlled armoured vehicle, is a great addition, especially in larger firefights.
There’s also an above average multiplayer, which boasts some interesting features, such as Battle Points, which are used as in-match currency of sorts, allowing players who rack up the kills to buy new weapons and/or vehicles, and the commander element that guides players to high value targets (players who are getting the most kills).
In fact, if you’ve played Kaos’ previous title, Frontlines: Fuel Of War, you’ll be at home with Homefront‘s multiplayer, as it does, in many ways, feel quite similar, with a good mix of on-foot and vehicular combat, only it’s a little more polished. Yes, it’s no CoD or Battlefield, as it so tries to emulate, but it’s solid enough and should provide a good alternative for those tiring of the usual suspects.
Land of the free
I couldn’t help but find Homefront to be a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for an FPS incarnation of Freedom Fighters packed with memorable moments, and what we got was noting of the sort really. It has an all-too-brief single player campaign (around 5-6 hours for most), irksome collision and sloppy AI, and in the end, despite a promising story and well delivered build-up, it has few memorable encounters. It’s an FPS-by-numbers and not much more.
The good story, a few novel features and good multiplayer do rescue it somewhat, and if you’re primarily an online competitor, then Homefront will certainly offer more to you than to those who prefer a good single player experience. For most, however, there’s nothing here to stand up against a very crowded genre, and with Crysis 2 on the way (review coming very soon), you may want to hold on to your cash.