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Homefront Review (PS3)

With a bombastic FMV opening movie the likes of which you don’t see in games unless they involve commanding and conquering, Homefront opens in confident form. Playing on the latent fear of the American people that they may be invaded and subjugated, the intro sequence outlines a possible future where a series of disasters, epidemics and economic crises brings the country to its knees. Into this environment the now-united Korea becomes a dominant force in military power. By turns cheesy then genuinely frightening, it says something about the fearmongering, melodramatic media that exists in the world today that the events of Homefront seem terrifyingly plausible.

The confident start to the game continues with a dramatic, emotionally charged opening. In scenes reminiscent of the Combine’s military dictatorship, the game world of Homefront is filled with honest American’s being beaten, shot and shipped off to labour camps by the pantomime Korean antagonists. Parallels are drawn with the holocaust and Jewish death camps as grisly scenes involving mass graves and street lynching’s seek to emotionally engage the player. This is all offset somewhat by terrible dialogue and a melodramatic score, but more on those issues later.

In the marketing for Homefront much was made of the multiplayer modes but the single player campaign will be the reason many gamers consider picking this up. The major innovation in the campaign seems to be the fact that the game takes place in the US rather than a cave in Afghanistan or an airport in Russia. Does the fresh setting and emotive story separate Homefront out from the pack of Call of Duty clones?

Well if you’ve read anything at all about this game online you’ll already know that the answer is an emphatic “No”. Currently there’s a big backlash as the critical reception of the game has been so poor. No matter how generous you are willing to be though, in the opening moments of the game three words spring to mind, and all three of them are “ugly”.

The game is based on Unreal 3 tech, but it’s hard to see how this is an appropriate choice for the game engine. While the latest incarnation of the Unreal engine powers gorgeous titles like Bulletstorm (version 3.5), Homefront is powered by the older version (3) and it suffers. Perhaps it’s also because the game is trying to avoid looking like other Unreal 3 games with their chunky future space marines that it fails. Maybe pushing the engine to create a different visual aesthetic means that graphical fidelity is lost. No matter the reason, Homefront looks terrible.

To be more specific, the texture detail is bad. Occasionally whole areas are a blurry mess and you wait for a high detail texture to load in that never appears. Weird, unfinished areas are present too; at one point I rounded a corner into an area full of floating debris like tires and dustbins. To go with all this, the particle effects are relatively weak and the whole game is aliased to hell. Many games have the dreaded jaggies around the edges of polygons, but Homefront is so bad a new term has to be coined, the “super-jaggy”. Surfaces are so uneven and pixelated that everything takes on the appearance of a saw blade. The game world becomes an unintentionally hilarious environment of vicious, bladed surfaces.

The environments vary little, representing small towns and communities in America that have been torn apart by war. Malls and convenience stores blend together along with back gardens and quiet suburban streets and it’s difficult to feel any progression when the environments change so little. The game world is littered with little bits and pieces of everyday life like children’s drawings and magazines but these are somewhat crudely framed by the game to show them off. Worse, marketing is rife in the game with a huge Tiger Direct store given a prominent scene intended solely to get some advertising revenue to the publishers. So distasteful is this scene that I can fully imagine reviewers taking off two or three points from their review scores and thus costing far more in the long run than any money they may have made from their cheap and nasty advertising deal.

While the sound effects are decent the game is chock-full of genuinely awful dialogue. It may not be ear bleedingly bad, but it’s so inane I struggle to remember any of it. Moment to moment your sidekicks (who are with you throughout most of the game) shout the most basic of instructions. While this makes a modicum of sense when you’re in the army and have a commanding officer, Homefront is about a resistance uprising so it seems completely out of place. From “shoot the RPG guy on the left roof” to “plant the C4 on the base of the turret gun” to “Take out the enemies hiding behind the counters in the Hooters bar”, you feel like you’re playing a big game of Simon Says. So desperate is the game to make sure you know what to do next that the map marker, onscreen marker and constant verbal instructions make you feel more like a runner on a Hollywood movie set than a hardened soldier. And yes, they actually said “shoot the guys in Hooters”.

This constant direction provided by the game is a sign that Homefront is more interested in aping the fairground-ride structure of Call of Duty rather than something more freeform like Bad Company or Halo. The game moves fast with little chance for the player to get bored or distracted. Every aspect of the game, from the bossy dialogue to the shape of the levels is about funnelling the player down the critical path. Enemies pop out from cover, but die quickly and easily when hit with any of the weapons which differ very little from each other. Without the globe-trotting structure of Black Ops or Modern Warfare though, the game clips along but rarely surprises or engages the player. I found myself playing it in a kind of lightly entertained stupor. Never too hard, fast paced, responsive and full of satisfying weapons and ridiculous numbers of enemies, progress is constant and there’s rarely any incentive to stop playing or throw the pad away in disgust.

When caught in the open enemy fire kills you quickly, but the red haze that descends when you take damage clears quickly too. This means you’re rarely skulking in cover. Instead you take a few seconds to regroup and jump back out into the action. As you free wheel through the campaign, it’s only when you near the end that you realise what an uninspired experience it has been. Supposedly written by John Milleus, the campaign story is poor but relatively well told. While moment-to-moment you have a good idea of what’s happening and what you’re supposed to be doing (unlike COD), there’s not much original or interesting to experience and the characters are as hollow as ugly textures badly wrapped poorly modelled polygons. Its only when you experience the multiplayer mode filled with open maps and vehicles that you wonder why the singleplayer is so unambitious and heavily scripted. In particular, repeated sections where you pilot a remote controlled buggy called “Goliath” could have been replaced with vehicle driving, helicopter flying, on rails sections or anything else really.

It’s in the multiplayer that the whole game begins to make sense. Homefront was made by Kaos Studios who also made Frontline: Fuel of War. While Frontline was a decent Battlefield inspired shooter, they have improved on every aspect of their earlier effort. What seemed ugly in singleplayer is suddenly forgiven as the engine remains rock solid while tanks, drones, APC’s and soldiers battle in huge arenas. More similar to Bad Company than the original Battlefield series, the scale of the conflict is still predominantly focused on foot troops but the addition of all sorts of other military toys is great.

The most popular gameplay mode at the moment involves capturing and holding control points. Once one team holds them all the battlefront moves and you get a changing combat arena that works EXACTLY like Bad Company. There are innovations too though. If you meet set criteria you can spawn directly as a vehicle and enter the fight with a tank, APC or other piece of heavy machinery. This helps overcome the problem of vehicle camping present in the Battlefield series while the vehicles are tied in to the players experience level, thus opening up the best equipment to the best players.

The whole perk system is comprehensive with challenges and goals set out for the player to speed advancement. The default weapons remain potent though and ranking up is an incentive to keep playing rather than essential to obtain useful weapons. At the moment it’s a little unstable and there are problems with servers, but the amount of customisability and depth almost rivals titles like MAG.

From it’s over the top intro to its uninspired storyline and ugly visuals, there’s a lot to criticize in Homefront. Why do I want to finish this review and get back to playing then? I think it’s the multiplayer component. Excited about Battlefield 3 and without a similar game to keep me amused, I was craving a game like this. It satisfies a gaming hunger, but does that mean it’s really any good?

Homefront is the hot-pocket of FPS’s. It does what it supposed to do. It satisfies you but fills you with a slight feeling of shame and disappointment. When pizza’s not an option though, sometimes a hot pocket will do.

6 cheese and ham filled pockets out of 10

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