I don't know how many times I've shot down enemies without really knowing why they are my enemies. Most games have a tendency to downplay the story, and let it play out in a manner that would make most Hollywood producers cry.
Homefront is in sharp contrast to this as I make sure every projectile does as much damage as possible to the Koreans who have laid waste to America a mere 26 years into our future. The story is not just well written and exciting, it also offers some of the most despicable enemies I have ever encountered.
The story goes a little something like this. Kim Jong-un, successor to Kim Jong-il, unites Korea, while America struggles with a faltering economy and disastrous oil prices, something that forces the great nation to withdraw its foreign troops to focus on their domestic issues. The problems continue to grow and martial law follows suit as Texas declares independence, as Canada and Mexico close their borders. Korea takes advantage of the situation and attack America with an enormous EMP bomb that shorts all electronics and their invasion starts soon thereafter.
You will become aware of all of this as soon as you start the game, as former army pilot Robert Jacobs gets an unwelcome visit by Korean soldier who wants to recruit you to the Korean cause. Your refusal puts your ass on a bus heading to a prison camp, and on the bus you will see the effects of the Korean takeover on the small town of Montrose, Colorado. This is where Homefront first shows its true colours, what may have appeared as a simple excuse to do some shooting, has a surprising depth as the horrors of war are depicted.
The slow bus ride through a devastated town gives you plenty of opportunity to see how the locals are being handled, shot in their backs and lined up to be executed in the street. What really sticks with me is a scene where two parents tell their child to not worry and turn around just as they're being executed in front of his eyes. It may come across as sensationalism and false, but Homefront managed to shake me up and wake me from my indifferent slumber.
Jacobs' background as a pilot comes in handy as he gets thrown into a rescue mission. The plan revolves around hi-jacking three trucks carrying airplane fuel from the Korean occupying force and smuggle them to San Francisco, where the American air forces will be able to use them to launch a major counter offensive.
Your path through the game has been set, but as you're not backed by any military and your trusted fellow soldiers and civilians with varied military experienced, it goes through bombed out suburbia, densely populated slums, and improvised Korean installations. Most of the action in Homefront takes place in these almost familiar settings where you get to see the impact the invasion has had on the locals. It's in stark contrast to the Call of Duty series, that has become known for its over the top action set pieces in spectacular settings.
The developer has used the unique setting to create a more claustrophobic feel to the action than what is normal in the genre. And while this works very well, it also illustrates the lack of proper artificial intelligence all the more clearly. It's something that the Call of Duty series has been ciriticised for many times. Enemies sticking their head out when you advance past a certain point, and it's surprising to find the same flaws here. At times the enemies come across as brainless targets, and it ruins some of the atmosphere the game succeeds in creating elsewhere.
If you're looking for intelligent opposition, then you better go online, where Homefront offers something more than the standard mould for online multiplayer. You pick one of several roles heading into the battle and the objective for your team is to hold two of three points on the map in order to win the match.
Sounds standard enough, but something unique in the shape of Battle Points has been added. You gain points from shooting enemies or doing something that helps your team. These points can then be used unlocking various things, such as activating the more powerful and unique abilities of each class. I quickly found a favourite class with "Tactical", as with 400 points I had the option of activating a small remote controlled drone with machine guns, which allowed me to hide and eliminate enemies from a safe distance. Battle Points can also be use to buy access to vehicles, such as cars, tanks and helicopters, and they add a dynamic element to all matches. In order to balance things up and ensure that one player doesn't dominate completely there is bonus Battle Points to be had if you eliminate the top player, and it works surprisingly well.
That's not the only good thing to be said about the multiplayer in Homefront, as there is also experience points earned after each match, and they work as we have come to expect. You will unlock new weapons and abilities, which in turn will allow you to combine your own favourite set of weapons and abilities to a greater extent. With little twists built into the system, and a great pacing, the next bonus is always within reach. It's really hard to stop playing once you've found a good team to play with.
With such a solid background story, and scenes you will remember after finishing the game and a great multiplayer component, it's a shame that Kaos Studios were unable to keep the quality up all the way. What starts out as an atmospheric and tense experience in a recognisable future erupts into something that's more akin to Jerry Bruckheimer's action hell where you can almost hear an invisible crowd chanting "USA! USA! USA!".
It seems as if Kaos Studios started to feel the pressure of completing the game halfway through development as the first part where you experience the brutal nature of the invasion first hand is replaced with what comes across as more mindless copies of scenes seen in other action games. It may seem odd, that when something that works well in the Call of Duty series just doesn't seem to fit Homefront, that works best in short, intense action sequences in densely populated urban areas.
It's annoying that Homefront couldn't stay away from the temptation of walking down the familiar path of Call of Duty's action drama. For a long while there it felt like a game that aimed for something different and more than just for second place in the genre. And while it doesn't succeed entirely it's still a game fans of the genre should give a try, especially given the multiplayer component that should keep you entertained for months ahead.