Homefront – PC Game Preview
Homefront. Multiplayer Preview. PC, Xbox 360, PS3 Game. Developed by Kaos Studios/Digital Extremes. Published by THQ. Scheduled release date: March 2011.
Many near-future war games have set the action on the streets of the United States. Maybe this is because gamers like the idea of defending their backyards and protecting something so familiar. The fact is that most of the multiplayer games that have America as the backdrop seldom bother with a plot that explains exactly how the enemy invaded the land of the free and the home of the brave.
These questions are actually answered and addressed in Homefront, an upcoming first-person shooter from THQ. What also makes this game stand apart is that it features an actual plot that was written by an actual writer. This is no insult to game developers, but often the basic plot involves a random nation that goes to war with the United States, and suddenly the U.S. Army is defending American farmland from the invaders.
Homefront goes a bit deeper. Screenwriter John Milius is responsible for the game’s backstory, and while he might not exactly be a household name (How many movie writers are, to be frank?), he is the guy who wrote the invasion film Red Dawn in the 1980s. Thus Milius has some experience coming up with how an invading army suddenly arrives in the heartland. For Homefront, however, the enemy is actually a little surprising—or at least would be until you turn on the news.
Last month THQ held a first-look preview event for the multiplayer mode of Homefront at the former San Francisco Presido military base. Here a handful of journalists were able to get their hands on the game, and ironically it coincided with actual news that North Korea’s Kim Jong-il had all but named his youngest son Kim Jong-un as his successor, promoting the younger Kim to rank of four-star general. THQ couldn’t get better PR for the game’s demo, especially as North Korea is Homefront‘s big bad guy.
While North Korea might seem like an odd choice for the enemy, it works on a few levels—thanks to the fact that Milius has written a fairly believable backdrop. In the real world, the nation does boast one of the largest standing armies in the world, and the premise in the game is that the United States backs down as North Korea takes over South Korea, Japan and much of Southeast Asia. With advanced technology the Greater Koreans stage a surprise attack on the United States, and the rest is a future history we have to hope never comes true. The other part of the equation is no doubt that North Korea is pretty much the only major power in the world without a video game market. China and Russia have growing markets for gamers, and thus trying to sell a game where they’re the bad guys wouldn’t go over so well. Thus, North Korea it is, and surprisingly it works.
The single player game tells the story after the United States has fallen. The multiplayer mode lets players see how the invasion essentially unfolds. Set in the year 2025 the game is near-day future, so no rocket packs or Command and Conquer: Red Alert–style super weapons. There are some drones and some small arms in the game that are "based" on technology currently in development, but for the most part this is really just a modern-day combat game.
Homefront is more fast-paced-shooter than a hardcore military simulator, as well. The gameplay is styled far more like Battlefield 1942 or Battlefield Bad Company than, say, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. As a result, the emphasis is on fast-paced and intense action. The most notable aspect is that the developers at Kaos have solved the vehicular spawning issue—you know, where you wait for a tank or helicopter to spawn, only to have someone else jump in it and take off. Kaos no doubt learned how this was an issue in its past games, such as the "Desert Combat" mod it made for the Battlefield series, where waiting in line was a part of the game. Waiting is (also) the hardest part they say, and the game solves the problem by issuing Battle Points.
This in-game currency essentially allows players to call in vehicles, resupply them or even deploy attack and recon drones. You earn the Battle Points by doing stuff, thus it encourages players to get in the action, and since the multiplayer utilizes the standard spawn system you can get in to spawn early and often. You kill an enemy, you earn points. You capture a spawn point, you earn points. You use a recon drone and mark a target, you earn some points.
With the points you can call up what you need at the moment, too. So, if a tank is giving you trouble, you can redeem those points and get an anti-tank weapon. Problem solved! Players can’t overwhelm the map with tons of tanks or choppers either, because what is missing is the engineer class to do the repairs. So the vehicles are cheap but have a short off-the-shelf life. They do the specific job extremely well, and unless countered with the right weapon they can wreak havoc. Of course, this is counterbalanced by the ability to spend Battle Points to buy the tool to swat the tanks or choppers away. This makes for a frenzied gameplay where spawn points and objects can likely go back and forth several times.
During the demo session two maps were played, one that offered some open spaces where armor was king of the day—at least until the helicopter gunships showed up—and a small town map that was more ideal for close-quarters infantry fighting. This shows that the developers have opted to provide plenty of variety for gamers: in one map it might be fun to try out some armor, while in another sniping and room-to-room fighting will be on the menu. Each of these maps was played in the Ground Control mode, where a variety of control points needed to be captured to secure the area and achieve victory. This is just one of several modes that will be playable in the final game.
While we were hoping there might be some variety in destructible environment, where buildings can be leveled and walls knocked down, this just isn’t the case. However, visually the game did look promising and the action will potentially be very intense and again potentially chaotic. The latter is to be expected for a previously un-played map in a yet-to-be-released game.
You might not be able to go home again, but Homefront has the potential to be a game that people will go to a lot, especially for the multiplayer.
About the author:
Peter Suciu has had a lifelong interest in games, from early board games to the latest generation of video games. He has covered the electronic entertainment industry for nearly 20 years, and has contributed to Electronic Gaming Monthly, Computer Games and PC Magazine. Strategic military war games and military-based shooters remain his favorites.