For seasoned veterans of the first person shooter, being ordered around is nothing to write home about and the commands ever present within the genre have come to represent a quasi code of sorts. For example, grabbing an RPG is generally a good indicator of an incoming airborne attack. Bundling into a vehicle, you can expect a vapid and utterly dull turret section and even something as benign as opening a door has become the cue for absurd bullet-time sequences.
These are – to lesser and greater degrees – genre tropes, as much at home in your everyday modern combat fps as loincloths and long swords in a fantasy rpg. Homefront is down with that, hell Homefront thrives on that.
Pick up that gun. Get out of the parking lot. Destroy that turret. Follow me. Get down. Climb that ladder. Cover me.
Homefront drags you kicking and screaming through its war-torn suburban vision of future America and if you don’t play by its rules, you don’t play. Unfortunately this extends a little too far, case in point the befuddling: press X to jump in mass grave.
Press X to jump in mass grave is a genuine and unavoidable command in Homefront, a game about as sly as piss in the baby pool and as intelligent as a Michael Bay rendition of Jurassic Park. It dedicates its introductory ten minutes to thrashing home the bleak atrociousness of war in a shameless and bombastic manner before tossing out the rifles and ooh ah’ing back to stupid land.
Let’s rewind. It’s the year 2027, Kim Jong-il checked out a decade or so prior and his successor, Kim Jong-un, has united the two Koreas. Asian Bird Flu rocks the western world, oil prices rise, America enters financial turmoil and the newly Unified Korea goes all Third Reich on the world’s ass and invades the glorious You Ess of Ey. It’s a thoughtful and mildly captivating set up. American on the back foot? I can go for that.
In events too shocking to comprehend, that’s where you come in. You play as Mr. Jacobs – an unspoken character vacuum and ex-marine pilot. At the onset, Jacobs is doing his best to blend in with the crowd and avoid inevitable death but that’s no fun, we want carnage, and so within a few paltry seconds of peace he’s ousted from his hiding place and herded onto a school bus.
This is no jaunt to the bi-monthly PTA meeting and in true COD4 style you’re left to observe anarchy as the bus trundles through occupied suburbia. Cut of the jib: Koreans are a nasty bunch. They butcher parents in front of munchkins, whack women with the butt end of rifles and shoot honest American men (who, incidentally, all chose to sport black jumpers and jeans). Invisible orphans cry, people are ushered into slave camps and someone on the bus profoundly remarks, “This is fucked.” Indeed. Fucking boring.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Belgium invaded the USA? Or Switzerland ditched the poker face and nuked us all into a parallel universe? Maybe even us Brits could reignite our passion for imperialism. I haven’t been to Korea but I’m sure they’re not all USA hating, kiddy-killing sadists.
Anyway they are in Homefront. Luckily for Jacobs resistance fighters Conner and Rianna liberate him from impending slave duties and thus the fun shooting times commence. Which is why that opening imagery doesn’t sit right. Ten minutes of battering in the tragedy followed by hours of mindless murder. Hmm.
You’ve got to hand it to Kaos though, they’ve addressed one irk gnawing away at the heart of most modern combat fps titles. In Homefront your allies actually aid your fight. In fact they do most of it for you.
So much so that a task as menial as opening a door is Conner’s domain. You cannot open doors nor walk through them before everybody else in your party has and the invisible Jacob-barring wall parts way. I’ve never played a game that harbors such unbridled contempt for its player. Conner narrates the war like he’s playing Red Alert 2; his every line a directive whether it’s to follow him, risk your life darting across the front lines for no reason or simply just stand still and wait while he builds another airbase back at HQ. Conner is an ignorant, narcissistic jackass.
But he serves a valuable purpose because Homefront stretches across a paltry 5 hours. Without an extended pause at every door, ladder and molehill the game probably wouldn’t make it beyond the four-hour mark. It’s really that short. The artificial elongation is at its most erroneous when you reach the exit of a flaming, rapidly crumbling building at which point you’re forced to pause for thirty seconds while the flames of death tickle your ear cavities. Why? So Conner can catch his breath and kick down the door. I could have done that. SHUT UP MAGGOT.
That wouldn’t be quite the catch-22 if those five hours boasted the greatest burst of gunplay, vengeance and ass kicking since the equally brief Vanquish. But this is a hackneyed corridor shooter, fettered by its desire to be Call of Duty and loaded with platitudes: instant death, grenade spamming, infinite enemies, awful checkpoints, etcetera. This is Call of Duty, set to the admittedly intriguing backdrop of war-torn suburban America.
And with its hardware stores, elementary schools and baseball parks, white-picket-fence-ville proves to be a refreshing milieu but any interest in it is quickly suffocated by sluggish mechanics and a vestigial story endeavoring at every turn to tug at the heartstrings without ever putting something on the line. At one point you turn up at a collection of civilian houses, a cul-de-sac free from the blight of the Koreans. Turns out those Koreans followed you and proceed to machine-gun the civilians into oblivion. Oops. But who cares? You’re never given any reason to.
There are moments of slight brilliance. A scene inside a makeshift pocket of old America (aptly named Oasis) shines from beneath the muck. Contrasted with the bleak outside world, Oasis, with its busy playground and working society is a breath of fresh air. Suddenly there’s something at stake and with the inner workings of a society in motion the world feels likely. The residents have built tunnels to conceal their entry and are at work cooking, fixing radios and filtering water. Like Metro 2033 and Half Life 2 there’s real thought gone into this microcosm of the old world. And Conner’s nowhere to be seen.
But these moments rarely puncture the nondescript firefights and prolonged, pointless walks. Save for a few pansy sniping missions, the shooty stuff fails to reach the exhilarating heights of Homefront’s contemporaries. A problem incensed by the sheer number of enemies pouring from every crevice like lice because there’s never any sense of progression or ground won, you just haul ass to the next invisible line to halt the enemy respawns.
It all looks pretty enough, with blue skies and white picket fences juxtaposing the raw barbarity of body bags, burned out Fords and deserted homes. But there’s nothing to make you clamber to the rooftops and proclaim the second coming of Goldeneye. In the first level alone I Rambo’d at least 50 bad guys and probably utilised a dozen different weapons. Where next? Oh right, more of that.
There’s no nice way of saying this but beneath the crippling support cast and turgid story quivers a vanilla Call of Duty replica. And there are plenty of them out there already.
Press X to eject disc then. Freedom Fighters did America-invaded better.