Review: Homefront (PS3)

Title: Homefront
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: March 15 2011
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Kaos Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99

John Milius – the over-sized, gifted filmmaker responsible for Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now and the famous USS Indianapolis speech Robert Shaw delivers in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, now wants to dip his heavy pen into the video game market. The result? An overtly simplistic First Person Shooter based on the downfall of America by a newly unified Korean State.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

This game might be on most gamers’ radar – it certainly was on mine. If only because I’ve been a long-time fan of John Milius’ work in Hollywood. Which seems strange now that I’ve played and beaten a video game based entirely on a filmmaker’s connection to the product. After playing through the Homefront single-player campaign I realize that Milius’ name on this title is very much like Kenny Roger’s name on a fried chicken franchise, or George Forman’s name on an electric grill… or Andre 3000’s name on a box of plum-colored dildos… it’s an advertising gimmick.

Same thing as putting a Hooters billboard in the background of your video game level.

If Milius is responsible for some of the substance in this game, then they’re probably the moments where he suggested to the developers to add stronger material into the narrative of the campaign. The moments where a helpless kid watches his parents be executed by a squad of Korean soldiers, or the mass grave sites in a high school athletic stadium, or the cool new military robotic hardware – he certainly didn’t write any of the gawdamn deplorable dialog in this title.

At least I hope the guy that wrote the USS Indianapolis speech didn’t…

Which begs the question: Why didn’t Kaos forgo all this ‘Homefront’ nonsense and just make a games based on John Milius’ Red Dawn? If anything most of us older gamers would find an instant connection to the material. At the very least we would get one more voice performance out of Charlie Sheen before he annihilates his vocal cords with his cocktail of carcinogens, cocaine, expensive liquor, maniacal sermonizing, and the venereal cheese dip he’s been jamming his tongue into on his one man tour through the LA strip club scene.

Instead we get this game – Homefront – which is almost impossible to connect to at all. Say what you will about Lil’ Sheen – it turns out he’s much funner company than anyone in this game. Warlock or not.

I don’t want to rip into Homefront straight out of the gate here – which I’m thinking I just did.  The game does have some things working for it. Some of the story sequences I mentioned earlier do elevate this game into a place I think most game designers might be afraid to go to – even now. I believe that Homefront is one of the first games – outside of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain – that actually tosses children into the horrors of modern civilization. As tough as it might be to say anything good about the writing in this title – it does have its moments. The scene in the game where your character has to hide inside of a pit full of dead American citizens was notably nasty – it did the trick of making you believe that these developers were serious about tackling the ugly side of war in this century.

Or at the very least… serious for this moment in the game.

Another plus in Homefront’s favor is that the enemy characters – as bland and unimaginative as they are (and they are… during an attack sequence on an old abandoned church five enemies run out to kill you and all five can barely be differentiated from the plain, white siding of the church… that ain’t good camouflage, that’s just fugly enemy design) – aren’t bullet sponges. They’ll usually drop dead with a few well placed shots to the torso – a head shot should put em’ down straight away.

The down side to this is that you’re built from the same digital DNA – prepare to die just as quickly if you find yourself caught out in the open. Walk out in front of an enemy machine gun nest and you’ll barely have time to know who or what killed you so quickly.

A few new games have flirted with robots and their uses in combat. I know that the Killzone series has its drones. If you’ve read P.W. Singer’s Wired for War you’ll know where I’m coming from – combat droids are the future of the industry. Homefront doesn’t ignore the role of machines in the future campaigns of combat. You do go up against mechanical sentries and do get to pilot a remote combat vehicle – the Goliath – in some of this game’s better, more original, moments. Unfortunately these are few and far between and sort of come off as a terrific idea that never really got explored much deeper than a few pre-programed scenes and scenarios. Which is reminiscent of a whole lot of ideas and concepts in this game by Kaos Studios. They seem to flirt with a lot of things, but ultimately leave them too soon and never really return later to develop these ideas into something tangible. Something worthy of those two most holy words in the video game industry: replay value.

The things that don’t work in this campaign are pretty much abundant right from the opening minutes.

Homefront is the closest thing to a rail shooter any FPS before this has ever come before. The levels are narrow, and the NPC’s trailing you through the campaign come off as bossy cowboys herding you forward – never allowing you to stray a single footstep off the path Kaos  has designed for you to amble down.

Go left! Go right! Get to cover! Throw a grenade in that doorway! Wait here!

And you’re the cow – trotting along, getting yelled at for being slow, and stupid, and not being able to open any doors for yourself, and incapable of throwing a single hand grenade with any real proficiency at all.

Which now that I mention it… ever see Mark Mallory – the Mayor of Cincinnati – throw a first pitch at a Major League Baseball game? Because he’s much more accurate than you’ll ever be tossing a hand grenade in Homefront. The grenade toss is so fast, the trajectory almost always screaming into the dirt directly in front of you – it’s pretty much a grudge match between dumb luck and really dumb enemy AI to see if you’ll scrape together any kills using these devices at all.

More often than not you’ll wind up blowing yourself up – expect to take some (more) shit from the NPC’s trailing you through the game for doing so.

Ammunition is also another precious resource we can never seem to find enough of on our tour through occupied America. Don’t expect to carry any one gun for much longer than a few minutes. Homefront has you packing two weapons with you – which you can toggle between on the fly – but doesn’t really care about ammunition stashes or upgrades for them. You’ll have to find different weapons with different scopes and add-ons as you come across them in the field. Which feels like a lottery most of the time. You might finally score an M4…. but will it have a red-dot scope on it or a shotgun under-mount? Or will it just be a standard M4…?

After playing through better – more recent – FPS campaigns Homefront feels like something from a few generations ago. Killzone 2 introduced a cover system to the first-person genre. The last – let’s admit it – UNEQUIVOCALLY UNDERRATED Medal of Honor game introduced the running slide.

Homefront doesn’t care about any of those progressions. It’s just another shooter where you pick up guns and shoot at stuff . Where Medal of Honor and the Killzone series seem to care – not just about the controls and mechanics of making a game great – but about making a shooter feel true, dirty, and chaotic – and an absolute kick in the ass to play – Homefront seems to care about getting from Point A to Point B. Thankfully the trip – we’ll call it a cattle-drive – is somewhere around four hours long.

Any longer than that and I think we’d have a prosecutable war crime on our hands.

The graphics in this game are a mixed bag. They’re basically Tara Reid graphics. Sometimes the game looks amazing – maybe even gorgeous. I like the way the shoulder strap rolls around on my rifle butt as I move and shoot in this game. Some of the levels are pretty impressive – especially the quieter, camp tours you’ll find yourself wandering through in Homefront.

But then again… sometimes the game looks like complete ass. Very much like Tara Reid after a night of double-cosmopolitans and knee pills – long after the batteries in the beer goggles have drained themselves down. The lower levels of San Fransisco’s Golden Gate bridge are a perfect example of ugly – baboon ass ugly – art design. Look around and experience the N64 era in all its flat, unflattering charm. When you reach the top of the bridge however… it’s happy-hour Tara Reid again. Hot and ready action.

If I could have heard the explosions and gun-fire over the constant nagging of my NPC escorts… I’m sure it all sounded wonderful. Just don’t expect the work that Danger Close put into that last Medal of Honor game.

What online matches I could get into (like Beck Weathers said: it’s freeeeezing in here) were a little better than I was expecting after the campaign. At the very least I could choose what guns I wanted to use and add scopes and accessories to them as I saw fit. The cooler features – the drone strikes, the hellfire bombs, the remote control combat robots – can all be purchased in-game as you rack together kills and complete team goals. I could see myself playing this – but only if Killzone 3 didn’t occupy the same commercial/categorical space and time as Homefront.

Why masterbate when you could be having sweet, smelly sex with a Helghan storm-trooper…. right?

First Person Shooters get accused of being single-minded, uncreative, frag fests. Unfortunately Homefront seems happy to prove the case that they are. It’s a bland game full of bitchy NPC’s, wonky grenade mechanics,  low ammunition stockpiles, and has discovered a way to make a much-too-short-at-this-price four hour campaign feel long and drawn out.

There are moments and ideas that could have worked should Kaos Studios have spent some more time developing them – but they’re honestly not worth picking this game up for.

The online feature is a nice addition to the title – but frankly, Medal of Honor’s is much more refined. And I’m saying that knowing that MOH’s online multiplayer system was nowhere near as reveared – or even as terrific – as the much better Bad Company and Killzone games.

When the price drops on this – and it will – much sooner than anyone at THQ could have ever expected – it might be worth a look. But 2011 has too many hot titles already available, with many more on the horizon, (Battlefield 3 is going to crush this thing into obscurity) I’m afraid Homefront does little to make it stand out and be counted.


Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook