Painting a real-life nation as the brutally oppressive opposing force is a risky move for a videogame, but Homefront does just that with North Korea. In Homefront's vision of the near future, the politically questionable nation muscles its way south towards a unified Korea before taking over Japan, sending chaotic economic ripples throughout the world. Kaos Studios conveys this spiralling situation wonderfully through a fevered live-action introduction, which juxtaposes Korea's rise in power with societal downfall elsewhere and culminates in an EMP blast that allows the nation to violently invade the United States.
Homefront’s campaign presents other, similarly powerful moments, and the onslaught begins almost immediately: Korean forces bust into your ratty apartment in the year 2027, assaulting your silent protagonist – Kaos Studios has clearly played Half-Life 2 - before throwing him down the stairs and loading him on a bus to places unknown.
But Homefront is a game about fighting back, so within moments you find yourself freed from captivity and indoctrinated into the resistance with a headshot and a handshake. You're one of them now: a heavily armed citizen unwilling to sit idly by while the country crumbles. It kicks off a rousing campaign that spans suburban American terrain while placing you in impressively varied gameplay opportunities.
Despite a narrative penned by John Milius, co-writer of Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now, storytelling isn’t Homefront's strongest suit. The dialogue is merely passable, the plot somewhat hackneyed, but the world is so brilliantly realised that none of that seems to matter. Homefront isn't the shiniest-looking game out there, but the impressive environments - such as an idyllic backyard haven unperturbed by the outer mayhem - and intense campaign scenarios certainly make up for the lack of gloss.
However, it all comes to a head much too quickly, and that's not a knock just on the five-hour campaign. The final mission - a triumphant battle on one of America's truly great monuments - appears out of nowhere, when everything else suggested the endgame was still hours away. When the credits roll, it's clear that Homefront is clearly intended as the truncated first battle in a much larger war, but that sudden conclusion weakens an otherwise very strong campaign experience, and doesn't provide a lot of momentum for the inevitable sequel.
Homefront's attempt at grabbing some of the multiplayer mindshare isn't as rife with dramatic tension, but it does tweak genre conventions in interesting ways. It plays similarly to recent Call of Duty entries - albeit with a larger cap of 32 players per match - but the Battle Points system offers a greater degree of flexibility for activating in-match bonuses.
Kills and assists earn you points, which can be used immediately to unlock vehicles, armour, heavy weaponry, and the wildly amusing remote control ground drones and mini-helicopters. Persistent levelling and customisation options are still available, but limiting some of the features by single match performance levels the playing field a bit and rewards skilful runs.
Unfortunately, the Homefront online experience feels a bit thin. Despite the introduction of the Battle Commander feature, which puts bounties on skilled players amidst the action, Homefront focuses on just two core play modes: Team Deathmatch and Ground Control, both of which are pretty standard offerings. Much as I enjoyed the online firefights and wily drone vehicles, I'd be surprised if the limited play modes and just seven on-disc maps (the Xbox 360 version has an exclusive eighth "Suburbs" map) keep dedicated Black Ops or Bad Company 2 fans from their usual haunts.
Homefront does a whole lot right, delivering powerful images and action on the single-player side, as well as interesting multiplayer content, but neither end feels fully realised. But should Kaos Studios expand on this promising start with meaningful and memorable additions in a sequel, Homefront may prove to be a potent franchise in no time at all.
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