Game Review: Homefront

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Martin Blank
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Game Review: Homefront

Post by Martin Blank » Fri Jan 18, 2013 11:40 pm

I know the game's been out a while, but I picked it up as part of a Steam package deal over the holidays and figured I'd play it. I heard from a few people that it was fun but kind of short.

For those who haven't seen it, it's set in the United States around 15 years in the future. The opening takes you through the events of the intervening time including the accession of Kim Jong-Un to the leadership of North Korea, the reunification of the Korean Peninsula a year later, a (nuclear?) war in the Middle East devastating the energy market, Korea conquering Japan and going on to conquer much of SE Asia that is not China, US economic collapse, bird flu, and finally detonation of an EMP weapon over the United States, devastating what's left of it and allowing a Korean invasion. Korean forces now hold much of the West Coast and have made inroads in the Midwest.

OK, now that we've not only suspended disbelief but expelled it and sent it to reform school, we can get on with the game itself. You play the role of a former hot-shot helicopter pilot who is just trying to get by until KPA (Korean People's Army) soldiers roust you one morning. On the way to wherever you're going and watching the horrific effects of the on-going occupation, the American insurgency rescues you so you can take part in a plan they have to get fuel to US forces trying to stage a counter-attack on San Francisco. This involves tagging the fuel convoy so it can be tracked, hijacking the fuel, delivering it, and then participating in the battle.

The first thing that I noticed is the same thing I noticed when briefly playing Modern Warfare 3: I have not kept up with FPS games very well. Yay for smarter enemies, better physics, and realistic sounds, but I am woefully out of date on some things. Still, I figured it out eventually (around the third chapter) and stopped dying so often.

The second thing I noticed is how the developer tried to back-fill the story with plausible information. Along the way, there are a bunch of newspapers you can pick up to see how things got to where they are. It went a little way toward smoothing out the problems I had with the back story, but I still shook my head a lot. I give credit, though, for the strong attempt. Had they gone with their initial scenario and used China as the antagonists, I would have been more forgiving.

There are some good things about the game, things that I enjoyed seeing. They pull few punches, opening up language, putting people on the same side against each other (at least on your side--the KPA is pretty one-dimensional), and putting children in harm's way. The missions can be brutally hard even on normal difficulty: it doesn't take much to take you down, though if you can find some cover, your health comes back after a few seconds. This was appreciated as I wasn't looking for haphazardly-dropped first aid kits as happens in so many other games.

The controls were a mixed bag. They split controls for on foot, in vehicles, and in the air, which has some use to it especially since you can change the mouse sensitivity for each, something that comes in handy when the high sensitivity I use on foot spun a Humvee turret around like a blender plugged into a 220v socket. Once I got that balanced out, I was able to focus more on fighting in the game than on fighting with the game.

At one point, you get to fly a helicopter, and I thought they did a remarkably good job balancing the physics and playability. Forward-, back-, and side-slips are all available and necessary. It spins very slowly even at higher skill levels (aircraft get skill levels separate from the game's difficulty level), which is a little frustrating, but the game takes that into account. If realistic yaw rates were in there, people would probably get sick.

Weapons were also a little mixed. Explosives were, I thought, excellently handled. Hiding behind cover might save you from getting shredded, but it definitely shook you up, leaving the sound deadened and the screen shaky and sluggish until you recover. You also get to fire off an RPG (actually a Panzerfaust 3) a few times, and while I'll let slide the ability of even a modern rocket of this type to punch through the armor of an MBT, they do make the classic mistake of using an RPG's explosion to set off C4 stacked on a vehicle.

The wide range of weapons adds some wonderful flexibility, and I grew fond of a few guns (semi-auto M-16 in particular), looking for them over others. There were situations that dictated ditching favorite weapons for practical weapons (a couple of times when a SAW was a better choice than certain rifles or where an SMG's higher rate of fire proved more useful against fast targets) and a few cases where you got to play with fun weapons (shotgun under an M-16). I found the mix of weapons carried by the KPA to be really weird. I understand taking advantage of military stores in captured areas, but some of the units seemed to carry five or six weapons of at least three calibers. That would make logistics hugely difficult.

Aspects I didn't like included the time it took to complete. As I said at the start, I'm not a top FPS player, and I'm certainly not as up on current games as many people. I expected to take a little longer in this, but I completed the game in under four hours. Seven chapters seems like it should last longer, especially in a game that originally sold for a premium price.

I also took issue with the event system that prevented me from doing certain things until NPCs did them first, and sometimes even then I had to wait for 20-30 seconds before I could do them (like climbing a ladder). I also understand certain limitations of the game to keep things going, but there was one part where I was forced to take a helicopter through a tunnel. Why? Presumably to avoid anti-aircraft missiles and because it's cooler than flying over the hill instead, despite it being horribly unsafe and unnecessary, as you find out later when you can fly about as high as you want in the midst of a veritable SAM nest.

I also got killed several times on the ground because the NPCs took shortest paths to their destinations and pushed me out from behind cover. That could get very frustrating since the save system is non-existent. It uses checkpoints that seemed randomly placed. Sometimes I had to rerun a 10-minute section and sometimes there seemed to be multiple checkpoints inside of ten minutes. I was also frustrated that there were cases when I was advanced by a minute or two when respawning and thereby robbed of the chance to overcome whatever it was that killed me before.

I didn't get into multiplayer, but that seems to be the major reason for the game. The single-player game seems to be added on only to provide some slight storyline.

In total, if you're looking for single-player and get it as part of a package deal or if it's on sale for $5 or so, it's maybe worth it for the afternoon it takes to complete it. Multiplayer seems to be generally well-accepted elsewhere, so maybe it's worth a few bucks more for that. But for the $20 it costs right now, I'd wait for a better deal.
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Deacon
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Game Review: Homefront

Post by Deacon » Fri Jan 18, 2013 11:58 pm

Actually sounds pretty good to me :)
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Re: Game Review: Homefront

Post by Seir » Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:58 pm

Rented it and completed it the first time it came out. The single-player storyline isn't too bad, but I never did try the multiplayer part. I'm with MB, my suspension of disbelief was stretched farther than the last person I put in a Twister. Unless some sort of economic miracle happens to North Korea, I don't see it getting the sort of clout it did in the game within a hundred years.

Then I read up and found out that originally you were supposed to be fighting the China and the PLA. Like the Red Dawn remake it suffered from Sinophobia.
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Martin Blank
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Re: Game Review: Homefront

Post by Martin Blank » Sat Jan 19, 2013 10:03 pm

The original writer of Red Dawn was the credited writer for Homefront, though the game devs said he didn't write a word of it. Given the timing of game and movie development, I'm wondering if there was any cross-pollination, or perhaps the game was expected to be out about the same time that the movie originally was to be released.
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