Homefront (PC) Review

Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Saturday, March 19th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/homefront/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Kaos Studios is a name familiar to a fair portion of the multiplayer FPS community -- the developer started off as Trauma Studios, creating the excellent Desert Combat mod based on Battlefield 1942.

Developer DICE found it impressive enough to hire on the team and work together with them on Battlefield 2, though this relationship ended just a few days before the game shipped when they were cut loose. DICE was vague about the reasons, saying, "conditions have changed and the future plans of the company differ considerably from when Trauma Studios was acquired." Regardless, respect seems to be going both ways even today.

Trauma later joined up with publisher THQ under their new name Kaos Studios, developing the well-received Frontlines: Fuel of War, to which today's title is a spiritual successor.

Single player

Homefront has been hyped for many months now, largely on its story of a Korean-occupied America and emphasis on "moments" rather than just repeated shooting sequences peppered with plot. The opening is compelling from the get-go, with creatively edited real-world news footage summarizing the history behind the current occupation, followed by an all-too real passive in-game sequence that really shoves your face in the most brutal sides of war.

Quite unfortunately, this approach tapers off quickly, and excepting a few interesting moments, the game devolves into exactly what it was promised it wasn't -- repeated shooting sequences. Adding to the hurt is a complete lack of character depth (you mostly run with a squad) -- Boone for example (your typical badass patriot) is very believable and compelling for the most part, but we learn nothing about him. Further, 90 percent of the plot is conveyed in the opening news sequence, and with no real depth in the aftermath, you're never really made to feel the occupation actually happened.

The action itself isn't too shabby and even the Normal difficulty will provide adequate challenge; the problem is it feels like a hugely wastely opportunity given most of the pieces are here to create a truly unique and thoroughly compelling experience but aren't really utilized -- it's as though Kaos took a bunch of innovative components and threw them into a pot but didn't stir it.

"The Voice of Freedom" is one of these components -- a very well-acted radio DJ activist-type you hear during loading sequences who provides background on current events.  Collectible newspapers detailing surrounding global events provide a similar service, though do a great job of killing immersion, especially after the heat of a good fight -- contrasting mainstream propaganda news with The Voice of Freedom directly would be a much better implementation and would add a much-needed layer of depth.

As it is, we've got a few refreshing moments in a mostly standard single player mode, one that's terribly short, even for those who don't mind short games. Kaos has said they'll be creating a longer single player mode for the sequel, implying it was a matter of balancing resources between multiplayer and single player.

Judged as a whole package, the single player in Homefront is ultimately a glimmer of what could've been and is simply not very valuable.

Multiplayer

Single player most gamers should be able to agree on; multiplayer on the other hand is already a hot topic of debate. It's more or less a mix of the Call of Duty arcade style of play (constant action, points galore, and perks) and the charm and robust nature of the Battlefield series (lots of unique guns and customization, vehicles, "battle chat" / commo rose, etc) -- not a direct splicing, mind you, as it's got its own feel, but it's mostly dependent on subtleties. For those that hate anything even resembling Call of Duty or similarly-styled games, you can probably safely stay away from this one. If you're open to different types of FPS or are curious to see what happens when you cross that with Battlefield, it may be for you.

Homefront doesn't do much blatantly new in the multiplayer department, though sizeable American maps (six of them) are a nice change of pace -- sniping enemies from suburban rooftops in Cul-De-Sac is oddly fun, though that might be the only truly unique map.

Modes include Ground Control (what you might know as Conquest), Team Deathmatch, and Battle Commander (more of a sub-mode; here killstreaks make players harder to kill, after which they can become a priority target for opponents).

In any case, it does offer a reasonably well-crafted experience, topped off with a long list of features for PC gamers. It's already pulled in a very large community and will definitely keep a significant portion around -- how significant depends partly on how patching pans out. Kaos has already issued one minor patch for PC players and is currently working on more for all platforms, so, if I'm not being too optimistic, I'd expect to see this one to be all it can be, so to speak -- there is definitely potential.

PC features

The main, glaring issue for PC players at the moment is performance. Simply put, it's deplorable, and at least for most, no amount of tweaking fixes it. On a medium-high end rig, I was experiencing anywhere from 20-80 frames per second in multiplayer (better in single player, but still not where it should be), where in Bad Company 2 for example (much more demanding), 60-110 is the norm. In a multiplayer FPS environment, high framerates are critical, so it's good to know Kaos is actively working on the issue; they've stated it was not present on any of their wide range of test machines, so this seems to be a case of misfortune.

As mentioned, Homefront boasts a wide variety of PC specific features which take full advantage of the platform's strengths, thanks to the folks at Digital Extremes, known for their work on the Unreal series and BioShock 2's multiplayer. The highlights here are dedicated servers, the squad management system, proper communication support (VOIP, text chat, or "battle chat" with everyone, your team, or your squad), match recording and editing, and LAN support, to name a few of many. There's no question it's a proper PC title in this regard, one that harkens back to BF2 and Counter Strike heydays in more ways than one.

Graphically, Homefront is a mixed bag. There are a wide variety of options here, even for a PC title (FOV slider? You bet), and at its best, they shine through. On average, though, it looks like your usual lower-end Unreal engine game with lots of pretty effects thrown on top, so it finds itself in a weird spot. Suffice it to say, it's far from being one of the PC's best looking titles, or even consoles'.

Final thoughts

Homefront is a simple offer: another cut-above multiplayer shooter with strong community support and an interesting blend of gameplay styles. It's certainly not going to be for everyone, but it has the potential to be a community hit, if not as successful as its competitors.

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