Homefront’s very first prolonged interactive cinematic – there are no traditional cutscenes in the game whatsoever – involves your character being transported via bus to a nearby refugee camp. It’s a careful, bravura sequence that vividly establishes the game’s dank and downbeat world, and sets the chilly pitch of the brutal, paranoid main story. Whilst on your brief journey you’re forced to bear witness to a few acts of startlingly ferocious violence; you catch a quick glimpse of some basic (and highly plausible) pieces of near-future technology; and you’re treated to a brief but very welcome homage to Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful 2006 adaptation of Children Of Men.
These three things happen disarmingly early (and in rapid succession) but they’re all terrific indicators that point to how thoroughly unconventional Homefront is looking at this point. The fact that an act of violence is capable of affecting anyone (especially in a title like this) is truly a cause for celebration, and the game’s apparent unwillingness to dumb down – hence that grubbily authentic new technology, as well as the nod to a somewhat highbrow movie – may make you struggle to find something to compare it to. But because of its complete lack of static cinematics and the comprehensive emphasis on plot, the two properties that will come to mind are likely to be Half Life 2 and last year’s seriously underrated Metro 2033.
Admittedly, that’s some pretty conspicuous company, but it isn’t just Homefront’s raw vision of a hellish future, or the lack of intrusive cutscenes, that invite those comparisons. After that slow-burn opening chapter and a subsequent (spectacular) rebel ambush, Homefront, for a healthy length of time at the very least, turns into a bracing action rollercoaster. However, as was the case with both Metro 2033 and Half Life 2, the constant priority that’s placed on the plot means that it never senselessly exhausts you. The hour-long (or thereabouts) opening tier is utterly relentless, but the action never feels desperate or inorganic. Whenever you’re sprinting towards an objective, you always know why; and when you get there, you always know precisely what needs to be done.
This is down to two things; expert design, and stark, efficient writing. From what we’ve seen so far, Homefront‘s vast, sprawling environments are never lazily recycled just to save the development team some time. Similarly, when you’re battling to find your way out of an especially dicey situation, you’re never quite as cognisant of each level’s (necessary) linearity, which isn’t something that you can often say about games of this ilk. And the heavily touted script, by legendary right wing uber-nutcase John Milius, is an abject lesson in slam-bang efficiency, and displays in broad detail just how much many of today’s most feted videogame “writers” still have to learn about pacing and character.
Unfortunately we didn’t get an opportunity to sample the “best in class” multiplayer component yet, but needless to say it certainly has its work cut out if it’s expected to break the stranglehold that Battlefield: BC 2 and Black Ops still hold over the world’s FPS enthusiasts. That said, the multiplayer side of things is looking much more like Battlefield than Call Of Duty, and with the pre-Xmas fervour for Battlefield’s superb Vietnam DLC pack starting to die down a little, the time could be just about perfect for THQ to swoop in and take advantage of that sizeable market gap.
Concrete details are reasonably scarce, but some of the titbits that have emerged thus far – like the fact that every player has the perpetual ability to spend their funds on new weapons and technology as and when they’re required, completely on the fly via a menu – do go to show that developer Kaos Studios are at least striving to keep things as fresh and unconventional as possible. Whether the multiplayer component succeeds or not still remains a tantalising mystery, but the narrative that drives the single-player campaign is an unusually powerful and compelling one; and thus, in this crowded and often languid market, it currently stands out like an extremely sore thumb.
Watch the Homefront ‘Emergency Broadcast’ trailer here: