And so, THQ’s much-hyped Homefront is finally upon us, and the only question that needs to be answered is this one: do we need it? To put it as bluntly as possible, the answer is yes. The single-player campaign may be riddled with a few strange issues that prevent it from standing out in a genre that’s overcrowded with cast-iron classics, but the multiplayer component already feels, after over twelve solid hours of non-stop play, like something of a classic. It may be very easy to summarise what it offers – it proudly positions itself on the middle ground between Battlefield and Call Of Duty, with a dash of Zipper Interactive’s perennially underrated MAG thrown in for good measure – but using that kind of shorthand draws attention away from its parade of very clever and invigorating new innovations.
But the single-player campaign isn’t bad by any stretch. It takes its primary stylistic and narrative cues almost exclusively from Half Life 2; pitching itself as a non-stop action rollercoaster in which halting proceedings for a cutscene would be classed as an unforgivable cardinal sin. For the entirety of its 6-7 hours it moves at a furious clip, only pausing for breath in order to feature a set of completely bizarre moments that stand as the campaign mode’s only real annoyance. In between each set-piece, you’ll follow one or more of your NPC guardians to the next area of battle but before you’re allowed to proceed, you’ll have no choice but to wait for them to make their way through the door/up the latter/past the gate before you do. It’s an unusual technical oversight, and gives the game a rather antiquated aura.
But in the grand scheme, those moments represent a few rather minor niggles. Homefront’s gunplay is Battlefield hefty and thunderously satisfying with it, and because every discarded weapon that you discover is always light on ammunition, you’ll have no choice but to experiment with every last one of them; which keeps things admirably fresh. Despite a gripping opening cinematic that implements some (very) convincingly rendered faux-news footage, for the most part the plot is ludicrous and occasionally downright stupid, but in an era in which the utterly ridiculous Call Of Duty: Black Ops is the FPS genre’s grandstanding pallbearer, who cares? The dialogue is sparse but punchy, and the musical score is fantastic; both in the quieter scenes as well as during the prolonged sequences of mega-budget spectacle.
So with its relatively taut duration, booming soundtrack and curt Hollywood dialogue, some wags may suggest that Homefront would have made a better movie than it does a videogame, but they’d be wrong. A standard set of scattered collectables beef up the campaign’s shelf life for the people who are into that sort of thing, and the Hard difficulty setting is different (and challenging) enough to ensure that if you’re dialled into Homefront’s relentless pace and leathery tone, you’ll be certain to get more than your money’s worth out of it. And don’t think that it doesn’t have more than its fair share of wow moments either. In fact, the entirety of the game’s third mission is an absolute doozy. It takes place in and around the grounds of an abandoned shopping centre, and features two spectacular white phosphorous attacks (one botched) some great sniping sections and then climaxes with an exhilarating on-rails Goliath chase. In terms of pure seat-of-your-pants excitement, it matches anything seen in Modern Warfare or its sequel.
But Homefront’s trump card – and its real reason for being – is its marvellous, marvellous multiplayer component. It melds the lightning-paced popcorn thrills of COD with the tactical, team-based play of MAG and Battlefield to intoxicating effect, and it feels as if it’s been so rigorously play-tested, so thoughtfully designed and so geared towards offering a disillusioned genre fanbase something new, that it’s impossible not to recommend it in the highest possible terms. Ground Control is an ingenious reworking of Battlefield’s Rush or MAG’s Sabotage, but rather than placing you in offensive and defensive roles by turn, here you only ever go head-to-head. Time won in each target zone is cumulative, so the quest for overall map control never stops raging; and in almost every single game that we played, victory always teetered on a knife edge. After each 3-plot zone is taken, the map then splinters off into a direction that’s dependant on which team was victorious; a neat idea that both adds a little bit of extra life to each map, and gives a (very) slight upper hand to the losing side without ever unbalancing anything.
Battle Commander is even better. It allows problem players (read: sly or skilled ones) on the opposition to be marked as a notable threat to your team, and gives you a ballpark area in which to hunt them down. If one of your own side gets tagged as a threat, the process of protecting them (whilst also ensuring that they’re still in a position to rack up kills of their own, to escalate their threat status) is an absolute joy. Brilliantly exciting, it demands shrewd and attentive teamwork, and your success is rewarded with hard currency that comes in the form of standard XP, and Homefront’s newfangled Battle Points. And Battle Points are the icing on the cake. They’re earned in the same fashion as traditional XP and can be used to buy or upgrade weapons – or gain access to vehicles – completely on the fly during battle. And because dying doesn’t affect your pot (as it does with COD’s killstreak rewards) Homefront is uncommonly accommodating to new players, and the real test arrives when you realise that every time you spend money on a vehicle or special weapon, it HAS to be used as part of the bigger picture or it’ll be rendered essentially useless.
If you’re a Battlefield nut, the only thing that you may miss is Bad Company 2’s ground-breaking dynamic that allowed you to re-spawn alongside your team; but random-spawn spots work very well here, and Homefront’s pacier gameplay perhaps wouldn’t have accommodated it quite as well. Because it isn’t here, we’re more than willing to bet money on the fact that Kaos Studios probably tried it out before scrapping it for entirely legitimate reasons. If we were asked to score the two disparate pieces of Homefront’s war-torn puzzle out of ten, the campaign would get a 7; it’s solidly entertaining and definitely worth a blast for devoted FPS buffs, although it probably isn’t worth getting too excited about. The multiplayer on the other hand would warrant nothing less than a comprehensive 10/10, without a single shadow of a doubt. It’s essential.
Watch the Homefront trailer here: