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Homefront 'Battle Commander' Multiplayer Mode Hands-on Preview

by Xav de Matos, Jan 21, 2011 9:00am PST

The last time I stepped up to a system spinning a fresh pre-release copy of Homefront, I tackled the game's single-player mode. There I faced a gritty--sometimes gruesome--tale of rebels trying to break free from the shackles of a foreign oppressor.

This preview is far more light-hearted, albeit still riddled with bullets from a waging war. During the THQ "Gamer's Day" event in New York, I was given a hands-on first look at one of the game's newest modes: Battle Commander.

Battle Commander, in some ways, shares similarities with the perk and killstreak features of recent Call of Duty titles. Except in the Kaos Studios (console) and Digital Extremes (PC)-developed shooter Homefront, the abilities only appear under a specific mode.

It works like this: as players kill enemies in Homefront's 'Battle Commander' mode, they are given a star ranking. As more kills occur, the player has his star level increase (think Grand Theft Auto's 'Wanted' level). At first, killing a pair of enemies will net you a single star. Then a string of a few more kills bumps it up. As you disable enemy forces, an on screen prompt tells the play how many more kills he or she needs until they achieve the next star rank until a maximum of five.

As players mow down the opposition, they are given buffs based on their method of destruction. Let's say you're piloting a remote helicopter assault drone and start raising in rank. As your increase, the game gives your drone more armor, health and so on. On foot, you're given similar buffs based on your loadout. These bonuses--which amount to something akin to automatic care packages--are given to you by an A.I. leader on your team; otherwise known as the Battle Commander. The better you do, the more gear your get, and the harder it is to kill you.

And people will want to kill you. On the opposing team, players are given recon regarding streaking enemies from their own Battle Commander. As an incentive to end that enemy's streak, the Battle Commander offers more Battle Points--the in-game currency in Homefront--to put the enemy's top performer in the ground.

Dying means buffs are reset along with your star ranking but not before throwing players a nice chunk of change for being a major threat.

Before each match players are given the opportunity to edit one of six loadouts, which includes the ability to equip special weapons (like rocket launchers), recon or assault drones and special infantry abilities (like adding more armor to your drones). These items and bonuses aren't immediately available to players though, as they must collect Battle Points in the game to purchase them as a round is in progress. Purchasing is as simple as pressing the d-pad in the appropriate direction, which is assigned to your purchasable

The immediate comparison would be to Counter-Strike's weapon purchasing screen; however, Battle Points are not used for standard weapons. Players can use Battle Points for drones, vehicles, special weapons, equipment, and airstrikes. The more devastating the item or ability, the more strain on your soldier's wallet.

One example we were given was something I've seen far too often. You spawn into a multiplayer game that features vehicles and everyone immediately sprints toward their favorite ride. If that isn't bad enough, some players will stand around and wait for those items to respawn in the world. In Homefront, that doesn't happen. You purchase those items with your own points and they belong to you.

It's a system I imagine is a nightmare to balance and you'll get to read about those issues and more in an interview I have with multiplayer designer (and Shack user) Brian Holinka, a little later today.

One of the items is the AQ-11 Buzzard assault drone. Purchasing this item (providing it's made it into your pre-match selected loadout), allows you to send out a small, rocket-wielding helicopter which you can use to attack opposition forces. It also seemed extremely overpowered. In my first match I purchased the item fairly early on, and ended up walking away with a final score of thirty kills and four deaths.

Homefront's gunplay was immediately familiar, which made easing into the game a breeze. The maps were well designed and varied (my favorite at the event was the Xbox 360 launch, timed-exclusive map, dubbed "Suburbs." The game was running on Xbox 360 throughout the event.)

Battle Commander is a fun and unique addition. Giving players a simple incentive to hunt down specific opposing players adds a very cool 'objective' strategy element to the game. In terms of the Battle Points, I think the concept is interesting and will certainly make some players think twice. I'm not a huge fan of absurd rewards "just because" like those found in Call of Duty--although, Black Ops dialled it back--but Homefront gives players the choice. I asked myself on more than one occasion, "Do I want to spend all my Battle Points on Item X or Ability Y? If I can't squeeze decent use out of the purchase then my money is flushed down the toilet."

I can certainly see it turning into a situation where hardcore players really discuss their loadouts and organize themselves until they compile a sophisticated strategy that works for a particular map or enemy skill level.

My chief concern is balance between infantry, air, and armor. Holinka tells me that the process is going to be tweaked constantly until both Kaos and Digital Extremes feel the game is right for its launch. As it stands, I felt that some of the special abilities were so cheap to purchase and so powerful that its use quickly turned into situations of mass griefing; however, as I was the one doing the griefing I wasn't sobbing about it too hard at the time.

The systems in place for Homefront's competitive mode made me excited to keep playing. It's fresh and fun. It's not a constant barrage of the same abilities again and again because someone hit their third kill with a stray grenade. It's something you have to think about and plan in the middle of an intense firefight.

Homefront's single-player may be a grim, realistic representation of the horrors of war, but the game's multiplayer had me looking for my holster and helmet. My time with Homefront's multiplayer was some of the most, strategic fun I've had playing a multiplayer, first-person shooter in ages. In a world where copies of the latest Halo and Call of Duty are sitting on my shelf, it says a lot that I'm considering drawing a big red circle around the month of March with hopes that the final product will iron out its bumps and keep me ready to run into the battlefield.

Homefront launches on March 8 in North America for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.


Disclosure: This preview is based on an event hosted by THQ in New York City. THQ invited Shacknews to the event and provided one editor travel and accommodation to and from the three-day event for the purposes previewing the company's 2011 line-up.





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