Warning: This preview contains spoilers for the first three chapters of Homefront.
Watching the lifeless bodies of American civilians being unceremoniously pushed into ditches that serve as makeshift graves it hits me: Homefront's developers want to make me mad.
The first time I saw Homefront's single-player mode, I was told that the developers involved wanted players to feel like using a weapon as soon as they got their hands on one. Morbid as that might sound, I presume they mean that they want to give players a reason to fight rather than an order or expectation to do so. It didn't click for me the first time I played the game. Now, having played further into the game, I get it.
Over the last few days I've been playing a preview build of the game's PC version. More specifically, I played the first three chapters. While Kaos Studios is developing the game for Xbox 360 and PS3, Canadian developer Digital Extremes has been tapped to handle the PC version.
What struck me as interesting throughout my time with Homefront was the variety found within the beginning of the game. The first level weaves a harrowing tale with equally disturbing imagery. On a forced bus ride through a city occupied by the KPA--a fighting force comprised of soldiers of a unified North and South Korea, I helplessly watched civilians being detained and assaulted. In one instance, a child cried for his parents as they were are lined up against a wall and shot in front of him. All that was left to him was to crawl into their lifeless arms and weep.
Story is the key element Homefront developers are using to increase its appeal. But the game has a habit of straddling the line between interesting and uncomfortable. There's a section in the second level that especially teeters on this edge. After a double-cross gone awry, my comrades in arms and I came across a large field of soldiers. As we approached we realized what the enemy was doing: piling dead Americans into ditches. At this point it dawned on me that the entire story of Homefront is something of an allegory for the Holocaust. This isn't only an occupation, as it was originally billed. This is genocide.
How this affects you on a personal level may differ from person to person, but it certainly made me uncomfortable. Here is where I really realize the point of Homefront's story. It constitutes the "worst-case scenario" for this world's inhabitants posing a big question: do I want to fight for those hidden in dusty ditches or will I give up and take my place among them? On one level, it's a fascinating tale to tell in a video game.
Whether or not you buy into the "heavy" examination I'm offering, doesn't matter. For most, the core of the game's appeal lies not with the story but the gameplay..
The mechanics of the game were structured to feel like other popular shooters and the developers readily admit as much. Immediately the controls feel familiar. My interest in Homefront is pretty high based on its story direction and some of its multiplayer modes, but playing the game begins to mute that interest.
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My primary concern goes to one that may change when the final game is released: Homefront on PC doesn't seem very stable. There are odd collision issues with the character and objects in the world. At the start of the second level, I was brought to a resistance hideout. Here I talked to other fighters and took a breather from the action. But as I walked throughout the compound at a slow pace that can only be described as painful, my character constantly bounced around the world like he was trying to vault over anything his body touched.
Combat is good but marred by its very scripted nature, right down to how allies approach set pieces and what enemies do during firefights. The good thing is that I only really realized these situations were occurring as I played the levels over and over for this preview. Unlike other shooters, Homefront does a good job of masking this unfortunate design decision.
Something I found strange was the game's realistic use of in-game advertising. Now I know what you might think, "It's suburban America! You should see ads kicking around your neighborhood!". For the most part, I agree; however, it still strikes me as odd when an essential resistance mission during the third level culminates with a guerrilla assault on a local Tiger Direct Computer Store. Or should I say, the largest Tiger Direct store in the history of mankind.
So often we're given military-based shooters where it's the expectation for the player to mow down the opposition. Homefront seems to strive for something more, trying to give players a reason to pull the trigger. Whether or not Kaos and Digital Extremes can constantly deliver an interesting story throughout the adventure along with a finely tuned first-person shooter is unclear, but it's something I hope both developers are fighting for.
This preview is based on a three-level, preview build of Homefront for PC, provided by THQ via Steam.