Back in March 2011, the first-person action shooter Homefront arrived on the Xbox 360 from THQ, along with a storm of publicity which included a really cool live-action trailer:
The blockbuster-style marketing campaign bolstered its profile and it became one of the year’s most anticipated games. Set in the near future where the western United States are occupied by unified Korean forces (led by the North), the game follows a group of resistance fighters looking to free those imprisoned by the invaders and take back their homelands.
While it looked set to be a potential challenger in a genre dominated by big names, the hype turned out to be just so. The reviews for Homefront were mostly positive but far from enthusiastic, with the game being taken to task for its short length and not doing enough to differentiate itself from other first-person shooters.
It also courted some controversy, with the publishers denying the game was cashing in on rising real-world tensions in the region. Closely skirting reality, though, caused enough discomfort to see the game banned in South Korea and heavily censored in Japan. Still, it sold 375,000 copies on its first day and more than two million were shipped in total – bigging itself up seemed to work.
Gameplay begins with a closed scene of the playable character, Jacobs, saved from being taken to a ‘re-education centre’ and thrust into the heart of the action – picking up a gun and taking up the fight against the Korean oppressors. From there, playing Homefront will feel very familiar to anyone well-versed in games of this type, with its first-person setup and recognisable controls – right trigger to fire weapons, X button to pick up items. There is nothing really that the game gets wrong, but it in no way re-defines the wheel and there isn’t much about it that is exceptional.
While comparisons to Call of Duty, which set new standards for the genre, may not be fair for a new game seeking recognition, they are also inevitable, particularly as CoD is a clear aspiration for Homefront. Here though the less polished presentation and more sluggish character movement already put Homefront in the shadow of the games that it is aspiring to.
It does, though, have its own USPs, one being the setting. Popular locations for first person shooters such as Russia and the Middle East are eschewed in Homefront for small-town America. Gun battles here take place in mini-malls and cul-de-sacs, all of which are nicely designed and well-detailed, effectively completing the illusion of a more dystopian version of a normally glamorous location.
The game also has its share of memorable moments, including a mission on the Golden Gate Bridge, the escape from a forced labour camp and its simalcrum of the famous ‘Wolverines’ mission from Modern Warfare 2, which here takes place in a Hooters. This is one of a number of brands to feature in the game, but easily the funniest when given a name-check.
The plot of Homefront is worth particular scrutiny. One of the biggest boasts made by the game makers was that assisting with the game’s story was renowned screenwriter John Milius. Among his credits of Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian is the original Red Dawn from 1984, an important reference point for this game. It should be pointed out that Milius served as Homefront’s story consultant, not writer, though he did pen the tie-in novel, The Voice of Freedom, with Raymond Benson.
That film saw Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen lead a group of small-town dwellers becoming freedom fighters on a mission to thwart an attempted invasion of the US by the Soviet Union. Flash forward almost three decades and the everyman heroes of Homefront are fighting off a different kind of red menace.
When it was first released, Red Dawn was criticised both for its excessive violence and apparent nationalist viewpoint. Both can also be said of Homefront; it is violent and it is sensationalist. This doesn’t hurt the gameplay but in an age where jingoism is rife in America, it could make for a little discomfort that would affect its longevity, particularly in those who don’t share its outlook.
Some events of the game’s backstory turned out to be surprisingly accurate though – the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il in 2012, the subsequent takeover by his son Kim Jong-Un, America devastated by a deadly virus. Others are just standard scaremongering in keeping with the zeitgeist of the time, such as casting North Korea as politically correct supervillains.
In truth, these plot elements are just there to set up the action and don’t come up much while playing the game, but can be seen as inflammatory. It is the ultimate fantasy for the flag-waving American, to stand up and defend the country should it come under attack by foreign invaders. Whether or not the neo-conservative themes that emerge in Homefront were intentional, it does seem to be one of the demographics the game would appeal to.
It is fun while it lasts, but Homefront will never be revolutionary; a game that has little to set it apart from competitors. There is however an audience that will appreciate it most – fans of the first-person shooter, particularly those who can see that it is a product of its time. If you find yourself in that group then you will be able to find copies of the game for cheap on Amazon, whilst digital copies are available from the Xbox Store.