I crouched on my belly and inched forward. Looking through my scope, I could see several Greater Korean Republic troops making their way down a ridge. They were totally exposed. I fired. Pop, pop. Time to buy a drone.
It was September during the Tokyo Game Show, and a group of the gaming press had been given hands on with the pre-alpha build of Homefront's multiplayer. The Western press was divvied up from the Japanese press, but I, due to timing issues, ended up with the Japanese press.
Before the demo of the console versions started, we were shown the game's trailer - which seems as patriotic and as paranoid as Red Dawn. That's not necessarily a dig at Homefront. It is what it is. It was odd and slightly uncomfortable sitting in a room full of Japanese press and watching a trailer that depicts the rise of North Korea and the easy surrender of Japan to Korea. The guy next to me shifted in his seat.
It was odder still when you watch documentaries like Vice's trip to North Korea. As I fired up the multiplayer, I couldn't help but think the game preys on the fears and insecurities of Americans - a new yellow peril makes its way West. But Homefront does it well. The game's trailer is crackerjack.
The game's multiplayer can handle up to 32 players at once and pits the civilian-turned-freedom-fighters against the Greater Korean Republic troops. There will be dedicated servers for both PC and console versions, meaning less lag and less latency. What separates Homefront from other multi-player modes is the title's in-game economy.
"Battle Points" can be earned during Homefront's multiplayer through things like kills and conquering objective, but then can be spent throughout the fight. With the controller's d-pad, it is possible to buy items on the fly. Other multiplayer shooters might have purchasable weapons (Counter-Strike, for example), but according to Homefront's developers, the ability to buy things while fighting is something that helps Homefront stand out. So basic weapons like a Missile Launcher or an RPG are 50BP each, but an Air Recon Drone costs 100BP, while a Ground Assault Drone and an Air Assault Drone set players back 200BP and 300BP, respectively. Controlling the drones is via the bumpers with up being the right bumper and down being the left bumper. Movement is controlled through the thumbsticks.
It is also possible to buy vehicles with Battle Points, but not on the fly. Vehicles must be purchased in the spawn screen so that players load out in said vehicle. The "cheapest" vehicle is the Humvee at 300BP. During my multiplayer hands-on, I found it extremely hard to control the Humvee. The vehicle did not handle smoothly or naturally like in, say, the vehicles in a Battlefield game. Players use both thumbsticks to drive - one to go forward or back and one to go right or left. It gives the ground vehicles a sluggish, almost chess-like sense of movement. Granted it did feel better with the 1000BP Tank and really did work well with the 1400BP Attack Helicopter. The Humvee? Not a pleasant road experience.
This in-game economy forfeits realism for playability. The mere notion of Battle Points and being able to "buy" a tank during combat is as preposterous as the idea of Kim Jung Il's son uniting the Korean Peninsula and then invading the US Perhaps that's why it works so well. Games might start on the ground but can end up in the sky's above.
Playing in the "Ground Control" mode, two maps were shown: "Cul-de-sac" and "Farm". Cul-de-sac took place in a residential neighbourhood and featured infantry-only with drones. The other map, Farm, took place in a New England-esque rural setting and featured infantry, drones and vehicles. Both maps were fun, and the room of Japanese press seemed to get into the multiplayer - especially the Battle Point system.
One gripe about the "Farm" map. The layout makes it a campers paradise. Not only does the river that runs through the middle of the map completely expose those who chose not to take the covered bridge, but also facilitates camping. In the multiplayer hands-on, it was a snap to hide in the shrubs and snipe troops on the other side of the river. If only controlling the Humvee was that easy.
Homefront will be released on the PS3, the Xbox 360 and the PC in March 2011.