At its core you could argue that Homefront, despite its aspirations, is simply another shooter. With the controller plunked in my hands it took all of five seconds for me to get orientated – not just with the controls, but with the mechanics, the structure – thankfully the manner in which Kaos Studios attempt to subtly subvert these standards is what distinguishes it from the competition.
I’m in the middle of a furious shootout. The kind you’ll find yourself embroiled in with most military shooters. Having played Call of Duty: Black Ops and Medal of Honor in the past four months, I found myself wondering if I was really interested in cludging through yet another game of this ilk. But it’s around then that my partner in commie-related homocide pipes up.
“Over there,” he shouts, “behind the Hooters.” I almost cackle out loud. ‘He just said Hooters,’ I think to myself. Then I take a gander at the smouldering lump of concrete to my left. There, home to roughly fifteen dead combatants, was what remained of an American institution. That’s what was left of Hooters.
“We weren’t paid to display any of those American brands in the game,” he claims. “We put them in for free. There’s no point of playing in a broken down America if it doesn’t feel like America.”
It was then that I started to understand why Homefront is just a little bit different from other shooters.
Fundamentally Homefront is a game about killing people – that’s where the core mechanics lie – but it’s in the details that Homefront innovates. It’s the details that should make you care about what is essentially another military shooter.
When it comes to your Call of Duties and your Medal of Honors, I typically play in bursts. Shooters usually play out as a set of tightly recycled mechanics that have me mentally exhausted (and bored) within the hour – usually. I’d be lying if I said that Homefront doesn’t eke towards similar fatigue, but it undoubtedly does a far better job of managing tension throughout the single player campaign.
Pacing in shooters tends to be frantic – designed for those with the attention span of lobotomised bumblebee – but Homefront has entire sections where you don’t even hold a gun in your hand – sections where you are encouraged to literally smell the roses, to wander, to speak with non-combatants, to truly take the time to become engaged in the game’s universe. In most shooters the environment only serves one purpose. It’s a one-dimensional glorified thunderdome – 1000 men enter, one man leaves. Thankfully Homefront gives you the chance to encounter and engage with the people you’re supposed to be protecting; that makes a difference.
We’ve already spoken about the level of detail in Homefront’s environments, so we won’t dwell on it too much here, but it’s worth noting that Homefront’s America – despite the game’s ludicrous premise – does feel like a real place, and that’s credit to the effort Kaos Studios has put into every aspect of its creation.
It’s an effort that flows through the entire game. In most military shooters I barely understand where I am or why – shooting multiple drones in the domepiece is my sole aim and the rest is finger food. There are aspects of that in Homefront, don’t get me wrong, but it comes with a feeling of consistency, an idea that you came from somewhere, that’s there’s a tangible plan of action. It makes Homefront feel less like a series of discrete levels (here’s the snow mission, here’s the sniper mission, etc, etc) and more like a seamless course that has been plotted, a course that makes sense within the narrative. Sure, it doesn’t make the core mechanics any fresher, but it does give you the incentive to continue playing in spite of it.
Homefront also aims to shock. It forces you to blast through seemingly endless hordes of enemy combatants, but takes the time to show the consequences of violence. The end of our demo is particularly poignant. After battling our way through an army of Korean troops, reinforcements arrive and we’re forced to hide – inside a mass grave filled with the rotting corpses of our comrades. At this stage I’m unsure of the intended effect, but it got me thinking – during my two hours of playing Homefront I’d probably killed at least three times the amount of people festering in this hole.
And that made me feel a little bit weird.