Opinion: Homefront – The Good, The Bad and The Sequel

With a sequel to last year’s gritty first-person shooter already confirmed, Dan Jenko explores the areas in which THQ’s intriguing original flourished and failed – and asks what the second installment needs to do to compete with the likes of COD and Battlefield.

(Warning: Spoilers Below)

Like it or not, this generation of games will be most remembered for its first-person shooters. It’s the genre that helped bring gaming into the mainstream, and while this has led to other genres meeting their demise, it’s also shown us what happens when a gaming genre has untold sums of money thrown into developing it.

Enter Homefront, a game that at first glance seemed to be THQ’s way of cashing in on the Call Of Duty craze. But while it was undoubtedly helped along by a big-budget marketing campaign, the game itself was actually kind of special, and the games sales reflected that. It’s unsurprising then, especially with THQ’s current financial troubles, that a sequel has already been confirmed.

This time around, however, the game will be developed by Crytek UK, the team behind the multiplayer portion of critically-acclaimed shooter Crysis 2, a game that was praised for its incredible graphics and engaging gameplay when it was released in early 2011. With that in mind, it seemed only right and proper to take a look at the areas where Homefront shined, and those where it needs to be improved for the upcoming sequel.

 

The Good: Capturing A Desperate Struggle

There are several games that try to invoke an emotional response  from the audience, and while Homefront didn’t exactly have the player in tears, it certainly captured the brutality of war and made you feel like you were fighting for a very good reason. Gamers experienced resistance leader Connor Morgan losing his nerve as he witnessed the remains of American citizens being piled into a ditch. As you fought through what was once a baseball court, used expertly as a metaphorical symbol for the US, your squad had to dive into this pile of bodies in order to avoid an enemy helicopter. It was moments like these that really helped portray the  travesties that were happening around you, even if the experience was often tainted by poorly-placed button prompts.

 

The Bad: Inadequate Campaign Length

Some may argue that first-person shooters are generally short in length for good reason – and that is often the case. Take the recent Call of Duty for example, which offers only 5 hours of game time. The intense action and massive, high-budget set-pieces make for an adrenaline filled experience, but ultimately the non-stop action without any real substance in terms of story gets a little mind-numbing. That is why, in that particular case, a short length is somewhat appropriate.

Homefront’s problem was that it left the player expecting more. In the game’s final act you found yourself fighting, for the first time, with the US army, in an attempt to take back San Francisco. While battling it out on the Golden Gate Bridge, an iconic symbol of America, was sufficiently awesome, it didn’t feel like much of an ending. Your ‘heroics’ had managed to clear a path and help the army start to take back America, but before you had a chance to get even slightly excited, the credits began to roll. There’s nothing wrong with a cliff-hanger ending, but Homefront made your efforts feel totally insignificant, which, considering the immersive nature of the game, was a real shame.

 

The Good: Innovative Online Multiplayer

A solid online-multiplayer offering is essential in any modern FPS, and although Homefront’s mode wasn’t quite as polished as the likes of Battlefield or Call of Duty, it was unique enough, and more importantly enjoyable enough, to compete with the other big-name franchises.

The battles in Homefront, much like in the Battlefield series, were quite large scale, but just about small enough to make your efforts feel significant. At first-glance the mode appeared quite generic, but the ability to use a variety of drones during the battle to benefit your team made Homefront’s multiplayer really stand out from the crowd. These drones included a mini-recon plane that allowed you to spot enemies for your teamates, and an minigun-armed robot. This worked well and provided another tactical aspect to Homefront’s online-gameplay. Crytek UK have proved they know how to make a good online offering with Crysis 2, so expectations will be high for the sequel.

 

 

The Bad: Overused Mechanics

It’s bad enough having an excruciatingly short single-player campaign, but while the experience generally was enjoyable there were several moments where you’d be thinking to yourself ‘been there, done that’ during Homefront’s story.

Fire fights were pretty similar throughout, but perhaps most disappointing was the complete abuse of what, at the start of the game, was a very good idea. The feature in question was being able to target enemies with a remote-controlled tank, aptly named ‘Goliath’. The idea was cool at first, but using this heavily-armed vehicle felt like a chore the sixth or seventh time around, and it just felt like there was a major lack of innovative ideas on offer. It’s a shame then, that despite some awesome moments, Homefront’s campaign became pretty monotonous by the game’s climax.

 

The Good: Engaging Plot-Twists

It’s easy to be fooled that with all the high-budget set pieces Homefront included, it was compensating for a weak story. And while it hardly hit the heights of Heavy Rain or Uncharted, Homefront did have a somewhat engaging plot, which was strengthened by unpredictable plot-twists. The universe that Homefront created was sombre at the best of times, and so it was obvious from the start that main characters were very much expendable. Still, it was difficult to predict that, after a triumphant mission, you’d return to find a main character dead, along with an entire community of men, women and children.

This twist in the plot related back to the world Kaos Studios created perfectly. After a successful mission in which you defied the odds to secure an important package, you began to suspect that the game had given into the Call of Duty-esque bravardo seen in pretty much every first-person shooter on modern platforms. But seeing the disturbing image of your mentor brutally murdered put you right back in the universe Kaos created, and this particular twist, along with a variety of other stand-out moments, really marked it out from the competition.

 

 

The Bad: Too Much Mediocrity

Plenty of other things made Homefront stand out, but there were also a lot of things that made Homefront feel quite insignificant. The graphics were passable, but simply not up there with the likes of Crysis 2, Battlefield 3 or Rage – which are all games that THQ aimed to go up against.

The voice-acting also didn’t really hold up that well. It was certainly not bad, especially by video game standards, but these are the kind of things that Crytek need to nail if they want the sequel to compete with Call of Duty or Battlefield. The bottom line is that too much was mediocre about Homefront. It was unique in several areas, but they need to nail the smaller details to have any hope of competing when Homefront 2 comes along.

 

What do you think were the best and worst aspects of Homefront? And what needs to be included in the sequel? Feel free to sound off in the comment section below…



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