Preview: Homefront

"The year is 2027 ... A once proud America has fallen, her infrastructure shattered and military in disarray. Crippled by a devastating EMP strike, the USA is powerless to resist the ever expanding occupation of a savage, nuclear armed Greater Korean Republic." -- THQ product description, Homefront

An invaded America has become the video game prémisse du jour. Resistance 2, Turning Point, and most recently, Modern Warfare 2, have all explored the notion of a besieged superpower. Kaos Studios' upcoming Homefront may be treading familiar territory, but there's still good reason to be excited: It's got heart.

The hands-off playable presentation I watched showcased stellar visuals -- a must in this competitive genre. Particularly striking were the environments, filled with incredible detail. Homefront's opening scene evoked a "lived in" quality: the overgrown foliage, the dirty equipment, and the solemnly swaying swings conveyed a complex yet unspoken story.
"Realism" often ends up being little more than a buzz word for FPS games, and Kaos' continued adherence to the regenerative health system does little to change that. However, the use of real-world brands does help to create a gameworld that appears more representative of America than Infinity Ward's generic "Burger Town USA." Seeing a firefight break out in front of a tattered Lumber Liquidators was an unsettling sight because it had an air of believability.

Still, little can be said of the gameplay that hasn't already been said of the existing slate of "modern war" FPSs. The demo did little to show how Homefront may be innovating the genre. Heavily scripted sequences, and extravagant set-pieces were all awesome, but in a comfortable, almost pedestrian way. There is some neat gadgetry to look forward to, though: I saw a "Goliath" tank with remote-controlled missiles do some damage in the demo.

And what about that "heart?" I'm excited by Homefront's potential. What can set it apart from competitors is its characters: a small squad of civilian resistance fighters in a battle not to take back the country, but to simply survive. The contemplative, reserved quality of the game's opening moments provided a welcome change to the machismo of a Bad Company.

Although THQ has woven a detailed and complex back story for Homefront's alternate timeline (seen in the video above), the game itself promises to pare down the narrative to a less epic, more personal scale -- to focus on "the human cost of war." The demo featured a botched fire bombing, one with deadly consequences for both the invading North Korean forces and the civilian resistance squad. Simply put, it was horrifying. With a story penned by Apocalypse Now's John Millius, I'm certainly excited (and disturbed) by the possibilities.

While I wish there was more to say about the game, THQ's demonstration was unsatisfyingly brief. However, with a planned 2011 release, THQ and Kaos Studios have a lot of time to slowly unravel Homefront's mysteries. And I can't wait to find out more.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.