I was not impressed by Homefront's single-player campaign when I first previewed it three months ago. Apparently, Kaos Studios took notice. With the game's release only a month away, an updated preview build -- covering the first three levels of the story mode -- has been sent out to press, and I was shocked to find that nearly every complaint I had with the older build has been addressed. Add in its compelling multiplayer component, and Homefront just might have what it takes to survive in the ultra-competitive FPS market.
Homefront's core narrative as it's imagined in the gameworld is still every bit as arresting in the updated build. Witnessing the game's North Korean occupation of Anytown, USA for the second time was no less brutal to bear. Civilians are rounded up and executed, with the cries of newly orphaned children coldly ignored. It's hard to imagine that the gravitas of the game's opening moments could carry on throughout the story, but Homefront manages to keep this momentum going. In the next two levels, you'll go through a detainment camp, the ruins of a school and a garbage dump ... filled with dead bodies. Most noticeably, Kaos has implemented design changes to make firefights more dynamic. In the previous build, it was easy to just camp in a corner and wait for enemies to dumbly walk into your line of fire. Simply put, the AI was inadequate. In the new build, however, I found that confrontations no longer devolved into these mindless traps. Enemy spawn points were no longer apparent in the three levels I played, and enemies themselves were much more adept at using the environment for cover, in turn making me a more engaged player. Instead of camping, I was now moving about, looking for opportunities to flank.
Partner AI has been considerably improved as well. Before, I was tempted to shoot at my squad mates, if only to get them to shut up. Now, Kaos has tweaked them into characters I actually care about. Their banter is less frequent, more varied and actually integral to the experience at hand. Gone are the sort of absurd, disconnected back-patting lines like "Nice kill!" and in their place is dialog more appropriate to the situation: "We've got to get the fuck out of here!" Your squad mates' newfound ability to assist you in combat by actually killing some enemies makes them seem that much more human in this new build.
I'm impressed by how much Kaos has improved the Homefront campaign in just a few months' time. (In fact, Uncharted is the only other game I've seen improved so drastically in the course of its development.) And while most of my initial qualms have been addressed (including the once awful Korean voice acting!), there are still some rough edges that Kaos needs to work out. Some mission objectives are not well communicated, for example, and it's only after trial and error that it becomes clear what you need to do. The explosives in the third level seemed to kill me ... a lot. Am I supposed to shoot them as my squad mates walk by them? Because that's how I beat the level.
From a visual perspective, the Xbox 360 build I played was serviceable. It's definitely not one of the better looking games on the console: The framerate wasn't quite smooth and the texture work leaves a lot to be desired. Not much can be done about this, and Homefront simply isn't going to match the technical achievements of current benchmarks, -- like Killzone 3 and Crysis 2 -- though the art direction helps to sell the dystopian, but familiar, look that Homefront is trying to achieve.
A few months ago, I was ready to dismiss Homefront's single-player campaign entirely. But after playing this updated build, I'm suddenly eager to continue playing. The drastic changes implemented by Kaos have renewed my curiosity about the final product.