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Homefront single-player preview: Caught in the crossfire


Homefront is a game that demands your attention. While the concept requires a little suspension of disbelief, Kaos Studios has crafted an incredibly believable, gripping and horrifyingly graphic world where -- not unlike real war -- ordinary people are caught in the crossfire.

Played from the perspective of a civilian resistance fighter, Homefront offers uneasy answers to the uneasy questions that those of us who experience war from afar aren't necessarily forced to ask: What would you do if your country was being overrun by an occupational force? How would you fight back?

The world of Homefront is utterly riveting. The game, however, is not.

Gallery: Homefront (single player) | 10 Photos

The best moments of Homefront's first single-player level are ones you don't get to play. As you're sitting idly in a transport bus, you witness the horrific atrocities committed by the North Korean occupying army. Kaos has done an excellent job of transplanting you into Everytown, USA. As you scan your surroundings you see a familiar Main Street, a coffee shop, a school.

The imagery is immediately evocative of a quiet suburban town, which makes the acts of violence that transpire therein seem all the more gruesome. Citizens are forced to march into camps, families are separated, and some people are executed, their bodies left to rot where they fall. In the background, you hear Korean propaganda blasted on loud speakers.

In one scene, a man makes a mad dash for freedom, only to get shot near the bus you're on. His guts splatter across your window and slowly drip, obscuring your view.

You manage to escape your own dire fate thanks to a daring attack by a squad of resistance members. "We hope you're worth it," one of them screams, as you run through alleys and backyards in search of an escape route. Eventually, you regroup with some civilians, horrified by the chaos that you've stirred up. The attack on the North Koreans won't go unpunished, and some of the bystanders argue that it's better to submit than to resist. Undoubtedly, your rescue and escape will cause the death of other innocents. Is that something you can live with?

I love the direction Homefront takes; that it expresses "humanity" much better than other FPS titles. This is not Modern Warfare 2's Burgertown, an empty facade of an American community. This gameworld actually echoes the real world, with real people, and real consequences. But the gameplay falls flat, undoing every effort to make the gameworld immersive.

The world may feel real, but the weapons do not. Many of the subtle advancements made by games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and even Killzone are missing here. The weapons lack weight and handle like toys. Bullets don't penetrate cover, and you or your enemies can hide behind thin wooden planks without fear. The movement system is antiquated, as well: there's no cover system, no lean-and-peek maneuver and no ability to rush to a prone position. Homefront plays less like a modern shooter, and more like a PS2-era relic.

The set pieces aren't particularly interesting, either, revealing an overly scripted AI that replaces any organic fun of virtual battle with easily predictable patterns. In one section, all I did was crouch in the corner of a room, as enemies entered one at a time. I mowed them down as they continuously streamed headfirst into the room, ignorant of this entrance's obvious tactical shortcoming.

Homefront plays less like a modern shooter, and more like a PS2-era relic.

In another section, I simply stood by a fence that enemies were climbing over to reach a battle. One by one they lined up to jump over the fence. As they landed, I knifed them -- over and over, until the sequence was scripted to end. This is not good.

There are other annoyances to note, too, like the friendly AI being equally as dumb as its enemy counterpart. Your squadmates' penchant for repeatedly shouting "Nice kill!" not only becomes grating, but also takes away much of the gravitas of the situation. Considering what's at stake, I doubt you should be caught up in the mindless joy of "kicking ass and taking names." And what is wrong with the Korean voice actors in this game? While it won't be obvious to everyone who plays this game, I would really appreciate hearing at least some of the Korean dialogue spoken by actors that sounded like native speakers. (Y'know, like the ones used in Crysis?)

Homefront's targeted March release date is still far enough away that Kaos can hopefully address some of the minor issues that plague the current game build. In that time, however, I don't think it's feasible to fix the big one: the gameplay's lack of a defining characteristic. It's got no hook, and in spite of its unique premise and setting, everything about the design feels entirely by-the-numbers. In a genre as played out as the FPS, Kaos needs to do much more to make Homefront a THQ franchise worth caring about.

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