Review: Homefront – Kaos Studios – 360

Picked it up from the bargain bin (I spent more on lunch yesterday), as I’m so fond of. It arrived from the UK a couple of days ago, and since it’s supposed to be very short, in the 5hour range, I’ve just started it and hope to finsh it over the coming weekend. (yeah, I don’t play for long sessions).

I’ve been interested in Kaos studios for some time. Born out of Trauma Studios, who created the most excellent Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942, the core of the Trauma crew were hired/bought by DICE to work on Battlefield 2 which was pretty much a commercial reworking of Desert Combat as a direct sequel to BF:1942. Following the release of BF2, DICE/EA did what big studios always seem to do and fired everyone from Trauma, who in turn got picked up by THQ and formed Kaos.

A couple of years afterwards, they brought out Frontlines: Fuel of War which I was very much looking forward to, right up until several months after release when there was still no demo in sight for the game along with many complaints about PC stability and balance issues. So I never bought it. More recently, Kaos developed Homefront, which crashed and burned on account of not actually being very good, and Kaos in turn was closed earlier this year.

So. The game.

Well, the shooting mechanics are a bit off. Sure, I’m playing on console, but they’re not nearly as smooth or good “feeling” as either CoD or Battlefield’s. You’re forced to rely on the “snap-to” auto-aim mechanic, and even that’s a bit off.Your companions lack personality, the guy is a generic douche, the girl is showing off her lower stomach and just a hint of upper pubis to go with her cleavage. Because it’s important to keep up sexy appearances during civil insurrection. The writing is pretty bad and dialogue is worse – John Milius or no.

It all looks a bit grainy. Dunno, I guess they’re going for “gritty”. On one hand, a few years ago you’d laud a game like this for looking so good, but by today’s standards they’re nothing special. They’re not bad per se, they just look a bit off.

Had to take a break after a couple more stages when one of my companions got stuck on a wall we’d vaulted. You always have to “follow” your companions, and you can’t do simple things like go through a doorway or go up/down a ladder until the game decides it’s your turn. Even if there’s nothing or no-one in the way.
There’s a variety of weapons to pick up, as apparently there’s no uniformity in the Koreans’ equipment, so they’re all carrying a variety of about 5 different rifles, with a variety of different add-ons and types of optics.

bang bang

You can’t carry much ammo (about 5 mags per rifle) and you can only carry 2 weapons, oh – and apparently weapons which are a variation on a theme do not use the same ammo, let alone magazines. This means that the M4 Carbine, which uses the exact same magazines and ammunition as the M16 in the real world, doesn’t in this game. Let alone other weapons that share the same ammo and use compatable STANAG magazines like the SCAR-L, ACR, etc. But worse, even two different M4 rifles with different optics don’t share ammo. This is worth complaining about since the ammount of ammo you can carry is so limited, forcing you to be scavenging new rifles fairly regularly. Oh, except, sometimes, slightly different variants of the same rifle will refill your ammo. But not always.

Oh, and the “RPG”s that are used by the Koreans throughout the game (and by you a time or two) are actually German-made Panzerfaust 3s, rather than RPG-7’s or the Chinese copy, Type 69 which makes total sense. Right? Especially since the US doesn’t use them, nor do the Koreans, though the Koreans seem to be using the entire stock of US Armed forces’ M4 rifles.

After having finished the game, I have some more thoughts. A little more reflective at this point.

While the gameplay is filled with flaws, on another level the game itself is an interesting take on games as narrative. With John Milius (Red Dawn) on board, the influence of having a “proper” write in the game designers is clear. The game is very much a hyper-linear experience. While we’re used to that in FPS games like, well, almost everything since forever, Homefront takes it to a new level. Rather than having to make it to the next checkpoint, you simply follow one or another of the NPCs around like a dog on a long tether. Aside from not being allowed through doors or up ladders until your companions have finished their bit of dialogue, this game takes it to the extreme At one point, your companions head to an overlook to make comment from a distance on bad things that the Koreans are doing to some nice American civilians, and the game literally has you follow them up to the ridge so the NPCs can have their chat, and then follow them back down so you can move onwards. It feels like a scene that may have been in a film or book and fit in, but in Homefront you, as Mute Protaganist #498076 simply follow along like the aforementioned tethered canine and observe what you’re told to observe, when you’re told to observe it. As storytelling goes, it’s not involving or interactive at all, you’re simply a detatched mute observer, going through the motions.

Similarly, at the game’s climax the game attempts to give us a poignant moment, but unfortunately the player is so detatched from the goings-on that it just falls flat. Rather than feeling that you’re in the story, you’re basically just following along. Compared to, say, the Call of Duty experience – which *is very Michael Bay – but at least you’re the hero, Homefront has you tag along as a semi-interested observer, following your companions like a little dog and listening to their trite scipted dialogue in between headshotting a few more Koreans.

An enthralling bit of dialogue from one of your charismatic and well-written companions.

Something like the Bad Company franchise at least features some humour from your companions, and as such, they become likeable. Something like Uncharted has characters you actually grow to like over the course of the game and enjoy seeing. Even Medal of Honor, which suffered a little from “Black Hawk Down Character Syndrome” – Who is that guy again? Which one is he?” managed to kick a real goal in terms of end-of-game poignancy. Especially compared to this, it’s like Shakespeare.

Homefront uses THQ’s “online pass” system, and despite my copy being new, I couldn’t be arsed putting in the code just to have a 10-minute look at it’s multiplayer. (And no, I’m not willing to email it out). I figure I have several installments of Call of Duty and Battlefield if I feel like some modern-military-style multiplayering.

Overall, and despite my many misgivings towards this title, the short (5 hour) campaign length works in it’s favour for me. If the game was longer, I probably wouldn’t have finished it or it’d join the many games I end up putting down for months or even years. Since it only cost me as much as a large lunch and was short enough to play in a weekend, I actually don’t regret the purchase. More dedicated gamers could easily finish it in a day or even a single long session. As it stands the experience was more akin to seeing a movie at the cinema that was merely “ok” – and cost less than doing so, while still having enough of it to make for an interesting think about the nature of story in games.

====

Verdict: Skip it or Rent it. Only bother to purchase if it’s going to cost as much as lunch.

P.S.: For an entertaining look at the game’s shortcomings via captioned screenshots, check out Homefront’s IMFDB entry.

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