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We find that home is where the war is with a first hands-on of Homefront's opening chapter...
Homefront is a chillingly portentous, future-set 'what if?' scenario where a powerful North Korean nation has invaded US soil in 2027, bringing chaos to the white picket-fenced streets of suburban America. You're a civilian named Robert Jacobs, caught amid this chaos in the wake of an EMP blast, forced into the role of freedom fighter and a ragtag existence as you come up against enormous oppression under the thumb of Korean rule everywhere you go. We recently had the opportunity to go hands on with the opening gambit of Homefront's campaign and came back reassuringly enthralled by what Kaos Studios and THQ have in store.
From the very outset, the game pulls no punches, opening with a seemingly mundane setting in Jacobs' apartment where a radio broadcast rambles innocuously in the background. Suddenly, there's a knock at the door and, as we go to open it, three Korean soldiers break in and grab Jacobs, berating him for "not helping America's cause". Jacobs is dragged from his home and shepherded onto a prison bus, which then rolls slowly and purposefully down the streets, allowing more than adequate time to witness the atrocities being committed outside.
We see people being herded together and detained with brute force, a man attempting to flee being brutally shot in the back of the head, splattering his brain on the bus window. As visible bloody fragments slide down the pane, a fellow passenger talks to us about a burgeoning resistance movement and we see more people being escorted into mass human prisons guarded by an enormous mini-gun turret on a hydraulic arm. Further along on the street corner, a child's parents are executed in front of him, as his screams and cries fall on deaf ears. It's all very disturbing and presented in such a way that you can't help but watch in horror, powerless to do anything about any of the deeply grim and troubling happenings you've just seen as America is brought to its knees.
Out of nowhere a truck careers down an adjoining road and rams the bus, flipping it upside down, leaving the way open for a rescue as fellow freedom fighter Connor enters the bus and helps Jacobs escape. Crawling through the shattered windscreen, we pick up a pistol and after a quick rendezvous with another hand to the cause, Rianna, we're ready to venture into the turbulent neighbourhood and take on the occupying KPA (Korean People's Army). Running down an alleyway, we're immediately set upon by enemy troops initiating a frantic run from pillar to post as we're relentlessly tracked by the KPA forces, following Connor and Rianna through destroyed houses, deserted gas stations and eerily empty streets and back gardens.
The number of Korean soldiers we come up against is frightening however, as we duck into an abandoned shop where there happens to be a few hand grenades scattered on the floor. Outside, a small army forms, entrenched behind sandbags, but they're not shy about rushing our position to try and get the drop on us, which is why it's fortunate that your AI companions actually have some wherewithal and aptitude in firing their weapons, helping you out should a sticky situation occur. And occur they do on more than one occasion, as the sheer force and aggression of the KPA can prove to be overwhelming.
Happily, the controls - even at this relatively early Alpha stage - are remarkably robust and immediately intuitive, thanks in no small part to the controller layout being completely identical to that used by numerous FPS titles, including Call of Duty. Each of the rifles we subsequently pick up also has different scopes fitted to them, although you seldom get a moment to mess around deciding which weapon you want, so it's essentially pot luck. Thankfully, we manage to grab a heavy assault rifle with a red dot scope, which makes the remainder of the demo a lot more manageable. Throwing a few well-aimed grenades out of the door of the store we're holed up in, we clear as many of the KPA as humanly possible, before a scripted event occurs and an armoured transport drops off more troops before exploding, leaving the way clear to progress up a treehouse ladder and creating a perfect vantage point for throwing a grenade slap-bang into the middle of a group of enemies.
This is where we come across a crash site and a spectacular mass of twisted plane wreckage where another shootout occurs, and we carve a hasty run through the smouldering scrap to a backyard as a tank smashes through the fence. As Connor and Rianna keep the tank occupied, we climb around and flank it, finding a conveniently placed cache of C4, which we throw down onto the tank before detonating it. Finally, we meet up with Boone, a member of State Police who is attempting to address the desperate pleas of scared civilians. That is until they're torn to shreds by a hail of bullets from a KPA armoured jeep, which indiscriminately slaughters anyone in sight. Finding refuge in a nearby house, we're shocked to find that we've invaded the home of an innocent mother and her screaming baby, attracting the attention of the attacking KPA.
Dispatching the troops making a break for the front door and the side windows, it's not long before tear gas canisters start raining in, prompting a quick retreat with the mother and baby out of a side exit into an adjacent building where a wounded character named Hopper is being tended to. In his backpack is the control device for a remote drone called Goliath, which is a six-wheeled behemoth capable of firing homing ballistic missiles. Suddenly, the shoe is on the other foot and we're taking the fight to the KPA, decimating their armoured vehicles and infantry in seconds, with a tap of up on the D-pad to deploy Goliath's aim before pulling the trigger on a target lock. Strolling out on to the empty street, there's an ominous rumble as a bomber tears through the sky and drops its devastating payload ending the demo in dramatic fashion as we're engulfed in the explosion. Presumably, Jacobs and his comrades survive the blast...
Kaos Studios' cites Half Life as an influence for Homefront, which seems like a lofty bar to set, but based upon this first hands-on with the single-player, there are certainly echoes of Valve's series. Pacing could be an integral part in the game's narrative and the opening demo leaps from set-piece to set-piece, barely missing a beat. If the rest of Homefront's story can keep up this same breathless pace, we could well be looking at a real contender in the crowded FPS genre, as it has most of the fundamentals pretty much pinned down. If Kaos can commit the remaining development time to polishing and refining the experience and marry that to its compelling fiction, then Homefront has the potential to really turn heads when it launches in March 2011.
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