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TVG goes hands-on with the first three levels of Kaos Studios' near-future FPS, Homefront....
The freakishly prescient Kaos Studios is back and this time it’s bolder. Not happy with predictions of global financial collapse amid snowballing energy crises (a la Frontlines: Fuel of War, its previous and debut title), Kaos is now setting its sights on suburban America and dropping a swathe of Korean People’s Army paratroopers straight into it, as you do. The developer has an uncanny knack of aligning the subject matter of its games to real-world events of the moment: Frontlines released alongside a well-publicised energy crisis in Central Asia and Homefront certainly won’t be bucking that trend either. The news out of North Korea over the last few months isn’t exactly on a par with a full-scale invasion of US soil, but the increased prominence of Kim Jong-un and the bombing of a South Korean island last November certainly bear a chilling resemblance to Homefront’s opening cut-scene as it briefly explains the back-story.
And it’s a far-flung story for sure, but it’s also one of those stories which are so ridiculous that you sense they just might happen in this topsy-turvy world of ours. Who’d have thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger would become the Governor of California, for example, or that the banks would collapse and we’d all end up bailing them out? A hostile alien invasion of planet earth is only ridiculous until it happens, a questionably wise man once said. And so it’s with this kind of suspended disbelief that you’re lured into the world of Homefront; a world where the North Koreans have invaded mainland USA and the strongest force fighting against them are bands of resistance fighters across each town, city, and neighbourhood. This is the paranoid, survivalist culture of America whittled down to its most potent core and, ridiculous as it may seem, you do manage to invest yourself in it for some impalpable reason.
Away from the media attention that Homefront has received for its storyline, critics have been quick to liken the game to Half-Life 2 and Kaos Studios hasn’t been shy about admitting influence from the folks at Valve either. After playing the first three levels of the campaign, we’ve got to admit that these comparisons aren’t entirely unfounded; there’s more to the analogies than an irritating piece of PR gristle. The dystopian game world has a genuinely oppressive feel to it and, while many titles attempt these kinds of overtones, few actually manage to pull it off convincingly – Homefront can certainly find itself in an elite league alongside Half-Life 2 in that regard.
One thing that many members of this elite group have in common is their early game scene-setter, usually dispatched through a method of transportation. In Half Life 2 it was the train journey into City 17, in Far Cry 2 it was the taxi ride into Pala, and in the original Modern Warfare it was President Al-Fulani’s kidnapping and subsequent car journey to his execution. All three manage to paint the game world with particularly grim brushstrokes, saying more through visual cues than a few lines of dialogue ever could. In Homefront, protagonist Robert Jacobs is initially apprehended by the Korean People’s Army and then placed on a school bus. The subsequent drive through suburbia is met with incongruous images of brutality, from the populace being lined up and processed like a herd of cattle, to a mother and father being executed in front of their child.
The action soon kicks off through a rescue attempt by two members of the American Resistance, Connor and Rianna, who T-bone the bus you’re travelling in and seemingly manage to kill everyone inside but you (it’s a big risk to take but, if genocide is what otherwise awaits you, then perhaps it pays off either way). And it’s from here that the similarities with Half-Life 2 begin to dissipate, at least as far as the first three levels are concerned. Homefront soon bogs down into a chain of repetitive fire-fights, each one presented alongside some fairly predictable whack-a-mole AI. This is a criticism that can be levelled at literally hundreds of FPS games though and, in these cases, it’s usually the quality of gameplay variation between the fire-fights that sets a game apart from the heaving mass of mediocrity.
Thankfully, Homefront does appear to be fairly well stocked in this area. Its sentry guns are among some of the best we’ve come across in an FPS of recent years, encouraging players to flank and use cover effectively to avoid the sentries’ laser targeting system before getting in close to plant a couple of grenades at its base. Likewise, the sections that make use of ‘Goliath’, a six-wheeled mobile artillery unit that bounds around the place with the over-eagerness of a puppy before spewing rockets like a 4th July firework, add a touch of spice to the mix as well. Early on in the game you're given a scope that controls Goliath, effectively targeting any enemy infantry or vehicles within its viewer and relaying the message for Goliath to take them out. It's a fairly basic gameplay dynamic – the sort of thing that the Modern Warfare games made plentiful use of – but it certainly improves the overall pace of the action nonetheless. And we can only assume that Kaos Studios elaborates on these kinds of set-pieces as the game progresses. It's certainly no coincidence that the character you play as, Jacobs is a trained pilot – a quick peek at the controls in the options menu reveals setups for both aircraft and vehicles, so expect plenty of that in the game's latter stages.
All in all then, Homefront looks set to nail its story and setting – if you're the sort of gamer who values an immersive experience above anything else, then Kaos Studios has got your back. Homefront works up a head of steam in its opening three levels and, although the fire-fights could do with some pazazz, we did get the impression that Kaos Studios was just about ready to drop the clutch on its campaign as our hands-on came to a close.
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