You know, it is hard to know when to admit defeat in things. All the time I feel subjected to great scrutiny in all I do, and no matter how hard I try I often feel I am being held back, oppressed and deflated through expectations. I guess my own efforts that end in futility makes pastimes like this more cathartic for me. But I guess being an underdog at times lets this be easy to handle.
To be honest, the issue of futility is something that comes up a lot when dealing with video games. Take, for example, the popularity of first person shooters like Call of Duty. Despite the flaws it really does have, it is still amongst the best selling games of all time. It has a rabid fan base that would defend the game with their dying breaths. There is nothing wrong with this, with the exception of fan boys being dickish about their defense of the game. The problem is for me, and so many others,is that Call of Duty is just a boilerplate shooter at this point; the innovation is gone since Modern Warfare, with everyone else playing catchup to what Infinity Ward did.
The point of this is that any first person shooter that comes out today needs to keep up to the standards that Call of Duty created, and this is an exercise in futility for most games. Take, for example, Homefront developed by Kaos studios. The game, penned by John Milius, the director of the movie Red Dawn, essentially takes the plot of soviets invading the united states to another level; this time a speculative fiction where North Korea consolidates power and starts a proxy war with the U.S after unleashing a EMP to knock out defenses in 2026. Instead of the Wolverines, we get a resistance cell in Colorado fighting a guerilla war against the NKA forces.
The premise is something that I always personally liked in terms of war fiction; freedom fighters defending their homeland in a true example of patriotism without the jingoistic platitudes. For the most part the story plays it straight, epic man vs helicopter fights notwithstanding. The problem is that Homefront’s story is, while not bad, too short and cobbled together to really be memorable.
For characters We get the typical sidekick stock; a balls crazy, republican patriot, a Korean-American techie who is not trusted by outsiders, a spunky black chick named Rianna who, for my money, is very well written, and a bunch of nameless side characters who ultimately don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The side characters have some good moments throughout the game, but they are too far and few between to be really memorable. It also doesn't help that you play another silent protagonist this side of Gordon Freeman, but at this point that is pretty much par for the course.
Take for example, the second mission in the game. It begins with you slowly walking around a hidden campground for the resistance movement, the Americans planting food and milking goats while the kids play on a swing set. You then go into battle quickly against the Koreans to meet a contact in a labor camp, escape the prison and finally end up at a baseball field where the Koreans are creating mass graves, pouring tons of dead bodies under home base with a bulldozer. It is here where one of your squadmates goes ape shit and starts gunning down Koreans, leading to an unecessary firefight that ends with you hiding in a pile of bodies. All of these moments are scripted and you have no control over the events. The problem is all of this takes place in one single chapter, instead of spread out for several different missions. It's like Kaos wanted to top the scripted storytelling in Modern Warfare by putting all that they can into the mix, but it was too many opposing flavors and ideas at once, leading to a lack of tension and actual emotion to ponder over the actions on screen.
The events are good but shallow, frankly. Since there are only seven chapters in the game, it totals around five to six hours of gameplay for the single player experience, making the ride an exhilarating but poorly paced experience. You get a sniping mission, a mission in a helicopter and the use of a drone tank, but that’s about it. It honestly gives games like Modern Warfare and Battlefield Bad Company credit for doing long and detailed campaigns that don’t jump around too much. It shows that the power behind the John Milius’ name is ultimately wasted against the games primary focus, the multi-player.
And the multi-player does save it from being a waste of time in a ways. It is bare-bones in terms of content, but innovative in the battle point system. Instead of rewarding kill streaks for big weapons, using battle points in combat grants you the ability to summon vehicles, air strikes, bulletproof vests and combat drones. The result is that the battle point system makes it more user friendly for new players and casual shooter fans as a whole. It is more streamlined and strategic over how you use your weapons in battle. Vehicular combat is well done and doesn’t feel jaunty or tacked on like in other games, and adds another tactical choice when using the battle points; do you save up for a tank or splurge on an RPG for an extra punch? There is actually some value to the multi-player in Homefront, and that alone makes it worth a play.
But besides standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and ground control maps, there is not much else there to really write about. It is still fun and has their own addicting qualities for a multi-player shooter though, but the experience is too shallow for a $60.00 price tag. Everything else is fairly mediocre; the graphics are kind of bland, the environments are not that varied, the textures take some time to load during checkpoints and everything in multi-player follows the standard CoD menu setup. Sound fares better, creating the symphony of effects that pretty much all modern war shooters offer. The voice acting is fairly good, in particular the actress who plays Rianna, and the music follows a more action-movie orchestral score with strong battle music and softer, more haunting moments when the action gets serious.
All in all, Homefront is the true underdog going against the games that it emulates in full. It is a great irony that the futility that the freedom fighters in game face is matched by the likely fate of the game itself. It is an adequate multi-player shooter with big ideas that do not come into full fruition. The lack of modes and overall blandness of the package is hard to ignore, but I would be remised if I said that it still deserves a recommendation. Giving the underdog a small chance for glory is a hard gamble, but as futile as these efforts can be, that moment sometimes is just enough to receive a well deserved moment of triumph.