Homefront Single Player Preview
For years, the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises have set a high bar for the shooter genre; so much so, the idea of creating a new shooter has got to be fairly daunting. Still, it seems there's always room for one more. Good or bad, most shooters seem to be set in a distant country (or on a distant planet) and let us play heroic soldiers who take out the bad guys without having to think too much about the moral implications of our actions. Homefront, the new action shooter from THQ and Kaos Studios, aims to change all that up by bringing the bad guys into our own backyard, and giving us a highly personal reason to fight.
Last month, THQ held a Homefront hands-on preview event coinciding with the grand opening of their shiny-new Montreal studio. In between press conferences, Q&A sessions and studio tours, we got to sit down for some alone time with Homefront's single player campaign and it was a doozy. Seconds after you've started it up, it's clear Homefront won't be pulling any punches. You play a young American pilot, arrested by the Korean military police. In the process of being carted away on a commandeered school bus, resistance fighters swoop in and rescue you, forcing you to pick up a gun and join them in the ensuing chaos. Racing at top speed and dodging bullets, you follow your new friends—a man and a woman—through the burned out streets of what was once a nice suburban neighborhood where you meet up with a local resistance leader.
As you might expect, the first mission functions as a tutorial, with your new allies guiding you and directing your actions as you're relentlessly pursued. You fight with whatever you can find, using guns dropped by enemies in abandoned houses and debris-filled back yards. The controls are intuitive enough to pick up in a couple of minutes and easy enough to let you focus on the action. The UI thus far is minimal, consisting of an objective indicator and an ammo count. When your health gets low, the edges of the screen pulse red and you hear your heart beating. Luckily, the cover mechanism is easy to use and allows you time to recover. It's fairly surreal, fighting foreign soldiers in a suburban American living room and things get even stranger when half way through you get your hands on the remote to a huge armored vehicle called the “Goliath” which allows you to paint targets and then systematically destroy every Korean vehicle in sight.
Aside from a few confusing bits here and there that Kaos is still working out (problems knowing where to go or what to do next), the single player mode is shaping up to be a compelling experience. Although Homefront plays a lot like other action shooters in a mechanical sense, what sets it apart is the way it makes you feel while you're playing it. It starts with an intro that lets you see brutality and injustice inflicted on your neighbors and you can't help but react. Some of what you see is truly gut-wrenching and by the time your rescuers liberate you, you're disgusted, angry and ready to fight.
Combat is always chaotic, but Homefront's middle-America setting ratchets that up even more. It's intense to find yourself hiding behind a stack of tires or a picket fence with bullets flying, explosions all around you, fires burning, people screaming and babies crying. Rarely do you get a breather and that's by design. Kaos Studios' “magnetism” system directs all the action toward you so if a helicopter is shot down, no matter where it is, it'll careen directly toward you. The system obviously works, if the single player demo's explosively dramatic ending is any indication.
In past previews, Homefront's shown its potential to rival Call of Duty and Battlefield in terms of pure, unadulterated multiplayer action. At this stage of the game though, its main strength and what makes it unique, giving it the potential to surpass these other titles is its ability to affect us emotionally. Its setting forces us in the most direct way possible, to defend our homes and families and eliminates the possibility of engaging in the fight while remaining psychologically distant from it. Kaos told us Homefront's single player mode will consist of a short six hours, but if the rest of it is as emotionally taxing as the recent hands-on demo, it'll pack a serious punch. Be on the lookout for Homefront on shelves in March, 2011.