John Milius is at it again with Homefront, a first-person-shooter that delivers an updated version of the America-under-siege fiction of the filmmaker’s 1984 Red Scare-athon classic Red Dawn. In THQ and Kaos Studios’s game (which Milius worked on as a “story consultant”), North and South Korea—under the guidance of the deceased Kim Jong-Il’s son Kim Jong-un—have been united, invaded, and subjugated Japan, established a ruling regional coalition, and, by 2027, conquered the economically weak United States. This occupied U.S.A. is the setting for your mission as a soldier who joins up with an underground resistance force and endeavors to combat the murderous invaders. Like Hollywood’s recent Battle: Los Angeles, it’s a work that flips current global paradigms to deliver an Americans-as-underdog-insurgents fantasy, a reversal that’s married to a future-history scenario that directly prays on the nation’s current fears of escalating non-democratic threats. For a genre so rarely interested in narrative storytelling, Homefront is, at least initially, a welcome attempt at creative scripting, with a raft of collectible newspapers (hidden throughout levels) filling in details on the cleverly conceived geopolitical events that have led to the action’s current events.
Any early intrigue, however, doesn’t last, as the game sabotages its own conceit through transparently sensationalistic gestures, mundane combat, and inconsistent graphics. Traversing towns and cities smoldering from attacks by Korean stormtroopers, you’re treated to the sight of a mother and father being executed in front of a wailing child, a truck dumping bodies into a mass grave (you even get to hide in it!), and a wailing mother as she attempts to protect her baby during one of your quest’s many firefights. Bracing in the moment, these incidents quickly prove merely shock-for-shock’s-sake gimmicks, their gravity undone by Homefront’s inherently video game-y nature, which is epitomized by gameplay that’s brazenly derivative and, worse still, often shoddy. With no cover mechanism, it’s a chore to avoid taking fire during shootouts, and moving while ducking is too sluggish to be useful. Worse still, targeting is loose and slightly off—sniper bullets regularly miss enemies who are directly in one’s crosshairs—and, despite a wealth of various guns, the game’s blend of few-against-many skirmishes and vehicular sequences is rote. You’ve played this game in different guises before (namely, Call of Duty), and—as in the aliens-in-suburbia segments of the PS3’s Resistance 2—in similar guises as well.
Unlike that PlayStation showstopper, though, Homefront doesn’t compensate for its formulaic action with superb visuals. Even with decent character animations and superb art design, its graphics never rise above being passable, thanks to aliasing and jagged-texture issues, as well as annoying glitches like delayed scripted behavior (CPU mates often lag when required to move the story forward) and adversaries randomly disappearing during fights. Clichéd war-movie dialogue is to be expected from such a game (sample: “I’m getting too old for this shit!”), but such gameplay shortcomings negate much of the story’s imaginative brio and thus relegate the single-player proceedings to a passable, uneven diversion. That’s not true of the game’s multiplayer, however, which innovates by enhancing traditional competitive matches via not only experience level-ups (which lead to greater abilities, like increased speed), but Battle Points, which are accrued during games and allow you to purchase more powerful weapons and vehicular support. The effect of these Battlefield-esque additions, which also include a Battle Commander feature in which squad leaders have their forces target the highest-ranked (i.e. best) opponents, is to encourage variable, on-the-fly strategizing, a key element that ultimately separates Homefront’s mundane narrative campaign from its rich online mode.