War on American soil isn't a foreign concept for first-person shooters, but few do it with the grim dedication of Homefront. Its chilling vision of life in occupied America is vividly illustrated through lengthy scenes that depict the brutality of military subjugation and the desperation of its victims. This thoroughly developed setting is one of the most engaging the genre has seen in a while, making the campaign worthwhile despite its run-of-the-mill action and unsatisfying length. There is some longevity, however, to be found in Homefront's competitive online multiplayer. Though the paltry few modes are little more than a pastiche of gameplay mechanics you've seen before, that little more tips the scales just enough to create a hectic and enjoyable combat arena. Much of what Homefront offers feels overly familiar, but the dramatic setting and good multiplayer recipe make it a worthy stop on any shooter fan's tour of duty.
6303375NoneOh Goliath the unmanned combat drone, you so crazy!
The campaign kicks off with a montage chronicling the next 15 years. As gas shortages lead to civil unrest, the United States weakens while across the Pacific, new expansionist leadership leads North Korea into a golden age. This video paints a satisfyingly plausible picture, and collectible clippings throughout the campaign flesh things out even more. With every image of a bread line and article about the consolidation of America's armed forces, it gets easier and easier to suspend your disbelief. As Homefront's vision of the future becomes more believable, the events of the campaign hit closer to home. An introductory travel sequence in the spirit of Half-Life brings you up to speed very quickly with how bad things are, and one particularly shocking execution scene will likely stay with you throughout the entire game. Homefront's most intense moments aren't action movie sequences--they are emotionally wrenching, human encounters with the horrors of war.
The setting is the standout in Homefront's campaign, though the story is more of a tour through this rich scenario than a compelling journey in its own right. The characters who accompany you the whole time have a few good bits of dialogue and create some dramatic moments, but they aren't developed well enough to make you really care about them. This detachment can help you overlook the occasional friendly AI blunders, but don't expect your companions to carry much weight. As in many modern shooters, you are the workhorse. The action itself is solid and proceeds at a pace that steadily intensifies as small shootouts give way to larger skirmishes. An explosive mid-campaign climax leads into a stealthy infiltration, and a much-foreshadowed vehicle sequence near the end delivers nicely. Despite the fact that you are a small resistance force, you scrounge a variety of powerful guns from the enemy, giving you a substantial (and satisfying) arsenal. Homefront gives lip service to things like having to be frugal with ammunition and getting creative to avoid patrols, but it mostly plays out like a standard, linear shooter campaign.
It's a shame that the action isn't really on the same wavelength as the setting, but the environments you traverse reinforce your grim situation well. Though Homefront isn't a beautiful game, there are a lot of thoughtful details that provide echoes of earlier conflict and show different stages of societal breakdown. There are some issues with screen-tearing and characters clipping through solid objects, but on the whole the visuals are equal to the task. Unfortunately, the campaign wraps up around the five-hour mark. That may not seem terribly short by modern-shooter campaign standards, but what makes it worse is not that you are left wanting more; it's that you are left expecting more. By spending a lot of time on quality exposition in the early going, Homefront's campaign sets itself up for a longer story arc, but it doesn't deliver. It's an unpleasant surprise when things wrap up so abruptly, but it is still a very memorable campaign.
Just because the house doesn't have a roof doesn't mean they aren't trying to kill you.