I am now 27, and over the years have played hundreds of games. In that time, I found myself getting engrossed in the most bizarre things. I can care about a marine in a bulky green suit, and a boy in a green tunic. What happens to a mute with a crowbar, and a guy who finds magic in undersea vending machines matters to me. I can even get attached to the exploits of four guys with chainsaws on their guns, while also having an upbeat adventure with an eccentric Italian plumber. The fate of a woman with clothes made from hair is an interesting tale, as are the lives of the ever-growing list of characters voiced by Nolan North. And in some small way, I will always love, and never sell, the first car I buy in every Gran Turismo.
Even though it is still a burgeoning media, that small, unassuming list shows that gaming has created many crazy, varied worlds, filled with fantastical characters that are easy to adore and highly memorable. So, when a game comes along with supposed normal everyday people at its core, fighting a possible (but unlikely) war on familiar turf, it should be easier to identify with them than partaking in a crazed otherworldly fantasy – but I found it nigh on impossible to muster up any emotion for the characters in Homefront.
It could very well be my own fault for being so jaded by the recent deluge of samey, bro-fisting, shoot first, ask questions never shooters. I struggle to give a fuck about most things that happen in them, but quite honestly the amount I did not give a fuck about the people in Homefront even exceeded my own expectations.
Thinking back, my disdain grew from a lot of factors, but, in reality, started just a few minutes into the adventure.
In a move that brought back memories of Half Life, Homefront opens with a ferried first-person bus ride through war-torn city streets. Like Valve’s effort, there is a lot to see on the tour, much of it trying to evoke emotion, and get the player invested in what’s to come. It’s a concept that partially works, although it is for very cheap reasons, as you’d have to be made of stone not to feel some tinge of sadness at the atrocities that happen as you pass by – in particular seeing a 10 year old watch on as his parents get massacred by gunfire, with the stinger of hearing him sob as you get driven away.
Once that cruel tug at the heart-strings is done, something blows up and we get to the part in which we shoot things. Loads of people get shot here, nameless people, probably husbands, uncles, sons, and maybe someone’s oddball cousin, but not a single fuck is given about any of those. Pull the left-trigger, look down the sights. Pull the right-trigger, shoot them. Their corpses now litter the battlefield, riddled with holes, filled with lead, and bits of frag grenade ensconced in their face. But hey, that does not matter, let’s march on to the sound of gunfire and high tempo music.
Another big explosion, the music dies down, and that theatre of death comes to a close – it’s time to slow things down again. In fact, you must slow down as Homefront will now only let you walk as it wants to get serious, and explain why you should care once again. Doors will be locked, and you shalt not open them until it is good and ready, as you really, really need to know about why you should care about what lies on the other side.
Ready now? BOOM… And we start shooting again.
This is my main problem with Homefront. It wants me to care about what’s happening on-screen, but does next to nothing to back it up. Its few solid efforts to make you care border on patronizing. For trying to inject some emotion into the fray, Homefront should be a game that gets plaudits for its efforts, but it almost instantly fails in its endeavor, tripping up, and never recovering, on the realization that its sole uniqueness is tied to the all too well-worn shooter formula we’ve all now played countless times.
Yes, Homefront is very much a Call of Duty clone, and for the most part an unashamedly incompetent one. That’s a nasty annoyance in its own right, but the greater injustice is the attempt to tie in Call of Duty‘s style of tomfoolery with the serious (although highly implausible) story Homefront tries to tell. When you can kind of forgive Call of Duty for its similar OTT absurdities – as its story plays out like an explosive brainfart from the mind of Michael Bay – Homefront mistakenly tries to pair the same levels of actiony ridiculousness with a story that is much more grounded. The end result of the mash-up means the world Kaos Studios has created is regretfully populated by people most will struggle to care about, and it certainly doesn’t help that they force emotional attachment so hard over the game’s short run time – being almost attention-whorish in the way it continually asks you to ‘look over here and feel sad’.
But even outside of these many missteps, this is not all that fun of a game to play. Its few epic moments are a treat, as are some of the snazzy explosions on show, but for the most part the game is so wrapped up in mediocrity that, at times, even makes the core shooting element almost a chore to play. Even worse, it falls into the countless traps that have been the bane of shooters have over the years. I quickly grew to hate them over the course of the game, and had tested to see was ‘friendly fire’ on by the 30-minute mark. And yet, I am asked to care about the lives and survival of these people?
The graphics are just not up to task either. They are not terrible, but after playing the likes of Crysis 2 and Killzone 3, there was an air of cheapness about the look of Homefront. In truth, that turns out to be the biggest problem with the game as a whole. Everything just feels a bit cheap, never reaching above being just passable, and usually staying far below that rather dismal bar. The drab storyline, singularly tasking you with the retrieval of some meaningless fuel, just hammers home the monotony of everything on show – posing the question of how this mistake ever fell into existence in the first place.
I’ll admit that I’ve played games that are technically worse than Homefront, but I have not played a game that irritated me as much as this in a very long time. It is a title with a near split personality, but neither of them are fun to be around. The most I ever cared when playing was seeing that little boy’s parents get shot. It mattered, because right before it I was dragged out of a bed, and seemingly kidnapped by a group of thugs – a concept that is at least somewhat grounded in reality. Everything that followed, which was nothing short of a convoluted mess, just chiseled away at the tone of those opening good intentions, irreparably shattering any hope I ever had of playing something special.