'Homefront' Preview - War Is Coming Home

Homefront

Sooner or later, every great empire in this world has fallen. The Romans, Mongols, Greeks, British, French... the list is a long one. "Homefront," an upcoming first-person shooter from Kaos Studios and THQ, slated for a March 2011 release, posits that the United States is little more than a decade away from its own fall. A total financial collapse in the early part of the 21st century opens the door for the newly strengthened armies of North Korea -- now reunified with its southern neighbor into a single nation --to march in and take over.

This is where "Homefront" opens: the United States of America has fallen to superior Korean forces. As former US citizens are rounded up an underground resistance grows. You are Robert Jacobs, a former pilot who is bound for one of the occupying force's work camps... until the local resistance smacks into you with all of the grace and subtlety of a speeding truck. I mean that literally.

A group of journalists traveled to THQ's new Montreal development studio a few weeks back for a look at the first chapter of "Homefront," compliments of a reasonably polished alpha build. The game opens with Jacobs being hustled from his rundown apartment by occupying forces and shoved onto a yellow school bus, newly converted to carry prisoners of Korea to nearby work camps.

As the bus starts to roll along toward its destination, players are confronted with a series of jarring images. The Korean occupation has been underway long enough for the enemy forces to have taken root. Small-town America is little more than a warzone. Prisoners are forced into cages and issued instructions on how to behave and what's coming next for them. Others are rounded up and held at gunpoint. In one disturbing moment, a small child is forced to watch as his parents are dispassionately gunned down by a pair of enemy soldiers, who simply amble away after their deed is done.

All of this unfolds from Robert Jacobs' perspective as a fixed perspective cutscene. The game begins abruptly when a speeding semi crashes into the side of the bus, tipping it on its side. A pair of resistance fighters -- Connor and Rihanna, as you soon learn -- quickly get Jacobs out of the bus and on his feet. Play begins here, as you follow your saviors through the war zone of a small town to a resistance rally point.

Homefront

The controls in "Homefront" are pulled right from "Call of Duty," everything from iron sights aiming and firing on the left and right triggers, respectively, to alternating between standing, crouched and prone positions with taps and holds of the X button. (NOTE: The demo was played on an Xbox 360, but PlayStation 3 and PC versions of the game are incoming as well)

The game's pace in that opening mission is best described as "breakneck"; from the moment you are free of the school bus, large numbers of Korean soldiers emerge from the background, attempting to gun you down in a series of gunfights in scripted locations. The only available source of weapons and ammo is what you can pry from your enemy's cold, dead hands. The first chapter thus becomes a game of resource management, using what's available to you to take down the obstacles that are thrown your way.

Weapons all have a good, chunky feel, but don't expect much in the way of sci-fi for the 2027-set tale. The weapons on offer in the first chapter are a good cross-section of what to expect, THQ says: a range of machine guns and assault rifles with familiar names like AK and SCAR, some equipped with scopes or red dot sights, as well as the odd submachine gun and light machine gun, a mean-looking pistol... nothing that'll be completely alien.

The first chapter ends with a showdown between resistance forces and a series of Korean APCs. It is here that you get a feel for the futuristic setting in "Homefront." Jacobs is given an item called a Goliath targeter. The Goliath is a many-wheeled tank which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Batmobile in Chris Nolan's "Batman Begins"/"The Dark Knight." It is controlled with the targeter, a handheld device that is used to "paint" (with an infrared beam) those enemies that you want to make go BOOM. As Korean APCs and footsoldiers stream down what was once a quiet residential street, you direct the Goliath in raining down a storm of missiles on their collective heads.

Functionally, "Homefront" feels solid in its current preview state. The familiar array of weapons all pack a nice punch and the borrowed control scheme is more than welcome, especially if the game's multiplayer mode is as robust as THQ promises. What is really meant to set "Homefront" apart -- the "America as a warzone" setting -- is very much on display in the opening chapter of the game, as Jacobs and his friends work their way through a small town decimated by occupying forces.

The question that remains is, will this setting be enough to distinguish "Homefront"? "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" presented a similar scenario, so there's a risk that players won't feel the full shock value of the "American warzone" aesthetic in "Homefront." Working in the game's favor is the presence of "Red Dawn" screenwriter John Milius, who oversaw development of the story. "Homefront" seems to be a solid offering on the gameplay front, but only time will tell whether or not the full experience delivers on an emotional level the way THQ and Kaos hope it does.