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Critical Reception: Kaos Studios'  Homefront

Critical Reception: Kaos Studios' Homefront

March 16, 2011 | By Danny Cowan

March 16, 2011 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Kaos Studios' wartime first-person shooter Homefront, which reviews describe as "a worthy fight undermined by lack of polish." Homefront currently earns a score of 72 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

GamePro's Andrew Hayward gives Homefront 4 out of 5 stars. "In Homefront's world, [North Korea] expands its influence in the years ahead, muscling its way south towards a unified Korea before taking over Japan, sending chaotic economic ripples throughout the world," he explains.

"Kaos Studios conveys this spiraling situation wonderfully through a fevered live-action introduction, which juxtaposes Korea's rise in power with societal downfall elsewhere and culminates in an EMP blast that allows the nation to violently invade the United States."

This premise gives the game a unique atmosphere. "Despite a narrative penned by John Milius, co-writer of Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now, storytelling is not Homefront' strongest suit -- it's the atmosphere," Hayward notes.

"The transformed suburban settings convey much more than the passable dialogue, and simply being able to run through an accurately modeled White Castle and battle back enemies in a burning TigerDirect.com warehouse adds a layer of authenticity to the proceedings, as do the other licensed brands witnessed in the game."

Hayward finds the length of the single-player campaign to be disappointing, however. "It all comes to a head much too quickly, and that's not a knock just on the brief length of the campaign (about five hours)," he writes. "The final mission -- a triumphant battle on one of America's truly great monuments -- seemingly appears out of nowhere, as the cadence of the campaign suggested that the endgame was still hours away.

"When the credits roll, it's clear that Homefront is clearly intended as the truncated first battle in a much larger war; but that sudden conclusion weakens the otherwise very strong campaign experience, and doesn't provide a lot of momentum for the inevitable sequel."

Multiplayer also has its share of weaknesses. "Much as the Battle Points system delivers a welcomed twist on a familiar formula, the overall Homefront online experience feels a bit thin," Hayward claims. "Despite the introduction of the Battle Commander variation, which puts bounties on skilled players amidst the action, Homefront focuses on just two core play modes: Team Deathmatch and Ground Control, both of which are pretty standard offerings."

"Much as I enjoyed the online firefights and wily drone vehicles, I'd be surprised if the limited play modes and just seven on-disc maps keep dedicated Black Ops or Bad Company 2 fans from their usual haunts."

"Homefront does a whole lot right, delivering powerful imagery and actions on the single-player side, as well as interesting multiplayer alterations, but neither end feels fully realized," Hayward says. "But I won't hesitate to recommend Homefront on the overall strength of its stilted campaign, which consistently delivers strong set pieces and alluring atmospheric moments amidst the chaotic combat. And should Kaos expand on this promising start with meaningful and memorable additions in a sequel, Homefront may prove a potent franchise in no time at all."

Matt Bertz at Game Informer rates Homefront at 7 out of 10, calling it "a worthy fight undermined by lack of polish."

"The setup immediately sucks you in, but once you join the ranks of the resistance, the emotional scenes that raise Homefront above your typical point-and-shoot affair become increasingly scarce," Bertz says. "Kaos Studios smartly implements Half-Life 2 style calm-before-the-storm moments by giving you downtime in the resistance camp to get to know the ragtag group of patriots, but your options here are limited and I never developed an attachment to my comrades."

"It's tough to warm up to people when they constantly get in your way on the battlefield and bicker nonstop about the feasibility of the plan in action."

The core gameplay is similarly uninspired. "Once the bullets start flying, Homefront fails to distinguish itself from the myriad shooters making camp in Call of Duty's wake," Bertz writes. "Everything on the standard FPS checklist is here – sniper battles, turret set pieces, a chopper sequence, and even the 2027 equivalent to the AC-130 mission in Call of Duty 4."

"While placing these segments in a shooter isn't a bad decision, Homefront brings nothing new to the table outside of a remote-controlled drone. Rather than give you the keys to this destructive trump card, you're limited to selecting its next targets and watching the fireworks from afar."

Bertz continues: "Lack of polish and craftsmanship is evident throughout the five-hour campaign. It's easy to get hung up on objects in the environment, the 'follow-me' NPCs guiding you from objective to objective move at a snail's pace, and the graphics are hardly cutting edge."

"From low-resolution textures to the static, pixelated skies, Homefront looks like it was built during the transition to the current generation of consoles. Despite its underperforming graphics, the game still suffers from the occasional framerate dip and animation hitch."

Bertz praises Homefront's robust multiplayer component, despite occasional technical issues. "The Ground Control conquest mode features 32-player battles, but during our play sessions lag became an issue whenever large clusters of players and vehicles were grouped together," he warns. "Homefront also features a progression system with 75 levels, weapon unlockables, and perks. Though I would have liked to see more weapons included, there is enough here to keep you busy for a tour of duty."

"With its interesting premise, evocative opening sequence, and clever variation on multiplayer, Homefront has a strong foundation," Bertz admits. "It's a shame that technical limitations and a derivative single-player campaign keep the game from realizing its potential."

Joystiq's Justin McElroy gives Homefront 2.5 out of 5 stars. "Maybe I'm naive, but I honestly believe there was a point at which Homefront was destined to be something special," he begins. "The question then is how did Kaos Studios and THQ go from that great germ of an idea to the brain-dead, dull and frankly pretty lousy final product they're releasing today?"

"[The player's mission] rarely plays out in a more interesting scenario than 'clear the urban environment,'" McElroy explains. "You find some dudes, you shoot the dudes, you move on. Repeat for ... five or so hours. There's a variety of weapons, but none (save for the couple of shotguns) feel demonstrably different from the others, so no hope for excitement there. Nope, it's pretty much Dullsville top to bottom, save for the surprisingly excellent late-game helicopter stage."

McElroy lists many of the game's weakest elements: "There are monster closets. There are enemy wells. There are enemies that kill you with rocket launchers with no warning. Objectives are indicated by a compass and the word 'Follow' that is ever-present over your squad leader (yes, through the whole game). There are so many lousy design choices, Homefront feels like a reunion tour for 'Game Sins of the Mid 00s.'"

"The hope then, with such pedestrian gameplay, is that the idea of everyday people battling in everyday American locations would be enough to buoy Homefront, but Kaos has undercut the impact of its own concept at nearly every opportunity," McElroy warns. "The characters couldn't be more stereotypical and their interactions couldn't be more cookie cutter. If they're average Joes protecting their homeland rather than super soldiers, they obviously haven't been informed about it; there's scarcely a moment of doubt, fear or real humanity to be found."

McElroy continues: "Occasionally, when you notice you happen to be fighting on a Little League field or mall parking lot, you get a glimpse of Homefront's potential, but profoundly stupid in-game advertising is there to snatch it away just as quickly. The only thing I can figure is that the Koreans have turned the area outside San Francisco into some sort of Hooters/White Castle internment camp, so densely do they dot Homefront's retail landscape."

Multiplayer is Homefront's strongest suit, but McElroy expects the game to be lost in the shadow of its competitors. "It feels different from what's on offer from other games in the FPS market right now, but it's impossible to say whether or not that'll be enough to keep sustained interest in this crowded FPS market," he says. "More puzzlingly, the pleasant multiplayer fails to capitalize on Homefront's citizen soldier premise in any way whatsoever."

"As you'll notice in both the single and multiplayer modes of Homefront, you practically never interact with people who aren't directly involved in the war," McElroy concludes. "Everyone's already fighting, only a couple sit on the sidelines to remind you what, precisely, you're fighting to defend. Kaos hasn't brought the war game into a context we can relate to, they've just turned the country into a war game."

"As I slugged through my third Hooters, clearing a path to the nearby White Castle, I couldn't help but wonder: If, from the beginning, all the towns have been turned to video game levels and all the citizens to soldiers, why was I brought here in the first place?"


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