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Homefront - Single Player Preview

Homefront - Single Player Preview

Platform: Xbox 360
Category: First Person Shooter

On October 19th I, along with other gaming and technology journalists, was lucky enough to attend the opening of THQ’s newest development studio in Montreal aptly called THQ Montreal. The event was a two for one event as not only was it the grand opening of the studio, it was also a preview event for THQ’s newest FPS, Homefront, which is scheduled to be released in March of 2011. During the press conference for the official opening of the studio the message that was being passed onto us was that THQ was making a big push to provide original content that will pull you, the gamer, into the game itself. Well I have to say that after sitting down with the single player portion of Homefront, THQ looks to be making good on this promise.

For those that did not read the Homefront multiplayer preview by Trevor H, I think it would be prudent to reiterate what Homefront is all about. The game is being developed by Kaos Studios. The story is written by John Milius who is known for his involvement in such movies as Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn. The story is set 10 years after the economic collapse of the United States. During the lead up to this collapse, North and South Korea have settled their differences and become one. They have slowly been advancing, occupying, and taking over other countries. They launch a ‘communications’ satellite into space that actually is a weapon, and by using a Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) they literally ‘knock’ the United States into chaos, and this allows the Korean army the chance to advance onto US soil. Homefront follows the story of the American Civilian Resistance as they fight to reclaim their homeland from Korean occupation.

The game was demoed on the Xbox 360 and was in alpha state, so it was far from complete. We got to play a major chunk of the the beginning of the game. You take on the role of an unidentified male who is in his house, looking outside at a desolate and beat up "Smalll town USA". There is a knock at the door, you answer, only to get thrown down some stairs and hit in the head with the but end of a gun, knocking you out. Next thing you see is a main street in this town, and you are led to a make shift prisoner transport which was once a school bus. This bus is about to take you on a journey which you have no clue as to where or why it is happening. The very start of this level is non-playable, but you have the ability to look around with the analog stick. This is where Kaos Studio starts to literally pull you into the game via the stories events. As you make your way down the street in the bus, you can look around on the streets to see how “little town USA” is in total disarray and how brutal the Korean army really is.

During the time you are in the school bus, you witness a couple of events that literally pull at your heart and make you want to take arms against this new enemy. The first thing that caught me by surprise was watching one of the townsfolk take a stand only to get shot by one of the Korean soldiers. Upon getting shot, blood, and some of his skull, is splattered on the bus window. It kind of caught me off guard but it made me realize that this game was pulling no punches. Although somewhat gory, it was not over the top and it definitely did not seem like it was an event that took place just to shock you for the sake of shocking you. It had a purpose.

As the bus continues to drive down the street you continue to witness the cruel and unreasonable treatment of the townsfolk and you can clearly see how the town was taken by force and that it is now transformed into a military zone. One of the other people on the bus started speaking to my character and gave me information that let me learn I was a helicopter pilot and that the Korean Army must have a use for people like me. It was not too long down the road that I was subjected to the next event that really pushed my own emotions over the edge. I first heard a distressed scream of a young child as he watched a Korean soldier pointing a gun at his parents. The scream is loud, and very gut wrenching. All of a sudden the Korean soldier shoots the parents and they slump over, lifeless. The little boy’s screams get louder and he runs over to his dead parents. I was speechless. I could feel my heart in my throat. The actual execution was not gory, and there was no blood, but watching the childs parents slump over after being shot, and the child run over to them after the fact, was so emotional that it really made me hate the Korean army. I wanted to pick up a gun, virtually speaking, and seek revenge. It was this point that I truly realized that THQ is doing what they say, pull you into the game.

After getting my wits bout me, I watched as the bus left the militarized zone and went on its way. All of a sudden there was a loud explosion and the bus flipped over. My character was knocked out briefly, but once the he cleared his head, I watched as an unidentified person killed a Korean soldier on the bus, and told me to come with the him and the group of people he was with. It is at this point the gameplay begins as you grab a gun and start on your adventure.

Homefront plays like a traditional FPS game. During the demo level I experienced a tutorial so to speak of how to use the weapons (e.g. pick up, shoot, aim, etc), throw grenades, run, jump, duck, and anything else I needed to do in the game. The controls are very familiar to anyone who plays any FPS titles. For those who are not too adept at playing this genre of games, rest assured it is not overly complicated and quite easy to pick up.

The level we got to play was basic in terms of the main objective, as I was to go to a specific point with those who rescued me from the bus. I was introduced to three team members who would help me in my journey. What I was amazed at during my playtime was the interaction between all the characters. The amount of dialog was amazing, and when I questioned Rex Dickson, lead level designer, he stated that they were still recording more dialog. The dialog really helped in conveying the message of what the situation was really like. I found that each character had their own message in terms of their beliefs, their view of the situation at hand, and what they thought they should or should not be doing. It makes for a more immersive experience as you are not just trying to get through the level for the sake of getting through. I found myself wanting to hear what each of the other characters had to say and how they viewed the events going on around us.

The level had specific set pieces that played out. From taking a stand against the enemy at specific points to having to get through more intense areas where you had to do specific things. One such intense area had me fighting a large number of varying enemy soldiers in a location where a jumbo jetliner had crashed. It was pretty cool and pretty intense. In terms of a point in the game where I had to do something specific, there was one area during the level where a tank showed up and pinned me and my team mates down. My objective changed to having to have to flank the enemy, kill the soldiers, then use C4 to blow up the tank that was pinning the rest of my team down.

As I advanced there were times that I also had to protect the people who were innocent victims in this new battle, as well as protect my own team members. Kaos Studios seems to have made a concerted effort for you to feel involved in the gameplay and you will find that you want to succeed in your task, not only to advance the game, but to protect those around you who are part of the story itself, whether in a minor or major role. Again, one such time is when you go to a rural area where the residents do not want you or any member of the American Civilian Resistance there as they don’t want the attention of the Korean army. Unfortunately the Korean’s do discover your location and as they all congregate you enter a house where the residents become scared and their child starts to scream. This adds to your desire to defeat your foes, protect the family, and get out of the house in order to not only get out alive, but maintain harmony for the people of the house you infringed upon.

Not just settling on set pieces, Kaos Studios has also introduced some original and innovative things to do. This was very evident when given a chance to take control of an unmanned vehicle called “Goliath”. This six-wheeled beast is key in one part of the level (and will be later in the game) that helps you get through wave after wave of Korean soldiers and vehicles. With massive firepower and the ability to go almost anywhere, including over other vehicles, it added to the gaming experience. I wondered if this unmanned vehicle really existed, so in my interview with Rex Dickson I asked, and he told me it is based on a vehicle that does exist, but it is not the real deal as there were issues that stopped them from using the real life vehicle it is based upon. I had fun during this part of the level, and coincidently is was the end of our demo, but not the end of the level.

Although I really seem to be gushing over the game based on this one level we played, it was not without issue. Given that the game is only in Alpha stage, this is to be expected, but they are worth noting. There were a few occasions that the enemy AI acted somewhat strange or appeared to be on a very repetitive and strict formula. A example of this was that during the battle at the jumbo jetliner, some enemies kept respawning at the exact same location and displayed the exact same behaviour. It was strange to see enemies keep doing the same thing over and over. I also noted that in the section where I had to defend the house with the family and crying baby, enemies would go through the side of the house and get behind me without me even knowing. This was frustrating as they could get into the house with no apparent entrance and they had the jump on me as I was taking damage and didn’t know where it was from.

If I had any complaint that I know can’t be addressed, it is the linearity of the game. There is virtually no chance for you to take branching paths, nor is there any chance to choose from multiple decisions. The game literally takes you down a one way street so to speak. Although I don’t like linear experiences, I can totally understand why they are doing this given that they have a very specific story to tell and they only want you to experience the game in one way, maximizing the whole experience in terms of the story being told. This approach has worked in other games such as Modern Warfare or Medal of Honor, so it can and should work here.

Visually speaking, I was pretty impressed with the one level we played. It was pretty diverse in terms the scenery, which was pretty good given that you spent much of your time in rural areas surrounded by houses, fences, alley ways, and whatnot. There were some pretty impressive areas. The aforementioned section with the downed jumbo jetliner was well rendered with the separate sections of the large plane in separate areas as they were ripped apart upon impact. This area was very much affected by the explosion that took place when the plane slammed into the ground. As for the animations, even at this somewhat early stage, the game seems to flow quite well. Although the enemy AI can be wonky at times, including their movements, everything moved pretty well. I do have to remind all of you reading this that the game is early and there is still lots of time to put the “spit and polish” on all the noted issues.

Having had the chance to play some of the single player mode, I now have high expectations for Homefront. In terms of what I experienced, THQ and Kaos Studios are truly trying to create an immersive storytelling game where you are very much involved and you feel like the time is well invested. So far it seems as though they are on the right track, given what I played in mid October. I am really looking forward to seeing how this game finishes up and I can’t wait to play the entire game in final form given that THQ has been on a role in the last year or so.


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