There’s a (Home)front Coming…

It’s probably not fair to write a review of Homefront after only playing through three levels of it. There are, after all, seven levels and I’ve played plenty of games that didn’t really take off until fairly late in the game. Prey comes to mind, as does Rainbow Six: Vegas, both of which featured truly dreary opening bits before getting to, as it were, the good stuff.

However, I don’t pretend to be a journalist or an unbiased reviewer, so I reserve the right to slag on Homefront even though it’s possible that it might get better.

I’m particularly inspired to do so because, dang it, this was one of the few games that I actually kind of bought into the hype for based on trailers and magazine articles, and I even went so far as to pre-order the thing on Steam, making it my first pre-order there as opposed to my normal tactic of waiting for the inevitable summer sale.

Let’s get started, then, with my fundamental complaint about Homefront, which is that the designers seemed to have had a great idea for, oh, a movie, and then decided to shoehorn in some interactive bits and sell it as a video game. Of course, they wanted to preserve the artistic integrity of their original vision, which they did by taking as much control away from the player as possible.

Some examples:

Your character – former military pilot saved from the clutches of evil Koreans and joining a rag-tag resistance movement dedicated to kicking them out of a conquered America – has a terrible problem with doors.

Specifically, he can’t open them. At several points during a level, you will come to doors, and then you will wait for the two NPC characters that are following you around to catch up, and they will open the door for you. Sometimes, there is a filing cabinet or fridge in front of the door, and one of the NPCs will push it aside with many grunting sounds and THEN open the door for you.

This might be excusable, if it weren’t for a situation where the “door” was an opening in a fence that you obviously needed to crawl through. I dropped prone and tried to crawl through, but was confounded by an invisible wall blocking my passage. It wasn’t until I stood up and let the NPCs crawl through first that I was able to go prone again and crawl through the now-mysteriously-passable opening.

Invisible walls in general represent a bane to your character, who is unable to traverse a great deal of terrain that seems otherwise perfectly, uh, traversable.

I also found myself blocked and unable to get past an otherwise open space blocked by a single tomato plant, by the way, though in fairness the impassible plant in question was actually visible.

Of course, though you can’t open doors, you ARE the hero, and you do have certain responsibilities. For example, if you need to run into a room and pick up some grenades, as you do in the opening level, you need to do it. That’s a hero’s job, after all, and if you don’t do it, uh, well, you can stand there for a few minutes while your two NPC companions yell at you, over and over, to “get those grenades”, because walking into the room with the grenades means that you cross the invisible line that starts off the next heavily scripted sequence where you are told, inevitably, to THROW a grenade, and the NPCs go through their lines about you needing to throw a grenade over and over until you do so.

Periodically, for spice, you will actually be following NPC orders that have to be done in a tight time constraint, in a sort of thinly-veiled QTE thing. For example, a sequence where you have to jump over a low wall – which you cannot do with the “jump” key, by the way, because you Must Not jump over the wall until you are ordered to – run across a parking lot to get onto a truck that is pulling away, and then shoot down a pursuing helicopter.

If, at any point during this, you muff up a bit, you have to start back from the beginning: vault wall when ordered to, run to truck, press button to get on truck, wait until ordered to shoot down helicopter, shoot down helicopter, get cutscene.

That is, really, the whole game as I’ve seen it so far. You proceed down extremely linear paths where NPCs shout orders at you, and when you follow their orders you are rewarded with a scripted sequence of events that often look cool but that are ultimately pretty unsatisfying.

Basically, if you want to watch a movie about life in a brutal fascist regime, watch Children of Men – the opening sequence to Homefront is strikingly reminiscent of the bus ride scene in that movie, by the way, not that I’m heavily implying anything – and if you want to play a video game about liberating people from a brutal fasict regime, go play Half Life 2 again.

Now, I WILL play through the rest of the game – it is reputably extremely short, after all, and I spent enough on it – and I may change my mind.

I’ll let you know.

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