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"Press X- Jump into Mass Grave"

Rejected titles for this article:

“Saving America One Hooters at a Time”
“American Cheese”
“2005 Called, They Want Their AAA Shooter Back”
“The Second American Revolution, Brought to You by Full Throttle Energy Drinks”
“Fever Dream of a Neo-Con Hawk”
“Fare Thee Well, Kaos Studios”
“Good Guys Wear Red, White and Blue- Even if they’re Dirty Subhuman Koreans”
“Smells Like Korean Barbecue”

Even though the last one is a line directly from Homefront and the penultimate one references how they’ve stuck in a “friendly” Korean-American resistance fighter to stave off the pretty blatant xenophobia and racism present in the game, I went with what I thought was one of the funniest onscreen prompts I’ve ever seen in my life. It was supposed to be chilling, I guess. It wasn’t. It made human suffering trivial and silly. I woke my wife up laughing at the absurdity of it.

Homefront is a total turkey. I’m so disappointed…

Now, this isn’t a formal review. I’ve only played the game for about four hours, but that includes three hours of the single player campaign which by all accounts is over half of it. I also played online for about 30 minutes yesterday morning and then for another tortuously laggy 30 minutes last night. I won’t be playing it any further, and I’ve already posted the game for sale at Half.com.

But I feel the need to rant about it, because I think it’s a complete piece of trash and if I can save at least one person from plunking down 60 bucks for this I’ll have done a good deed for the day. I’m literally shocked that THQ, who has done some mighty fine publishing work lately including the amazing Metro 2033 and the surprisingly good Darksiders, would have poured so much money into marketing what is essentially a half-decade out-of-date shooter with a “provocative” theme that turns out to be as nastily hateful and jingoistic as all of that North Korean propaganda they print up to convince their people that Americans are evil and bad.

It starts out promising with here-and-now footage of Hilary Clinton at a news conference regarding real-world North Korean transgressions, which sort of sets the stage for at least some degree of feasibility. Then we’re shown how events lead up to an emboldened and reunited Korean state that starts throwing its weight around internationally, leading up to an EMP attack on the US. Once we’re in the game proper, the faceless and voiceless protagonist is rounded up by hand-wringing, moustache-twirling Korean MPs, gets conscripted, and is put on a bus. It’s very similar to the opening of Half-Life 2 and how that game depicts the oppression and injustice of City-17, but more brutal and at least in one instance, more shocking. Derivative and a little forced, but I wasn’t hating it yet.

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Once the resistance fighters show up and the shooting starts, it all goes to hell. The gameplay is stiff, the guns lack any kind of impact or punch, and enemy AI is of the “shooting gallery dummy” variety. The settings aren’t particularly effective, because they’re really just variations on the urban apocalypse we’ve seen in plenty of other shooters. It’s just supposed to be Colorado and not Afghanistan. You follow your betters around like a puppy, and they tell you everything to do. Over and over again. And then, when you get to a door, you wait on them to come open it for you. There was one point where I was sneaking into an area with this girl and I was way ahead of her. There was a wicked, murderous Korean soldier standing there oblivious so I walked up to melee him. It did nothing. I walked in front of him, he did nothing. Finally she came up and performed her scripted kill. The scripting is terrible, and it’s made worse by the fact that many scripted scenes lock you into walking incredibly slow behind other characters. Not a big change of pace since the running in the game is the slowest I think I’ve ever seen.

The much-vaunted Goliath is little more than a rolling version of the artillery strike function in other games. Paint targets with a targeter, it shoots them. There is also the need to babysit it, since those pesky, Satanically savage Koreans have EMP rockets they shoot at it. Yes, you’re escorting it.

The worst things about the gameplay are elements that other shooters did away with long ago. About a full hour of my play last night was trying to cross this catwalk to get into the administration building of the labor camp (set up at a football field- THOSE MONSTERS!). Endlessly respawning blood-drinking, baby-killing Koreans streamed out of the building while one of my compatriots CONSTANTLY yelled that I needed to get in there and shoot the guys manning the machine guns. I died over and over again because of enemies that were unseen, accidentally picking up a gun and thus triggering a painfully slow animation, and because skill is thrown out the door and the best you can do is charge forward and hope to squeak by. When I finally did get in the building, a monster closet opened up, apparently, and some guy shot me from behind. I think. There are also magically appearing grenades- I assume they’re either magic, or the filth-wallowing worse-than-Hitler Koreans have some amazingly accurate pitchers on their side.

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The game is also very old-looking, with textures that look like first-generation 360 fare but with slightly better lighting. People look atrocious. I think the Gamebryo Engine has better looking faces. I’m not kidding. The previously mentioned good guy Korean (who, by the way, is of course the one character that royally screws the pooch during an operation that I believe is intended to reclaim a Tiger Direct store) has a face that looks like hamburger meat with eyeballs stuck in it. I’m not quite sure how this game is supposed to have all of this emotional resonance when every character in it is dead-eyed and completely devoid of any personality.

I’m making light of the racism and xenophobia in the game because I’m really just sort of shocked at how passively it’s been treated. This is a game that states quite clearly who the enemy is, and dehumanizes them every bit as much as the Koreans are supposed to be doing to the Americans in this game. It doesn’t help that they have this sort of stormtrooper body armor that hides their faces. One of the characters apparently feels bad about slaughtering them, but she’s probably a bleeding heart liberal.

As for the America depicted in the game, it is interesting that the game is almost a neo-con fable. America is made vulnerable and is worn down by financial crises, its dependence on Middle East oil, and waning morale. Adding to that is that the various newspaper collectibles you find throughout the game also suggest that a decentralized, stripped-down, and underfunded military is what allowed the situation depicted in the game to happen. No surprise, coming from the pen of John Milius. I’m male so I love Conan, Red Dawn was a great 80s picture, and Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest war films ever made…but Homefront is like that cranky old guy down at the used bookstore issuing proclamations and dire warnings about where America is headed.

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Corporate logos and sponsorships also abound in the game. I’m not kidding about fighting in a Hooters or the Tiger Direct store. There are Jansport bags, and both Full Throttle and NoS energy drink ads. In a sense, I think this is actually OK because it’s realistic. Walk outside in America and you’ll see this shit everywhere you look. Why not in a game about America too? My retort to that, however, is that if that is what America is then let those ravaging, barbaric Koreans have it.

As for the Multiplayer, what little I played of it wasn’t particularly inspired or interesting. The big twist is that instead of unlocking killstreaks through continued killing, you get points to spend toward on-the-fly upgrades and abilities. It’s kind of a cool idea, but I can’t see playing this game over Killzone 3 or one of the other FPS offerings just to enjoy a different scoring mechanic couched in routine game modes.

So yeah, Homefront sucks. I was really looking forward to a great, story-driven campaign and some interesting multiplayer but I’m not seeing it at all, and I’m ready to drop this turd like a hot potato. In closing, I do find it awfully fishy that Monday night’s de-embargoed Metacritic scores were pegging this game in the high 80s and into the 90s. By mid-day Tuesday when the embargo levee broke, it plummeted nearly 20 points and for the 360 version I believe it’s sitting at 72, which I think is still awfully, awfully generous of a lot of reviewers. THQ’s stock dropped 26% yesterday, and the game’s servers are a complete shambles.

The only mass grave this game is headed for is the bargain bin.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

16 thoughts to “"Press X- Jump into Mass Grave"”

  1. Sounds like it’d be a good time in the ol’ “Watch the funnier parts on Youtube” way if only it didn’t have irritation-flaring xenophobia throughout.

    Though what did you expect from a game about a foreign invasion on the States in a speudo-realistic setting?

  2. Old looking? Graphics don’t sell a game. Minecraft, frankly, looks like crap in cube form, but it’s great. I know graphics matter to a lot of people but I don’t care how it looks, hamburger faces or no.

    The advertising for me is realistic. CoD isn’t realistic because it’s missing things I see every day. Hell, the odd poster for Coke would be nice. That entire bit in MW2 in the burger joint should have been a burger king as far as I’m concerned.

    As for the dodgy story, it’s an FPS trying to beat CoD. MW2′s story could be summed up as “DEM FOREIGNERS HAS BOMBS! ALSO, WE’LL BE DOUBLE CROSSED AT SOME STAGE! YAY AMERICA!”. All it has to do is beat that story wise.

    The only thing I have major issue with is the Goliath. It shouldn’t be there. The EMP rockets are just to avoid the obvious of “If this thing is so awesome, how did america lose?”

    I’m still going to get the game for something to play until LA Noire, but I’m guessing I’m not going to enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. I was expecting as much though as that sums up every “triple A” release for me recently, so I’d say it’ll be fine.

    To be honest though, I’d have rather it be set in some other country. I’m sick of every real world game being about how a single American who takes bullets like a child eats skittles saves the universe. Why didn’t they just let me play as a South Korean and say the war flared up between them again?

    Not like it’s Americas fault. It’s the developers fault for not bothering to pick other countries to waggle their military fists instead of America.

    Good post. It’s nice that you guys say “I just don’t like this” without prancing around it trying to be nice.

  3. I’m not beholden to graphics…but I do have expectations that a high profile, AAA FPS is at least going to have industry standard technical qualities. Minecraft, or any other indie game, is an orange to Homefront’s apple.

    It’s funny that you mention MW2…I thought the suburban Virginia scenes in that were much more convincing and chilling than anything in Homefront.

    It’s also funny that you mention South Korea…I thought the game was really kind of vague as to how North Korea reunited with them…it just kind of…happens.

    As for not softballing…screw that. If I think a game sucks, I’ll be the first in line to tell you what I think about it. I’ve waged war on the “not my cup of tea” reviewers for years now over on the board game end of things.

  4. It’s true, I did expect some of the xenophobia and racism…but I was thinking it would be more, I don’t know, ridiculous than it is. I usually laugh this stuff off. If you’ve ever seen the old Fleischer brothers Superman cartoons, it’s hilarious how evil and silly the Japanese (and Native Americans, and Germans) are depicted. I can laugh that off because those attitudes have long passed…but this, maybe because it’s current, I find more offensive. And I’m usually the person rolling their eyes whenever someone gets ill over percieved, Quixotean racism.

    Maybe if the game took a more satirical bent…but it doesn’t.

  5. Oh yeah, I know in this day and age there’s a certain expectation for games depending on who makes them, but graphics was just never one for me.

    With the MW2 Virginia missions, with no adverts or real locations, it just felt like a film set. It honestly felt like I could slip around the back of a house and it’d just be a frame propped up. There were no civilians, no real-world markers, nothing. It honestly felt like I was playing a game in one of those little models of towns architects make when a new shopping center is going in. It literaly felt like “What if someone made a modern tabletop battle game, complete with home made game table.” Even “No Russian” felt fake because there was nothing to make it real looking. I know it’s meant to be cinematic and stuff, but jesus christ, throw a McDonalds in there.

    As for Korea unifying, I feel the only thing stopping it now is Kim Jong Il being a bit mental. If someone who took over wasn’t totaly off their nut like he is and all the secrecy and xenophobia was done away with, I could see them unifying. Yeah, the game is a bit sketchy, but I find the timeline believable.

  6. I’d prefer if it avoided being satirical, and just highlights how disgusting actual racism is, especially racism of today.

    I feel a lot of racism is allowed to go too far these days. If this game makes people stand up and go “Holy crap, is this for real? Is this what people sound like?” maybe it’ll help people change their attitude.

    If it cuts close to the bone, maybe it’s because societies today are just getting that racist again.

  7. Reading this, I can’t help but be reminded of that Bulletstorm parody “demo” a month or two back. Somebody over there had an early copy of Homefront, I guess.

  8. I’m sorry I can’t agree with you about THQ doing quality work lately. I think they mostly have a track record for games that look interesting until you actually get a controller in your hands. Sure they get lucky from time to time and publish something good (Darksiders being one of my favorite games of last year) but they will never be a AAA publisher, they just don’t have it in them.

  9. Metro 2033 was my favorite game of last year, Saint’s Row 2 was great…then there’s Dawn of War, Red Faction, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Company of Heroes, the SNES port of Pit Fighter (oops). I think they publish some good stuff, but I think the key is that they need to do what they do best- the more fringe stuff that skirts the mainstream but offers something different. I suppose they tried that with Homefront but the gameplay is so stale it doesn’t really matter. They tried too hard with the marketing and now it’s backfiring. Or maybe not, if the first day sales are an indication.

    I think you might be right, they’re stuck at that AA1/2 level or something…but sometimes, that’s where you find some really awesome games.

  10. I am *amazed* that a game publisher would want to advertise the fact that their game shared a writer in common with Red Dawn. I don’t understand the affection people have for that movie. Maybe it’s like The Goonies or Tron: if you didn’t see them at the right age, the magic is forever lost.

    I don’t mind that Red Dawn is paranoid conservative pornography. I’m a big fan of the Mass Effect series, and anyone who doesn’t see the first game as an implicit endorsement of the Iraq War simply isn’t paying attention. Both Battlestar Galactica and Stargate: Universe frequently portrayed civilian authorities as corrupt, conniving demagogues whose incessant nattering over equal representation invariably put everyone in mortal danger, and I enjoyed them regardless.

    No, the problem with Red Dawn is that it’s So. Freaking. Lazy. At least those other franchises dressed it up a bit. This movie is nothing more than a naked list of conservative talking points punctuated by bursts of gunfire. Russians use the firearm registry to round up all the local gun owners! National security is compromised by undercover illegal immigrants! The cowardly milquetoast liberal is a cowardly milquetoast appeaser! Aaargh: N.A.T.O. and the U.N. betrayed us!

    Red Dawn isn’t offensive; it’s boring and unimaginative. A high school student provided with any five Republican presidential stump speeches from the last thirty years could produce the same plot outline in the course of a single study hall. Color me unsurprised the same caliber of writing fails to hold up over a measly six-hour campaign.

  11. “Maybe it’s like The Goonies or Tron: if you didn’t see them at the right age, the magic is forever lost.”

    I think you totally nailed it. On its face Red Dawn is awful on many, many levels. Unless you’re a kid in the 80s who thinks the Russians are about to try such shenanigans.

    I saw the Goonies for the first time in YEARS with my daughter and was shocked at how cheesy it was. Even my daughter was like, “Really dad?”

  12. Oh, Red Dawn is trash. But if you saw it in the 80s as a kid, it was awesome. Everybody at school was talking about that part where they pop up in the wheat field.

    Tron, however, is eternal.

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