Let's get the multiplayer out of the way.
Homefront attempts to rival goliaths of the modern first-person shooter genre like Call of Duty and Battlefield with 32-player team-based standoffs set in near-future war-torn America. Even though on first glance it resembles something of a B-team effort, in most respects it succeeds.
The visuals are definitely lagging behinds its peers. The grainy palette and blood coated veils are familiar, but the texturing and detailing a touch cruder. Meanwhile, online play is essentially comprised of just two modes: Team Deathmatch and Ground Control, the latter a variant on the much tilled protect-the-flag model.
Nonetheless, Homefront succeeds as a viable multiplayer alternative thanks to the two aces hidden up its insignia-coated sleeve. The first is the battle points (BP) system.
You earn BP through positive team actions: killing, headshots, drone destruction, flag capture etc. BP goes to experience, experience equals levels, and levels equal abilities - standard stuff. The twist in Homefront is that BP can be spent during matches. A tap of the d-pad lets you spend your BP on aids like flak vests and remote-controlled drones - the drones are good fun. If you've saved up your BP you can go to town by spawning in a beastly M1A3 tank or Apache Scout helicopter.
The second sleeve-dwelling ace is the Battle Commander modifier, so good play without it is redundant. With Battle Commander on, when you put together a kill streak a number of opposition players are alerted to your presence and a BP bounty is placed on your head. Meanwhile, as your kill streak continues you become more and more powerful. Suddenly you're all but invincible, slamming away the kills as a five-star threat with hordes of enemies after your head.
The two aces tied together make Homefront an enjoyable tactical shooter with a distinct rock-paper-scissors flavor. It's about spending your BPs wisely and making the best use of what you purchase. If tanks are tearing through the map, purchase RPGs. If you're attacking a heavily defended flag, or trying to clear some sharpshooting snipers, throw down an airstrike. Battle Commander amplifies this emphasis on strategy, and games turn on the momentums of players' kill streaks.
Add in decent maps full of strategic facets and you have deep online mulitplayer, even with just two modes. If you're thinking of buying Homefront just for its multiplayer then it comes recommended.
If you're interested in the single-player - like I was - then you better read on.
See, I like my single-player as much as multiplayer in a shooter, especially when the story has been so heavily marketed. For example, Modern Warfare really affected me with its dark nuclear missile scene. In contrast, the sequel's ill-judged No Russian mission left me frustrated.
This is the problem modern shooters face: once you tread on shaky moral grounds, if you do it tactlessly you'll fall right through. Homefront is a prime example, one that falls flat on its arse.
I hoped I wouldn't have to talk about the game's premise. For those unaware, the heavily marketed and much maligned timeline video appears at the start. It depicts a future North Korean invasion of the US, justified by a series of implausible events - things like the collapse of the American economy, the UN going out of commission, and Japan surrendering to a reunited Korea just seven years from the present day. Forget how North Korea is a third world country, how its army is undertrained, unfed, and indeed physically stunted. Give no worry as to how unlikely it would be for Kim Jong-un to be allowed to control a reunited Korea - or for Korea to even reunite.
Sadly, the game is desperate for me to accept its world vision as plausible, largely because it hopes through that acceptance I'll come to accept the putrid imagery it presents. I don't.
The opening sequence sees my character, an ex-pilot hiding in shelter from the Korean army, found and dragged away onto a prison-bound bus. Echoing Call of Duty, my character sits static in the moving vehicle while I control the camera watch scenes unfurl around me.
I watch as bedraggled men and women are led through wire-caged queue lines. A husband and wife are torn away from each other by Korean soldiers. A group of prisoners are chained to the bars of an open truck, while another are held at gunpoint against a wall. One prisoner breaks free towards me, only to be shot in the back, his blood splattering across the bus window. Further on, two Korean soldiers gratuitously beat a prostrate American. Another pair tosses a corpse into a river, while one soldier drags a body away from a cardboard box leaving a crimson trail behind him.
Finally, two parents plead for their child to look away as two Korean soldiers take aim. Suddenly, they shoot the couple dead. The child runs up to the motionless bodies against each other on the street corner, screaming his life out. The soldiers turn away, totally uncaring.
If it sounds powerful, then it sounds better than it looks. The sequence comes across as a sideshow of suggestive fearmongery. Firstly, it's horribly forced. One scene of barbarism follows another in an oddly rhythmic fashion: torture, murder, parricide, torture etc. It's like a crescendo, each note ringing in this portrayed image of the Korean republic - made up of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines as well as North Korea, by the way - as modern day Nazis.
It is an alarmist pastiche that depicts the people of these countries in the most disgusting light imaginable. The game sprints through this thoroughly implausible timeline and then expects me to accept a crude mix of the fears of 9/11 with imagery evocative of Jewish death camps. It is neither powerful, nor clever. It is cheap, it is tawdry, and to boot it is presented appallingly.
Is this where the industry is? Because No Russian happened, Homefront can toss in this thoughtless parade of utter savagery and call it narrative? What exactly is the game trying to say?
Therein rests the problem with a modern shooter. When you base a game on sensitive real-life material, you have a duty to be responsible - not something every first-person shooter is, frankly.
Later on, Homefront once again falls through the shaky moral ground, but this time right into a mass grave. A turn of events leads me to a concentration camp. To avoid detection by Korean forces I'm forced to jump into a giant ditch filled with hundreds of bodies. I have to wait for the soldiers to leave. A lifeless arm limply rests in front of my screen - classy.
Let's be clear: North Korea is a country made up of mass graves and labour camps. It is a country under a brutal regime. What it isn't is the country presented in this game and it's incredibly hard to believe it ever will be. Its inhabitants are poor, dying people trapped within a rule that is too weak to even feed or shelter them. They are incapable of being the monsters coming to get us in our beds.
Homefront doesn't care, though. It's all North Korean Bastards and Hell Yeah America to a backdrop of heroic drums beating in ignorance. Sorry, my suspension of disbelief does not stretch this far.
Even with these misgivings put to one side - and that's a big even - the campaign is wholly unremarkable anyway. It may be harsh to call the multiplayer CoD-lite but the single-player is exactly that. It's more interactive cut scene than actual gunplay, far more interested in big explosions and badly animated conversations between forgettable one-dimensional characters than genuine play. When you do get to use the gun you're holding, standoffs feel like unimaginative cut-and-pastes of the rest of the pack. Why not exploit a bit more of the near-future bent? Instead, Homefront goes with standard fare sniper and helicopter missions that are tediously predictable, the latter inconceivably clumsy given how well all the vehicles control in the multiplayer.
I mean for crying out loud, the last mission takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge. The single-player tries so hard to be like Call of Duty but even if you squint it only resembles a lesser version of the series it apparently worships. Depending on how you look at it, the four-hour length is a blessing.
Look, if Homefront's multiplayer still ticks your boxes, so be it - I think it's an absolute blast. Yet for all the hours I've enjoyed putting into the multiplayer, I still feel insulted by the thoughtlessness of the single-player. Then again, the first-person shooter genre has got by on dross-like narrative for some time, so I'm not sure why I expected anything better of Homefront.