Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine was not the only game we went to see at the THQ booth in Cologne. We did not want to miss a chance to find out if Homefront was worth the wait since we had heard a lot of praise for this new first person shooter. With headphones on, we were shown two different levels of the game, and now is the time to tell you guys about it.
With Homefront, THQ is obviously trying to compete with the likes of Call of Duty and Modern Warfare. Here though, the Russians will not be the bad guys as they are "replaced" by the Koreans who happen to have invaded the US, forcing American citizens to flee and hide until the time of retaliation has come. The story, though set in the near future (2027 is the year), is some type of alternate reality of what our world could become since the first events that trigger the rise of the Korean empire are actually real (as proven by the images taken from the news in the latest trailer of the game). You will play the role of a simple civilian who will discover the horrors of war in his own home country.
With such a famous name as John Milius in command of the storyline, we can expect the scenario to be more appealing than in the games published by Activision and to make it easier for the player to identify with the main character and feel more concerned. Let's just hope that his NRA connections will spare us from the kind of heavily-patriotic plot that you usually find in such games/movies. The importance of the story is underlined by the desire to propose non-action oriented passages in which you can take the time to meet up with the other resistants or simply watch your surroundings. The demonstration started with such a sequence. The hero woke up in a sort of refugee camp where the rebels were hiding and preparing their strategy against the Korean invaders. You can tell right from the start that there is a real attention to detail that conveys a strong atmosphere: a foosball in the middle of a room, well-furnished interiors, a small greenhouse, the voices of children playing somewhere, a melancholic music that sounds very movie-like etc. The different characters are well-animated, they talk to each other or to the player when he gets close. Really, for just a second it could almost feel like playing Half Life², the absolute reference for the team behind Homefront.
The second sequence that was shown took place a little bit later in the game and its atmosphere was radically different. At night, outside an enemy camp, the player and a young woman were observing the numerous guards patrolling everywhere. Suddenly, a van broke through the main gate at full speed and crashed into some crates in the middle of the base, a probable diversion. The explosion that followed confirmed our thoughts and we were then asked to use our sniper rifle to put the soldiers in flames out of their misery and take out those who had survived the booby-trapped vehicle. A few minutes later, we were running in the middle of the debris and bodies and we just had time to dodge a car thrown toward us by another explosion. A short sequence that was actually closer to a curtscene than anything else, but that showed some good lighting effects and an effective mise-en-scene nonetheless. The mission was not over yet, a four by four armored vehicle was then used as support to destroy enemy tanks, while the player was doing his best to tag the targets. That sequence was very well-paced and dynamic, with a flow of enemy soldiers you had to push back but when finally everything seemed to calm down, a chopper broke through the clouds and started to shoot at us. One rocket later, the demo ended with the crash of the helicopter right where the main character was standing.
With a very smooth framerate and some nice graphics, the PC version we were demoed was pretty convincing on a technical standpoint. The idea of a change of pace, with levels that are mostly atmospheric and aimed at offering a nice break, while others are action-packed and filled with tension, is clearly something that can help Homefront stand out in a genre that that has become so widespread these days. But we still need to find out if the game's scenario will have the necessary qualities to keep the player interested until the end as it is after all more ambitious in that area that other first person shooters. For the final answer, I guess we will have to wait until the game's release in 2011.