E3 2010: Homefront First Impressions - Home Is Where The Heart Is
Written Saturday, June 26, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
“When we finished Frontlines: Fuel of War for Kaos, we decided, what did we want to do next?” said a beaming Rex Dickson, Level Designer for Homefront, in his last presentation for the day at E3 2010. “What kind of shooter can we make? We could make an armoured space marine versus aliens... oh no, that’s pretty much taken... what about a modern combat shooter as a professional soldier? Hmmm, pretty crowded in that space as well.”
Dickson and the team eventually came up with the concept “of Red Dawn for the next generation.” The question they wanted to pose was this: what would it be like as a civilian, fighting alongside fellow civilians during a foreign occupation of America?
There is something eerily plausible about Homefront’s plot, and it strikes a little too close to home on some levels – but that is clearly the point. Set in the not too distant future, the story revolves around the ascendency of an out of control North Korea to the top of the world stage, with the fictional interpretation of the single-party country showing a complete disregard for human life and the ruthlessness to do whatever it takes to rule the world. It tells a haunting story of what could happen in the future if we’re not too careful, although its hyperbolic tendencies make it a tad unbelievable.
It is, as Dickson points out, something that John Milius touched upon in the 1980s with the movie Red Dawn and, as a result, they enlisted his services for Homefront’s script: Dickson admits there is no-one better to work alongside for such a plot.
“The familiar has become alien,” says Dickson, pointing this out as one of the game’s major themes. Kaos intends to highlight the human cost as well: “what happens to civilian life when war comes to the Homefront?” These are valid but disturbing questions, and ones I’m not sure I want to contemplate the answers to in a video game.
Kaos Studios is more than aware of how close to home this scenario is and, as a result, believes it will be easy to create an emotional tie with the player. In the first section of a two-part demo, Kaos paints a real sense of community in a small residential area. “From the outside, it’s just more boarded up suburban failure, but inside, we’ve built ourselves a safe haven,” an in-game character explains as he walks the main character through their settlement.
“It’s our little piece of America,” he continues. “We all came together to create this place and to have some sense of community. Not quite the future we had in mind, but at least we’re free.” Behind the broken facade he describes live a small self-sufficient community. It’s an eerie setting and you get the feeling something isn’t quite right, which is reflected in the tranquil and nervous mood of the camp. It’s a community on a knife-edge.
It’s only a short segment of the demo, but Kaos walk the main character on a route with his guide that paints a thousand pictures. Small children in sleeping bags camp outside a log fire, homemade contraptions replace the everyday gadgets we take for granted and the existence of a small school indicates the community is trying to cling to a little normality for the sake of the children. The makeshift offices with paper cuttings of the danger that surrounds them, reveals the harsh truth that, although they may be safe now, their peace might not last much longer.
The other half of the demo was the polar opposite to what we’d seen in the first 10 minutes, with Kaos opting to delve into the game’s action – the meat of the title, if you will. After leaving the blue-skied suburban habitat behind, the team heads towards a lumber store under the cover of night to infiltrate a Korean army outpost.
The mission kicks off with the main character looking down from an adjacent rooftop of the lumber store to see a decoy drive through the locked gates of the heavily fortified outpost. While the guards investigate the van, a multi-missile fired from your support around the corner causes severe Korean casualties and decimates a small portion of the store’s yard. After a little sniper support, another multi-missile strike misfires and brings our character to the ground in a crumbling mess.
After a close call with a Korean soldier about to execute you, a collapsing guard tower and a whole lot of phosphorus, the main character needs to step up to assist the resistance’s Goliath tank – an agile tank with an incredible amount of firepower – by sniping an EMP rocketeer hindering their progress. One quick showdown later, and a faceoff with a Korean chopper, the demo comes to a close. The whole sequence takes place in a fast-paced 5 minutes, giving an indication of the type of gameplay Kaos are gunning for.
Kaos is clearly looking to create an emotional ride and, to do that, they’re tying it down so that we see both sides of the war. What is the point in fighting if you have nothing to fight for? That seems to be a clear goal for the US developer: giving you something to fight for. As it always is with a hands-off presentation, though, whether the shooter side of the shooter actually works is still up for debate – although the action looked fast paced and frenetic enough. But It’s pretty clear that the effort they’re putting into the setting and atmosphere is where the bulk of the title is, and I came away feeling rather impressed when it came to that.
Homefront is scheduled for a Q1 2011 release.