Homefront Preview Hands-On

Ruined suburban schools, double crosses, and mass graves make us uncomfortable in our latest hands-on with this upcoming first-person shooter.

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Here's what we know about Homefront's single-player side so far: The game will be set in a besieged America of the near future; it will attempt to bring the fight "home" to players by showcasing familiar locales, such as ruined suburbs and shopping malls; and it definitely won't be for the squeamish. All of those qualities were in force in our latest hands-on with the upcoming shooter from Kaos Studios, where we managed to play through the first three chapters of the game's campaign to get a real sense of what it's like to be part of a resistance movement fighting against a cruel and oppressive enemy.

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Our last single-player preview went into extended detail about the first chapter. But to quickly recap, you play as Jacobs, a recently recruited member of a small band of resistance fighters battling against the overwhelming technological and numerical superiority of the North Korean People's Army (NPA). And these North Koreans aren't the comical, Team America type either. The NPA in Homefront are brutal and ruthless, as evidenced by the cruel deaths of innocent civilians you're forced to witness in the game's opening. After your first skirmish with the NPA, the second chapter of the game begins much as the first, with you waking up in unfamiliar surroundings. But unlike the rude awakening of the game's opening, you find yourself in much more serene surroundings. It turns out that Jacob has been taken to a small refuge hidden amongst some near-ruined suburban houses, and it's here that civilians have created their own self-sufficient community. As you walk around the refuge, which is hidden away from prying NPA drones by camouflage netting, you'll see plenty of evidence of this small group's determination to live--a man using a modified Stairmaster to pump water, couples tending to sickly looking crops, and even some emaciated livestock. In Homefront, the might of America has been reduced to this type of scene.

You won't have much time for depression, though, as you're soon thrust into your first real mission as part of the resistance--trying to secure some electronic trackers from a nearby forced labor camp. As you exit from some makeshift tunnels with a few teammates, you'll find yourself in yet another ruined house. Outside on the street is an automated NPA turret sitting atop a tall crane, and you're forced to slowly make your way closer to it while avoiding its roving spotlight; if it finds you, it unleashes rapid rounds of hot metal death. After getting close enough to the turret to dispatch of it with a well-placed grenade, you'll soon find yourself fighting a skirmish against NPA troops in an abandoned school. This locale, much like the houses you've fought in previously, is yet another way that Homefront tries to make the fight "real" for players, placing them in familiar yet utterly destroyed areas.

You'll eventually make your way into the labor camp, a truly depressing locale where captured civilians are kept interned by the NPA. Arnie, the resistance's contact within the camp, tells you that he can take you to where the trackers are, but all he does is lead you into a trap. This trap is an enclosed area with high walls surrounded by NPA troops. Luckily, one of your resistance teammates--the perpetually pissed-off Connor--isn't about to let a few high-caliber weapons pointed at his face derail his day. He quickly disarms a nearby soldier and fires on a few more, which thrusts you into yet another firefight. Teamwork seems absolutely required for Homefront, as straying too far from your resistance squad members will often leave you outgunned and outnumbered (and deceased), adding to that feeling that you're only a small stone being hurled against a wall of NPA enemies. The foes we encountered tended to be good shots and used cover well, which made accurate firing important as ammo was relatively scarce to find. Thankfully, your teammates aren't just useless bits of scenery; they're more than capable of taking out foes, so you won't have to do all the heavy lifting yourself.

After getting your hands on the trackers, your small band of fighters decide to escape through what was once a baseball field, but it's here that you're faced with yet another stark example of the enemy's callousness. In the middle of the field, a bulldozer slowly tips its scoop filled with dead bodies into a mass grave, almost overflowing with corpses. Connor is enraged, immediately firing on the NPA and blowing your cover. Another fight ensues as you make your way onto the ground, and once there, you're forced to deal with more turrets, darting between cover to get close enough to destroy them with grenades. With the enemies on the ground dealt with, another, bigger problem emerges--the sound of an approaching chopper. Faced with little other choice, you and your resistance squadmates make your way into the mass grave, pulling the bodies of the dead over you in an attempt to blend in with them. The following scene is genuinely tense: Your view, partly blocked by a dead man's arm draped across your face, shows the helicopter landing, and an NPA general flanked by two soldiers walks out and stands at the edge of the pit. After firing a few rounds into the grave to make sure no one is alive, the troops walk away, and you're able to breathe again.

In the game's next chapter, you'll find out why those trackers were so important--they need to be attached to some large fuel tankers, which the resistance plans to follow via helicopter and ambush. This next chapter was actually covered in one of our earlier previews of the game and takes place in a large discount superstore and its massive car park. A firing error with some dangerous white phosphorous douses both NPA and resistance soldiers alike, setting them on fire. As you and your squadmates fight your way through the large store and to its rear loading dock where the tankers are located, you're faced with screaming enemies being burned alive by the phosphorous. After just barely managing to attach a tracker to a truck as it drives away, you have to fight your way through the burning store again and, once out the front, run onto the back of another truck to make your getaway. NPA troops in jeeps and even helicopters doggedly chase you and your team, however; but luckily, you still have control of Goliath, a remote-controlled vehicle that looks like it'll play a significant part in Homefront. "Painting" targets with Goliath will result in the rugged little monster firing a barrage of missiles at your intended foe, and it's a delight to use as it's a welcome respite from feeling underpowered compared to your NPA foes.

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With a downed helicopter crashing into a bridge and cutting off other pursuers, our latest hands-on with Homefront ended. This first-person shooter certainly shows promise--the shooting is tight, with a good variety of weapons popping up even in the three early levels we've played. And just as importantly, the tone of the game seems to be on track to deliver some pretty tense experiences, and it's certainly shaping up to be a mature and involving affair. Homefront is out in March for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

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