Homefront Updated Impressions

We look at a future devastated United States in our latest preview of THQ's upcoming first-person shooter.

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It's the year 2027, and a resurgent North Korea has invaded the United States of America. The North Korean army--a force numbering in the millions and backed by the world's most advanced weaponry--has taken over the West Coast and, by deliberately irradiating the Mississippi with nuclear waste, has created a gigantic radioactive strip across the middle of the nation, making it impossible for the enfeebled and disorganised US Army to muster a decent counterattack from the East Coast. Millions of Americans are left to fend for themselves, forced to live in sheltered communities that are heavily camouflaged from spying North Korean patrols. The only hope comes from a small but dedicated group of resistance fighters who have banded together to retake the nation, one town at a time.

This is the America that you'll be fighting to retake in Homefront, an upcoming first-person shooter from developer Kaos Studios, whose previous effort was the energy-resource-focused Frontlines: Fuel of War. Kaos and publisher THQ recently showed off more of the game's single-player side at an event in New York and went into plenty of detail about just how North Korea would be able to invade the US. But before we go in-depth into how the Hermit State could possibly have the resources and manpower to take on the world's only remaining superpower, we'll take a look at some of the new levels Kaos showed off from the game.

As we discovered in our first look at Homefront, in addition to the action you've come to expect from modern first-person shooters, the game will have plenty of what the development team calls "why we fight" moments. These story-focused sections--which will all be done within the game engine (similar to the Half-Life series)--aim to put a strong emotional context to all the fighting you'll be doing in Homefront. Our gameplay demo began with the title's protagonist--a helicopter pilot named Jacobs--waking up in a decrepit bedroom, with resistance leader Boone standing over him. Boone says he's glad you're awake (apparently Jacobs had been asleep for 14 hours) and then takes you on a tour of the house you're in. The house turns out to be home for a small group of refugees hiding from the North Koreans. As you look outside the windows, you see a ruined suburban street, and as you head outside, you notice camouflage netting placed across the top of the large yard to hide the location from aerial spies.

As you walk around, Boone explains that this location has become a safe haven, saying that "everything we eat, we grow." This community's self-sufficiency becomes evident as you explore further, with the yard having its own small greenhouse, rows of crops, water purifiers, solar panels, and even some livestock. There are a few people milling around, too--a mother with a breastfeeding child, a man pedalling away on a bike connected to what looks like a generator, an old man suspicious of your intentions towards his goats, and more. After walking around, you meet Boone back in the house, where he's joined by another resistance member--the rough and racist Connor--who says they need to head out on a mission to grab some tracking devices. Jacobs is handed a gun and some grenades before the three head into a tunnel hidden underneath some floorboards to begin the mission.

This ruined locale is actually an oasis for refugees in Homefront.
This ruined locale is actually an oasis for refugees in Homefront.

Unfortunately, we weren't shown what happens afterwards, and the demo instead skipped to a much more action-oriented mission in Chapter 3. This section started off with a pretty brutal introduction to another resistance member you'll be fighting alongside in Homefront, Rhianna, who was in the midst of choking a North Korean soldier unconscious as the level began. As both you and Rhianna move outside, you find yourself atop a small building overlooking a large car park surrounding a Home Depot-style warehouse, which the North Koreans have turned into a fortified base. Taking position on the roof, you watch as a van--fire blazing from its windows and "Great Balls of Fire" pumping from its stereo speakers--crashes through the base's front gates before coming to a halt against some barricades. Wary but curious North Korean soldiers start to gather around the van, at which point a bright, large flare shoots into the night sky, breaking up into dozens of other streams at its zenith. It turns out that this flare is actually a white phosphorous missile fired by the resistance, raining down fiery death onto the North Korean soldiers below and setting much of the base ablaze.

At this point, the resistance attack on the base begins in earnest, and it's Jacob and Rhianna's task to lend sniper support for the incoming troops. Our demo tester switched to a sniper rifle, taking out rocket-launcher-wielding sentries on guard towers and other soldiers attacking the small group of resistance fighters. At one point, Rhianna points out some North Korean soldiers still writhing around in pain after being set on fire by the white phosphorous and asks you to put them out of their misery. Our demo tester acquiesced, but his acts of mercy were quickly interrupted by screams of "misfire, misfire" over resistance radio channels. Another white phosphorous flare has shot up into the sky, exploding directly over Rhianna and Jacob's position, forcing both to jump to the ground below to avoid the deadly blast.

This will probably not end well.
This will probably not end well.

On the ground, the scene is chaotic, as our demo tester manoeuvres Jacob around flaming barricades and screaming people set alight by the white phosphorous (this includes resistance fighters and enemy North Koreans alike). Jacob and Rhianna eventually find shelter by climbing into a guard tower, but this respite is short-lived as the tower collapses after taking fire from North Korean rockets. As Jacob picks himself up amidst the rubble of the guard tower, he comes face-to-face with a North Korean soldier with his weapon aimed straight at him. But the resistance fighter is saved by Goliath--the remote-controlled armoured vehicle that featured heavily in our last preview session with Homefront--crashing into the North Korean soldier and allowing Jacob, Rhianna, and Connor (who has just found the other two) to regroup and take the fight to the enemy.

From here, the action picks up even more, with the small resistance group fighting through North Korean soldiers as they slowly make their way to the front of the base. Our demo tester alternated between taking shots at enemies to switching to a targeting mode where he could "paint" enemies for Goliath to attack, as well as select positions for the remote-controlled vehicle to drive to. Goliath proves to be a valuable ally, not only because of the extra firepower it can bear upon targeted enemies, but also because the vehicle can be used as a moving piece of cover. But then an even more serious foe appears--a North Korean attack helicopter--which bears down on the resistance group. Our demo tester took cover behind Goliath before targeting the helicopter as it turns around for another strike. Goliath then unleashes a barrage of missiles at the chopper, bringing it crashing down on what seems like a direct collision course with Jacobs and the team.

White phosphorous is not a toy.
White phosphorous is not a toy.

The gameplay demo ended with that cliff-hanger, but it wasn't the end of Kaos Studios' presentation. The developer then brought out the game's creative consultant, former CIA agent Tae Kim, who talked in greater detail about how North Korea--a country probably better known for starving its people, its aggressive and erratic leadership, and for being the bad guys in the Team America movie--could possibly muscle up to the mighty United States of America. Tae began with the fact that despite its seemingly weak state, North Korea actually currently has one of the largest armies in the world, as well as one of the biggest Special Forces units of any nation.

As for how North Korea will transform itself into a superpower, Homefront's future timeline will begin with the death of current leader Kim Jong Il, with the reins of power being handed over to his Western-educated son. The younger Kim paints himself as a reformer and within a few years manages to unify the two Koreas. Buoyed by a growing nationalistic streak, the unified Korea looks beyond its borders to expand, taking over Japan and annexing several Southeast Asian countries over the next decade. By 2021, the former North Korea has grown into a formidable nation, with a massive economy, army, and technological advantage gained from its conquest of neighbouring Asian nations.

As for the US, in Homefront's future setting things become quite bleak for the land of the free. Continuing economic misfortune and high unemployment--coupled with a serious energy crisis pushing the cost of oil upwards--has left the once great nation teetering on collapse. The poor economy leads to continual downgrades of the nation's military capabilities, cutting the size of the armed forces and severely affecting the quality of weaponry available to soldiers. To make things worse, a serious flu epidemic strikes the States in 2021, killing millions.

You'll be fighting in familiar locales in Homefront.
You'll be fighting in familiar locales in Homefront.

More of the North Korean invasion plot--including a Trojan-horse-like ploy to land troops in Hawaii and a massive nuclear blast exploded in the skies above the US that acts as countrywide EMP--is recounted in a new trailer just released for Homefront. And while the trailer does a decent job of painting the future the game is set in, what we'd like is more detail on gameplay. The glimpses we've had so far have shown two sides to the game--chaotic action mixed with quieter character moments--and we're keen to see what the final mix between the two will be. We're also waiting on more detail about the game's multiplayer, which, given Kaos Studios' history, should also provide some neat surprises. We'll have more on Homefront in the coming months, and be sure to check out our E3 2010 coverage for more.

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