Homefront Updated Multiplayer Hands-On
Find out how this online shooter is aiming to bridge the gap between long-term upgrades and short-term rewards.
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During the past few years, first-person shooters have begun to borrow more and more heavily from role-playing games. Rarely do rounds of team deathmatch go by without players earning experience points, unlocking new gun attachments, or earning some sort of new way to further buff up their already-tough soldiers. With Homefront, developer Kaos Studios is aiming for a new approach to this trend of persistent unlockables by adding short-term consequences to your long-term upgrades. Like most shooters in the post-Modern Warfare era, you'll be earning experience points and unlocking new weapons and equipment as you play more matches in this game's dystopian vision of a United States occupied by North Korea (click here for details on the story). But with the game's novel battle points system, you'll be carefully questioning every move you make on the battlefield as you weigh the risks and rewards of which shiny new toy you want to use next.
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If experience points make up the rewards system that stretches across multiple matches to give players a long-term reason to keep coming back to Homefront, battle points are more like the short-term currency that forces you to get a little more strategic with how you use these rewards within each match. You earn battle points for doing anything that helps your team win, from killing enemies to holding capture points in Ground Control mode (a sort of cross between Battlefield's Rush mode and Call of Duty's Domination). These battle points then act as the key to using your special equipment in battle. So if you've got a recon drone equipped in one of your special equipment slots, it might cost you 250 battle points to activate it for one-time use and take to the skies. If you're lucky, you'll be able to use that recon drone to spot and tag enough enemies (which then show up on your teammate's screens a la Battlefield: Bad Company 2) to earn back all the battle points you just spent. That's one of the cheaper unlocks. You could also horde your battle points so that the next time you die, you can choose to spawn in a tank or an attack helicopter, which might serve as the catalyst to help your team win that final, game-winning push. Every bit of special equipment has its cost, and it's up to you when you want to cash in your points.
It's very much a system that forces you to weigh short-term versus long-term rewards, and it manages to add a novel layer of strategy to a game whose core, moment-to-moment combat serves as a pretty solid Call of Duty look-alike. Then again, depending on which map you're in and whether you're late enough in a match for people to start unlocking vehicles, there's often a Battlefield: Bad Company 2 feel as well. Some maps are dense and claustrophobic, like the demolished suburban homes and backyards of Cul-de-Sac. Other maps offer a greater sense of scale, like the wide-open pastures of Farm--a spacious map where sniper rifles reign supreme over submachine guns, including a tall church tower smack dab in the middle of the map. Then, of course, there are the vehicles. As we mentioned, you man vehicles not by being the first to sprint to them at the start of a match, but rather by saving up enough battle points to unlock them for as long as it takes the other team to destroy them. You can skitter around in a Humvee, armored truck, and several types of tanks and helicopters. The vehicles are pretty simple to jump into and navigate with ease--even the helicopters--which only reinforces the fact that these war machines are your best bet for reeling off big kill streaks in a match. In addition, there are certain weaponized drones (both a mini-helicopter and a ground one that appears to be a really angry robot) that offer opportunities for mean kill streaks as well--they just happen to be easier for the other team to destroy.
Another way Kaos Studios is hoping to make Homefront stand out from the crowd is with a mode variant called Battle Commander. We played two basic modes: Team Deathmatch and Ground Control. The former is exactly what you think it is, while the latter has you capturing control points to unlock new chunks of the map, like a giant tug-of-war. Both of these modes can be played either standard or with the Battle Commander system in place. What exactly does this ominous name offer over the standard game modes? Well, it's basically an AI leader on your team who keeps track of opposing players that are doing really well. It essentially puts a bounty on the head of enemy players who are going off on big kill streaks. At three kills in a row, you've got a one-star rating and will find that a single player on the enemy team has been sent after you with a potentially lucrative battle point reward if he or she takes you down. Once you get to a five-star threat level, though, the entire team sees your position highlighted on its screen, at which point, well, good luck.
In our experience, the Battle Commander modes really changed how we used our battle points. When we had a big bounty on our head, we tended to avoid helpful tactics like flying the recon drone to spot enemies for the benefit of our teammates. Instead, we'd do something like hole up somewhere safe and spend battle points on the flak jacket equipment slot to buff our defenses and try to last as long as possible. Likewise, seeing an enemy position floating on your screen with instructions to go get him tends to add a lot more direction to a round of Team Deathmatch, which by its nature is generally pure chaos.
Between Battle Commander mode and the battle points, Homefront multiplayer definitely offers a number of interesting features. Its core combat is familiar stuff for anyone who has played first-person shooters during the past few years, and the console versions of the game are visually a little rough around the edges compared to the top-tier games in the genre, but it's a game that seems to be trying and succeeding at breathing new life into the genre. We'll see how the whole package comes together when Homefront is released in March.