FBT joins the resistance in Kaos Studios' Red Dawn-like shooter. Wolverines!

Homefront was Kaos Studio’s do-over after Frontline. More mature than that game’s overwrought gameplay and undercooked war study, the strictly linear Homefront was released in 2011, the year of the open-world sequel; Assassin's Creed Revelations, Batman AC, Crysis 2, Saints Row 3, Witcher 2, Skyrim – it took most of 2011 to complete those, plus there were reboots Deus Ex HR and Duke Nukem Forever, new starters L.A. Noire and Rage and established shooter stalwarts Gears of War 3 and CoD MW 3; Kaos had the worst luck with their release cycles. Homefront got buried as was Kaos soon after. Is it even worth going Home?

In the 2010s, and using real-world events as a back-drop, North and South Korea form the Greater Korean Republic (GKR) as a war in the Middle East triggers a global economic collapse and oil shortage. The USA withdraws from all non-US soil and unchallenged, the GKR expands across the Pacific and eventually invades America, annexing the Western States and leaving the rest of the US in chaos. Years later, the GKR begins to march again, starting with our town on the American-Korean border. Jacobs, a retired US Marine Pilot is bundled onto a bus headed for a ‘re-education’ camp.

From the bus window we watch the GKR soldiers brutally take apart the town. We see folks beaten and shot – fairly typical for this kind of oppressor storyline and reminiscent of Half-Life 2’s opening scenes, but as the bus corners we hear a woman pleading for her child to close his eyes. We corner just in time to see the tyke’s Mum and Dad lined up and shot, and as he runs to their bodies, the GKR soldiers saunter off. This is going to be a tough one.

Suddenly, the bus is attacked by ‘Resistance’ members Connor (Another ex-Marine, gleefully in the ‘only good Korean is a dead Korean’ camp) and Rianna (a spunky woman who has managed to maintain her humanity and midriff during the occupation). Conner explains they broke me out because they need a pilot to halt the GKR’s advance. I’d better not tell them how badly I fly ‘copters then.

​​Homefront is a linear shooter in the CoD mold (Conversely CoD Ghosts owes it a debt) but it tries really hard to be more than a set-up followed by a bulletfest; Kaos found time in between the firefights to remind you what you’re fighting for and our actions cause horrible retaliations by the GKR – it’s not shoot, cutscene, move on; everything has impact in Homefront not just the bullets. It’s a world which presents Connor’s resistance as possibly futile rather than ultra-heroic; at one point, while infiltrating one of the ‘re-education’ camps, we’re betrayed by a collaborator but he only cut a deal with GKR if his kids weren’t sent to the camp – the camp he is in. Connor kills him anyway. He doesn’t really care about collateral damage, seeing his mission as one for the country not the individual; he has no pity for those not taking up arms. The closest he gets to grief is angrier. Although he is an asshole, he’s the asshole we need. During that same infiltration mission, we pass a school playing-field to find it’s now a mass grave – and one we end up hiding in. Connor just couldn’t stand to watch them tractoring bodies into ditches and opened fire, causing a helicopter to investigate; the only place they’d not look is in a ditch filled with rotting corpses. It doesn’t come across as a gratuitous or a No Russian moment though; Connor is just a survivor and when he orders us to hide in the bodies, it's horribly right; whatever it takes. Later, trying to reach oil tankers which are Connor’s goal he uses White Phosphorous to clear the troops; Rianna is disgusted while Connor gets angry if we put any of the GKR soldiers out of their misery.

Rounding off our resistance is a Korean-American, Hopper. A techie, this guy controls ‘Goliath’, the coolest bit of mech-tech since the Godzillabot in Bulletstorm. Goliath is an AI controlled Ground Drone, like a monster-truck with a minigun, emulating D0g from HL2 - but without the cuteness. It’s awesome as it crashes through buildings, runs over GKR soldiers and guns them down. You control its rocket systems, but it’s not just a side-kick; while some missions revolve around ‘protecting’ it, Goliath is a kickass thing to have around and actually saved my life a few times, unscripted. It was great having Goliath trundle alongside.

In look and tone, Homefront feels Half-Life 2; replace the Combine with the GKR and it’s pretty close bar the Headcrabs. There’s no cut-scenes, everything is detailed in real-time and while Jacobs is a Gordon-style Silent Hero he has Conner screaming every five minutes to fill in the silence. Homefront is well paced too. It is the usual two weapons load out, duck and cover, getting shot hurts scenarios where the GKR are smart opponents and better shots, but the firefights are very well staged and its skin-of-your-teeth survival rate makes it just the right side of tough. From decimated suburbia and shopping malls to survivalist camps, there’s not an ounce of fat on Homefront; it’s lean and desperate without becoming shallow. It’s one of those games you find yourself caught up in and can’t stop, like a season of 24. Unlike 24 The Game.

The Survivalist mission is a nervy standout, and not just because we’re there to negotiate the use of their chopper (yeah, about that piloting thing…). The negotiations don’t go so well, and as we stealth through the compound looking for the chopper there’s sly commentary on Survivalists being right after all and how possibly, we're not much better than the GKR given the measures we stoop to. Eventually we get to de chopper and as Connor yells at me to get it in the air, I’m all set to rage-quit , bitching about shooter’s terrible piloting missions. But...

The chopper mission is one of the best flying missions I’ve ever played. It’s like a Fast and the Furious set-piece, completely impossible and insane and I’m finally a Flying Ace. This is what Jacobs is here for, the reason the resistance rescued me and the game makes sure you prove you were worth the trouble. I’m zipping through tunnels, avoiding SAMs and skimming the tarmac as the team jump aboard and hijack the tankers (Hopper and Rianna just throw the drivers out their cabs; Connor stabs and beats his driver). We’re taking out tanks, Humvees – nothing original but the chopper is such fun to fly and fight with as we go through a mountain range, tunnels, freeways, through a town and over/under bridges, defending the tankers and making Connor holler as I blow shit up. I actually miss the chopper once I land. That’s a first.

With that, we join the military for their last stand on the Golden Gate Bridge, and what a stand it is. A non-stop fight to the end, worthy of Michael Bay on a good day - Humvee chases, GKR-controlled Goliaths, jets and 'copters blasting the hell out of everything, it’s insanely heroic. It couldn’t have ended any other way and I’m glad it comes through. I feel … patriotic.

John Milius was involved as a story consultant and it does have his jingoistic Red Dawn paws all over it; it’s a Boys Own adventure with completely outrageous heroism and extreme moments, but there’s commentary on what it means to be a patriot, on unchecked regimes and superpowers’ role as deterrents. As a shooter, Homefront doesn’t add anything new to the genre but it is a rarity; an engrossing CoD era shooter, and one that doesn’t feel like a tutorial for the multiplayer. It’s a great game.

Homefront was Kaos’ swansong after their first, Frontlines. It’s a shame they didn’t get another outing; Homefront shares Frontlines' DNA but it’s no refined reskin; this game is immeasurably better and Kaos could have come up with something even better third time out. It wasn’t the end for Homefront though, the rights were picked up during THQ’s firesale by Deep Silver, who rebooted it as an open-world game, focusing more on the guerrilla tactics of a resistance. Homefront The Revolution missed the all-or-nothing point of the original. Give the reboot a miss and come Home.

2011 | Developer Kaos Studios | Publisher THQ

Platforms Windows | PS 3 | Xbox 360