Homefront Multiplayer Hands-On Preview – Home Is Where The War Is
Written Wednesday, October 06, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Sometimes, you have to ask why developers choose to tackle the FPS when the market is pretty much sewn up by Modern Warfare 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and a few notable others. It's one of the most hotly contested genres and if you want a piece of the pie, you'd better bring something unique to the table or perish. Homefront however looks like it could do the job, with its own brand of large-scale multiplayer that grants access to all sorts of military hardware as you play and accumulate the game's unique in-game currency, more on which later.
But first things first. Homefront takes place amid a chilling future scenario, wherein an alliance between Korea and Japan forms the Korean Federation, leading to the fall and occupation of America in 2027. In single-player, you play as a freedom fighter as part of an uprising against the occupying forces, in a story reminiscent of '80s Cold War commie-bashing movie Red Dawn, fittingly receiving script supervision from the same director and screenwriter of that very movie, John Milius.
The multiplayer aspect of the game sees you taking the side of either the Korean or US armies across a variety of expansive maps and different game modes. Getting to grips with a game of 'Ground Control' on Homefront's 8v8 Cul-de-Sac map - which is a deserted, destroyed American white picket-fenced suburb turned Demilitarised Zone - your team fights for control of a series of tactical locations scattered across the environment. First impressions are that it's very much like Battlefield: Bad Company 2's Rush matches, but with Call of Duty's universally recognised and instinctive control layout. Certainly no bad thing, we think you'll agree.
Before you think about jumping into the action feet first though, you'll need to select your loadout, which we're told will be fully customisable in the finished version of the game. During our hands-on however, we're given a handful of preset weapons to sample, which represent a relatively small portion of what will be found in the full version of Homefront. And that's before taking into account the various upgrades you'll be able to add to your guns. There's still plenty of choice in the Assault, Tri-Burst Assault, Heavy, Stealth, Sniper and SMG loadouts we're presented with, as well as a decent smattering of Homefront's near-future gadgets and perks to take into battle.
Back to the match itself, where each time you spawn, there's a menu where you can sort your loadout and then jump into the fray as the camera descends from a birds-eye view and zooms into the action on the ground. This spawn-cam is a fairly minor touch perhaps, but it gives you a brief sweeping view of a nearby section of the battlefield, so you can get an idea of the direction you need to head towards or avoid accordingly. As the Cul-de-Sac map is comparatively small, there are no vehicles, but the battle is no less intense, as the narrow streets and bombed-out houses offer plenty of choke points for close-quarters firefights. Then there are a few well-placed vantage points where you can go prone and pick off a few enemies with a sniper rifle, if you so wish.
During a multiplayer match, you'll not only have access to your standard array of rifles and pistols, but you'll also be able to earn Battle Points (BP) in addition to the usual XP, which levels you up much as you'd expect. BP on the other hand is what developer Kaos – the studio behind Frontlines: Fuel of War – is pinning its hopes upon, noting that the in-game currency creates an evolving battlefield by offering you the ability to make strategical choices on the fly. Essentially, BP enables you to purchase extra weapons and gadgetry to support your efforts, so you can summon up a remote drone to scout the area, mark up targets and fire off a few tactical missiles. Save up enough BP and you'll eventually be able to call in a gunship to drop an airstrike on the opposing team or spawn in a vehicle on your next turn. It's a risk/reward system that can pay dividends if you spend a substantial chunk of your BP on some expensive and potentially devastating military hardware.
During a match, purchasing support items is mapped to the D-pad, so you can buy extra ammunition with a tap on left, have a couple of shots with a rocket launcher on the down direction and call in one-off attacks or remote drones with the other directions depending upon your chosen class. The more you help your team, the more kills you accrue and the more tactical locations you capture, the more BP you'll earn. Points only last for the duration of the match however, so it's wise to get spending. Hoarding your points might earn you enough for an Apache attack helicopter, a tank or an armoured transport, but by spawning in a vehicle, you're effectively painting a massive target on your back. Again, it's a risk/reward decision that you'll need to weigh up.
This is none more apparent than when we move onto the massive 16v16 'Farm' map, which boasts plenty of opportunity for fraught skirmishes between vehicles on the ground and in the air. However, we found our lifespan greatly reduced when we were manning a tank or a helicopter, as the cost of a rocket launcher is a mere 50BP, which any player can easily amass in a matter of minutes. This makes you a sitting duck when you're slowly rolling around in a tank or stalking the skies in a helicopter, since anyone can launch a homing Javelin missile or well-aimed RPG to bring you down. That said, you still can't beat the empowerment of blasting enemies with an artillery shell from a tank or raining down missile-flavoured death from an Apache, regardless of how fleeting the thrill might be.
Homefront's multiplayer is currently in a pre-alpha state, so the game looks pretty rough around the edges with a few placeholder assets waiting to be replaced, but there's no mistaking the overall quality of the multiplayer gameplay, which is already pretty robust. It's also heartening to know that the game will also have dedicated servers upon its launch. If Kaos can bring the visuals up to scratch, tighten things up and deliver on the initial promise of what we've played so far, then we could be looking at another essential FPS to add to the growing list.
Whether the Battle Points economy is the big 'game-changer' and fresh, exciting innovation that THQ and Kaos are hoping it will be remains to be seen. On the basis of Homefront's fundamental multiplayer mechanics, things certainly look good and if nothing else, it could be a genuinely worthy alternative to the likes of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (which Homefront is clearly inspired by) in the increasingly competitive multiplayer stakes. All it needs is a large and dedicated audience-base of players able to tear themselves away from Modern Warfare 2 for a few minutes. It could happen!
Homefront is tentatively slated for an early-2011 release.