Homefront Multiplayer Preview: Meet the Battle CommanderBy Christopher Monfette - Posted Jan 21, 2011
Regardless of whether fiction mirrors life or life mirrors fiction, there’s no denying that the story of THQ’s upcoming FPS, Homefront, feels eerily predictive. As U.S. tensions with North Korea continue to escalate, writer John Milius’ vision of an America invaded by Korean forces in the wake of a massive EMP attack seems no further from fact than from fantasy. So while we recently played through the opening level of the single-player campaign, as well as several hours of the multiplayer, I tried my best to imagine which of the burning suburban homes might have been mine in my youth, or might someday be my own in the future.
While our time with the single-player was limited, we can definitively say that the game starts with a virtual bang as you’re rousted from your safe house by enemy forces and tossed aboard a prison bus toward your eventual demise. As you make your way through the familiar, everyday streets, watching the chaos of the Korean armada trampling the remains of Middle-America, small tragedies and somber scenes of destruction immerse you, at the very least, in the title’s effective sense of atmosphere. When all goes to hell, however, and the bus is attacked by American freedom forces, you quickly become a part of the underground militia movement and the game begins in proper.
The core gameplay mechanics, however, and the forward momentum through a destroyed housing settlement feels like fairly generic shooter material, highly reminiscent of the “Wildcats” mission in Modern Warfare. THQ ensures us that while this aspect of the game has been most heavily publicized, the scope of the entire narrative is considerably larger, taking the player through a wide array of dynamic environments. That said, there’s little in the short chapter we played that felt noticeably different than other games designed within the Call of Duty mold.
That sameness extends to the essentials of the multiplayer experience, but developer Kaos has been careful to add a number of elements to make the mode feel simultaneously familiar and distinctly unique. This includes the addition of Battlepoints, the equivalent of accumulated experience that can rather be used to call in vehicles and equipment per round. So the awesome-inspiring destruction at your disposal is ultimately mitigated by your resourcefulness early in the battle. Can you turn your basic two-weapon loadout into a bloodbath of Battlepoints, earning more and more points the more dynamic your achievements – i.e. taking out an enemy tank or helicopter versus a quick kill or assist.
At 32-players per battle, by the time the match reaches its zenith, enemy-seeking drones, tanks, choppers, airstrikes, exploding RV’s (a craw stuck in Kaos’ jaw after Black Ops) and some bad-ass hand-held weaponry should make the battlefield into a pulse-pounding conflict. And don’t horde your points, folks. As the saying goes, you can’t take ‘em with you.
Of course, we’ve seen all this before in our in-depth Homefront multiplayer coverage, but new to this particular go-around with the title was the innovative Battle Commander system. Members of each team will receive orders from their unit’s A.I.-controlled Battle Commander to complete specific challenges for additional bonuses. For example, you may be given orders to take out a specific target, or hold a particular portion of the field for a given amount of time. As you execute these mini-missions throughout the overall deathmatch, consequently rising through the ranks to become an incredibly effective five-star soldier, the opponent’s Commander may order them to find and kill you. Attempting to stay alive at this point, as the enemy turns their collective sights on your for rewards of their own, is truly a harrowing experience.
The Battle Commander system isn’t exactly a game-changer, but it does heighten the tension in some remarkable ways, and coupled with the Battlepoints system, no single match we played ever felt static. Nothing ever flatlined. The action continually escalated to the point where the early portions of most matches seemed almost boring in comparison. But when the multiplayer really starts firing on all cylinders, it works, and the familiarity of the CoD-esque design actually helped us to focus on the heightening tension rather than some new complex series of controls.
This early on, it’s fair to say that Homefront isn’t going to redefine either the single or the multiplayer FPS experience. But it is shaping up to be well worth your attention as the release approaches. With a bit more refinement, it’s possible to see this title the way that THQ sees it – as the first chapter in a continuing franchise – perhaps not to compete directly with the Halo’s and Call of Duty’s of the world, but to support our bloodlust and tide gamers over between mega-blockbuster releases.