When I was invited to an exclusive press event to play Homefront I was excited. Even though it was only for the multiplayer I realised that maybe THQ and Kaos Studios thought they had something special on their hands that they’d previously kept under wraps. Turns out they have.
The single-player game takes place after a future invasion by North Korea in 2027 and is all about guerrilla warfare. The multiplayer side of the game focuses on the bigger battles that precede the main story mode. So you will be playing as what’s left of the US Military or the KPA (Korean People’s Army) during the 2025-2027 invasions.
Developers Kaos are aiming to become number one in large scale online warfare with multiplayer goals of fast-paced action, on the fly strategic choices and an evolving battlefield. Ambitious? Yes, but from the few hours I had with the game, it might just happen.
Battle Points, the new BP fuel
Homefront’s multiplayer unique selling point is its Battle Points in-game economy system. Everything you do in a match gives you points to spend. Kills, revenge kills, assists, recon spotting, taking objectives and destroying vehicles all award you BP. Where Modern Warfare requires you to line up a killstreak, Homefront lets you add up the points without the risk of losing any when you get taken down. It immediately feels like a better system that is more balanced as it allows everyone to reap the big rewards. Smaller purchases include extra ammo or missile launchers, but the drones and vehicles are what you really want.
Even early on the rewards are oh so sweet. Drone helicopters with rockets anyone? The average shooter player should be able to scoop enough points in a few minutes to earn this mighty prize. It may only be the size of a dustbin, but the simple controls to change your speed, pitch and height allow you to buzz around racking up kills straight away. The rockets are also a bit on the miniature side, so only a direct hit will take down an enemy soldier with full health. But you can fire a few in quick succession, laughing maniacally as you try and aim for where your prey is going to run to cut him off. A great moment of confusion happened when I managed to fly inside a house to surprise someone guarding a base. Neither of us were sure if flying the mini ‘copter into a person would kill them, but rather than blast me out of the living room he turned and ran as I tried to fly into his face, with the chase ending with me crashing into the stairs. Please Kaos, let the mini vehicles do damage if they don’t already, it’ll be humiliatingly hilarious.
Other vehicles available for a cheap amount of points are the recon choppers that let you spot enemy soldiers for your team, by centring your target on them until they’re surrounded by a large red diamond, making them an easy target for everyone else. You’ll earn BP for every one you find too. There’s even a remote controlled mini tank. These are great to lead assaults on buildings as they’ll soak up a lot of bullets and you’ll often find a team-mate or two hot on your heels, ready to clean up anything you miss.
If you’re thinking the catch with these remote controlled beauties is that you’re left out in the open twiddling your thumbs around a control box, then you’ll be pleased to know that the game removes your body from the field of play when you’re controlling a drone. When the drone runs out of ammo/fuel or is shot down you’re returned to the action where you left off and it doesn’t count as a death. Goddamn brilliance.
I was having so much fun with the drones I almost forgot to check out the other vehicles on offer. Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), small trucks and full-sized tanks and choppers can also be bought with even larger amounts of BP. The maps I played weren’t really big enough to splash out on transport, but the proper tanks and choppers provided some excellent destruction towards the end of a match. The thing is, they cost so much compared to the drones, it’s utter misery if you get taken out straight away with a rocket launcher. A variety of airstrikes can also be called in after you choose a spot, but beware these are pretty damn expensive too, so don’t miss.
There were two maps available during this multiplayer event, a mid-sized one and a larger one. The smaller one, Cul-de-sac, is a typical small-town slice of suburbia with winding streets, wooden houses, small shops and a petrol station. There are burnt-out vehicles littering the roads and some have even been used to form barricades. This map supported 8vs8 matches that kept the action constantly ticking over at an exciting pace. There were several bases to capture, with them changing hands frequently. It was easy to take a base on my own as the capture metre fills up quickly, so you don’t get punished for playing on your own which is something Kaos were keen to implement. The locations of bases also change on the fly meaning you don’t dig in on one side of the map.
The second map, The Farm, was much bigger and supported 16vs16 play and also introduced some extra vehicles for selection with the Battle Points system. APCs, jeeps, tanks and helicopters were all up for grabs. The map itself was a lot more open with lots of woodland, hills and boulders making up the landscape. Buildings included silos, houses, barns and a semi-destroyed church. The church tower had been rebuilt with a lot of rickety scaffolding and ladders. It made for a great sniper spot, although the time it takes you to get up there, plus the risk of being spotted on the way up may put off campers. Plus the kill-cam gives away your position. The bases are spread out further than the first map, but they also changed hands numerous times during one round. I don’t recall any points in the game were a side would become bogged down in one base for a great deal of time as the action encourages you to go on the attack, rather than sit around defending bases. Spawn locations changed throughout the match too and never left me with a long hike back to the action.
On the ground
With all the focus on the drones in this article, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about the standard shooting action of the game. Thankfully it matches the other qualities on display with the controls not letting the side down. Aiming is deadly responsive and the weapons behave just as you’d wish with shorter COD-style bursts killing the enemy. They go down quickly and fairly, if you can sneak up on someone, they won’t have time to turn around and return fire, like in other shooters.
A familiar variety of soldier class is available from the spawn menu, each with different weapons and different items/drones/vehicles available to purchase with BP. Sniper, LMG, recon, and assault varieties make up the current roster. Unlockable weapons were not a part of this multiplayer showcase, but they will be included in the final game along with a full XP system.
Kaos have aimed to create evolving battlefields with combat that escalates to terrific finales. So far, so good as the intensity is immense by the end of each battle, thanks to the incremental flow of vehicles being unlocked. You might start a match with a small handful of BP leftover from the last, but never enough to buy a tank or helicopter from the start so it will always start evenly matched. Even by the end of each match they were all down to the wire.
The version of the game I played was at pre-alpha build level, so the graphics still have a way to go before completion, but I think they’re going to turn out well. To be honest, I was so absorbed by one of the most exciting FPS multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a long time, the graphics weren’t even on my critical radar. The Battle Points system is going to be a huge success and it looks like the rest of the multiplayer will have the chops to get gamers to welcome a new online contender. The resistance starts March 2011.