Gamers will remember the Burger King (Burger "Town") level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 where you were fighting off an invading force on US soil. As tacky as it sounds, there are few things more representative of Americana than a fast food place. If you're like me, your mouth dropped and you took a few seconds to stare in awe and ponder what it would be like if your own town were invaded. That was a cool experience.
So what would it look like if someone built an entire game under that premise? I don't know, because somebody only built half a game with that premise, and they called it Homefront.
Here's Kotaku's review of the game. They'll go much deeper into the mechanics of the game, including the quite decent multiplayer. I'm just focusing on the experience as an experience.
Homefront is a game with a lot of promise. It was written by John Milius, who worked on Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger. Logically, the story should be pretty good! Half of it is. The game sets up the "current" situation in the year 2027—Kim Jong-Il dies, Kim Jong-Un takes over and invades South Korea, Japan and then the United States—pretty well. It's when the game starts that the premise and dialogue and action becomes second-rate.
Don't misunderstand—as an FPS game, the mechanics are pretty solid. But as something that tries to go for the "holy shit, this situation might actually happen" experience, Homefront only half succeeds. It's true that you get to fight inside White Castles, Hooters and even a TigerDirect.com warehouse, but the rest of the landscape is generic. Little league baseball diamonds, small shops and other instances of suburbia make up most of the backdrop that you're running and gunning through. It's been done. This game had the chance to elevate the idea to another level, but blew it. Here's a specific example of what I mean.
If you look at the covert art, marketing and just about all the materials for the game online, you'll notice that it's set in San Francisco. More specifically, you'll notice that the game lets you fight on the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the more identifiable US landmarks. Great! Except for one thing: The bridge is as far as you're going to get into San Francisco.
For a game to tease the city of SF so much and not even let you get inside that city is ridiculous. In fact, what's worse is that you spend only 1/7 of the game's short 5 hours even near the Bay Area, and the other 6/7 in Colorado. Colorado. How well would the game sell if they used images of Colorado instead of San Francisco?
The whole driving force of the plot is for you and your resistance fighter comrades to make your way into SF to retake the city from the North Koreans. Cockteasingly, the game just ends right as you win the battle of the bridge. Seriously? Imagine if Watchmen rolled credits as the folks made it to the villain's arctic lair. Or if Saving Private Ryan faded to black when Matt Damon identified himself as Ryan. You get all that emotional buildup and no payoff. You don't even get to take one single step into the city.
A proper catharsis to the "this is your town" gameplay in would be for you to fight down San Francisco's Market street, shooting North Koreans, and retake City Hall—or something else more representative of winning a city. Instead, we're left with virtual blue balls and the hope that the team makes a Homefront 2.
If you're like me, and you were looking forward to a whole game on the level of the Burger King stage in Call of Duty, you'll be slightly disappointed. It's not that Homefront is a bad game—it's not—it's just that it doesn't fulfill its promise, implied or otherwise. [Kotaku Review]