Homefront – Interview and First Impressions

Waves of civil unrest are rippling through the world we live in; Libya will fall, Egypt is falling and Tunisia has already fallen. The people are snatching back the power that they’ve been denied for decades. There have been many books, movies and even games written about the Middle-East and its struggle for democracy. As it turns out, some of these events are happening now – modern day prophecies being played out across the globe. It’s no accident that the writers of the texts knew how things would happen – what order the flashpoints would strike, what reactions the despotic Governments would have and how the people would rebel. The authors used Speculative Fiction – a broad term in itself, but not one to be taken lightly.

I recently went to a London-based event for Homefront, a brand new IP set for release on the 18th March. It is a game based on Spec Fic: America is occupied by the Koreans and the U.S army has been severely crippled in the process of invasion – nuclear bombs, relentless paratroopers and destroyed trade routes; America is a husk. It is down to a small squad of your average run-of-the-mill freedom fighters to stay alive, fight back and protect as much of their country as they can. The game is about reclamation, not retaliation. It is about oppression. It is about the biggest power in the world being humiliated, shamed and subjugated. This is all pretty sensitive ground, too – in an age where you can’t even suggest America could lose a war in the Gulf, Kaos Studios (Developers of Homefront) are heading into possibly dangerous waters.

“The key is to focus on the fiction” says Creative Director and General Manager of Kaos Studios, David Votypka. “You will, of course, worry about public reaction: is this going to be too harsh? Are they going to like it? But we started with the idea of occupied America and, ultimately, we wanted to create a storyline based on what it would actually be like to experience that world.” Homefront certainly lives up to that. The introduction movie takes you on a quick (but alarming) tour through events between 2011 and the current game setting, 2027. Using actual footage from Hillary Clinton and the Press Conference she gave regarding the sinking of a South Korean ship by North Korean missiles last year, you immediately grasp the premise and the immediacy of the game.

The video continues to explain how America came to become occupied and how the Korean army dominated with such apparent ease. Scenes of international brutality and rioting are shown, too; London is even included. This validates the game somewhat, especially to a British audience – the setting from the opening cinematic alone sets the context of this world; everything is visceral, everything is possible… everything seems too real. There is a genuine sense of threat here, but it is dignified and it is executed sensitively; this is no CoD – where “No Russian” just seemed to be there for the Hell of it, whipping up publicity. All of the violence and the inhumanity in Homefront seethes with purpose and intent, no matter how dark.

“There are moments in the narrative that are a bit shocking – a bit harrowing – but if we didn’t include them, then we wouldn’t have been true to the goal of what happens in an occupation. They’re not in there for shock factor; they’re there because they need to be,” Votypka explains. He is a man that knows what he’s doing; having worked closely with writer John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now), Votypka had a clear direction he wanted to go in and he tailored the game to reach that goal. I asked him how he felt, launching a game like this into a genre that is heavily saturated with macho-brawn-action-gun-porn (not my exact wording) and how he thought a first person shooter with such depth would be received:

“Firstly, for me, one of the big things you have to have from the outset is player interest – you say ‘experience occupied USA’, they say ‘Ooh, I’m curious’ – they want to know how it happened; that level of intrigue is a good place to start.”

Homefront does have a great amount of intrigue, that is undeniable. The opening scene of the first mission has you wake up in a shoddy house and answer the door to some angry Koreans. They then start talking about how you can ‘serve your country’ and that you are ‘ungrateful for your natural resources’. You are promptly arrested and thrown down some stairs. So far, so generic, right? Not for long. You are loaded onto a fortified yellow American school bus and driven down a typical American High Street. The colour palette is mostly greys, neutrals and earths – standard shooter fare. But it’s the detail that your eyes are drawn to; the civilians being rounded up before you, families being separated as their cries of anguish echo through the gritty streets. One scene sees two parents being shot in front of their child. The soldiers responsible walk away, leaving the bodies streetside, and the (now orphaned) child runs towards their slumped bodies. The sound effects are chilling.

“The option of including civilians in a shooter is rare,” Votypka replies when asked about their involvement in the campaign, “but for this game, we needed that level of human interaction. This isn’t some story about a squad of super-soldiers taking back the country. Me and [John Milius] thought that the player needed to see how the occupation affects them – to see how they’re brutalized and oppressed. We really wanted to focus on the human on a core animal level – we’re all humans, right? We can empathise with that.”

Even this far into the game, it’s obvious that story is a huge part. After a road accident, your guards’ bus is slammed to the side of the road, side-down. Armed Americans (note: not military) liberate you from the worst journey on a school coach you’ll ever have. What follows quickly ups the pace – you kill your first Korean. The enemies are responsive; if both of you are in cover, they will cagily poke their heads out to locate you – if you’re out of cover shooting at them, they’ll stay put. If you’re out of cover and they’re not… It’s not an issue – you plant a bullet squarely in their heads. A teammate tells you “there’s Korean blood on your hands… there’s no going back now. You’re in the Resistance.”

What follows is a tour through what America has become: regular symbols and conventions of American life are all present, but altered. The pleasant suburbia of gardens and garages so commonly paraded on our televisions is absent – instead you trudge through a broken America; occasional patches of colour and commercialism remind you of what this place was once like. Posters and KPA propaganda are plastered to boarded-up shopfronts and once tidy gardens are strewn with bodies and trash. There is very rarely any fixed camera position – the world is yours to explore within the pace of the game (which, incidentally, is very well-balanced; nadirs of inaction are quickly dispelled by a flurry of enemies, running and gunning. When the quiet settles, it becomes more unnerving than it was before).

The way the story is told is interesting, too. During the interview, Votypka mentioned that one of his favourite games is Half-Life 2, and it shows. There is rarely a scene where you are directed to study the world around you, but there is always something going on. Look to a side-street of your own accord and you will see a Korean brutalizing a shopkeeper. Look to the ground from a vantage point and you can see the backstory come to life in the scars of the panoramic vistas. When the odds start building up against you, Votypka’s point about being a regular run-of-the-mill civilian starts to show.

“You’re outmanned and you’re outgunned. You haven’t got all the vehicles and weapons you could want – it’s actually completely the opposite in Homefront. You’re not always on the offensive; you have to scrounge weapons off enemies… you’re on the run for a lot of the game. The overall feel of what you’re doing for most of the game is different from most contemporary shooters.” This is true. However, there does tend to be a little bit of a spike in the difficulty level when you begin to encounter larger KPA troops. The general tactic seems to revolve around taking a few headshots whilst getting shot at, crouching behind cover, popping up with a grenade then start again; rinse and repeat. Depletion of ammo can get a little irritating, too, but it’s nothing a quick scout around won’t fix. The hotly discussed Drone system is a nice addition to the gameplay – it serves as a nice buffer zone to break up long periods of running for cover and planting potshots at heads. The first one you encounter at the end of Mission 1 is ‘Goliath’ (which is actually based on a US Prototype called ‘Crusher’, albeit weaponized). You hold one of the Korean Humvees in your sights for long enough without dying, and BOOM. Street level fills with kerosene and cooking flesh.

From what I’ve played so far, there is none of the ‘Orders From Up High’ reason for completing objectives – every objective is important, no matter how small, and each goal is achievable, despite the odds. It’s this believable and intimate aspect of the game that draws you in – makes you empathise with the Freedom Fighters around you; again, towards the end of Mission 1, you find yourself engaging in a tough gunfight to save the life of a woman and her baby. This world is tangible, and it is frightening.

“We looked a lot of dystopian narratives when creating the Homefront world” Votypka explains when asked about his creative process, “Children Of Men was a big influence; we looked at the shanty-towns and how they were depicted, we looked at the clothes they were wearing… even as far as the bus ride at the start – there’s a lot of sources that’ve gone to create that. Red Dawn and Children of Men were the two main influences here. But the structure of the campaign is more based on Grapes of Wrath – that very character-driven journey across America.”

And therein lies the premise – you are a pilot. That is why the Strike Team liberated you; your overall mission is transporting jet fuel from Colorado to San Francisco. A pretty simple goal, really, but every interaction influences you in some way. “It’s a really diverse world,” explains Votypka; “When you’re going through, you’ll see civilians that just want to be left alone, and you’ll meet others that help you out. Later in the game, you’ll come across American Survivalists who’ve captured some Koreans and are torturing them – you get to see the flipside of the oppression.

Everything in this game seems to add up to something more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster (albeit a well-written one) than just another console shooter. It is refreshing to see a game that has been constructed around the story, rather than vice-versa, and (although only going up to Mission 3 for the purposes of a preview) there is potential for this to be one of the most riveting stories I’ve experienced in a game for some time. It’ll be interesting to note if that frantic pace will be kept up for the whole game; Missions 1 through 3 are so bipolar in their approach you sometimes want to get killed just so you can go back to a checkpoint (which aren’t too generously awarded) and experience it all again.

My first impression, from a purely mechanical standpoint, is that this is another shooter: it holds all the obvious and industry-standard conventions, even down to the obligatory CoD pad layout. The graphics aren’t the prettiest or best rendered I’ve seen recently, but they’re by no means bad – occasional texture pop-ins can put you off, though. Aurally, everything you’d expect – staccato gunfire, roaring jets, crackling flames… all are pulled off well. When the pace slows and the conversations begin, you can hear subtle nuances of sound creep in from the world around you – with a decent 5.1 Surround setup, it can create a wholly enveloping effect. What really makes the introduction to this game gripping is the story – it just works. It’s new terrain for a game; Modern Warfare may have set a campaign during a raid on the US, but full-scale occupation has never even been attempted in this generation, and I think that’s where Kaos comes into its own with Homefront: David Votypka said his favourite thing about this game was the feeling of the world they created, and it is easy to see why.

Full review of Homefront will follow shortly.

Last five articles by Dom



  1. Joeydale13 says:

    What a great piece Dom,

    I picked up Homefront on launch day, and even though I completed the single player campaign in about 20 minutes (I kid, I kid) I really enjoyed it. As you say it’s not the prettiest game in the world but that final mission on the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best levels i have ever played in a shooter…

    Now, if only they could sort their server issues out I could actually give the online MP a go…

  2. Ste says:

    Nice article Dom. Everybody who cares will by now know that this game pretty much got slated in the reviews and the MP issues are well documented. As such I’m interested to read your review and see if it lives up to your expectations especially seeing as you seem to big up the story element quite abit in this preview.

  3. Ben Ben says:

    Interested to see how the narrative structure pans out for this, FPS isn’t generally a genre I’d associate with half decent story telling capabilities but Homefront at least seems to be trying.

    Quite tempted to pick up the book really.

  4. Adam Adam says:

    I love the premise for the game. The resistance movement through occupied US is a great angle to go from. I get fed up from CoD and it’s biggest mission to save the day approach that it’s always great to be the littlest cog in the machine, it feels more rewarding somehow.

    Keen to read the review Dom but a great interview and taster of whats to come :)

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I’m just not into shooters at all, as anyone who knows me can attest to. The only time I ever found myself immersed in a shooter was when I picked up Crysis around launch time and played through from beginning to end, spurred on mainly by how beautiful and responsive it was. It’s the genre that doesn’t spark my interest though, but it could just be that I’ve not tried enough GOOD shooters to get pulled in, I don’t know.

    I love the attempt at realism here though (I hate the word “attempt”, it has to be said) and it certainly looks like a lot of effort has gone in to make you feel like you’re part of a real war and not just playing out a game of soldiers. It’s tempting, but there are so many other games on my “to play” list that will take priority before I give another shooter a shot. It does sound good though.

  6. Edward Edward says:

    I’m not the least bit interested in the game, but if something was going to make me, it’d be this preview and interview. Great style, captivating and a job well done, dude.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    Excellent article, Dom. I’m actually intrigued that so much effort has gone into giving an FPS a decent story, but not only that, a story that is genuinely absorbing. ‘What ifs’ are always interesting to explore and this one is highly compelling – chilling and disturbing, but compelling. Though I tend to avoid shooters, I am still drawn in by the whole premise – no wonder it ended up being novelised.

Leave a Comment