RPS At E3: Homefront

By John Walker on June 5th, 2009 at 7:00 am.

See, it's the front of a home!

Yesterday I mentioned that there had been two games at E3 this week that had made me laugh out loud at their scale and audacity. The first was Just Cause 2, the second was Kaos Studios‘ Homefront. The first thing you’ll read about Homefront anywhere is that it’s written by John Milius, the screenwriter behind Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now. But let’s not forget he also wrote and directed Conan The Barbarian. It would be inappropriate to do otherwise. Anyhow, the more important thing to know about it is the Goliath armoured vehicle that accompanies you for much of the game.

Whether Homefront will be any good isn’t possible to say just yet. However, that it will be giant and ludicrous seems a safe bet. In 2027, ten years after the economic collapse of North America, an opportunistic nuclear North Korean army has occupied the nation. Now a group called the American Civilian Resistance are preparing to take it back.

As the demonstration began, the most immediately striking feature was the location. This is war fought at home (if you happen to be American – it’s slightly problematically war fought in America for the rest of the world), and rather than dumping you in the desert, or across post-apocalyptic wastelands, this is happening in familiar suburban streets. Well kept three-bedroom homes overlook green front lawns and tidy asphalt roads. It’s a street where you might live. It’s not where war usually takes place.

There are tweaks, however, that nicely hint at the events that took place before the collapse of society. Windmills and solar panels appear regularly, where Americans had tried to compensate for the exhaustion of resources. It seems the conditions that led to the N Korean occupation were a combination of financial and environmental.

This theme of the familiar becoming the battleground is apparently common throughout, with the story taking you through streets, malls, and other recognisably ordinary places. It was this ordinariness of the setting, despite the odd alterations, that made it seem quite so intriguing.

New York based Kaos Studios tell us they’ve been researching what prototypes the US army are currently working on, to get an idea of the sort of tech that will be employed in wars twenty years down the line. And as is already beginning to be the case, it seems remotely operated and AI-driven drones are the future of blowing shit up. This notion forms the core of Homefront’s take on the FPS, giving you not only human buddies, but others in the form of attack drones, bots, and the Goliath tank-car beast.

Like a heavily armed giant metal puppy, the Goliath follows your instructions with abandon. Those instructions tend to be: go blow that up. Then with boundless enthusiasm it drives over whatever is in its way, and unleashes a volley of rockets into the prescribed target. It looks an awful lot of fun.

Also fun is a feature of the Drama engine. Homefront intends to ensure the player is the focus of the action throughout. An example we saw occurred when firing a rocket at a passing tank. The explosion caused it to flip up and tumble directly toward the screen, flying over the player’s head. This was apparently no coincidence – wherever you were stood, the Drama would ensure the tank went that way when hit. The idea is to make sure everything happens to you. Which sounds pretty fun.

Oh, and a thing that drives me crazy in games is the lack of potency of grenades. I don’t know if real life grenades really do go off with a puff and daub slight bruising on those standing near, but I want my gaming grenades to be devastating. Those thrown in the Homefront demo were exactly that. Proper KABLOWEE big.

There’s of course to be multiplayer, which I imagine will slightly confuse the Drama engine. Up to 32 player. But that was only a sentence spoken, and not something we saw evidence of.

How long it can persist with the level of intensity shown in the short demo is impossible to know just yet. While unlike Just Cause 2 it’s certainly ruled by some laws of logic and physics, it looks impressively overblown and hyperbolic. 2010 could have some really explosive shooters.

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48 Comments »

  1. Bret says:

    So, it’s like the pocket universe Zaphod Beeblebrox was in?

    Awesome.

  2. JKjoker says:

    sounds nice, but i hope the drama engine works in a sort of “area” around you because if every freaking car you blow up comes at you its going to get annoying (also watching someone else getting crushed by a flying tank is a lot of fun too, Schadenfreude and all)

    the next gen warfare equipment sounds great too, im freaking tired of replaying WWII again and again not even german ninja-robot-zombies can make it fresh again

  3. dadioflex says:

    “not even german ninja-robot-zombies can make it fresh again”

    If only they were pirates as well…

  4. JKjoker says:

    you cant mix pirates and ninjas they are like oil and water, they just dont mix… unless you put some mustard in it

  5. DMJ says:

    Yeah, but then you can’t add zombies. Zombies hate mustard.

  6. JKjoker says:

    you could add Alien squids, but you’ll be getting dangerously close to Crysis gayness

  7. Bret says:

    And butter.

    And Watermelons.

    Which is a big part of why, even if you’re fond of brains, zombie picnics suck.

  8. Ashurbanipal says:

    Hrm. It’s an interesting setting, and might be fun to play, but I can’t help but feel that with a plot like that and a name like that, it can’t be anything other than some chest-thumpingly patriotic shindig, y’know?

  9. Aftershock says:

    RL grenades only have a small explosion. The real damage comes from the hundreds of little bits of sharp metal that go flying outwards at incredible speed, pretty much invisible to the human eye.

    Giant Explosions > RL, though.

  10. JKjoker says:

    @Aftershock: thats only for Frag Grenades, HE grenades blow the hell up, White Phosphorus burns the shit out of everything in the area, and there are a lot more

    but yeah, screw realism, i want some big “#$”%”#* explotions

  11. Mark Roberts says:

    Ashurbanipalm

    You say that like it’s a bad thing…it’s not. :)

  12. Ashurbanipal says:

    Mark,

    For Americans perhaps. No slight against Americans, but I’m afraid most other people find it a bit boorish. (I’ll add I find that sort of behaviour boorish from any nationality, when taken to certain extremes).

  13. TheApologist says:

    Have to agree with Ashurbanipal though it wouldn’t stop me buying it. Besides. John’s description gives hope that there might be some interesting detail and nuance in the setting?

    I come from the most flag flying country I can think of – Northern Ireland – and admittedly that might have left me a bit sensitive.

  14. Okami says:

    I can only stand patriotism in games if it’s done tongue in cheek, otherwise it’s a total turn off.

  15. RogB says:

    I played through Frontlines:Fuel of War (their previous effort) as I couldnt resist the bargain – 5 quid on play.
    Mainly bought because I was such a desert combat fanboy back in the day so I was after some kind of modern equivalent.
    It turned out that the game was quite good, if a little short. Certainly worth 5 quid for a playthrough. However, it is absolutely riddled with bugs, and thats even after 2 and a half gigs worth of patches. I’m assuming that because of this, the online community is almost non existent, which is a hell of a shame for a predominantly multiplayer game (The single player is nothing more than a glorified tutorial).
    Anyway, to the point.. since this is by the same chaps i’d be very cautious about buying it as they seem to think nothing of releasing a clearly unfinished game, and then dragging their heels over patching it. I’ve no doubt it’ll look good and have some cool new gameplay things, but their QA will have to be a hell of a lot better this time…

  16. Rei Onryou says:

    Am I the only one that wants puny grenades? Well, not exactly. I want the enemy to have puny grenades. CoD4 grenade spam has turned me against the weapon. Of course, if my grenades blow a tank 50 feet in the air, over my head and crushes some ninjas sneaking up behind me, then I won’t complain.

  17. Alex says:

    For once, can’t Canada get a chance at invading the US? Every other country seems to get a crack at it in these pseudo-apocalyptic tales. :(

  18. phil says:

    John Milius is nothing short of a genius, he wrote a script that actually sounded natural coming out of Arnie the gigantic meat wall, not even his current speach writers have managed that.

    Main hope for the game – that the OTT jingoism of Red Dawn comes through intact, the hero resolving to fight after a squad of T-34s, covered in burning old glories, construct a viable national health service, that sort of thing.

  19. Jim Rossignol says:

    The explosion made by real grenades is surprisingly small, it’s the shrapnel sent flying in every direction that does harm.

  20. Heliocentric says:

    Canada invading america is a matter of fact not fiction. They burned down the white house.

  21. DarthInsinuate says:

    I like the sound of this Drama engine thingie. After L4D’s Director I was wondering when more developers would start trying to manipulate events for the sake of awesomeness.

  22. Horza says:

    I hope the drama engine isn’t overenthusiastic. Otherwise all the awesomeness might get boring quite fast.

  23. tekDragon says:

    @ Heliocentric:

    It was actually pink at the time. It’s only been white since then.

  24. Sonic Goo says:

    Isn’t North Korea invading the US sortof like Liechtenstein invading Germany?

  25. Zyrxil says:

    No, it’s more like Cuba invading China, with the 10,000 km supply route that entails.

  26. lumpi says:

    @Sonic Goo: North Korea has a million soldiers and invested all its budget in military (instead of, say, food…). They probably wouldn’t win, but just like Hitler, they could take a lot of countries with them in a last, desperate burst of world-domination frenzy. Plus the (highly fictional) story involves the US being bankrupt for a decade, so their former fire power is probably reduced to a minimum.

    I find the idea of setting it in idyllic US towns to be strangely original. It’s the kind “We have done everything… no, wait!” idea I’ve been waiting for. Bye bye, brown WWII and Gulf War battlefields. I sure as hell won’t miss you.

  27. JonFitt says:

    When I saw the title, I imagined a WW2 fps involving aged gentlemen in a seaside town.

    Press X to not panic.

  28. TariqOne says:

    It’s games like this that make me sort of embarrassed to be an American. Not sure why, exactly, but this seems sort of informed by an uncomfortably self-aggrandizing paranoia and xenophobia.

    Anyway, I’m from New York City. It’s not like the rest of America is really proud to claim *us*, I suppose. So I guess it’s semi-mutual.

  29. JonFitt says:

    I don’t see any problem with the setting.
    Wanting to play a fantasy game where you defend places that look like your real home is just as valid as wanting to play a fantasy game where you play a butch chap in a loin cloth who punches everyone, in the only land where women find their huge breasts being barely contained ‘comfortable attire’.

  30. Blast Hardcheese says:

    “An opportunistic nuclear North Korean army has occupied the nation.” I laughed at this. China taking over is feasible. North Korea really isn’t. Even if their military is one million strong we still outnumber them three hundred to one. This has the same ridiculous jump of logic that Red Dawn had, which was really directed at the teenage boy machismo audience.

  31. JonFitt says:

    There’s a Red Dawn remake in the works with apparently a new modern plot. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was NK in the new one.

  32. Nick says:

    Avenge me boys, AVENGE MEEEEEEE!

    Can’t see him out writing that gold.

  33. Troy says:

    In regards to the grenade issue, I suppose its a design choice by developers in general to include weak grenades that don’t throw shrapnel. The explosion is small but the shockwave causes all kinds of hurt when it hits the body, even out a large distance from the blast. Your eardrums burst and organs rupture causing internal bleeding. Grenades detonating in confined spaces are even nastier. I figure totally realistic grenades wouldn’t be much fun and only serve to frustrate. It wouldn’t be much fun to die from a tiny piece of flak from an explosion 50 meters away that pierced your eyeball.
    Stalker is the only game I’ve played where there is actual flying shrapnel from grenades. They even had a special splinter damage type separate from the explosion damage.

  34. Alex says:

    To be fair, the Canadian militias didn’t have much to do with the burning of Washington. That was done by the trusty Red Coats.

    We can take pride in the story of Laura Secord, though. :)

  35. D says:

    Troy: Red Orchestra has fairly accurate/punishing grenades. Occationally there is grenade spam but in RO it sortof works imo, because frankly, grenade&arty spamming is a pretty great idea in the real too.

  36. Erlam says:

    ‘RL grenades only have a small explosion. The real damage comes from the hundreds of little bits of sharp metal that go flying outwards at incredible speed, pretty much invisible to the human eye.

    Giant Explosions > RL, though.”

    I have a friend in the army, and according to him even frag grenades will knock the wind out of you, through a concrete blastwall, at about 20 metres.

    So I’d say that’s not a little bang.

  37. drygear says:

    @ Ashurbanipal
    It probably will be exactly that. The original screenplay for Apocalypse Now was different in tone from how the movie turned out; it was pro-war. John Milius is known for being conservative.

  38. james says:

    I think it looks excellent, as long as the environments are as complex as they look, there should be a huge amount of tactical options.

    As for Ashurbanipal’s comment about americans being the only ones who are patriotic, I’m English and I care about my country; I’m sorry I don’t find that “nauseating” or “embarrassing”, just spouting off that citizen of the world cack doesn’t actually raise your IQ or prove you’re an independent thinker.

  39. Ashurbanipal says:

    As for Ashurbanipal’s comment about americans being the only ones who are patriotic…

    Whoa, whoa,

    That’s exactly what I didn’t say.

    I’m sorry I don’t find that “nauseating” or “embarrassing”, just spouting off that citizen of the world cack doesn’t actually raise your IQ or prove you’re an independent thinker

    Er, what? You sound like you thought of a good zinger for some entirely different debate in the distant past. I’m not sure what you’re on about.

  40. james says:

    Sorry, that wasn’t directed entirely at you, but at quotes such as the below;

    It’s games like this that make me sort of embarrassed to be an American.

  41. Jetsetlemming says:

    The entire North Korean army, teleported into the US, with all the US soldiers simultaneously teleported outside, still could not hold more than a single US state. A small one, at that. America’s is tied with China for the third largest country on earth, with 3.7 million square miles. North Korea just barely makes it into the top 100, with 46,000. To put that into RPS perspective, North Korea is half the size of the UK. The state of Pennsylvania is equal in size to North Korea, and it’s only the 33rd biggest US state.
    Hell, I doubt the entire NK army could even hold all of New York City. Maybe in the alternate timeline for Homefront “North Korea” is a conglomerate military power of all East Asian states, with all the peoples of them, or something. In that case, though, it doesn’t make much sense to call it North Korea, as opposed to “Korea” or “East Asian Military Bloc” or some shit.

  42. jalf says:

    @Jetsetlemming: I don’t follow your logic. First you talk about the US being large geographically (which is a valid point. It’s hard to hold down such a big area). But then you throw that away and start talking about NYC. Geographical size is hardly a problem there. According to Wiki, we’re talking about 460 square miles, and a population of 8 million. Why couldn’t 1.2 million armed soldiers hold that?

  43. Happy Wlad says:

    In the immortal words of Rick Blaine, “Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade..”

    If John Milius wrote it, Im there. Wolverines!

  44. Snuffy (the Evil) says:

    First Crysis, now Homefront.

    Are North Koreans the new Terrorists?

  45. Captain Haplo says:

    Presumably, this will be followed by a prequel in which the United States was occupied by Saddam’s Iraq.

    Still, it looks like an interesting game. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. The Drama engine sounds fairly neat, too.

  46. Shoe says:

    my guess is that it was slated to be the Chinese but they chickened out

  47. Moonracer says:

    Oooh! this sounds rather nice, other than the everything happens to you idea. Assuming the maps are detailed and not too linear it could be fun.

    One of the major problems I had with Far Cry 2 was that you were supposedly dropped in the middle of a civil war, only I never saw NPCs fighting each other, they just constantly attacked me kamikaze style. While that certainly kept the action around ME, it felt pretty stupid, which is part of why I didn’t play it much.

  48. Merc says:

    The drama engine sounds…interesting.

    So what happens if one of my resistance buddies is taking a piss…?