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Homefront for Xbox 360

Kaos Studios' Homefront for the Xbox 360 is the latest take on the Modern Warfare craze, and it takes the already-disturbing premise of Modern Warfare 2 (in which a foreign army invades the United States) much, much further. In this admittedly implausible alternate reality, North Korea merges with South Korea, annexes or takes over much of Asia, and then, over time, invades, defeats, and occupies the United States. So as the game opens, in 2027, you're a freedom fighter and former pilot who must set things right.

I love the alternate history stuff, and this is perhaps the one area in which Homefront truly succeeds. This world of the future is realistically portrayed, and while the dialog, character interaction, and rail-like checkpoints are as derivative and terrible as in any other shooter, the world into which you're thrust is pretty believable. It reminds me, in many ways, of the setting from Half-Life 2, where the locals are under the thumb of an invading force and a resistance movement is working behind the scenes. You know, without the aliens.

The characters and their dialog, alas, are terrible, from the "why do the regular people have to suffer" whining of the otherwise kick-ass main female character, Rianna, to the "who gives a damn, this is the mission" sidekick, Connor, who has to feign indignance at helping you out only so he can become more impressed with you over time.

The single player game is short--I finished it in just two half-hearted days--but it unfolds nicely across some interesting set pieces, including some familiar real-world locations--like White Castle, Hooters, and Tiger Direct--as you work your way from Colorado to the Golden Gate Bridge outside of San Francisco. By the end of it, I was really getting into the story, and was curious to see how it all turned out.

From a play perspective, I'm also pleased to see a shooter finally just adopt the Call of Duty controller scheme almost whole cloth, and moving between this game and Black Ops or Modern Warfare 2 is seamless, something that wasn't the case with, say, Medal of Honor. More important, perhaps, Homefront "feels" like the newer COD games, which also wasn't the case with Medal of Honor (or the Battlefront games); this too makes it easier to just pick this game and go.

My big complaint about the single player stuff is just how unsophisticated it is: The game is absolutely on rails, to the point where if you're standing in the wrong place you'll simply be pushed aside as the NPCs move into their preordained places. And as is so often the case with shooters, as you're forced to follow one of the NPCs, he moves too slowly, so he gets stuck behind you, and then in a few cases actually admonishes you to hurry up, because that's what's in the script. It's really just sort of typical for this genre, but because of the strength of the story, it just seemed worse.

Multiplayer is a mixed bag, but only if you're used to the non-stop, frenetic action of the newer COD games. Here, you're given what seems to be a pretty limited set of game types--Ground Control and Team Deathmatch, and then a mix of  the two--all set in what, for Black Ops or other COD games, would be very large maps indeed. But Homefront goes its own way with multiplayer, and if you find the COD multiplayer to be too kiddie-happy, you might be very pleased with what Kaos is offering. This includes some nice customization features, the ability to get game-changing weaponry and accessories only by earning them and "paying" for them in-game, and a true team-based play style in which experience points are far more important than actual kills. (In COD, multiplayer is an oxymoron: You're playing against the other team while competing with your own teammates.)

You get the ability to ride in a wide variety of vehicles, including some adorable little remote control death machines and helicopters. You get beautiful big levels that make it futile to run around on your own. And you get a nice set of multiplayer challenges and Achievements, something COD has yet to embrace fully for some reason. (Which is odd, since most COD players are only there for multiplayer anyway.)

What we're left with is a game that is good, but not great, old school in some ways, but with a stunning if short single player story. Where Homefront really sets itself apart, I think, is in the multiplayer. And if you are turned off by the pace of COD multiplayer (and are perhaps more attuned to how this works in the Battlefront games), I think you're going to really enjoy Homefront multiplayer.

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