Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 brought the fight to the White House, but the much-hyped Homefront brings it to suburbia. After Kim Jong-un becomes Supreme Leader, North Korea fills the power vacuum left by an America in decline and launches a GPS satellite in an ostensible gesture of global goodwill. Instead, taking a page from William R. Forstchen’s book One Second After, the “Starry Messenger” sets off an EMP, which cripples and routs America’s military, allowing for a full-scale invasion by the Korean People’s Army. It’s a gripping speculative-fiction premise, and one that’s well established in the early going by writer John Milius (who has experience with this sort of thing, having directed Red Dawn), but the experience never lives up to the setup, with solid but stale gameplay and an underwhelming campaign dragging down a fun, frenetic multiplayer in the over-the-top Call Of Duty mold.
A lurid bus ride through occupied Montrose, Colorado captures some of the intensity of Children Of Men’s detention-center sequence, and later, a mass grave makes for some genuinely disturbing imagery, but as Homefront nears the end of its surprisingly short story arc, it becomes clear that nagging questions like “Where are America’s allies in all this?” and “Why do I have to spend the entire game following some loose-cannon asshole?” aren’t going to be addressed.
That last question is more pressing, as the squad-based combat becomes increasingly repetitive once the novelty of duking it out next to decommissioned kiddie pools and gutted White Castles wears off. (Although if there’s one game where the product placement enhances rather than detracts from the experience, it’s this one.) Aside from the scenery, not much distinguishes Homefront from the genre’s flagship titles. When the game does deviate from the script on a level that allows for helicopter piloting and firing, the results are embarrassingly unrealistic: Flying through a train tunnel is one thing, but when crashing into vehicles—or even the road—does little more than scratch your paint job, it becomes obvious that this alternate universe also boasts alternate physics.
After you’ve been knocked unconscious for the sixth time during one of the frequent cutscenes, it might be a good opportunity to switch to the superior multiplayer mode, which is made appealingly madcap by the sheer number of tanks, jeeps, UAV drones, and Hellfire airstrikes at your disposal. Racking up kills or holding waypoints furnishes you with XP and Battle Points. The former unlock new weapons and vehicles, and the latter purchase them. Maps are generally large and well-constructed, with a nice mixture of rural, suburban, and rural environments. Well-executed or not, however, the multiplayer can’t capitalize on the game’s big draw, and when it’s yoked to a single-player mode that delivers the same old goods in smaller portions, Homefront comes off as the K-ration of first-person shooters: Satisfying in a pinch, but why would you eat it if there’s anything else around?