Storming xBox first-person shooter, if you can cope with Connor and his consistently infuriating habit of hogging cover
Homefront houses an assortment of attention-grabbing treats - from stirringly evil antagonists to the fiery splendour of a phosphorous downpour; heartbreakingly childish reminders of your domiciliary surroundings to the bullet spray of Sentry towers that test every morsel of your flanking smarts.
But far too much of your time is taken up staring at Connor, being barked at by Connor and, naturally, following Connor.
His most imbecilic quality is much worse - a consistently infuriating habit of hogging cover. Not only does he steal your best tactical spots to shield from the enemy, he's also very hard to budge. You're often left performing a lifesaving Riverdance in the middle of vicious firefights, as bullets whiz past your ears and grenades are dolloped around your feet. Trust us; in most cases, you'll do better not to 'Follow Connor', and to follow your instincts instead.
There also exists the irritation that Connor - much like fellow freedom fighting ally Rianna - is pretty damn useless on the battlefield. He remains oblivious to and unharmed by ticking explosives, occasionally even instructing you to walk right on top of them. In addition, his bullets would struggle to crack porcelain and he's a complete stranger to tossing a frag.
So it's testament to the heart-thumping rollercoaster of Homefront's single-player experience that, despite his best efforts, Connor can't ruin proceedings. There is much to be applauded in terms of spectacle and cinematic 'moments', but let's do the basics first: Kaos has got one thing spot on with Homefront that experience tells us is no easy feat in an FPS - a rewarding, involving narrative progression.
The premise is very far-fetched. The rise of a United Korea, the powerlessness of a fuel-deficient US, the successful EMP blast which knocks out Uncle Sam's defences and the eventual occupation of the Land Of The Free; it's tough to swallow at first. But in a genre where worlds based on grotesque teleporting aliens and faceless interstellar plasma gunners are acclaimed as 'intelligent', a little suspension of disbelief goes a long way. And Homefront's is perhaps the realest unreal dystopia the FPS has ever seen.
The enemy, for one, are the most disgusting, savage scumbags you could imagine. Within five minutes of the campaign's opening moments - where you're bloodied, beaten and corralled onto a bus, then forced to witness the sustained slaughter of innocents mere metres from your window - you despise the Korean People's Army from your intestines upwards.
The gunning down of two cuddling, screaming parents in front of their disbelieving offspring obviously riles the most, but the sheer spiritless, almost gleeful extinguishing of life all around will have you itching to find a trigger. Luckily, you don't have to wait too long to get your hands on one, and the uncommon motivation for vengeance which resonates throughout the duration of Homefront is a real achievement on the part of Kaos.
There is a gigantic medley of weapons with which to dispense of these amoral assailants. The difference in weight, kickback and audio between each is very impressive, with no two guns feeling the same - but you won't be able to get used to a favourite for very long.
The ammo capacity of the various assault, sniper and mounted shooters - alongside grenade packs, RPGs etc. - is notably meagre compared to, say, Black Ops. This helps bring a real sense of panic to Homefront's many action-packed skirmishes, where you're often left bunkered down without a bullet to your name. Dropping a close-range KPA operative becomes a tactical necessity; setting you up to rush and grab his abandoned artillery to continue your defence.
Homefront's prosaic, domiciliary environments may sound alarm bells in those hankering for Modern Warfare snowscapes or Halo's otherworldly expanses - but their place in Jacobs' story works brilliantly.
Baseball stadia, suburbs and highways might sound unexciting theatres for violence, but when twisted by the KPA's neglect for beauty and hunger for slaughter, they become grippingly vital mini-dominions crying out to be conquered.
Call of Duty wants to wow you with scale, but in doing so, cruelly tells you that you're but a speck on its vast wilderness. Homefront allows Jacobs to become the master of smaller locales, enabling true territorial empowerment. Your mission is to take back America car park by car park, block by block.
That's not to say Kaos can't do spectacle. Some of Homefront's set pieces rival the very best on the market. We'll have to skirt around spoilers here, but a mass civilian grave plays a stomach-churning role in a bit of war voyeurism, whilst an incendiary cloudburst-gone-wrong provides one of the most intense five minutes you'll ever spend with a shooter.
Homefront's real showstopper is its final mission, which takes place on, under and through one of San Francisco's most famous landmarks. The midday sun glimmers on the 'frisco Bay, illuminating the giant structure of the Golden Gate Bridge as you scramble up its side. A sense of vertiginous imbalance further intensifies your plight, especially when the heart-in-mouth moment of a near decline sets in. It's spectacular, theatrical stuff - like Mirror's Edge meets Last Action Hero - and a clever comparable to the vast majority of Homefront's whitebread locations.
Homefront is a polished beast, making full use of Unreal Engine's lighting effects. Although a general lack of greenness could be pointed to - we're very much in grey, blacks, bronze and muddy territory here - the whole game is lifted by some deft illumination. Shards of sunlight beam into huts through bulletholes, whilst prominent shadows and a myriad of flame, floodlight and spark effects give the Homefront world a expressive sense of place.
An engrossing, good-looking, sophisticated campaign, then - but not one which will require much time off work. Only you know whether five hours will ever be worth a full-price week one purchase, a rental or an impatient wait for the RRP to drop. We can testify that we've already gone back to Homefront's brightest spots to drink them in once again; and there are plans to Achievement gather at the first opportunity. (Trophies usually centre on getting through a level without losing lives.)
Homefront's multiplayer comes highly recommended. If you liked Bad Company 2 or Kaos's own Frontlines: Fuel Of War, you're going to love this. Dedicated servers have kept every trial we've tested steady as a rock, whilst the addition of drones and the ability to spawn into someone else's vehicle keep things fresh and varied. The game's key multiplayer reward system, Battle Points, push you to seek out high-scoring objectives whilst thinking on your feet.
Throw in large scale Ground Control missions, a fierce Skirmish mode and an impromptu priority-based mission generator in the form of the Battle Creator, and Homefront's multiplayer really packs a punch. We'd go so far to say that this is the classiest, best value multiplayer shooter on the market, comfortably bettering both recent CoD monsters and edging ahead of Bad Company 2. It deserves a wide, fully engaged audience.
If you're looking for a military-style shooter that offers something genuinely different; one with a smart narrative pull in an evocative world that borrows from the very best, you'll struggle to go wrong with Homefront. The campaign length is an obvious let-down, as is Kaos's refusal to let the player find their own way - but the quality of the multiplayer is a fine counterweight to both.
We'd be over the moon to see Homefront return brighter, ballsier and more self-assured in the next few years. Except for Connor, that is. Fighting for the freedom of the people is made all the tougher when the grunting buffoon to your right deserves to be locked away for good.
Homefront launch date: Out now on PC, PS3 and xBox
Homefront price: £35-£40 online
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