Last week I reviewed Homefront’s singleplayer campaign, and this week it’s time for the other side of the coin: Homefront’s multiplayer.
You’d be excused for thinking Homefront’s multiplayer looks pretty much like that of any other current gen shooter: Thirty-two players on two teams, armed with the standard variety of modern-day firearms, vehicles and perks, let loose to fight over control points or just rack up the kills. Look a little closer though, and behind ingredients plucked from Call of Duty or Battlefield you’ll see some sweeter streaks that are all Homefront’s own.
Homefront’s Special Sauce
One of the most obvious additions is the Battle Points system. Where experience points are awarded after each match, allowing you to level up and unlock new weapons and perks, Battle Points or BP are awarded during the match itself. Everything you do in the game is awarded with BP, from killing enemies to capturing points and achieving kill streaks. Once attained, BP can be spent as needed on airstrikes, rocket launchers, controllable drones or equipment like flak jackets. If a tank’s causing your team problems, you can simply buy the RPG you need to take it down instead of having to die and respawn as your AT class. Likewise, if you just can’t get past an enemy sniper, you can immediately buy a drone with the BP you’ve earned and take him down.
You can also choose to spend your BP to spawn in a humvee, tank or helicopter, instead of waiting around for the vehicle to respawn. The more powerful rewards are proportionally expensive, so it’s rare that a player will be able to keep paying for the next helicopter with the kills he’s getting now. Overall, the system is a clean improvement on the standard killstreak reward system, as it allows more aggressive players, who get a lot of kills but also die a lot, to get the same rewards that in Call of Duty would only be given to the most cautious of players.
Like others in the genre, Homefront features selectable perks. Instead of the Call of Duty system, where perks are assigned to one of three slots, Homefront assigns each perk a point value based on its utility; a perk that increases your gained experience costs three points to equip, where a perk that increases your reload speed is only one point. You are given four points to play with, increasing to five at level twenty-five, so you can choose to have a few expensive perks, a large number of cheaper ones, or some mixture of the two. This freedom means that you can experiment with many more combinations than are possible in slot based systems. Again, this feels like a solid improvement over the Call of Duty and Battlefield system.
Homefront features two multiplayer modes: Ground Control and Team Deathmatch. Ground Control resembles Conquest mode from Battlefield or Domination from Call of Duty – teams compete over three control points on the map; the more control points you control, the faster your team’s score will increase. Once one team’s score reaches a given threshold, that team scores a point and the action moves to the next set of control points. This progression keeps things fresh, like Battlefield’s Rush game mode, as you’ll have to change your tactics with your environment. Team Deathmatch is the standard affair, with two teams competing to rack up the most kills.
To make things more interesting, both Ground Control and Team Deathmatch can be mashed up with another mode called Battle Commander. Like the Director in Left 4 Dead, the Battle Commander is the computerized leader of your team, who monitors the action and gives out small, optional missions to individual soldiers as the game progresses. These missions generally revolve around taking out high-value enemy targets (players on kill streaks) and holding down areas of the battlefield. For each mission you complete, you are awarded Battle Points, bonuses like increased movement speed or armor and the opportunity to undertake harder but better paying missions. It’s a very cool mechanic that motivates players to try new things, something that’s a challenge for any competitive first person shooter. It also prevents players from camping in a given area, as each kill order is accompanied by a representation of the killer’s approximate position.
How’s the game, though?
While Homefront’s multiplayer is conceptually sound and a lot of fun, it doesn’t get everything right in the execution.
As I wrote in the singleplayer review, the shooting lacks proper feedback and doesn’t feel quite right. Each weapon category has only a few examples represented; where Battlefield Bad Company 2 sports sniper rifles that are bolt action, semi-automatic and fully automatic, not to mention silenced, unsilenced and anti-vehicle, as well as your choice of a 1x, 4x, 6x or 12x scope. Homefront provides just two sniper rifles, with no choice of scopes or other attachments. As someone that spends a lot of time trying to find unorthodox weapon attachment and perk combinations, Homefront seems a bit shallow on the customisability front, although the excellent perk system does go some way in remedying this.
The maps also lack polish and character when compared to Battlefield and Call of Duty. Despite its novel setting, the backyards of Korean-occupied middle America, none of the maps are particularly memorable or distinguished. While it’s nice to get away from the typical array of jungle, snow and desert, few of the maps do anything interesting with the environment; there are no sewer systems to creep down or vast public buildings to snipe from. I’m also surprised that perhaps the nicest level of the game, the Golden Gate bridge, doesn’t make an appearance as a multiplayer level. Having only two game modes is also a disappointment; while I can live without the odious capture-the-flag and pointless racing modes, it would have been nice to see a mode fitting the game’s guerrilla stylings.
Technically, Homefront is capable but not astounding; the graphics and sound aren’t going to win any awards, but you won’t find them inadequate either. On PC, I found that I had to turn either my settings or resolution way down to make multiplayer playable, but I am on the cusp of the requirements, so this may not be surprising. Finding and connecting to a server, a task that on PC is handled by the excellent Steam framework, was rarely a problem for me, but I’ve heard reports of connectivity issues on the 360 and particularly on the PS3. One issue that dogs the PC release is the use of aimbots and other cheating software; luckily I’ve not found these to be widespread, and playing on servers with active administrators ensures they’re not a problem for long. Another annoying issue is the stat tracking; often you’ll have spent a few rounds on a server unlocking the next few attachments on your weapon, but then find that none of them have registered when you check after leaving the server.
Homefront feels like a game that was somewhat rushed in development; there are a lot of good ideas here, but the game is just lacking that extra bit of polish, those extra few guns or levels, that would really allow it contend with the big franchises. It’s not easy competing against the titans of the genre, but Homefront is a commendable second effort by the studio and a definite improvement from their previous title, Frontlines: Fuel of War. While Homefront’s multiplayer isn’t quite as polished as a Call of Duty or Battlefield title, Kaos have done well in combining industry standards with their own innovations like Battle Points and Battle Commander to produce a unique and fun multiplayer experience.
Homefront was reviewed on a PC running Windows 7, and fitted with a 3GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Geforce 9800 GTX in SLI, and 8GB of DDR2 RAM. Review copy was provided by THQ UK.