homefront.jpg[“The Blue Key” is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch column from writer Connor Cleary. In this piece, he examines how Homefront failed to play to its own strengths and criticizes their poor implementation of the "Hidden Treasures" mechanic.]

When stacked up against other modern shooters, Homefront is average or worse in almost every category. The graphics aren't all that impressive, everything from character designs to asset textures feel outdated. It isn't an ugly game exactly, it just isn't anything to gawk over, and paled against the FPS heavy hitters.

Level designs are repetitive, linear and highly constraining, meaning there are very few tactical options in any given battle. Controls are slightly less responsive than they could be, and the weapon selection isn't exactly thrilling.

Also, the campaign clocks in at only around five or six hours—granted, this isn't much longer than Modern Warfare 2, but unlike MW2, Homefront isn't brimming with extra content.

Despite its many weak points, there are two areas where Homefront has an upper-hand: story, and emotional impact. The opening scene is infuriating and painful to watch. I won't ruin any of it for you – I'm sure you could find a YouTube video of it if you're so inclined – but it will suffice to say that I couldn't wait to get my hands on a gun and make the bastards pay. It didn't end there either, the game has plenty of emotionally charged imagery to throw at you to get your hackles up and get you in the mood for some rebellion.

Doesn't everyone love a story of rebellion against brutal, tyrannical overlords? Doesn't everyone love a story about a rag-tag group of passionate fighters taking on a superior force against all odds? I know I do. Unfortunately, Homefront failed to play to its own strengths, opting instead to be a Call of Duty clone.

If we look at Homefront as a kind of case study, there's a lot we can learn from it. There wasn't anything glaringly wrong with Homefront's gameplay, it simply had no chance of matching up against the top-of-the-line competitors like the Call of Duty and Halo franchises in the realm of gameplay and production value.

Let's face it, the FPS market is generally run by the guys with the biggest budgets. So what's a studio to do if they're not one of the big dogs with the deep pockets? Well it's easier said than done, but they have to have something to set them apart, something that makes their game unique. For Homefront, as I said, this was plot and back-story.

However, the game forces you to make a lose/lose choice when it comes to back-story. Instead of finding better ways to incorporate the history of the nearish-future world in which Homefront takes place, they chose to utilize the ill-advised (and in this case, poorly implemented) Hidden Treasures mechanic—which I have commented on in a previous column. In order to discover what happened during the decades between our present-day and Homefront's present-day, you have to search for newspapers that are hidden in inconvenient places.

The problem here is that searching for and picking up a newspaper completely breaks the flow of the game, which is really unfortunate because good pacing was another one of the few things that Homefront had going for it. The best example I can think of is this: At one point, you're running-and-gunning in a mad dash to escape a burning building that is literally falling down around you. But if you look behind a staircase the game pauses so you can read a newspaper... while the building is engulfed in flames!

This implementation forces the player to make a choice between immersion/momentum or back-story. So you have two options: One, you can ignore the newspapers, miss out on the back-story altogether, and just go with the flow of the game. Or two, you can ignore the pacing of the game and scour every obscure corner of every single room for a bunch of newspaper articles.

Taken as a whole, the back-story that is represented piecemeal by the newspaper clippings is really quite fascinating, and it was something I was genuinely interested in. Unfortunately the articles themselves aren't the most engaging reading material, and I wasn't about to sacrifice my gaming experience to find them.

To give you an idea of how out-of-the-way the articles are: I decided to try the middle road between the two options I mentioned above. I always gave a cursory glance to my surroundings to look for newspapers, but I wasn't about to lose every bit of momentum for the sake of hunting them down, and by the end of the game I had found less than half of the articles.

Homefront had its unique angle, but didn't use it—they got their priorities backwards..

Despite everything, Homefront's campaign is probably worth playing, it just isn't worth paying full price for. I think that THQ and Kaos Studios might have been better served by releasing their game with a reduced price tag, and Homefront might be a good argument for variable pricing in gaming—but that's a whole other can of worms.

As a final thought, I should also mention that I have never felt so blatantly advertised at by a game before, that is to say Homefront went a little crazy on the product placement. But then again, it all might have been worth it just to hear someone yell “We've got hostiles in the Hooters!”