In 1862, William B. Mumford was sentenced to death for removing an American flag. These days the rules aren't quite so extreme, but flying the Star-Spangled Banner upside down can be enough to spark outrage. So I imagine, then, if you were to kick over that stereotypical suburban picket fence, trample the patio lawn and hoist up a big Korean flag right after setting the Stars and Stripes on fire... well, it would be enough to cause a riot.

It's hard to deny that Homefront is trading on obvious shock value. The opening of the game bundles you onto a bus, probably off to some grim labour camp, and then forces you to watch two parents get executed via firing line while their now-orphaned child screams nearby. The occupying Korean force should be more careful: that's how Batmans get made.

Failing the Caped Crusader, I'm willing to bet the heavily-armed American resistance will probably cause its fair share of trouble. Kaos has clearly gone to great efforts in creating a chilling, believable and attention-grabbing vision of an occupied America in 2027. Even the opening scenes of the game are a far more competent portrayal of eroded American society than Modern Warfare 2's lifeless (though spectacular) Burger Town restaurant.

Sometimes the subject matter is particularly striking, and Kaos is insistent on having its America play similar roles to contemporary countries under foreign occupation. For instance, ragtag leader Boone and his gang of resistance fighters hide amongst civilian communities, knowingly (though, it must be said, not willingly) damning the nearby non-combatants to get caught in the crossfire from inevitable Korean retaliation.

This translates into things like a sequence where you defend a house from streaming waves of Koreans while a lone woman (who can't die) runs around with a wailing baby. If Kaos is going to park its heroes smack-bang in the middle of the suburbs, the chilling tone would be better served if the areas were more populated. How far the developer is willing to take its shocking subject matter remains to be seen, of course.

Kaos has made much of the claim that you're not playing through the campaign as Gary McSuperSoldier from the elite branch of the Ultramilitary, but it's clear from the opening level - where it's revealed your character, Robert Jacobs, is a pilot with extensive combat experience - that you're not simply playing as a regular Joe, either. But maybe that's for the best: I'm a normal civilian and, like all normal civilians, if you put a gun in my hands I'd collapse in terror and then go back to thinking about my favourite flavour of Doritos.

While it's certain the story (penned by Red Dawn writer John Milius) will have its own ebb and flow, the supporting cast runs the risk of appearing two-dimensional. Your AI cohorts, Connor and Rianna, run at your side like Good and Bad angels: Connor has no sympathy for civilians too afraid to bear arms, and Rianna basically thinks everyone should just hug it out. The real test will be to see if Kaos can develop the pairing beyond this. Will Rianna, for instance, be forced to see so many atrocities that she grows cold and bitter towards civilians?

There are plenty of potential avenues to explore with Homefront's intriguing universe, and Kaos' unashamed admiration of Half-Life 2 certainly bodes well for some promising storytelling and scripted level design. Where Homefront fails to excite in quite the same way, however, is with its combat.

While Kaos is keen to stress how the AI isn't finished, it's hard to gauge the full weight of its large-scale conflicts when enemies move in predictable ant trails. There were a couple of noticeable set-pieces in the demo where enemies just streamed through a doorway and met their grisly, oblivious ends one-by-one until the game decided to move on.

Even the level's final hurrah - a sequence where you mark targets for a six-wheeled drone to batter with rockets - lacks the required punch, thanks to that clumsy AI. The problem is not that it's easy, but that your opponents don't move around with enough poise and swagger to make themselves believable. It's a shame, as the modified Unreal Engine 3 allows Kaos to fill in the game's scenery with an abundance of attention-grabbing incidental detail.

Still, the regular weapons work a treat: familiar and functional M4s, M249s and SCARs are fired in taut sprays, and bullets land with gory, over-the-top crimson splats when hitting their intended targets - helpful for players to discern what's dead and what needs to be made dead. Explosions fling deceased ragdolls through the air with so much force it borders on slapstick, but guns fire with a devastating buzz rather than a comical bang.

Put all the pieces together, though, and Homefront runs the risk of creating a brilliant, gripping and intricate universe sorely lacking in any tangible entertainment. Still, the shocking subject matter has ensured it becomes one of my most anticipated titles of the next year. Homefront's potential is vast and obvious, but if Kaos really wants to create something memorable it'll need to work on smoothing those rough edges before the game's release in March 2011.

Homefront is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on March 11, 2011.