"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," or so the old proverb goes. It's a sage piece of advice for many walks of life, and it's fairly applicable when playing a first-person shooter online; a reckless attitude here will usually lead to a swift death, a ruined K/D ratio, and a squeal-y headset tantrum for the benefit of your fellow gamers. In the case of Homefront's multiplayer, however, I propose that we revise the adage: "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but if you happen to own a remote-controlled tank then feel free to go wherever you like."
Homefront's combat drones are arguably the stars of its team-based multiplayer larks. Have you ever watched the grown-up news, heard the latest report of a Predator drone utterly obliterating the enemies of Peace and Freedom, and thought, "Ooh, I wish they did them in Argos!"? Yes? Now's your chance to live the dream, baby. Well, that's not exactly true; the drones in Homefront are a good deal smaller that the Predators, though they're still quite deadly. Whether you decide to opt for a tank, or one of the flying 'copter things, they're all about the size of a large household pet. If you wrapped one up in shiny paper, it would probably look pretty sweet under your Christmas tree.
The drones themselves are one of the many things you can buy with Battle Points - the in-game currency that fuels Kaos Studios' attempt at a new take on the team-based FPS. Battle Points are awarded for all the usual achievements - shooting enemies, securing turf markers - with bonuses awarded for revenge kills and the like. Once your points begin to accrue, you can use the D-pad to purchase equipment and drones - your exact options varying depending on your class and chosen loadout. If you're after weapons like RPGs and anti-air launchers, or more impressive toys like drones and surgical strikes, you can summon your prize into battle at any moment that suits you. Alternatively, if you're playing on a map that supports them, you can wait until you die and then opt to respawn inside a vehicle - a Humvee, a tank, or if you're really loaded with points, an attack chopper. If you plump for a vehicle, your teammates will be given the option to spawn straight into an unoccupied seat, so there's no need to zip about on an impromptu recruitment drive before you head into battle.
Once you've bought a weapon or drone it'll stay in your inventory until you've used it, even if you get killed. Your Battle Points are also unaffected by the number of times you snuff it, so even if you're the kind of player who blindly wanders into incoming bullets, you're bound to eventually develop a solid budget. Indeed, if you're really doing badly then the game will offer you discount guns and vehicles; I'd like to think these cut-rate items are provided by Del Boy and Rodney, but you'll have to use your imagination if you want to join in this fantasy; yellow Reliant Robins don't seem to feature on the vehicle list.
People who love their Modern Warfare 2 killstreak chains may moan about this setup, but the fact is it ensures that everyone will eventually get a go with the best kit. Stronger players will still get to the most powerful tools first and, because you get to jump straight into your ride of choice, you don't have to hang around a designated spawn point as if you're waiting for a bus to show up. The Battle Points system also creates a rather pleasing sense of escalation: at the start of a match everyone is on foot, crawling around on their bellies and taking potshots from cover, but by the end of a round everyone seems to be whizzing about in some kind of multi-million dollar death machine.
Homefront's single-player campaign takes place in the year 2027, when much of the US has fallen into the grip of an occupying Korean force (North Korea previously invaded South Korea to create a communist super-state, while the poor Yanks are weakened from being, like, totally brassic). The multiplayer mode, by contrast, is set in the preceding years, when the US military is trying to see off the invaders.
There were two maps on display at THQ's recent showcase: Cul-de-sac was a 12-player (6-vs-6) effort set in a ruined suburban neighbourhood, while the larger Farm saw 16 troopers battling over a rural playground, encompassing a Church, plenty of greenery and - surprise surprise - a farm. The match type, Ground Control, was essentially a round-based variant of Domination - requiring each side to secure and hold three control points: Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. As usual, to capture a point you simply need to clean an area of foes, then wait for a countdown timer to elapse. It's a piece of cake, really; my friends in Soho often complain about the difficulty in securing Charlie, but I couldn't see what the fuss was about.
As you might expect, both maps offered a pleasing degree of verticality - an aspect that became increasingly important as flying drones (and in the case of Farm, helicopters) took to the skies. On first impressions, it seems that there's a variety of ways you can approach each fight. If you want to snipe, the maps offer plenty of good spots - but this tactic will become increasingly risky as flying machines start to pop up.
Obviously it's important to push forward and secure territory, but if you're doing this it's wise to send in a drone first. It's highly satisfying to spot a place where there's bound to be someone camping, and to then assume control of a mini-tank. When you're piloting a drone, whether on the ground or in the sky (the flying ones come in "killer" and "spy" flavours - although these aren't the technical names for them), the game adopts a different aesthetic, as if you're viewing the action through some form of remote camera. At times like these Homefront is quite reminiscent of Modern Warfare 2, although the pace of battle is generally slower, and closer to the likes of the Battlefield series. There is one notable speedy touch, however: there's no respawn timer, so when you die you're free to jump back into the fray immediately.
At this early stage there are still quite a few graphical hitches to the action, but there's a long way to go before the final code falls into our laps. This was the multiplayer reveal event, after all - and as proof of concept this demo did more than enough to convince me of the game's potential. Kaos have announced that it wants to be the Modern Warfare of large-scale ground battles - a ballsy statement of intent if I ever heard one. Still, there's nothing wrong with aiming high, and I'm certainly keen to see how the developers fare. Will they pull it off? Well, I'd commit to a prediction, but you know what they say: fools rush in...