Could Homefront 2 be good? A tale of hype, parties, and disappointment

When I first heard about Homefront, I thought the premise sounded interesting. You’re part of the resistance, fighting against the Greater Korean Republic’s occupation of most of what was formerly the United States. According to the game, Kim Jong-un rules North Korea after Kim Jong-il dies. After a war breaks out in the middle east affecting oil supply, most first-world countries are thrown into disarray. Kim Jong-un reunites the divided Koreas into the Greater Korean Republic, takes over Japan, and eventually takes annexes most of Southeast Asia. As the economy of the United States deteriorates, the GKR hits the United States with a huge EMP, launches an amphibious attack on the US’s west coast, and drops soldiers over much of the US.

If the story wasn’t enough to hype me, the party was. I went to E3 the year THQ was pushing Homefront. In fact, THQ was huge. They had the largest presence of any third-party video game software company. I was invited to attended THQ’s Homefront party which was on the roof of a large hotel. I was greeted by the sight of Korean flags and Korean soldiers guarding the hotel. After getting in line, I was given my rights booklet, Subject’s Guide from Your Glorious Occupiers of the New Korean Federation. This booklet outlined my rights under the New Korean Federation and gave an idea of what the world in the game would be like. We were then escorted to the rooftop where there were a few soldiers but mostly a lively party. There was a bar, lots of food (including Pink’s Hot Dogs), and a rooftop pool. A Japanese man who spoke little English walked right into the pool thinking it was glass-covered. Not only did he manage to keep his drinks from spilling, but he also drank them as soon as he stopped laughing. He was a good sport! At one point in the evening, Korean guards marched US prisoners of war through the party. Of course, they were booth babes scantily clad female soldiers.

This had the effect THQ and developer Kaos Studios indended; I was hyped about the game. No, I wasn’t about to lie and give it a gleaming review without playing it, but I was sure excited and willing to try it. When it was finally released, I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

I played the PC version, developed my Digital Extremes. It was full of many bugs, which largely consisted of terrible AI. I remember two parts in particular. Once, I was told to climb a ladder. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my character to start climbing. When I turned around, I was trapped my a friendly NPC and couldn’t get past him. After much maneuvering, I managed to get past him, and he began to climb the ladder. Only then was I allowed to climb the ladder. Apparently I was supposed to follow that NPC. Never mind the fact that I reached the ladder first. At another point, I was in a closed area, a stadium perhaps, fighting enemy soldiers. After I killed the soldiers, the game played the sound effect that indicated I had killed the last enemy and reached a checkpoint. However, nothing else happened. Usually there was some dialogue as the game progressed. I wandered around a little and came across an enemy performing the same half second animation over and over, clearly stuck. I killed him, and the game played that same little sound again. This time the game let me continue.

No bug was absolutely game-breaking, but it was disappointing to see terrible AI and glitches. In addition, parts of the story were a little dumb such as vehicle-related segments that seemed out of place. Worse yet, I never did understand how the Greater Korean Republic managed to take such a massive country as the United States.

Still, the plot was interesting, and the game was moderately fun. The single-player consisted of a six-hour campaign that ended on a high note without actually ending the war. It was the perfect setup for a continuing series.

Looking back on it now, it sounds decent enough. However, I know I felt pretty angry at it at the time. I’m sure I’m forgetting specifics about how annoying the bugs were, but I think the fact that the game was hyped so much made it feel even worse when the game didn’t turn out to be fantastic. In June of 2011 I wrote that Homefront was on sale on Steam for 50% off at $24.99 and was definitely not worth the price. I claimed that you should borrow it from someone or wait until it’s on sale for $2. (The game is currently $19.99, and I have mixed feelings. That still seems a bit high!)

The reviews were mixed, but mine was lower than average. However, most people realized that the game didn’t live up to THQ’s claims. There were also problems for Kaos Studios. Rob Zacny of Polygon wrote a fascinating piece on Polygon back in November of 2012 about the development of Homefront titled Death March: The Long, Tortured Journey of Homefront. It’s an excellent read for anyone interested in how management of a game development team can go sour.

Most people probably know that THQ has fallen from its mighty heights. Earlier this month THQ sold the rights to its intellectual properties to the highest bidders. Alexander Sliwinski of Joystiq reports that the Homefront IP was purchased by Crytek for half a million dollars. Why are they interested? Crytek has been developing Homefront 2.

I’m curious about what this means. Samit Sarkar wrote a piece on Polygon about Nick Button-Brown, general manager of games at Crytek, speaking to VG247 about the sale and Homefront 2. Butter-Brown claims that “progress is great” and that Crytek purchased the Homefront IP “because the game is coming along so well.” The game must be looking good for Crytek to invest half a million dollars in purchasing the IP, right? This gives me hope. Or at least, it did when I first thought about it.

Crytek has spent time and money developing Homefront 2. The Joystiq piece I linked earlier specifically shows that there was no runner-up for the bid of the Homefront property. If no one purchased Homefront (or if someone else put in a very low bid), it would be likely that Homefront 2 would be canceled, and Crytek’s time and money would have been wasted. If Homefront 2 makes at least half a million dollars, they’ll be breaking even. The game could be flop, and it might still be worth the half a million dollars that Crytek invested.

Why didn’t other companies bid? Was it because the game is looking bad or because sales are expected to be low regardless? I don’t know for sure, but the fact there was no runner-up looks bad to me. On the other hand, critics have received Crytek’s games much better than they received Homefront.

While it’s too soon to know for sure, I think there’s hope for Homefront. I’m far from convinced, but I’ll keep an eye on it.

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