Homefront Makes Me Mad

Aarrrgh, there be spoilers ahead!

Republished from IGN.com...

A while ago, I knew someone who grew up in a city in Poland. While she recounted her childhood, she told me about seeing tanks stationed throughout different neighborhoods and rolling through the streets. As I listened, I couldn't imagine something like that happening here in the United States.

No matter what your opinion of our government, we haven't ever been occupied by another country. Most of us who have grown up here haven't seen the literal aspects of war on a daily basis. War, to most Americans (less so for many Europeans), is much more abstract and distant; we see news reports on TV and the Internet, protesters on the street and higher gas prices. Regardless of how much the media may put forth the idea of "Us versus Them" when it comes to conflicts around the world, I doubt that many of us imagine that we'll be invaded by a foreign power. Homefront, by THQ and KAOS Studios examines what could possibly happen were our fears of invasion realized.

The story takes place in 2026, but starts out by bringing the player up to speed on what's happened in the last 15 years through video footage of news reports and some snazzy motion graphics. Major events such as the death of Kim Jong-Il and the rise of his son, Kim Jong-Un, the unification of North and South Korea, the fall of Japan and ever rising conflict in the Middle East are all displayed in gritty sequences that display the progression of Korea's military growth.
Then, under the guise of launching a communication satellite, Korea detonates an EMP over the United States, disabling all electronics, and swatting planes out of the sky. Hawaii is the first to fall, followed by San Francisco as Korean forces slowly make their way east until they reach the irradiated Mississippi River and are forced to stop. The game starts as the player, a pilot living in Colorado, is accosted and thrown down the stairs from his apartment by the KPA, The Korean People's Army.

Thats when it gets ugly.

When I bought the game at my local Gamestop, my friend Tom warned me that there were a few scenes that might make me feel uncomfortable. I reassured him that I'd be OK, having played the controversial "No Russian" mission, and been OK, if maybe a little shaken. Tom looked at me, and said, "Still... It's a bit heavy...". I was actually surprised by this, as I'm a reasonably healthy, socially and morally stable 31 year old. I went ahead and bought the game.

You start out being thrown down a flight of stairs, herded onto a bus, and driven through a Colorado Town. While being transported, the player is shown a jarring scene of the occupied United States. Citizens are rounded up into cages, shot in the street, beaten, abused and humiliated. This continues until the bus that you're on is attacked, and you're set free by rebel forces, and the gameplay starts.

The upsetting scenes don't stop there, however. You're fighting on American soil, and Kaos Studios does their best to remind you of that. You fight your way through suburbs, through a White Castle and Hooters, supermarkets and stadiums. At one point, you see a bulldozer filling a mass grave with american bodies. One of your team finally loses his mind and starts shooting off rounds.

While these visions of human atrocity are unfortunately something that most of us have seen in newsreels and textbooks, (and for the unluckiest of us, first-hand), never before have we seen this happen on our home soil. I found that while I was playing, I became more and more upset with what I was seeing. This game was suddenly a lot more personal.

This could have been my neighborhood. A character mentions as he enters a labor camp that he saw his dentist there the week before. This all made me think; why is it that we as gamers become so desensitized while we play modern war games like Call of Duty, Socom and Battlefield, (which all are essentially the same game as Homefront, except for the setting), yet we feel no personal remorse or attachment to the cause? Does framing a story in our own backyard add legitimacy to any potential feelings of discomfort or anger? What do countries like Russia and France feel when they see our games? What about the middle east? We as gamers feel quite at ease sprinting through the dusty, sun-bleached maps of Battlefield: Bad Company 2, gunning down insurgents, or knifing Russian soldiers in Call of Duty. Yet, why did I feel so personally molested seeing the Korean People's Army driving tanks through my back yard in a video game?

I haven't yet finished Homefront, and to be honest, I have a hard time playing it. After the mass grave scene, I can't imagine what else Kaos Studio may throw at me. One thing is for sure though. They touched a nerve. And by doing so, they force me not only to reexamine what I enjoy about common realistic military games, but what I would do were this a reality. While I may never see North America invaded during my lifetime, it's not an impossible thing. Do Americans have the will and the bravery to defend our country, were it attacked, and our government toppled? I hope that I never have to find out.