I really do hate to hold up Half-Life 2 as the Alpha and Omega of shooters. I know not all games need to be Half-Life. In fact, having too many Half-Life knock-offs would be just as bad as too many Call of Duty knock-offs. But Half-Life 2 has so many important lessons that these other games need to learn.
The weapon diversity isn’t. It’s just a bunch of gray assault rifles. (So far. I’ve only played the first hour of the game.) I was bored by them before I ever pulled the trigger. Keep in mind, the premise of Homefront is that the United States has been invaded. One problem you would not have in that scenario would be an overly homogeneous selection of firearms. Revolvers. Pistols. Machine pistols. Automatic weapons. Shotguns. Hunting rifles. The United States is famous for many things, but a shortage of diverse firearms isn’t one of them. This game had every excuse to give us a really eclectic selection of weapons, and instead it’s a bunch of guns that look and feel the same.
(Imagine Half-Life 2 with only the two machine guns. The .357 magnum was a ton of fun to use. The kick was tremendous and the reload was perilously long, but if you were sure you could hit your target, it was an expedient problem-solver. The shotgun, the crossbow, the crowbar, the magnum, the combine assault rifle, the standard machine gun. All different. Each had their place.)
The pacing here is absurd. It’s constant chaos. Game developers: Play Valve’s ‘Lost Coast’ tech demo and listen to the developer commentary. It talks about putting players into “arenas”, those areas of the gameworld where they’re expected to have an encounter. Sometimes the fight begins when they enter. Other times they can explore and get to know the space. These times of exploration give the player a breather so that the intense moments can feel genuinely intense, and not like more of the same.
While you’re listening to that commentary, start up Half-Life 2, Episode 1 and listen to the commentary during the first level or two. The artists at Valve had this figured out years ago: Don’t have your characters harass and pester the player. The player will come to resent it. Let them move at their own pace and think for themselves. They’re trying to have fun. Trust them to know what they want.
The levels are in a straightjacket. (Again, maybe it gets better later, although that’s no excuse for having it be like this for so long.) I never felt like I had any freedom to make tactical decisions. The guys stood over there. My cover was over here. Play peek-a-boo until they all die. I didn’t see opportunities to flank the enemy. You certainly cant rush them with a shotgun in this type of game. When I finished a fight I didn’t see other ways it could have played out, or wonder about other ways of doing things.
The production values in this game are tremendous. I loved the premise. The idea of fighting a battle in a Hooters restaurant is inspired. Putting the player on the side of the guerrillas, fighting against a technologically superior enemy was a great way to give us something different. But the designer ignored the lessons Valve has been giving away for free, and what we end up with feels like a rail shooter with manual steering.
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.
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