By Jared Newman | Friday, November 5, 2010 at 4:35 pm
Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo has a fascinating preview of Homefront, which he describes as “a war game that gets closer to what is awful about war, not just about what victors celebrate.”
Homefront is about a unified Korea’s invasion and occupation of America. That alone isn’t a novel idea — Russia was America’s occupant in Freedom Fighters — but Kaos Studios is apparently trying not to sugar-coat war’s harsh realities. In the game’s opening sequence, a mother pleas with her child to turn away before she and her husband are lined up and shot by Korean troops. Later, the player witnesses Korean Americans confined to a U.S. internment camp, an allusion to the United States’ treatment of Japanese Americans during World War 2.
Okay, so Homefront wants to be a serious game about war, and to move beyond simple entertainment, but it won’t be the first game in recent memory to try.
EA’s Medal of Honor treaded close to reality, sculpting itself after real-life conflicts in Afghanistan. But instead of concentrating on the horrors of war, the game was “military porn” according to Wired’s Chris Kohler, and “propaganda lavishing praise on our soldiers” according to Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera.
Before that, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 forced players to gun down throngs of innocent civilians at an airport, as a way to earn a Russian terrorist’s favor. Alas, the attempt to shock and provoke players was delivered without context, wrapped in a story that otherwise didn’t inspire deep reflection. The mission was a failure.
And who could forget Six Days in Fallujah? The game’s source material came from U.S. Marines who survived a bloody battle, and wanted to tell their story in a medium that reaches young people. The very idea caused a controversy, and Konami withdraw support for the game.
Unlike Six Days and Medal of Honor, Homefront has the luxury of a fictional back story, but that’s a good thing. It’ll allow the developers to tackle touchy topics without setting off a controversy. And despite its made-up setting, the game seems grounded in reality; instead of trying to topple the entire occupation, the player’s goal is merely to transport some fuel for the resistance. That’s thanks in large part John Milius, screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn, who encouraged the developers to dial back the scope. What a refreshing change from gaming’s countless struggles over the fate of humanity and civilization.
As far as serious portrayals of war go, I reserve the right to declare Homefront a failure when it’s released early next year — we’ve certainly been burned by the promise before — but sooner or later, someone’s bound to get it right.