New franchises are always risky. This is especially true if the budget is large and the company places a lot of faith in the release. Clearly, THQ expected new IP Homefront to ride the wave set in motion by Call of Duty and Medal of Honor and take the saturated war genre to the brownscaped next level. As it turns out, much has been made of the lacklustre reviews of Homefront, or at least of its failure to hit the 80-90% sweet spot so desired of video gaming blockbusters. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen has been the laughably short single player campaign. Given the game’s setting – The United States of 2026, following decimation of its infrastructure and invasion by a reunified Korea – you would have thought there would have been plenty to deliver, right? Well, let’s see if this precursor novel does anything to redress the issue…
First of all, before I even started reading I took issue with the plot. I’ve heard the counter-arguments (mainly from THQ themselves) about the fact that this is speculative science-fiction (note the emphasis). Granted, you can get away with a lot in sci-fi, but the general rule is that the more believable something is, the more effective your story.
Only in the mind of the most stalwart fantasist could something like Homefront seem like a remote possibility. The story was originally meant to feature China as the protagonist, but this was changed for fear that relations with economically powerful China might be affected. Instead, the chosen boogeyman was North Korea, who in theory couldn’t hate America any more than they do already. It’s always a worry with real-world nations – regardless of how far into the past or future you set your fiction – that feelings might be hurt, but in my estimation the combination of factors that set the world of Homefront in motion are simply too far-fetched.
Bear in mind that this book is set 15 years in the future. Following the death of North Korea’s present ruler, his son has assumed control and, under the guise of a redeeming progressive, has honed the collective population of what is currently North and South Korea into a vast and unstoppable military giant. Conversely, the USA has been crippled by war in the Middle East and rendered economically bereft. Massive unemployment has created unprecedented crime, homelessness and national stupor.
It’s interesting to consider what the United States might be like if it were the occupied country rather than the occupier, but given the behaviour of the players on both sides of the conflict in Homefront it’s difficult to feel sympathy for either side. In the occupied USA, civilians are randomly butchered, dissenters are publically executed and entire cities are wiped off the face of the map with little or no warning. A lot of people die in this book, so much so that at times it feels like it’s being done for little more than effect. After a while, you can’t help but feel a little preached to.
The main character in the book is Ben Walker, a low-rent journalist who makes stuff up about famous people in order to fuel his bourbon habit. He quits his job just as America falls to Korea, and for the rest of the book he is running for his life from pretty much everyone he meets. As the book skips forward by weeks and months, Ben maintains a diary of his thoughts, which are largely melodramatic and progressively jingoistic. Ben is not a sympathetic character, regardless of the intentions of the authors, and I found myself secretly wishing he’d cop a stray bullet and put me out of this book’s misery. Instead, he travels the breadth of the United States, going from pudgy satirist to passable military man in the space of a few months, surviving despite staggering odds to become the titular Voice of the People by way of his popular radio broadcasts encouraging resistance against the Koreans.
I was bored for the first third of this book, but a couple of interesting developments kept me going. However, the characters are more like caricatures, and with few exceptions are either odious or simply cannon fodder. The Korean agent pursuing Ben across America is an effective bad guy, but even he becomes a little one-dimensional after a while. The prose is cliché-heavy and the dialogue is borderline robotic. The game (and presumably this book) is banned in South Korea, and heavily edited in Japan (who receive a liberal bitch-slapping themselves here) to remove all specific references to the Koreas. It’s hard not to feel a little offended on their behalf, fiction or not. How it took two people – established authors at that – to write this is beyond me.
When you consider that John Milius was allegedly the inspiration for gun-toting vet Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, maybe it shouldn’t surprise you that this book smacks so heavily of right-wing rhetoric. I was half-tempted when summarising my thoughts on this book to simply “mark it zero”, but I thought I might be a little over the line on that one.
MLG Rating: 4/10
Format: Paperback Release Date: Out now