Monday, November 7, 2011

Decline and Fall

I play video games. I've resisted reviewing any here because, despite the many technological advances over the years, it remains a very limited art form. Bad games just aren't worth talking about and the good ones can almost universally be summed up with "Boom! Ahahahahaha!" This isn't a bad thing. Good stupid fun is more valuable than people will openly admit but it's kept Hollywood in business for decades.

Homefront stands out not because it's uncommonly good - it's quite commonly bad, as games go - but rather it stands as an expression of some rarely admitted pathologies in American culture. Namely that we are paranoid, fantasy-addicted, two-fisted cowards.

Set in the distant future of 2020-something, Homefront depicts an America under occupation by the evil empire of North Korea. So from the start, it's just plain silly. The opening movie goes to great length to depict how every nightmare of the survivalist libertarian subculture will come to pass but seriously - North Korea? They're a failed state ruled by a histrionic drag queen and full of starving peasants. Mauritania is a bigger international threat.

But the private fiefdom of the Kims is commie - and the only commie state it's safe to hate anymore. I remember reading somewhere that the villain was originally China but seeing as they own a big market share of the imploding US empire, Beijing had final cut on the matter.

Why commies anyway? Aren't the official villains still terrorists? Well, see, this is all an off-shoot of a previous reactionary fantasy by one John Milius (who consulted on the game - and by "consulted" I mean "stopped by to talk up his own awesomeness like the fascist twerp he is") called Red Dawn. Back then it was the Soviets, a serious enemy who could very well have pulled off an invasion of the continental United States. If they weren't already in rapid imperial decline themselves.

We're clearly in la-la land from the get-go but that's not as bad as it sounds. Popular entertainment is a big mixing pot of pure fantasy, sometimes with pretensions of being something more. Homefront certainly has those pretensions as demonstrated by its opening cut-scene, a rapid fire future history that would please any Bircher or Paultard with its doomsday paranoia. A "Unified Korea" conquers Japan and every thing else in the Pacific (though there is conspicuously no mention of China) before laying the smack-down on the US - who apparently can't retaliate with its ginormous nuclear arsenal due to peak oil or something. Really.

So great storytelling this is not. When a game or film is this far into stupid territory, you have to rely on some stellar characters to carry things through. Homefront does not deliver on that count at all, bringing us a batch of Saturday morning cliches that are at turns bland and obnoxious, best typified by one Connor T. Douchepuppet (which may not officially be his full name). Connor is, to put it simply, an asshole. And not even a complicated asshole - he's loud, stupid, and convinced of his own impeccable heroism no matter how many civvies he frags. A perfect metaphor of American conservatism and I'd hazard to guess a self-insertion by John Milius as only an American Fascist - pompous without dignity, brutal without honor, belligerent without a fucking clue of how to properly fight - could find anything appealing in this. His counter-part functions as the Obama of the piece, a muddling centrist you can project any virtues you like onto because he won't be around long enough to grow his own character.

Now a reactionary story does not necessarily make for a bad game. The 2010 reboot of Medal of Honor is a blatant suckjob for JSOC but it is still undeniably fun to play (and visually gorgeous).

Thanks Blu-Ray!
Homefront, by contrast, is a chore to play at best. The controls are sloppy, the difficulty of the enemies fluctuates, and every time a rifle is fired it sounds like the Tin Man farting - which feels like the game taunting you since the aiming mechanics are shit anyway. The only conclusion to be drawn from this mess is that the development team was so enamored with the juvenile strutting of Milius that they forgot to make an actual game.

A miserable failure that remains up-its-own-ass in unwarranted confidence. Yep, that's America baby!

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