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NEW YORK CITY – THQ-owned Kaos Studios has just unleashed Homefront, a controversial new first-person shooter for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
The game has already been banned in South Korea.
But after setting a record for pre-orders for the publisher in the U.S. with over 200,000 copies reserved before today’s launch, it’s off to a strong start. In its first 24 hours, THQ sold over 375,000 copies of Homefront in North America. The game ships internationally throughout this week. THQ needs to sell about 2 million copies of the Mature-rated title to make back its $35 million-plus investment, the most it has ever spent on a game.
The publisher has already released a Homefront novel through Titan Publishing, which was written by Hollywood scribe John Milius (who also worked on the game’s storyline) and Raymond Benson. The novel is set two years before the new game and follows the journey of journalist Ben Walker, who experiences the initial North Korean attack on the U.S. in 2025.
Danny Bilson, executive vice president of core games at the game publisher, is interested in turning the novel into a TV mini-series. SyFy is a prime candidate, since they’re already partnering with THQ on a TV project based on its Red Faction game franchise.
In the Homefront game, the action is set in 2027, two years into the North Korean occupation of the United States. While this science-fiction scenario may at first seem crazy, the developer worked with former CIA officer Tae Kim to create a potential future nightmare that’s very much grounded in real-world current events and political machinations.
Kim, who serves as a creative and storyline consultant on the game, said that the timeline he has created with Kaos Studios and Milius between now and 2025 is one potential future. The game picks up two years after North Korea invades and occupies Honolulu and then establishes a stronghold in San Francisco and takes over key military bases throughout the Western United States.
It’s a scenario unlike anything ever seen in a videogame to date. And although the game has been in development for several years, real-world activities like the recent sinking of a South Korean ship by a North Korean submarine have added an eerie layer of reality behind the fictional events in this new shooter.
“We created this world in which Kim Jong II dies and his son, Jong Un, unites North and South Korea, taking control of its economy, military personnel and hardware,” said Kim. “At the same time, the U.S. economy is in a decline and there’s a pullback of the U.S. influence and military bases overseas that North Korea is able to take advantage of. In the Middle East, a new conflict between Israel and Iran ties up the European powers and Russia. The U.S. has withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving a power vacuum. China, which has invested so much in the U.S., has become entrenched internally trying to contend with a massive recession that’s the result of the U.S. turmoil.”
Kim points to Japan’s rise to power in Asia during World War II as a historical precedent that North Korea follows within the game universe. The country becomes a huge, military-based superpower with nuclear capabilities by taking control of Japan and other Asian territories over the course of a few years. This natural build-up sets up a scenario in which the occupation of the U.S. is not something that happened overnight.
“North Korea launches an EMP attack, which is essentially a nuclear explosion in space that wipes out all electronics and communications in the U.S. and grounds all aircraft and military vehicles,” explained Kim. “Because North Korea launched this bomb inside a satellite that orbited the planet for several years and no one takes credit for the EMP, there is a lot of finger-pointing but no one to blame. The U.S. has its suspects, but they can’t prove anything.”
In addition, when North Korea takes over South Korea, a lot of U.S. nationals have been captured. North Korea agrees to return these hostages to Hawaii using cargo ships. But this ploy ends up being a Trojan horse, because the cargo ships are filled with soldiers and military vehicles. They land on the beaches of Waikiki and take over Hawaii. With communications down from the EMP, the U.S. military can’t mount a counter-attack without risking its own people.
“When the North Koreans land in San Francisco, they immediately take U.S. hostages to limit the amount of counter-attacks the U.S. military can stage,” said Kim. “To ensure that the East Coast, which is free from invasion, remains isolated from the conflict in the West, North Korea drops radioactive iodine into the Mississippi River and literally splits the country in half. This kills off all life in and around the river and makes it impossible for anyone to cross without special radioactive gear and equipment.”
It’s within this nightmarish landscape that players are challenged with a very different first-person shooter experience. Players join up with a group of U.S. freedom fighters based in Montrose, Colorado, two years after the occupation. Montrose is a key location in the game world because it’s a shale mining stronghold, and with oil depleted, North Korea needs shale for energy. Ultimately, the game’s journey will span the West Coast as these fighters work their way to San Francisco in a mission that’s crucial for America’s hope of regaining control of its homeland.
“What’s really cool about this game is that we’ve created a gigantic world and the single-player game is a small part of that,” said Bilson. “The game’s about four people trying to move some fuel from Colorado to San Francisco, where some other resistance members have re-captured some equipment that needs fuel so they can start the assault on the Golden Gate Bridge and try to begin and take back San Francisco.”
While Kaos Studios has mapped out this very well-researched backstory on the North Korea occupation, Rex Dickson, lead level designer on Homefront, said the game is about Americans and how civilians respond under occupation.
“We’ve created a very different landscape, where you have a twisted take on iconic American imagery like suburbs and strip malls,” said Dickson. “But they’re abandoned or burned out. And a baseball field might have a North Korean flag hanging from it.”
This game is just the beginning for Homefront. Bilson said development is already underway for a sequel, which won’t even deal with the same characters.
“It takes place on the other side of the Mississippi — nobody knows what’s going on over there because the North Koreans have irradiated the Mississippi with radioactive iodine and nobody can cross it without a hazmat suit,” said Bilson. “It’s very interesting stuff.”
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