Part two is here.
As a part of my regular effort to avoid work yet nonetheless self-justify slacking as ‘work-related,’ I played Homefront this summer at home on vacation. Unfortunately, it has been banned in SK (where it would make millions, I have no doubt). I wrote about it earlier when it was released and there was controversial buzz around it. Readers will recall that it is a first-person shooter in which you play an American resistance guerilla fighting against a North Korean occupation force in the US. Through a (rather ludicrous) series of geopolitical twists, NK manages to reunify with SK under Northern leadership, then pull Japan and Southeast Asia into a ‘Greater Korean Republic,’ and then sail across the Pacific (!) in order to invade the US which has been crippled by a massive oil shock resulting from a Saudi-Iranian war. If you are genuinely interested in the details of this future ‘counterfactual,’ the wiki write-up is good. For the idiot fan-boy, ‘this could really happen, dude!’ version, try here. As a website about Korean security, I thought this would be off-beat to discuss.
As for a review of the game itself, it got 70% from Metacritic. That sounds about right to me. The gameplay is like most other shooters, and I found the long distance between checkpoints had me re-playing too many sequences again and again. The real hook is the apocalyptic, over-the-top environment. In play, it is basically a nastier, crueler version of the already fairly cruel Modern Warfare series. As I said in my commentary on Bay’s Transformers 3, I believe one reason contemporary geopolitical games and films show increasing levels of gleeful brutality and unnecessary cruelty is US disillusionment with the GWoT. After a decade of torture, wounded veterans, and exhaustion with the ‘recalcitrance’ of the Middle East to its ‘liberation,’ the Americans who ‘hoo-rahed’ at bin Laden’s death are ready for geopolitical viciousness as entertainment. So forget Halo’s goofy aliens or having tea with Afghan village elders – let’s get down to kicking the crap out of the axis of evil.
The influences on the game will be immediately apparent to anyone in IR who lived through the 1980s and will provide regular camp laughs of nostalgic recognition. The story is ridiculously cheesy, because it is basically a re-tread of the Red Dawn scenario which feels wildly out of place today. Made during the height of the second cold war, that 1984 film, featuring a Soviet ground invasion of North America in the mid-80s, was already pushing reality enough, but here the story just goes off the rails, because NK is so preposterous in the USSR role. Can anyone really imagine NK helicopters flying air patrol over the ‘American zone’ of occupied Denver? I’m not even sure what means… It’s just too improbable to pull you in. Indeed one wonders why the invader wasn’t the far-more-obvious China, but I guess you can’t annoy the world’s biggest emerging market…
In the wake of 9/11 and given NK’s well-know weakness, the scenario is ludicrous. The ‘Norks’ (a suitably racist replacement for today’s ‘haji’) are shown doing stuff that modern gamers won’t even recognize as Cold War-tropes and motifs (re-education camps, house-to-house round-ups, a stalinist cult of personality). Modern Warfare and 24 have your standard issue, post-9/11 terrorists to give them immediacy and edge (and racism), but how many people will identify with a NK-cum-Soviet invasion of America in 2011? Playing it made me feel like a tween again, worried about whether we needed bomb shelter in our backyard.
(A bonus bizarro addition is the game’s sponsorship by Hooters [wait, what?]. Its restaurants show up in the game, generating even more surrealistically dissonant dialogue like ‘take out the sniper in the Hooters’ lobby.’ Hah!)
The writer of Red Dawn was John Milius, and he wrote this game as well. He even wrote a book for the game, in case you need more killing in the name of freedom. Homefront has all the traits of campy, right-wing cold war paranoia that Milius is known for and that IR types old enough to remember the 80s will recognize immediately. There are heroic resistance fighters in a masked nod to the mujahideen, contras, and other ‘freedom fighters’ against communism whom the US sponsored back in the day. Pol Pot-style death camps are included (!). The survivalist, NRA (National Rifle Association) gun-culture machismo that informed Red Dawn is back; lots of cut scenes show an ‘armed citizenry’ guarding their homes and lounging with their weapons. The enemy of America is once again communists, and somehow those communists manage to launch an transoceanic invasion of the US homeland. There are commie agit-prop signs up throughout the game, like ‘Praise to the Dear Leader’ and ‘Rejoice at the Korean-American Reeducation Facility.’ These are in proper Korean and provoke great laughs of 80s recognition mixed with sheer campiness for rendering NK agitprop into a surreal US occupation setting. The antagonists even speak in a NK accent. But it all feels like such a weird stalinist throwback in the current age of terror and al Qaeda, that it’s more like watching ‘I Love the 80s’ than a edgy contemporary video game. Someone remind Milius that Brezhnev died 3 decades ago.
Please continue to Part two.