War video games tend to use place in one of two ways. The first method puts players on unfamiliar territory and the battles to save everything you hold dear take place in a faraway land, where you’re taking the fight to a foreign enemy. The other way happens with recognizable places in peril, and delivers moments like the upcoming Grand Central Station boss fight in next year’s Crysis 2. When sending bullets and missile barrages through iconic locations like New York City’s famous transit hub, developers choreograph the destruction with the hopes of triggering an emotional reaction as such renowned structures turn to dust and rubble. (More on Time.com: Top 10 Failed Video Games Consoles)
Kaos Studios takes a slightly different approach in Homefront. Due to be published by THQ in 2011, the first-person shooter starts off in America’s heartland, a region not often portrayed in high-octane AAA video games. Mundane and even forgettable locations are the stages for brutal life-and-death struggles against vicious aggressors, with battles taking place in suburban neighborhoods pockmarked by bullets and in strip malls rent asunder by explosions.
The game’s set in 2027 two years after a coalition led by a unified Korea invades the United States. After becoming one nation again under the charismatic leadership of a young politician, the former North & South Korea expand beyond their borders. This isn’t as implausible as you’d think. Dave Votypka, creative director at Kaos, says that North Korea’s got the fourth largest standing army in the world and South Korea’s been one of the most technologically advanced nations for many years now. That combination allows them to sweep westward through Europe, leading up to the deployment of an electromagnetic pulse that cripples America’s infrastructure and defense capabilities. When the game starts, the United States has been battered by relentless assaults from the Korean People’s Army. The dev team wants to deliver the experience of an occupied America, where the familiar becomes alien. In Homefront, a school bus doesn’t take kids to get educated; instead, it rounds up citizens to be questioned, tortured or executed at the hands of the KPA.
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Kaos doesn’t flinch from portraying just how grim things would get in the scenario Homefront puts forth. I got the chance to play through the game’s first level–entitled “Why We Fight”–at THQ Montreal two weeks ago and saw some wince-inducing scenes that dare players to look away. You play as disaffected pilot Robert Jacobs and Homefront‘s opening moments finds the KPA’s Occupational Police knocking on Jacobs’ door. After a bracing ideological rant by an enemy general–which has him saying that Korea wants to unlock the “United States’ natural potential”–I got herded onto a bus and suddenly find out Jacobs is under arrest. As the bus rolls through the town of Montrose, Colorado, another prisoner befriends Roberts. As he’s talking, a public execution quickly and brutally takes place outside. Two parents get torn away from a young child, pushed up against a wall and shot down right in front of his eyes. The brains and viscera spatter on the bus window, which coldly drives on. Later, you get driven by queues of people who’re being herded to labor camps. In most games, this is where the hero effects an escape and free the prisoners. The long open of Homefront just reminds you that Jacobs too is a prisoner, cuffed and helpless to rescue anyone.