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Homefront turns political fears into potential hit

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Homefront - THQ

It's already been a busy year for shooters, but publisher THQ thinks they found the formula for first-person success in the upcoming -- and somewhat controversial -- Homefront.

Due out March 15 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, the game imagines a fallen America in 2027. Players, as you might expect, will join the resistance and fight their way across the country to win back America's freedom.

Left there, it would be a pretty formulaic shooter -- but THQ has amped things up with a politically-charged back story and pulled in screenwriter John Milius, who penned the similarly themed film "Red Dawn" (as well as "Apocalypse Now," "Clear and Present Danger" and "Conan the Barbarian"), to handle the plot behind the game's single-player campaign.

Playing on some of today's biggest political fears, the game focuses on the military force that could come from a unified North and South Korea. Following the death of Kim Jong Il, the game supposes his son manages to bring the countries together, creating an unparalleled global force.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis in the U.S. has gotten worse. The dollar has collapsed, gas prices are near $20 a gallon and the nation is unable to help defend its allies as the Korean army advances. After crippling the U.S. with an electromagnetic pulse, the Unified Korean Army begins to occupy the country, turning high school stadiums into detention centers and shopping malls into parking lots for armored attack vehicles.

Gamers, so far, seem eager to give Homefront a try. THQ says the title is the most preordered game in the company's history, with 200,000 reservations in the U.S. alone. Analysts predict the game will ship 1.5 million copies in its first month. That's significantly better outlook than THQ's other recent efforts, which include de Blob 2 and WWE: All Stars.

There are some concerns, though. PlayStation 3 Magazine reports the single-player campaign, which is where THQ has focused the bulk of its marketing efforts, is just five hours long - short by today's gaming standards. (The magazine still gave the game a 9/10 score, though, noting that "Homefront is relentlessly brutal and constantly puts you in new, unusual and memorable scenarios, varying the pace to keep things interesting.")

THQ has certainly done its part with an 'interesting' marketing plan. A truck distributing free tacos around the San Francisco area for the past couple of weeks has been well-received (free tacos, after all), as did a team-up with game streaming service OnLive, which is giving users a free $99 game system when they preorder Homefront through the service. However, a publicity stunt that resulted in 10,000 red balloons landing in the San Francisco Bay backfired, angering environmentalists.

Given that this is the first title in what THQ hopes will be a strong franchise (they're already planning a sequel), no one's expecting it to pull in sales numbers like Halo or Call of Duty. Still, Wall St. analysts say it seems to have the pieces in place to potentially become a major new player.

"THQ doesn't need it to be a Halo for it to be wildly successful," says Eric Handler, managing director of MKM Partners. "It's all relative. That being said, I think it's got a shot. The buzz seems like this is a differentiated type of game. There are some unique elements [and] all of the buzz seems to be quite good. ... Halo didn't become this big thing overnight. There's a starting point for each game and as a new IP, I'm pretty optimistic [Homefront] will do quite well."


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