It was all going so well until they tried to explain it. We've just been privy to a little bit of hitherto mysterious shooter Homefront, which features absurdly lavish environments and some retina-bothering firebombing effects. Its very much broken world looks as it does because North Korea invaded America in 2027...
OK, that's a little bit implausible and awfully indelicate as subject matters go - but then so's Russian separatists starting a war by pinning a ghastly terrorist act on a single American. Oh, military shooters - you've read far too many Tom Clancy books. Fine, give me a gun, let's start defending the homeland.
Later, after the shooting's done, a man who we have previously been told is known for security reasons only as 'Tae' walks onto the stage. The THQ presenter duly addresses him by his full name of Tae Kim. It's downhill from there for poor Tae, a former CIA operative and military advisor who's been hired to help craft the politics of Homefront's back-story. He's here today to explain why and how North Korea would invade America.
To start with, there's some plausibility - no-one expected Hitler, America's burning money at the moment, North Koreans are taught to hate the US, the two country's GDP might start to equalise. But the jig's up when he predicts a viral outbreak killing millions of Americans in 2021. Oh, Tae. Tae, Tae, Tae. You just had to go sci-fi, didn't you?
It is very much best not to know the how and why in a situation as silly as Homefront's. Too much reason spoils its fictional pudding. Just concentrate on what you can do in that situation. Coming from Kaos Studios, the creators of underwhelming Battlefield-like Frontlines: Fuel of War, many had expected Homefront to be more of the same - rival armies fighting for territory, with a rudimentary string of bot-occupied multiplayer maps masquerading as a single-player campaign.
This, though, is from what's being referred to as 'The New THQ'. Quality not quantity, every game a blockbuster: this is the plan. Homefront is, quite clearly, THQ hoping to have its own Call of Duty. There's as much to separate the two as there is to liken them, but in its sheen, in its bombast, in its patriotism and in its shooting lots of dudes, it's absolutely doing that latter-day videogame blockbuster thing.
What we're shown doesn't give a complete picture of how the game will play, but it's definitely a tightly scripted, high-production-value forward stomp, rather than anything free-roaming or capture-point based. There will be drivable tanks and helicopters, one of the developers hints later, but for the most part it's ultra-glossy run 'n' gun.
If you'd like a couple more comparisons, try THQ's own horror-shooter Metro 2033 and Valve's Half-Life 2. It's the latter that looms largest, with Homefront working hard to build a world of refugees in an invaded land. The environments tell the story at least as much as do the (interactive) cut-scenes - the junk and leftovers from which America's few free survivors have built irrigation and accommodation, the solar panels, the generator hooked up to an exercise bike, the strange juxtaposition of a colourful table football table inside a ruined hallway, the DIY armour worn by the resistance, the goats being milked in the back garden...
Make no mistake: American has fallen. There isn't a standing army, and there aren't any major population centres outside of Korean-guarded refugees camps. There's just these guys, this tiny handful of people making do - they have their lives, but not a lot else. "It's not quite the future we had in mind," says their kindly middle-aged (but buff) leader Boone, "but at least we're free. We've built ourselves a safe haven."
These sort of scenes act as both pace-breakers from the intense action, and as a reason to fight. In the first camp we see, children play and farmers farm: it's tranquil and it's honest. These are good people.
It can't stay that way, of course. While we're not shown the fall of this idyllic enclave in the demo, concept art on the walls shows the harrowing sight of a playground filled with tiny corpses. So, hopefully we're never shown the fall of this idyllic enclave. But it shows what you're fighting for, and what you're fighting against.
Well, sort of. Kaos endures several questions about what kind of insight we'd get into the thinking of the Korean soldiers, but it seems that will be thin on the ground - the enemy is the enemy, after all. If a guy is trying to kill you, you probably won't bother asking him how he feels about it.
There's no avoiding the fact that documenting a potential conflict-in-waiting is very sensitive ground, but there will be some sympathy for Homefront's elected devil. Not just in the form of the sole (Seoul?) Korean chap, an engineer called Hopper, who's on the US side, either.
In the lengthy, brutal and fiery combat section we're shown, the Americans manage to lay their hands on some heavy ordinance. Bring the rain, as they say. As white phosphorus lays burning waste to the car park of a discount lumber warehouse, Alyx Vance-y resistance fighter Rhianna stares in horror at the screaming, writhing, melting Koreans below. "Those are people... put them out of their misery!"
You don't have to do anything, and in fact another, rather angrier resistance fighter opines that they deserve to suffer. Perhaps you'll use your sniper rifle to mercy-kill the burning men below. Perhaps you won't.
As you're deliberating, another barrage of white phosphorous appears on the night horizon. Seems to be heading a little far, this one... Oh. Oh no. Before you know it, your nice little sniper nest is just so many matchsticks, you're lying in a heap on the concrete ground, and the entire world's on fire. That was a resistance missile - but the resistance aren't trained soldiers. They're just the guys fighting back, making do with whatever resources and whatever training might happen to be around. Accidents are going to happen.
Fortunately, they've got a Goliath to hand this time - a remote-controlled armoured truck capable of locking-on to multiple targets and letting loose a volley of rockets at once. It can also run people over, with a horrific noise that's apparently based upon a recording of a dog chewing a bone.
The fight is big, noisy, chaotic and cinematic. Homefront unquestionably wins the war of production values, though the developers admit there is work to be done on the character models and animations ahead of the mooted February 2011 launch.
It's very much THQ punching at a whole new weight, and that's before they've talked about multiplayer. We won't hear about that until August, but attention is drawn to the fact that this is a team whose heritage largely lies in multiplayer FPS - they started out as Battlefield modders. Apparently we should expect a very cool and unique new feature in multiplayer, so start your guessing now. Something playing with the concept of invasion, perhaps?
Speaking of which, don't play Homefront's single-player expecting to win the war, drive Korea out of America then go all Jack Bauer Kim Jong-Um, the even madder son of North Korea's current crazy despot, Kim Jong-Il. THQ and Kaos make no bones about this being a franchise - your character (a chap named Jacobs) will sort out his own story, but the wider story of America is yet to be told.
Usefully, Korea's earlier irradiation of the Mississippi, apparently to deter a counter-attack from the East Coast, has created a divided America. You'll cross that poison river and see New York in a future game, no doubt. For this first chapter, though, confirmed locations include Colorado and a climactic showdown on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The concept art suggests high-ex splendour from that particular set-piece.
Homefront, then. An epic story of future war, timeless heroism and a lot of bullets. You'll almost certainly want to play it. But whatever you do, don't try to explain it.
Homefront is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in February 2011.