North Korea is perhaps best known for its sabre rattling, amusing-yet-terrifying card tricks, and dogged patronage of Acme's second-hand rocket store.

But by looking past this colourful attention-seeking frivolity and thousands of famine deaths each year, you'll find the beating heart of a nation poised to rise up and conquer the United States.

At least that's according to developers Kaos Studios, who are betting you'll suspend disbelief long enough to swallow Homefront's achingly tenuous premise. Cue an introductory cinematic detailing the next fifteen years in which a unified Korean peninsular occupies the continental USA following a fortuitous chain of events. Kaos are no strangers to speculative conflicts; their decidedly average 2008 Frontlines: Fuel of War also invested heavily in the concept of a East vs. West skirmish for resources.

Conveniently the rest of the world is too busy to help prevent Korea's rise to power, the Americans are too busy shooting each other, and all we can do is nod sagely at the "home is where the war is" byline, a curiously redundant observation when you consider that all wars have been fought in someone's home country.

The single-player campaign follows the story of Robert Jacobs, an ex-pilot eking out a substandard living in the occupied hamlet of Montrose, Colorado. The Korean People's Army arrive one morning to take Jacobs to an internment camp, however fortunately for the work-shy insurgent, his captors convoy is trashed by a local chapter of the American resistance and Jacobs escapes to serve his heroic rescuers.

Before there's any accusation that Kevin Costner had anything to do with the plot, it's worth noting the considerable reputation of contributory writer John Milius; he co-wrote the screenplays for Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn. He also came up with "I love the smell of napalm in the morning", easily one of the most memorable phrases ever uttered on the silver screen. Unfortunately, Milius has now donned waders to inspect the low tide of his career, as Homefront could easily be described as a five-hour shooting gallery filled with clichéd characters, predictable set pieces and more cheese than a movie in which Meg Ryan actually marries a fondue pot.

At the end of the campaign, many questions remain unresolved. Does the unbelievable premise prohibit an affinity with the photocopied lead characters, or is it the other way around? Is it the formulaic, linear fence-jumping path taken through the game that smacks of developer disinterest, or the incredibly obvious checkpoints that almost always consist of kicking a door open, or clearing some debris?

On the few occasions where the narrative sets out to deliberately shock - such as witnessing the parents of a child being shot, or hiding in a mass grave to avoid detection - it's clear that the message Milius and Kaos are attempting to convey is more than mere speculative fiction. There's an element of conviction that never quite manages to rise above all the vanilla beaten into the game by an unimaginative paint-by-numbers design process, which regularly breaks immersion to remind you that without your mouse and keyboard, you probably wouldn't give a damn.

Plot aside, the core shooter mechanics are sound. There's a bevy of weapons cherry-picked from the FPS Developers Handbook 2001-2011, including the M16, M4, and M249 SAW, as well as a bunch of unique weapons dotted throughout the seven chapters that form the campaign. Controls are responsive, targeting is accurate and there's a satisfying level of efficiency about the mass-murder of hapless Korean conscripts, even if it's hard to care why it's all happening.

From a purely technical standpoint then, it's little wonder then that the strength in Homefront is the surprisingly well constructed multiplayer.

The online battles are a mix of various concepts lifted from other shooters and refined with the acquisition of Battle Points in mind. Battle Points are accumulated through kills, assists and in the completion of objectives, and can be cashed in to launch drones and airstrikes within the game, or to purchase vehicles from the spawn menu. You can play a conservative infantry-based game to save Battle Points, although as points do not carry over to the next game there's an element of strategy required to spend them at the most appropriate time.

Towards the end of each map, the rapid deployment of saved points makes for a dynamic battle, with previously stagnant routes to checkpoints opened up by the influx of armoured transport and drone activity. Likewise, snipers that hold commanding points may find themselves exposed and unable to continue their nefarious work as various kill streaks unlock new abilities.

Battle Points double as XP too, allowing new weapons and equipment to be unlocked at the end of the round, although the variety on offer falls short.

The in-game server browser functions well, and the game offers dedicated server support for up to 32 players at a time. Despite the absence of any Kiwi servers during our play testing, those hosted in Australia had low latency and offered a satisfactory gaming experience. The Unreal Engine 3 hardly ever feels stretched in serving up the action, and even our low-range Core 2/GTS 250 machine managed to keep up on medium settings without too many problems.

Homefront's multiplayer stakes out a place somewhere between the ridiculous pinball spam-fest of Black Ops and the more calculated Bad Company 2, yet manages to imbue its own personality in the process. Granted, there's not enough maps, modes or weapons, but the foundation shows promise.

It's easy to criticise new intellectual property, particularly when it's produced in the face of extremely strong competition. THQ certainly intend to make Homefront into a franchise capable of disrupting Call of Duty and Battlefield sales, but without the punch available to deliver a solid campaign it'd perhaps be more beneficial to drop the single-player entirely and concentrate on refining the online experience. As it is, paying full price for a game that has a lousy campaign isn't likely to provide a solid start to a series; Call of Duty had to become a household name before Activision could screw up the campaign and not worry about it affecting sales.

If you're contemplating Homefront as an inclusive package, forget it. Consider it to be a better-than-expected multiplayer distraction at best, and wait for E3 in June to see if we get an apology for the campaign and an explanation as to how the sequel will be better.