* THQ shares plunge more than 20 percent
* Reviews of Homefront "a disaster"-analyst
* Company defends new game (Adds company comment, byline; Updates share price)
By Liana B. Baker
NEW YORK, March 15 THQ Inc's THQI.O shares fell more than 20 percent after one of its highly anticipated video games received negative reviews as it hit stores on Tuesday.
THQ's shares plummeted 20.5 percent, or $1.23, to $4.73 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq.
The first-person shooter game "Homefront" received a score of 75 -- out of a possible 100 -- on Metacritic, a website that tracks reviews of games. The market leader in war-themed games is Activision Blizzard's (ATVI.O) "Call of Duty: Black Ops," which has a score of 88 on the website.
"This score is a bit of a disaster for THQ and the share price today is reflecting that," said Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey. "The market is a quality driven market (and) you need at least a score of 80 and above on Metacritic to do well."
The futuristic game, which is set in 2027, features a North Korean army occupying a bankrupt United States, Japan and Southeast Asia.
The game's content and an associated marketing blitz have touched nerves at a time of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula. [ID:nTOE72D05X]
The poor reviews could have an impact on sales at a time when THQ is seen needing a hit title. Its share price has floundered more than 20 percent since its third-quarter earnings on Feb. 2, when its profit outlook was lowered.
THQ defended "Homefront" on Tuesday, calling it a "bold game" that has strong multiplayer content, or parts of the game that people can play together online.
"Some critics love 'Homefront' and others don't, which is bringing the average down," said Julie MacMedan, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at THQ.
The company's management has tried to convince investors that its upcoming games lineup is its strongest ever and sales of "Homefront," the first release in that slate, is being closely watched by Wall Street. (Reporting by Liana B.Baker; editing by Gunna Dickson and Maureen Bavdek)