Coming to PS4, Mac, PC (tested) and Xbox One
Homefront: The Revolution release date – May 20, 2016
Homefront: The Revolution’s troubled history is well documented. Although the core development team has remained since work began way back in 2011, a long and painful process has seen publishers go bust or bought out, and the game changing hands like a hot potato before Deep Silver’s rescue.
It’s a shame, then, that the story of this game’s development has the potential to live longer in memory than the game itself, because having spent a few hours with The Revolution’s campaign, the experience was largely forgettable...
Dambuster Studios (formerly Free Radical, developer of Timesplitters) begins the day with a talk discussing how Homefront has evolved from its predecessor, starting with the narrative. The team felt that, although arguably one of the few strengths of the original, the concept of America being invaded by North Korea wasn’t adequately explored, so The Revolution will go into the fall in detail.
The opening cinematic does a good job of making the impossible seem plausible. After World War 2, North Korea becomes the technological leader of the modern world, supplying the West with phones, security and arms to fight its many wars. ‘Apex’, the North Korean brand, is everywhere. America falls into debt to the North, defaults and the KPA moves in, but not before shutting down every piece of kit it sold to the US. It’s an excellent setup.
We join the story in 2029, Philadelphia, the ‘Norks’ (the Resistance’s colloquial term for North Koreans) have created three zones: the Green Zone, where the game’s main story missions will take place. The Yellow Zone houses the majority of the population and is under heavy surveillance – you’ll come here to complete missions and side ops to lead the revolution of the people via ‘Hearts and Minds’ objectives, which we’ll come to later. Finally, there’s the Red Zone, a no man’s land with permanent ‘shoot on sight’ orders. You’ll come here to take the fight to the KPA in open-world terrain.
Dambuster is very proud of Homefront The Revolution’s open-world structure. Its three segregated sections mean players can exist within the world however they choose: explore the narrative, lead the quiet uprising or wage all-out war. The trouble is, the whole never really feels greater than the sum of its parts.
See also: Fallout 4 Automatron review
I start at the very beginning of the game, taking the role of Ethan Brady, a voiceless, very small cog in the American revolution’s giant machine. KPA operatives snuff out my crew’s operation, and they’re all kidnapped. Unfortunately, my team doesn’t survive the interrogation, but as the gun turns to me, the leader of the resistance breaks in and saves me, but not before taking a bullet himself.
After carrying my leader to a safehouse, he gives me a mission and I'm immediately on the rundown streets of Philly. There’s an incredible sense of desperation. Civilians in tattered clothes gather around a flaming trashcan for warmth as rain lashes down, I hear a woman ask if I'm “up for some fun”, turn and see her in clothes ripped to shreds and eyes sunken. Dambuster has done an excellent job of creating a place that feels defeated.
As Brady attempts to return from his mission, the leader is kidnapped by the KPA. A few narrative beats later I meet the rest of the resistance in the underground train stations. It’s a good setup, if leaning a little heavily on formularity.
I then get the chance to experience the Red Zone, and it’s here where the game’s stitching frays. First I meet the local gunsmith and experience Homefront’s weapon customisation. After buying a pistol, I have the option to convert it into an SMG. It’s a nice system and watching Ethan upgrade the gun is great, but the problem is it’s as expansive as it is limiting.
Upgrading the pistol to an SMG comes at the expense of carrying a handgun at all. This wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t restricted to carrying four rounds of ammunition per weapon. A 30-round clip depletes fast in the Red Zone, and having only 120 bullets means I’m soon scavenging.
Out in the zone, I'm free to venture. I'm given a mission, but additional side quests pop up along the way (kill the snipers, clear the building, etc). I'm outnumbered, outgunned, but never outsmarted. There are many occasions where KPA troops simply act ignorant of my presence, hiding the wrong side of a barrier in full view of my iron sights.
Perhaps this is because they’re aware of the incredible amount of lead they can eat before dying. It doesn't feel too dissimilar to Ubisoft’s The Division, with some enemies taking multiple rounds. And again, having such limited ammunition from the start, this becomes a real pain.
See also: Upcoming PS4 Games
As a resistance fighter, I want to feel like the little guy, creeping around the battlefield and making the most of my limited resources, but the open-world structure means different systems conflict and break the immersion.
I'm able to bastardise explosive devices with materials found around the terrain. A teddy bear becomes a proximity mine, RC cars carry bombs, while molotov cocktails are common among my freedom-fighting crew. However, actually getting to somewhere where I can use them takes time, due to the huge expanse of the Red Zone. So storage crates housing motorbikes are placed everywhere, and it’s all very ridiculous.
Rather than sneak around, observe the terrain and scout the opposition, the Red Zone becomes a scene from The Great Escape. It feels very Far Cry. In fact, the longer I play Homefront, the more similarities I see to Ubisoft games.
In the Yellow Zone, I'm asked to complete “Hearts and Minds” missions. By protecting civilians from abusive guards, or freeing prisoners, I raise the morale of the population, increasing their willingness to rebel. Each mini-objective is more enjoyable than the Red Zone, because it feels more like a Revolution. The trouble is: the missions are on a loop, almost like an MMO. In a small quadrant, there are four different missions: free prisoners, protect the civilian, cut the power supply and kill the guard. By the time I complete the fourth, the first reloads, so rather than go out and explore the Yellow zone, I simply complete these four in rotation to level up the ‘Hearts and Minds’ meter. The curtain is lifted all too soon.
Also, in different sections of the city are enemy towers, which, when the power is shut off, allow me to see the locations of other side quests in that area, exactly like towers in Ubisoft titles such as Assassin’s Creed.
Overall, it feels like, due to the long development cycle of The Revolution, there’s been plenty of time to throw an incredible number of ideas into the melting pot. Perhaps there's been too much time (although everything was thrown out two years into development, as narrative designer Stephen Rhodes told me). There are too many ideas, and as a consequence they don’t really come together to form a cohesive whole. The shooting feels solid, as does everything the game does; it’s just that none of it feels special. As a consequence of each thing happening an awful lot, you’re left with a repetitive numbness.
I hope that, when we get to see the game in its entirety, and can see the story unfold fully and watch The Revolution take place in its proper order, these ideas do come together better than I saw, because it does feature a great narrative setup and some interesting ideas. It just feels like there have been too many cooks or, at the very least, there's been far too much time to prepare the dish.