Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.
The Homefront license isn’t one I saw coming back, despite the fact that it seemed to have some potential. The first game didn’t make much of an impact in terms of sales or critical reception and thus it didn’t seem likely that the name would ever be plastered on a videogame box ever again. And yet after five long years of development we Homefront: The Revolution, which ultimately doesn’t actually have much to do with the first game. Indeed, it arguably would have fared far better without the Homefront branding, but that’s pure speculation. So what does this FPS bring to the table?
The premise is that North Korea has become a giant in the electronics industry thanks to Apex, a company that has essentially become the Apple of this fictional world. Having made its money from phones and other smart devices Apex moves into military production, pumping out weapons, vehicles and other toys that America simply can’t get enough of, buying up everything it can lay its hands on. Unsurprisingly this proves to be a stupid idea because eventually America begins suffering from major economic issues, at which point North Korea enacts a secret backdoor it had built into all of its technology that renders America’s army practically useless in one fell swoop. The North Korean KPA (Korean Public Army) invades America under the incredibly thin pretext of trying to help, even handing out some aid packages, before quickly dismissing that idea and becoming tyrannical jerks. As premises go it’s interesting if a bit far-fetched. Surely America would not base its entire military off a single supplier whom they have no reason to try? And why is the rest of the world happy to sit by and let North Korea invade?
As for the player, you’ll be taking control of Ethan Brady, an entirely mute lead character who is rescued by the legendary hero of the resistance. Sadly said hero gets captured, while you get recruited into the resistance with the goal of finding him, because according to the trio of Dana, Parrish and Doc he has the charisma and support of the people needed to spark the revolution. Stiff animations and lifeless looking faces do the impressive voice work no favors. Revolution has cobbled together a stellar cast of actors who deliver the iffy dialogue with skill. Quite frankly they deserve much better than the script they are given which is entirely inoffensive and standard stuff. There’s little effort given over to painting the revolutionaries as freedom-fighting champions who try to avoid bloodshed where possible, which is refreshingly honest. Throughout history occupations and revolutions have typically brought out the worst in both sides, and Homefront does the same. One character out of the main trio attempts to argue against the loss of human life on both sides of the conflict, but the other two are on the warpath and have a raging hatred of the Korean forces occupying their city, which is perfectly understandable. They are not above using torture and hiding weapons within clinics to achieve victory, and refer to their enemies as Norks.
Bur despite not hiding from the inherent violence that comes with revolutions the writers do so very little with their own premise. There’s no attempt to explore the depth to which people are willing to go to regain freedom, or to flesh out the resistance so that they become anything more than a mob of faceless grunts. The leading trio have absolutely no character development throughout the entire campaign, remaining steadfastly one-dimensional. They each have a sole defining traits; the doc wants less killing; Dana wants more killing, and Parrish is the patriot willing to do whatever it takes. Outside of these things they aren’t people. They have no discernible personality, except that Dana is a violent person who would probably have wound up in jail if bad guys hadn’t invaded. Speaking of which the Korean forces are nothing more than people wearing suits of body armor and therefore could actually be absolutely any nationality. They might as well just be Generic Goons from the country of ThatBadPlaceWotTheDarkLordCameFrom. At one point you get a text message from the doctor saying you should remember that the Korean forces are human beings under those helmets, people who are simply following orders. It’s laughable, though, because all the game presents them as is walking suits of armor. You never even get to hear them speak, or perhaps learn what the regular ground troops think of it all. Do they regret a lot of the violence their comrades are inflicting? Do they believe what they’re doing is a good thing? Collaborators are part of the narrative as well, but like the Koreans and the revolutionaries nothing is really done with them. When you manage to get the collaborator sector freed from Korean control you’ll find people beating the living crap out of the collaborators, but not once does the plot ever stop to tackle it. Collaborators throughout history are a complex bunch, some doing it for power, others purely for survival and some still doing it because they believe they can ultimately help There’s such rich narrative possibilities within Homefront’s setup, and it ignores them all in favor of hitting predictable beats. The plot comes across as boring and clichéd, and isn’t helped by the fact that your character remains mute throughout. Characters have conversations at you rather than with you, and then send you off to blow something else up, an order you must simply obey without hesitation. You have no agency, a fact that becomes even more amusing when certain scenes have you looking back almost longingly at the doctor and his pleas for a less violent approach, while following the other two leaders out of the room like a puppy dog. It’s a shame, really, because there are flashes of something better hidden away in Homefront’s story.
Ditching the linear levels of the last game this new Homefront has instead adopted a template that seems to have studiously been taking notes from Ubisoft’s Far Cry series, right down to the small outposts to assault and tech panels that magically reveal the surrounding activities on the map. Scattered around are resistance caches, bases to attack and overwatches to be setup. And of course patrolling these open streets and ruined landscapes are the enemy forces, making yuou choose between skirting around them using the very basic and sometimes inconsistent stealth or just diving in to the fight, a strategy will typically ends up setting of an alarm. You begin amidst a city block that’s partially destroyed but still inhabited, but eventually move on to a section of city that houses collaborators and is thus vibrant and beautiful towards its centre, an attempt to distract from the outer fringes of the same area which are anything but. Later you’ll traverse a ruined area where poisonous gas forces the wearing of a gas mask and infiltrate a zone designated for prisoners. These zones have two color values; red zones are full of nothing but the enemy who patrol in force and will shoot on sight, while Yellow Zones are also inhabited by regular citizens doing their thing. In both zones being spotted by the enemy means they’ll open fire, but in the Yellow areas you’ve got a tad more leeway provided you keep your weapon holstered and don’t stray too close to patrols or scanners. It’s a pleasing amount of variety in the environments, helping to keep the otherwise repetitive side-missions a bit more compelling. Sadly it’s not a seamless open world, but load times between areas are relatively fast.
Yellow Zones are also where you get to do the most revolution-y stuff. By tackling bases, sabotaging generators, blowing up roving truck, saving citizens and establishing overwatch locations you can build up the Hearts & Minds meter, and when it’s full you get to insight a riot and take the area back. This acts as the basis for a fair number of the primary campaign missions which are enjoyable if pretty bog-standard stuff. If you’re looking for bombastic set pieces and epic moments that stem from a crazy bunch of systems working together and occasionally crashing together then Homefront really isn’t going to be for you. Liberating a sector from the tyrannical rule of the armor bros is…well, a bit anticlimactic. After I took back a few from the control of the North Koreans I gave up. Plus, why should I do the job for the guy who I’m supposed to be helping rescue?
Wherever you happen to be levels tend to offer a solid amount of verticality, be it through framework that can be climbed, ruined buildings with crumbling floors or bridges that cross-cross overhead, plus there are frequently tunnels and houses to dive through. Combine this with a pretty fast sprint speed and no stamina meter and you’ve got a game that can be played surprisingly fast at times. A reasonably smooth mantle lets you get about easily, as does the fact that you can fall from quite a height without ever taking damage.
This feeds nicely into the combat which falls squarely into the realms of unspectacular but fun. The selection of weapons on offer is very basic, presenting players with a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, crossbow, rocket launcher and marksman’s rifle. At any given time you can pack two of these along with the pistol, but Homefront tries to get around this realistic trapping with weapon conversion mods. Purchase one of these nifty conversions (each weapon bar the rocket launcher has two) using special points gained for taking on enemy bases and you can then bring up an in-game menu which lets swap out parts of the gun, turning it into something else. Thus via conversion mod a pistol can be quickly turned into a bullet-spitting SMG, an assault rifle can transform into an LMG or even a limpet mine launcher, and a crossbow can become a blunderbuss or a flamethrower because of reasons. Mechanically it’s really no different to just letting players carry all the weapons instead of just two big ones, but I have to give the developers some credit for coming up with a thematic way to let people have access to more guns at once. Plus, it’s kind of cool to watch the animations play out before your eyes, though I do wish there was a method for doing it on-the-fly without having to bring up the radial menu, faff around for a second and then wait while the parts are fitted to move around again.
Weapon customization is handled pretty well, too, if again in a basic fashion. Attachments such as new scopes, a muzzle breaker, suppressor and a few other things can be bought from vendors and then fitted to a weapon using the in-game radial menu. Whatever you select Ethan Brady will run through a neat little animation where he fits the upgrade to the weapon. From vendors you can also purchase new gear like bulletproof vests and webbing that lets you carry more ammo. Finally you’ve got access to molotovs, hack grenades that can turn drones against their human masters, explosives and decoys. Each of these also has RC car, remote detonation and proximity sensor variants.
Despite the weapon selection being small and rather humdrum they all feel satisfying to use, packing enough oomph to make it feel like you’re really doing some damage. Sadly the A.I. you’ll face off against aren’t exactly a smart bunch of cookies, typically displaying as much teamwork and spatial awareness as a brick with the word “soldier” written on it. They’ll frequently run out into the open for no reason or turn battles into a shooting gallery. Possibly the dumbest examples are when an alarm goes off in a Yellow Zone and suddenly you find yourself being swarmed by an infinite line of soldiers who all run down the run so that they can be gunned down. In other words they typically make up for stupidity with sheer numbers or the fact that if an alarm goes on for too long there’s a chance for one of their damn huge blimps to float over and start making things worse. Still, smart or not the relative speed and ease with which you can scoot around makes combat quite fun, and you can’t absorb too much damage without dying, either, so there’s a little caution needed.
Speaking of which death in Homefront is treated as nothing more than a small inconvenience. Upon being brutally bulleted (it’s totally a word, I swear) you somehow magically revive at a nearby resistance base with a message stating that you’ve lost the valuables you’ve collected. That’s hardly a problem, though, considering they rarely add up to more than $100 worth and completing main story missions will often give you a few thousand Dollars to play with. And that’s not counting side-missions.
If you get bored of playing through the actually quite substantial singleplayer offering then you can team up with a few friends to tackle six short co-op missions. Strangely the competitive multiplayer which was the best part of the original Homefront hasn’t carried over to this sequel that’s not really a sequel. These six missions are fun, mostly because you’ve managed to rope some other people into playing with you, and offer a surprisingly deep progression system that seems like it was designed for a far more substantial co-op campaign than the one we get, which can be completed in about two hours.
And that’s most likely because there was supposed to be something more substantial. Somewhat fittingly after the credits have rolled a small message pops up from the developers thanking fans and talking about how the game had a rough development over its five years in production, and that the small team who made it are proud of what they’ve accomplished. They should be, really. Still, their message does ring true as Homefront: The Revolution feels like it could have been so much more than what it is, and there are hints of an unfinished game everywhere, such as how you can walk up to a resistance member and recruit them with a tap of the E key, a fact that never gets mentioned.
The rough development occasionally shows itself in the performance as well. Running on the CryEngine the game looks pretty nice at times, particularly during daylight. There’s a nice leve of detail within the environments that goes a long way toward selling it as a real city that is being occupied by enemy forces. Throw in some reasonable textures and lighting work and you’ve got some decent graphics. At night things look a lot rougher, though. Overall it looks reasonable. As for how it runs that’s a bit more of a mixed bag as I encountered a good number of framerate dips. None of them were serious enough or frequent enough to really damage the experience, but seeing the FPS drop from a stable 60 to 40 was a bit irritating. Consoles seem to be suffering far more, though, so at the moment PC would appear to the preferable platform.
There’s a good number of glitches and problems, too. I had a number of crashes while playing, plus a few examples of the game suddenly locking up, and then delivering 1 frame every ten seconds or so before eventually catching up with itself. However, once it had caught up the textures had gone bonkers and I was forced to quit out anyway. Enemies spawning directly in front of me when I was running around or driving through the streets on a bike was another issue that caused me a couple of headaches, and on a couple of occasions they audio got jumbled up. There’s also a frustrating issue where the game will grind to a halt for a few seconds whenever it autosaves, which is a lot.
Is Homefront: the Revolution a fantastic game that you absolutely need to play right this instant? No. But it is a solid FPS, so if you’ve got some spare cash and want a new shooter it’s worth checking out, although Doom might be the more tempting option while you wait for The Revolution to go on sale. There are a lot of rough edges that really needed to be smoothed over with a few patches, but I think I can honestly say that I’m glad Homefront managed to come back. There’s a lot of potential here for powerful storytelling and fun action which was hampered by a troubled development. The team that created it, though, clearly have a passion for the project, and I sincerely hope they get another crack at it.