Much like the beleaguered people of KPA-occupied America, the development of Homefront: The Revolution has gone through hell. Beginning four years ago in the hands of THQ (requiescat in pace), the game has gone through a series of directions and studios, finally arriving in the bosom of Deep Silver Dambuster Studios, who are currently preparing to finally release this baby into the wild in 2016 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
In the run up to this release, the final push has begun, with Homefront: The Revolution taking centre stage at Insomnia Gaming Festival in the UK this year, where I was able to access an in-depth showcase and play the first 15 minute demo.
The first thing that both fans and foes of the original Homefront should know is that this is not a sequel. Set in 2029, this new take on the oft attempted “Red Dawn” premise rewrites the history of the original game, with a new timeline stretching back 50 years to provide a “more realistic” foundation to the game’s setting. Indeed, it is realism that the fans had apparently been yearning for, as Dambuster Studios has gone all out in focusing on the grittiness of guerilla warfare. Players are presented with an “open world”, where instead of acting as a one man army they are but one of the many hundreds of guerilla fighters scattered throughout Philadelphia. As with any guerilla operation, the player is constantly at tension with their fight or flight instincts: here, vulnerability is the key. With no regenerating health, and AI designed to deliberately overwhelm you if you overstay your welcome, the best revolutionary is one that knows when to run so that they can live to fight the good fight another day.
Homefront: The Revolution is trying to do some interesting things, but whether they quite make for an engrossing and immersive experience is another matter. The Guerilla Toolkit (or “GTK”) allows players to craft and customise on the fly to suit whatever mission they happen to run into. This may involve making an RC IED car to sneak underneath a KPA APC, or attaching an incendiary firing barrel to your shotgun for an impending firefight. Whilst this in theory allows for the player to approach objectives to suit their playstyle, I found that often it was much easier and a lot less fiddly to just wade in with a sensible rifle and a couple of no frills grenades. Furthermore, the crafting system is based on “scavenging”, which in the demo involved mashing the X button on arbitrary lockers to fill your pockets with nuts and bolts until you can magically turn them into weapons like some sort of murderous alchemist. Whilst I understand making your loadout more personalised and of your own making should theoretically increase these sought after levels of realism, unfortunately Homefront: The Revolution is failing where games like Metro 2033 succeeded.
As for the “open world”, what we have seen so far has been disappointing. Philadelphia is split into districts that are either red, yellow, or green zones. Red is for “not even if I were homeless”, yellow is for “I wish I could live here if I were homeless”, and green is for “I would be shot on site if I were homeless”. So far gameplay and footage has mostly revealed the bombed out red zone, and it is understandably drab, but also mind-numbingly boring. The map is populated by strike points and strongholds, which can be captured mostly through the classic “hack the terminal”, and will then reveal more of the map. It is at this point where you realise that revealing more of the map is akin to looking through a bag of old potatoes in the hopes of finding a courgette, only to find more potatoes. But fear not, you can hasten your travel from one pile of rubble to another on a range of vehicles, including the motorcycle, the motorbike, and the petrol-powered bicycle. Apparently there are other as of yet unannounced vehicles, but unless they include something like a rocket powered horse I’m not interested. To make things worse, Dambuster have made a point of boasting the fact that their environments are easily traversable by the bike, with the inclusion of plenty of oh-so-convenient ramps and bridges and so on. This was apparently inspired by the Trials franchise. How the absurdly difficult levels of Trials fit into the gritty “realism” of a blitzkreiged Philadelphia is a mystery to me.
To give the impression that your character, Ethan Brady, is having an impact on the guerilla movement, anything you do in the world affects the NPC guerillas. This means that they have their own missions that you may deliberately or inadvertently aid or hinder depending on your own success, and you will be able to see them fighting around you in the world. Whilst this has clearly been designed to heighten immersion, when playing the demo I found that there was really no incentive to have a meaningful interaction with these NPCs; everyone in the game seemed bland and recycled, and I was perfectly content to ignore them and continue to go about my way being an ubermensch (even though I wasn’t supposed to be). Considering this is a game trying to simulate revolutionary guerilla warfare, I didn’t exactly feel like one of the team. If I’m honest, the Korean People’s Army seemed to have much more solidarity.
What has been revealed to us so far has been disappointing. However, there is still a glimmer of hope in the eye of the revolutionary. Firstly, we have yet to see extended gameplay of the yellow and green zones, which look to be more fleshed out, not just in the sense that they are less barren but also in the sense that the environment seems more immersive and relatable. Secondly, Dambuster Studios are keeping shtum on the story as of this moment. This is perfectly normal for a game at this stage of development, however Homefront: The Revolution absolutely needs an amazing story to make it worth playing as the more freestyle gameplay shown currently is decidedly dull. More evidence of intriguing story elements, and more importantly how they fit into the open world style gameplay, is definitely required before this game can even been considered worth preordering.
As it stands, the world of Homefront: The Revolution feels like it was created by someone with a flawed understanding of guerilla warfare and an unbridled fetish for looking in other people’s lockers in the hope that they find some pants to use in their Molotov cocktail.
Homefront: The Revolution is due to be released in 2016. Pre-order your copy today at Amazon.