Homefront: The Revolution is the first attempt from developers to revitalize franchises bought from THQ’s fire-sale before they went under. And while the original Homefront wasn’t a commercial or critical success, there was some interest in what that game had done with its multiplayer while also being pretty solitary in the AAA market with its guerilla war framing device. After years in development hell, was Dambuster Studios able to make anything out of this franchise?
After making technological leaps in 1972, North Korea formed the Silicon River around the Apex corporation, a do-everything conglomerate that sold consumer electronics to Americans and weapons to their government. With a reliable defense contractor supplying them, the US involves themselves in countless Middle East wars. When a military base outside Riyadh was destroyed, the US bolsters its forces in the region, leaving America defenseless as the economy tanks due to the cost of war and debt owned by the North Korean government.
When their debt outweighed their benefit to the corporation, Apex shutdown the US with the use of backdoors coded into all their products, rendering vehicles and smart weapons useless to their military. With no security and their economy in shambles, North Korea sends troops on a peace-keeping mission to the US, offering food and protection to struggling Americans.
In 2027, the North Koreans reveal their true colors when America is most defenseless and dependent, and the Korean People’s Army invades America and conquers its people. You play as Ethan Brady who has just joined the Revolution, a group of Philadelphians seeking to expose American collaborators, undermine the KPA and liberate their city.
This premise is ridiculous. That needs to be stated. Homefront: The Revolution tries to root itself in some semblance of reality, particularly occupied France during WW2. The problem with this is that the premise undermines the history of the Korean Peninsula and the Cold War. While the original game attempted to take present circumstance and move forward, like how Kim Jong Un united the Koreas then took the fight to the American West Coast, Homefront: The Revolution’s premise starts off with a capitalist North Korea, which would make it a huge target in 1972 for Russia and China who were aggressively Communist at the time. They’d also be too attractive an ally for the United States to ignore, much like South Korea where international relationships have been fostered for decades. When you think about it, that would have been a more believable setting for a Silicon River in that region of Asia.
But even if the realistic elements aren’t taken into account, the presentation simply doesn’t work. There was a media campaign Deep Silver put together to try and make sense of Joe Tae-Se’s motives, painting him as a Steve Jobs character who uses Apex to innovate and shape the world, which paints him as an interesting villain that’s doing what he does for humanitarian reasons. That was curious to see, but with a mute avatar in this setting you’re stuck observing things you have no say in and that matters because this is possibly the most jingoistic AAA game I’ve ever come across, and the player has no decision in broaching those topics.
Norks (which ought to be hilarious to those of you in the UK) is the racial epithet of choice, and it’s used liberally enough that it starts to feel like a real one. Though this kind of light-footed racism was present in the first Homefront, like in one scene when the resistance launched white phosphorous at the North Koreans and one of the guerilla fighters chimed with, “I thought I smelled Korean barbecue,” it was never at this level. After about the first 60 “Norks” one can’t help but feel that the writers were laying the animosity on a little thick.
That sort of sets the tone for discourse among those in the Revolution. None of the romantic aspects of WW2 that they attempt to incorporate stick because there are no redeeming characters in the bunch with the exception of a pacifist doctor everyone ignores and walks all over. From the outset, your mute avatar is stuck with a group of sociopaths that fit in well with the destroyed city they crawl around but there’s never any reflection on the people they were, who they expect to be when the occupation is over–everyone is in a scowling contest with the guy next to them for title of the toughest in the group. This includes bland speeches about how great America is and how tough the group has to be to pull it together. There’s a wealth of cringe-inducing lines that might’ve landed if the game didn’t take itself so seriously and treated itself more like exploitation fare.
Thankfully Homefront: The Revolution is pretty, even if it isn’t delivering anything of substance. On the PS4, character models have impressive textures and complimentary lighting that makes for some photo-realistic moments. This, however is undercut when character models are repeated in the same room just inches apart. Graphical and generating errors occur regularly, like characters clipping into one another, into the entire map, Ethan clipping through doors when entering rooms, and speech out of sync with lip animations.
Cutscenes hold together pretty well and the art direction helps with that. KPA soldiers and their drones are plated with white ceramic that makes them look like space-faring robocops, and monitoring airships, which are essentially spaceships, monitor the city from above. The Revolution is all duct tape, old boots and finger-less gloves. There’s a real lived-in look to their equipment and clothes that make them look like they’re always on their back foot, ready to fall. There are also a few Tank Girl inspirations in the female NPCs.
The city is set up with disparate locations to mirror who’s in charge and who’s suffering. Occupied Americans live in the bombed out Red Zone where dumpster fires and dilapidated apartment buildings barely provide shelter. Wealthy Koreans and high-level collaborators live in mansions in the well-guarded Yellow Zone (with all the Nork talk the naming of this zone felt like deliberate renaming from the more traditional “green zone” that’s used in pretty much every war zone). Like with characters, lighting really ties it all together to give it an authentic shine.
Gameplay has a bright spot from its on-the-fly weapon mods. After purchasing mods, you can stop at any time and manipulate weapons without the need of a bench or merchant. This was useful for me as I typically play as stealthily as possible, which meant my pistol was equipped with a silencer. But when things didn’t go according to plan and I found myself surrounded, I could mod the pistol into a submachine gun without sacrificing my sniper rifle in the secondary weapon slot. Very useful, and about the only mechanic that’s handled well.
If you’ve played Far Cry 3 or Far Cry 4, you’ve played a better version of Homefront: The Revolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if Deep Silver got a call from Ubisoft in the near future. Players can roam through an open Philadelphia and they can (barely) ride on motorcycles between different neighborhoods to attack compounds, photograph enemies with smartphones, bring down loud speakers, inspire locals, and reclaim neighborhoods with the Revolution. Once all the bugs are ironed out, this game will play much like Far Cry 3 in an urban setting. Which would be just fine with competent AI, but enemies are so inept that you can (and I’ve tested this three times) run from the opening of a compound to the back where computer terminals are located, hack it and “conquer” the compound without firing a single shot. Though there are some conditions to consider, like time of day, which influences the number of enemies present, avoiding trouble is easy because the AI’s area of vision is so wonky that running past an enemy counts as not being seen. AI as it is now would make for an easy no-shots-fired speedrun.
Explosives are a little more interesting. You have a mix of homemade explosives like molotov cocktails and bound firecrackers, and more high-tech weapons like explosive RC cars and IEDs. You can also use your smartphone to hack security cameras and mounted turrets for your own uses. But with the AI as it is, these will probably be most of use to people really role-playing the campaign rather than those looking for exploits.
While Cryengine is taken full advantage of and weapon modding could be a game changer for developers who might not have missed this game, Homefront: The Revolution only succeeds in making sure this series won’t survive its reboot. It’s clear that Deep Silver wants what THQ wanted, a FPS franchise that can at least be competitive in a COD-ruled market. But if Homefront were ever to exist in that way, it would take more than a clone of a more successful game with a sloppy coat of Red Dawn warpaint slapped on some cyberpunk tech.