Homefront: The Revolution
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Dambuster Studios
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: 05/17/2016
Homefront: The Revolution has been in development hell for quite some time. THQ started it, sold it to Crytek, and then it got passed on to Dambuster, and all of this effort was ultimately for a sequel to a game mired in disappointment. However, there was promise to the original, and hope that a sequel could take the series where it needed to go. This new version of the game includes a open world style of gameplay in a major American city. It’s basically Far Cry: Philadelphia. If pulled off correctly, the game could be one of the year’s best.
Sadly, the game falls apart at just about every conceivable level. What was once a promising title is now among the year’s worst.
Despite being a sequel, the game doesn’t actually use the same setup as the original Homefront. In this world, North Korea became a technological powerhouse. Fraught with too many wars in the Middle East, the United States ends up relying on them for the latest gadgets and weaponry. All’s good until America defaults on its debt. This leads North Korea to utilize a back door and “shut off” America’s military. Then they kind of just waltz in.
You play as Ethan Brady, the absolute worst silent protagonist I can think of. For example, at one point he’s tied up, accused of being a spy, and threatened with having his nipples sliced off, but somehow, he doesn’t think to say anything about this. Silent protagonists can work; allowing the player to fill the shoes of the main character is a tried and true tactic. However, it just doesn’t work here. The game tries, at various points, to instill some sense of moral confusion in the player. You’re supposed to wonder if what you’re doing is right. However, it just doesn’t work when the game asks you to silently nod along and go for the ride anyway. You feel more like a passive observer in events rather than an active participant.
As for the rest of the cast, they fill a handful of tropes. First up is Parish, the blue collar worker turned into blue collar resistance leader who uses his blue collar sensibilities to get the job done. Did I mention he was blue collar? Seriously, the game takes every opportunity to let you know he’s “not fancy with the words” and only capable of taking things straight on. Then you have Dana, the rebellious chick (you can tell because she has piercings and tattoos, you see) who doesn’t care about anything except killing “Norks” as she calls them. She’s also the pleasant person who offered to slice your nipples off. Anyway, the big problem with her is that she’s a completely different person between cut-scenes. During them she’s liable to have an emotional outburst that involves unloading a shotgun on any TV monitor that gets in her way. Between them, she’s still tough, but seems like a normal person capable of rational discussion and thought. The shift is too much. Then you have the doctor, who hates violence. He really hates violence you guys. Violence? Not his thing. He spends half of the game begging the Resistance to not start fights and the rest of it cursing them for fighting. He probably leaves the group three or four times throughout the game. I suppose he’s supposed to be the moral center of the game, but instead he’s this one note character who annoys at every opportunity.
By far the game’s biggest problem is lack of direction. The story revolves around trying to find the charismatic leader of the Resistance before he’s executed by the government. It could be interesting, but it fails for a number of reasons. The chief of these reasons is the game lacks a strong antagonist. The Koreans are all dressed in battle suits that remind me of the robots from Blood Dragon. They’re a joke. As a matter of fact, there’s only a single Korean character in the game, and that would be the robotic reporter that reads the news. Beyond that, the closest to an antagonist you get is a crusty old white dude… because nothing sells the idea of an oppressive foreign regime on American soil like a guy that looks like every other politician. Honestly, if the game didn’t tell you that the people you’re fighting are Korean, you wouldn’t even know. It’s just a bad story that relies on one note characters and typical action movie cliches. It absolutely wastes the potentially great setting.
On to the graphics, which are a mess. First of all, the game is not running on all cylinders. The frame rate drops consistently throughout and the game outright freezes every time you use a store or get a new objective. The game also has this terrible look to it, where open areas are filled with thick fogs and hazes meant to hide the appalling draw distance. They make up some excuse about toxic gas, but it feels like an afterthought. The enemy design is bland, the animations are lacking, textures could use some work, and the camera placement during cut scenes is atrocious. Characters will look slightly to the right of you or act like you’re standing somewhere you’re not. The one bright spot are nifty gun animations when you modify your weapons on the fly. These are cool no matter how many times you see them.
Aurally, the game works no better. Most of the voices are okay, but everything else is problematic. The music is monotone and loops after only a few seconds. You’ll hear the same oppressive notes constantly through each section. It’s in desperate need of variety, or at least quality. Then you have sounds that are simply missing. Brady might as well be a ghost for all the sound he makes walking and/or running across all kinds of terrain. There’s not even an “oomph” when you get shot. The game feels eerily silent, even in the midst of a gunfight where people are shouting at you. Oh right, and there are characters who repeat the same line every time you talk them. That gets old.
Even the gameplay is problematic. Gunplay should be second nature to modern developers, but this game struggles to get the basics right. The recoil is such that the camera will shift wildly when you’re trying to lay down fire, the view can become so narrow you can’t see more than a a few feet ahead of you, reload animations are too long, you get the point. Some of this is fixed by buying upgrades, but it feels cheap. There’s also a complete lack of tactile feedback as you play. Even if the gun is making an impressive sound when you fire it, you can’t tell if you hit anything unless you the target responds. Even basic movement feels off, with Ethan feeling like he’s moving through molasses or maybe needing to shed a few pounds.
Let’s talk a bit about how the game actually plays. It’s reminiscent of the Far Cry series, to the point of being a rip off at times. You’re free to roam about each district as you please, taking on story missions or freeing up sections by taking out strike points along each map. There are also hidden stashes and events that you can uncover as you play. Moving through the city isn’t just about ducking through alleys and rushing down sidewalks, though, as you can also climb some areas, break through some windows, and scale a handful of buildings.
While the bulk of the game is typical “go here and shoot this” missions, occasionally your progress will halt until you can convince the locals to rise up and fight alongside you. This comes by the way of a “hearts and minds” meter. To fill this up, you need to adjust radios to play Resistance propaganda, sabotage Korean equipment, take over strike points, and complete some random events, which include activities like freeing a prisoner or assassinating an official. This seems like a good idea, and it’s one that has worked for other games. However, the meter building becomes forced upon you several times through the story and the activities quickly become repetitive. Worse yet, you can only do the same activity so many times before it stops earning you progress, forcing you to do other things. For example, there might be ten radios in an area. After you’ve done several of them, the rest will no longer count towards your goal. They’re still there, you can still interact with them, and the game will still keep track of how many you’ve done… they just won’t boost your meter. It feels cheap.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the weapon modding system. There are five different base weapons in the game, and each of them has three different modes they can turn into. At the start, you’re given a pistol. Push a couple of buttons though, and it becomes an SMG. This allows you to essentially carry a small arsenal while only technically holding two weapons. It’s cool, but it ends up creating a bit of a problem. The game inadvertently rewards you for sticking with one weapons and its modifications. You see, each weapon can be upgraded, but you need to spend a lot of cash to do that. Rather than spending all of your cash buying each weapon, it makes more sense to simply upgrade the ones you have and use them. Since each weapon has three different modes, they can be useful in pretty much any situation. For example, the battle rifle can turn into a sniper rifle and a rocket launcher. Since you get to keep the pistol/SMG combo as well, there’s hardly a reason to buy the other weapons unless you simply want to experiment.
The game’s biggest problem is its AI. NPCs in this game are simply dumb. They will run in circles, run in place at a wall, get caught on everything, block doorways indefinitely, and so on. There are times when you might need to go into a specific room to reach your objective, and sometimes an NPC will be blocking the way. They won’t move, and they’ll stay there no matter if you leave the area or even reboot the game. If that happens, you’ll have to kill them to move forward, even if they’re your ally. The worst example came at a point where I had to escort a couple of vehicles for a mission. One of them ran into an obstacle and just stayed there, with the other standing behind it for support. They wouldn’t move, and reloading/restarting didn’t help. The game simply couldn’t move forward at this point. Normally, this would be when you reload a save from earlier in the game and curse your luck for losing a decent chunk of progress. However, this game doesn’t allow manual saves. You’re stuck wherever the auto-save leaves you. This meant the only option was to start the entire game over from the beginning. This happened to me, and it happened on the final mission. I checked; I had less than ten minutes to go before the end credits. The fact that something like this can even happen, that a player can be locked out of the game by dumb AI pathing, is ludicrous.
Going through the game, assuming it lets you, will take you about a dozen or so hours unless you feel the urge to complete everything, though there’s little incentive to. You rarely go back to an area once the story moves you past it. You’ll earn more than enough money to buy the upgrades you need without having to go off the beaten path. If you beat the game, you don’t even have the option to go back and finish up if you wanted to. There’s no meaningful content to be found outside of the main missions. You could hunt for trophies I guess.
Short Attention Span Summary
From top to bottom, The Revolution disappoints. There isn’t a single aspect of this game that doesn’t under-perform or that isn’t broken in some way. The story is bad, the graphics are bad, the audio is bad, and the gameplay is bad. That’s not to say the game didn’t have potential. The idea of retaking an occupied American city is great, the Far Cry mechanics the game uses have proven to work great in that series, the gun mods are a great idea, and so on. However, none of it comes together. This is one you might want to avoid even when it hits the bargain bin.
Tags: dambuster studios, Deep Silver, homefront, homefront: the revolution, ps4, Sony