When reviews for Homefront: The Revolution were published on the eve of the game’s North American launch back in May, I couldn’t help but sit there and feel a little more than a tad devastated as one of my most anticipated games of 2016 got lambasted from all angles — a game that I had publicly vouched may be a ‘sleeper hit’ within 2016’s jam-packed line-up. If I am honest with myself the critical pillory didn’t come as a huge surprise. After all I did participate in the beta, which despite me giving it the benefit of the doubt had some evident issues.
If you haven’t heard, The Revolution is coming
It’s been well documented how tumultuous the development cycle has been for the game — the game director, Hasit Zala, even tells you this after you complete the game. With several reboots and IP ownership changes, it’s an achievement in itself that the game even saw the light of day. However, that doesn’t excuse any publisher or development studio from releasing an underdone product and sadly for all its time in development that’s exactly what Homefront: The Revolution (HF: TR) feels like.
Instead of diving headfirst into the game in its turbulent launch state, I decided to give the developers, Dambsuter Studios, a few patches to see if they could salvage something from the wreckage and right some wrongs. At the time of completing my review, Patch 1.07 for the PS4 version had gone live a few days prior. However, I decided to wait a little more for the white knight of patches (1.08), which actually did drastically improve the game’s performance.
The game’s partially rebooted premise is perhaps its best facet, with America purchasing its military weaponry from North Korean company, Apex. As soon as America begins defaulting on their payments, the North Koreans, through a backend switch, disable the American’s arsenal, effectively leaving them weaponless. With America vulnerable, North Korea’s army (the Korean People’s Army or KPA) make their move and begin their invasion and occupation of Uncle Sam’s land. HF: TR differs from the paradigm of most FPS shooters where you’re either a super soldier or at least on par with your enemies. In HF: TR, you play as Ethan Brady, a mute resistance fighter whose Resistance crew is out-manned and outgunned in the city of Philadelphia by the occupying KPA.
Despite the game’s intriguing premise, the actual story that unfolds is largely hit and miss, as it ends up being quite predictable at times. The main objective that Brady and the Resistance members are tasked with is rescuing Resistance figurehead and catalyst, Benjamin Walker, and traversing the oppressive city of Philadelphia. Completing your often repetitive objectives brings you one step closer to Walker’s deliverance.
The city of Philadelphia is split into three districts: The Yellow Zone, The Red Zone and The Green Zone. The Yellow Zone is the city’s most populated area; it houses the common folk and those living on struggle street. The Red Zone is a desolate wasteland where the Resistance are at their strongest, however it’s also where the KPA’s despotism is at its most lethal, with KPA troops instructed to shoot on sight. The last district is The Green Zone — the centre of the city and the heart of the KPA operation. Each district has several areas known as Strike Points. Strike Points are areas that the Resistance can capture as safe houses, which strengthens their presence in each district. Essentially, it’s the same concept as capturing outposts in Ubisoft’s Far Cry games.
No longer the Home of the Free
The Yellow Zone
The coolest part of the upgrade system is when you have acquired a weapon’s blueprint you are able to transform that weapon into another at any stage. You can transform a shotgun into a flamethrower or a crossbow into a blunderbuss. It’s a streamlined and less tedious way of allowing the player to interchange weapons
A well-executed gameplay feature is your ability to upgrade and convert your weapons on the fly with many of the game’s weapon blueprints you can purchase. Weapon blueprints can be purchased from a weapons case at one of the Resistance’s safe houses and include stock-standard weapons such as an assault rifle, shotgun, and a crossbow. However, the coolest part of the upgrade system is when you have acquired a weapon’s blueprint you are able to transform that weapon into another at any stage. You can transform a shotgun into a flamethrower or a crossbow into a blunderbuss. It’s a streamlined and less tedious way of allowing the player to interchange weapons. In the same menu you can add various attachments such as scopes, muzzles and silencers to your weapons, however like the weapon blueprints, attachments must be purchased from a weapons stash before they can be attached to a weapon. Both cash and crafting materials can be found scattered across Philadelphia or by looting dead KPA troops.
Wheel of destruction
You got a shotgun – you got a flamethrower!
The gunplay in the game is another redeeming feature. Granted they’re not the best shooting mechanics going around, with some rather intense recoil on the automatic weapons, however they’re far from the worst; the guns actually feel fairly meaty to shoot. You can carry two guns for the majority of the campaign, and as mentioned above, having the ability to change your weapons through the on the go customisation options is a neat and gratifying feature.
Another element of HF: TR I appreciated was the difficulty. Too often in recent years a game’s hard mode has been nothing more than normal with the occasional difficulty spike. But thankfully in HF:TR hard means hard, and you’ll need to be tactical about how you approach each fire fight. More often than not if you attempt to run-and-gun you’ll be turned into American mulch; it’s not that the AI is smart – it’s simply that in packs they are too strong, especially the heavily armoured troops.
Although the game’s graphics aren’t the best in its class, the landscapes good a job of depicting the oppressive topography of occupied Philadelphia. That is if you’re looking from a distance, as up close the texturing is redolent of last-gen visuals. The main character models are well designed and look relatively lifelike, however from a technical point of view there wasn’t much else going for it upon launch.
Let the bodies hit the floor
As each patch was deployed the game’s issues started to slowly become less apparent, and after the game’s knight in shining armour (patch 1.08) arrived a lot the wrongs had been righted
When HF: TR released it suffered from severe frame rate drops, especially when confronted with large numbers of enemies or in the vicinity of explosions, where it appeared to drop into single figures. Secondly, the game was littered with AI bugs. These ranged from enemy AI teleporting, clipping, floating, spasming out or just magically appearing in your path and delivering brutal shotgun justice. Lastly – and perhaps the most criminally – there was a infuriating 2-3 second freeze EVERY time the game saved at a checkpoint. It was incredibly jarring and by the end of the game I wish I could have disabled the autosave feature to escape the freezing.
As each patch was deployed the game’s issues started to slowly become less apparent, and after the game’s knight in shining armour (patch 1.08) arrived a lot the wrongs had been righted. For starters, the frame rate was no longer comparable to going kayaking during the middle of a hurricane – it was now for the most part a smooth visual experience. Secondly, the autosave freezing is almost non-existent and I know it’s only a small niggling issue, but it makes a world of difference (considering autosaving could occur during the middle of a shootout). Lastly, the game’s bugs (while still present) were occurring far less frequently. All in all it has taken five months to partially rectify these problems, and Deep Silver’s decision to not only push ahead and release Homefront: The Revolution despite its obvious issues, but to release it inside the AAA heavy month of May will remain one of 2016’s greatest enigmas.
Got anymore of that revolution?
Production-wise the game delivers a relatively solid performance. The soundtrack is one of HF: TR’s best elements and helps keep the adrenaline pumping, making up for the mute Ethan Brady. The voice acting is good enough to keep you interested in the Resistance’s cause, however it never steps out of B-grade movie territory.
One of the more interesting design choices is the decision not to give Ethan Brady a voice-acting role. You’ll find that in most FPS where you assume the role of another character that the character will have some sort of voiced dialogue (Far Cry, Wolfenstein, Call of Duty). It is slightly immersion-jarring when in what should be an epic against-the-odds tale of one man’s role in a large-scale uprising Brady is standing there in a torpid state like Tony Abbott (former Australian Prime Minister – see link). You would think that in these moments of issuing patriotic rallying cries, Brady – an integral resistance member – could help fuel the adrenaline of leading an insurgency into battle.
I could understand it somewhat if you were given the option of choosing your character’s name or if it used your online ID (a la Destiny), however it does neither and is a rather disappointing aspect. It’s hard to imagine BJ Blazkowicz (Wolfenstein) not verbally displaying his delight in slaughtering copious amounts of Nazis for instance.
HF: TR’s multiplayer mode (which is called Resistance Mode) sees a squad of up to four players complete various missions throughout Philadelphia. The game initially came with six missions, and one of the pleasing gestures from both Deep Silver and Dambsuter is that all additional and future missions will be free for players. Since the game’s release there have been a further four missions released, and all these present a difficult challenge when playing on the hardest difficulty. In saying that, the majority of my time playing the MP has been spent in a squad of two people, which makes being tactical even more crucial.
Many people were disappointed that the game didn’t involve a more traditional FPS multiplayer component, however I am glad they decided to go down the route they have as I enjoy mission-based multiplayer, and there is a relatively good range of mission objectives at hand. Sadly, Resistance Mode isn’t without its problems, and while the missions themselves are fun and rewarding to complete, it’s the levelling system that hinders the enjoyment.
Choose your skills wisely
Like with all MP progression systems there is a level cap, and in HF: TR the level cap is set to a whopping level 6, which can be reached before completing all six initial missions on hard. You’re afforded four character slots, which is fine in theory, except it feels like you’re forced to create a new character instead of being encouraged to. When creating a character, you can choose from a plethora of character backgrounds, and each background gives your character a specific perk (such as taking less damage from fire). Each character can be upgraded in one of the four tiers: Brains, Brawn, Fighter and Survivor, which all contain distinctive boons. You can mix and match your skill points within the different tiers, but ideally you’d want to focus on one type as the tier four skills have perks that can be used by your whole squad. The one saving grace is that all your cosmetic and weapon items you obtain are accessible for all of your characters, it’s simply the skill tree that resets. Weapons, cosmetic items and in-game boosters can be acquired from crates, which are bought by using cash monies earned from completing missions.
While Dambuster Studios should be commended for continuing to address the game’s problems given the game’s response at launch, it’s clear that the patches appear to be doing nothing more than plugging holes in a sinking (if not already sunken) ship. Most of the game’s initial disappointment stems from its technical inadequacies at launch – which were completely justified – however that doesn’t absolve the fact that the game simply is average. If you take away the technical issues it’s not a bad game, the problem is that there’s nothing here that you can’t find elsewhere and in better quality. Overall, if you can snag a cheap copy (shouldn’t be too hard now), its interesting premise coupled with the meaty challenge in both the single-player campaign and the multiplayer is worth a playthrough.
Reviewed on PS4