Homefront: The Revolution
Playing at a disadvantage in Dambuster’s occupied urban jungle
PC, PS4, Xbox One
The Homefront series’ luck is notorious. Despite taking a swing at a half-taboo subject and sparking controversy with its marketing, 2011’s linear run-and-gun through a USA under hostile occupation met with generally mild reviews and mass indifference. In its wake, developer Kaos was shuttered by THQ; two years later, the publisher also went extinct. Crytek then acquired the rights and envisioned a new game to be developed by Crytek UK and co-published with Deep Silver – a clean break, but one that would retain the challenging subject matter. Crytek’s own financial crisis would see what is now The
Revolution changing hands again, Deep Silver’s parent, Koch Media, taking ownership of both the IP and Crytek UK, rebranding the latter Dambuster Studio. After so much misfortune, a superstitious observer might easily conclude that the series was cursed.
CJ Kershner is clearly not a superstitious man. After a stint on the original Homefront, he embarked on a writing career at Ubisoft Montreal, but he’s since moved on to take up the role of senior narrative designer on
The Revolution. It’s a shift some would call risky, but he describes it as a homecoming.
Not that you’d be able to tell from comparing the two games. Calling this loose sequel The Revolution feels almost like a proclamation of the lack of continuity. There are no common characters; there’s no shared timeline. Even the means by which the Korean occupation occurs has been rewritten. All that remains is the central fantasy that was strong enough to lure Kershner back: what follows defeat, when your armed forces are smashed and your country has been dismantled? For the residents of Philadelphia, US base of the Korean People’s Army, it’s an excuse to use all those guns lying around.
“The thing that people respond really well to is the premise,” Kershner says, “which is the idea of a fallen, occupied America. This isn’t another game set in Nowheristan, or on Planet Typhoid, or wherever; this is set in locations that I recognise. I’m not going after any ideal of honour or duty; I’m going to defend my block. That is what I think brings fans of the genre and developers, whether it’s Kaos or Dambuster, to the game: the idea of doing proper guerrilla warfare.”
For guerrilla warfare to work, the design doc of the original game had to go. The
Revolution isn’t content to shove you down a straight path, but offers freedom of approach in a manner more akin to Far Cry. There’s a golden thread, as Kershner puts it, which will ensure you hit the main story beats, but for the most part you’ll be left to weave your way through a tarmac no man’s land, a
“You never run away in other shooters – you run away constantly in this one”
place patrolled by an enemy that outmatches you and won’t stick to predictable paths. Go in haphazardly, though, and you may come to regret the provocation, given the KPA’s proclivity for disproportionate responses.
The Revolution’s Red Zones, meanwhile, are designated no-go areas in which Korean forces will shoot all intruders on sight. Get spotted by a drone and it won’t be long before troops come running. Find yourself unable to shake a search light and the KPA interpret shock and awe as running you over with a tank. They fight like an army instead of budget night watchmen: reinforcement is the first response to every transgression.
“It’s a key part of the guerrilla fantasy,” Kershner says. “You never run away in other shooters – you run away constantly in this one. You’re a weaker actor coming up against a much, much stronger, more technologically advanced military force.”
The industrial landscape of the Red Zones practically begs you to flee. It’s a warren, a vertiginous maze of steel and concrete that goads you into taking ramps and stairways on your motorbike if doing so will put you just one more block ahead of the enemy front. It’s this feeling that Dambuster is hoping will distinguish Homefront in the increasingly homogeneous ‘open world’ category. Kershner won’t be drawn on how The Revolution is handling difficulty, however. Though the idea of being left with no recourse but to hit and run is exhilarating, more talented players might overwhelm the enemy if the balance is off. Particularly since on-the-fly weapon customisation and a Guerrilla Tool Kit you can fill with RC car bombs, distracting firecrackers and homebrew hacking devices builds towards an arsenal that even the KPA must eye with some jealousy. Switching the barrel of your shotgun for a grenade launcher mid-fight is fluid and cathartic, but it’s also a power trip, which is at odds with the role of opportunist freedom fighter.
The game’s Yellow Zones, which have yet to be shown, will be the test of Dambuster’s commitment to its revolutionary colours. Civilians live here – people too afraid or too tired to be a part of the resistance. The tone ought to shift dramatically, since this is not the place for running battles. Here, knowing the trouble they can bring, citizens fear the gun-wielding freedom fighters as much as their oppressors, meaning cat-and-mouse evasion and damage mitigation as you witness how people survive under duress.
“We also have collaborators,” Kershner says, “people who, when the occupation occurred, said, ‘We’ll work with you.’ And it’s not an evil decision, but collaborators throughout historical conflicts have never been well received by a civilian populace.”
The promise of moral ambiguity is a good sign that Dambuster wants to push its narrative beyond power trip, too. The KPA aren’t too nuanced – faceless cybersoldiers to a man – but this world presents a rare opportunity to discuss insurgency in a context other than beefy westerners shooting up outsiders. The question is how deep the team is willing to wade into the murk.
“I don’t think we’re shying away from it at all,” Kershner says. “In terms of the game and the fiction of the world, insurgency is really a matter of perspective. So obviously for the occupational administration, they view the resistance as terrorists, and looked at through that lens, your actions could easily be considered as such. But when you see the oppression around you, you think, ‘I am justified to want to fight back. I want these people gone.’ It’s the old axiom of ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, and definitely in the context of the role that we put you in, you are the freedom fighter.”
The Revolution skirts cliché: capture points and enemy strongholds that facilitate map expansion and progression aren’t exactly novel. Yet there’s also an undercurrent of naughtiness. Dambuster is taking a risk by putting players on the back foot, perhaps even more than it courts with its subject matter. Its Red Zones are racy variations on a theme, but depending on how it handles the mundane, The Revolution could be outrageous.
Senior narrative designer CJ Kershner also worked on the original Homefront
Showing its heritage, The Revolution is built in CryEngine, though it has adopted a muted palette of greys, browns and reds, rather than leafy greens