Home­front: The Rev­o­lu­tion

Play­ing at a dis­ad­van­tage in Dam­buster’s oc­cu­pied ur­ban jun­gle

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Deep Sil­ver De­vel­oper In-house (Dam­buster) For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin UK Re­lease 2016

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

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