Home­front: The Rev­o­lu­tion

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Dam­buster Stu­dios Pub­lisher Deep Sil­ver For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin UK Re­lease May 20

There’s noth­ing like a for­eign in­va­sion to boil the blood. Con­quer­ing forces of thug­gish op­pres­sors tread­ing over your turf, dis­rupt­ing your life­style, tak­ing what isn’t theirs – any­one who’s had a sand­wich pinched from the work fridge can re­late. This be­ing the case, how did 2011’s Home­front fall so flat, and what is its sand­box se­quel The

Rev­o­lu­tion do­ing to make you care? Well, in an­swer to the first ques­tion, we chal­lenge you to name a sin­gle char­ac­ter or sce­nario from the first shooter, be­sides the in­fa­mous ‘press X to hide in mass grave’. By con­trast, pow­er­ful writ­ing is The Rev­o­lu­tion’s pri­or­ity. “I think it’s down to hav­ing an in­ter­est­ing place to stage the nar­ra­tive, and then pop­u­lat­ing that with, as in any form of me­dia, in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters,” Dam­buster nar­ra­tive de­signer Stephen Rhodes tells us. “Peo­ple want to ex­pe­ri­ence sto­ries about char­ac­ters that they can in­vest in or root for or hate, and I think that’s re­ally the key to any good nar­ra­tive or any good sto­ry­telling. To have char­ac­ters that peo­ple want to feel emo­tion for and that will in­voke a re­ac­tion based on those char­ac­ters’ in­flu­ences and what they do within the game world.”

It’s a lit­tle odd, then, to find that Dam­buster has pro­vided us with un­de­ni­ably lin­ear co-op mis­sions for our hands-on, a se­ries of self-en­closed ten-minute ses­sions from the per­spec­tive of com­pletely silent cre­ate-a-char­ac­ter types.

First, how­ever, a lit­tle con­text. Set two years af­ter the events of Home­front, and four years into the oc­cu­pa­tion of the US by the Greater Korean Re­pub­lic (GKR), Korea is push­ing into the east coast af­ter los­ing Hawaii and Alaska back to the Amer­i­can re­sis­tance. Philadel­phia is now the GKR’s pri­mary base of op­er­a­tions – and the ter­ri­tory you want back.

We start by choos­ing our trade. Pick an ex-base­ball player as your tem­plate and grenades go far­ther. Elec­tri­cians hack bet­ter. We opt for a one-time cage fighter for greater hand-to-hand skill, and sure enough, melees are bru­tal. Spawn­ing in skid row im­me­di­ately at­tracts the ire of a shoot-on-sight Korean Peo­ple’s Army (KPA) pa­trol com­prised of sev­eral sol­diers and an ar­moured per­son­nel car­rier, and get­ting up close, a prompt al­lows us to per­form a con­tex­tual take­down which bashes one sen­try’s head against a lamp­post.

Our squad­mate throws a sticky jam­mer on the ve­hi­cle, and as it mo­men­tar­ily tar­gets its own men, we skirt round and shoot ex­plo­sive can­is­ters hand­ily (if short­sight­edly) strapped to its back. Ran­dom pa­trols re­quire quick think­ing. Next time, two IEDs sort out the lot, but we start to run out of in­ter­est­ing ways to kill the third one, and by the fourth we

sim­ply ig­nore it and dis­ap­pear down a side al­ley. Com­bat, at least in co-op, feels ba­sic. De­spite a near-fu­ture set­ting, your weapons are the stan­dard FPS fare by dint of your ille­quipped un­der­dog role. Home­brew gun­fire packs a novel punch, but not a huge one.

As the neigh­bour­hood opens up, we’re tasked with pick­ing off ten en­e­mies. De­serted streets and hol­lowed-out build­ings of­fer an­gles of at­tack, but stuck with a shot­gun and no way to grab en­emy weapons, we’re forced into close-quar­ters play. “Ob­vi­ously be­cause of the na­ture of your re­sis­tance against a much larger, much more pow­er­ful force, you can’t re­ally go all guns blaz­ing in the red zones be­cause you’re just out­gunned and out­manned at ev­ery turn,” Rhodes says. “So you still have to play tac­ti­cally and sen­si­bly be­cause that’s a fight you’ll never win.”

It’s worth not­ing that guer­rilla warfare is just one facet, but the only one we’re given ac­cess to. The city is split into red, yel­low and green zones. Red zones ex­ist on Philadel­phia’s fringes, bleak and bru­tal war-torn ar­eas where rebels fight des­per­ate daily street bat­tles against a heavy mil­i­tary pres­ence. The GKR uses them as buf­fers as a form of con­trol to limit com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and if you want to pass be­tween zones, you’ll of­ten have to go through a red one first. In­ten­tional or oth­er­wise, they’re not pretty places.

Green zones con­tain land­marks, but Dam­buster isn’t ready to talk about those yet, while yel­low zones are more pop­u­lated, con­trolled ar­eas. “They’re very heav­ily KPApo­liced so there’s a lot of pro­pa­ganda, there are lots of pa­trols, there are lots of drones check­ing up on peo­ple,” Rhodes says. “The peo­ple are free to live there and have their own space but there are too many of them; there’s not enough hous­ing, so it’s cram­ming a lot of peo­ple into a small area.” It sounds like The Rev­o­lu­tion’s most in­ter­est­ing zone of the three, a per­sis­tent space in which pick­ing off lone sol­diers to thin num­bers, hack­ing mil­i­tary sta­tions, and ex­plod­ing RC cars leaves vis­i­ble traces on the world.

But, nope, back to co-op. An­other mis­sion sees us ride dirt­bikes to the fin­ish, but a team­mate steals ours so we’re left run­ning af­ter them un­til we drop dead be­cause the game de­cides there’s too much dis­tance be­tween us (an op­tion for back­ies is ab­sent, sadly). Our fi­nal mis­sion is a three-parter: sneak into a KPA base, steal two ve­hi­cles, then es­cort them out. There are sev­eral in­fil­tra­tion routes, and ver­sa­tile climb­ing makes fine use of Philadel­phia’s ar­chi­tec­ture. Op­tions re­duce when we find the ve­hi­cles. They drive them­selves out and come un­der fire by KPA, so we have to mount a de­fence while walk­ing along­side. Three times we play, and three times the con­voy’s health bar dwin­dles and we have to restart.

We come away think­ing that what we’ve seen isn’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the wider game’s strengths. The Rev­o­lu­tion’s key point of dif­fer­ence from Home­front is its evolv­ing, City-17-style dystopia. We want to ex­pe­ri­ence the strong writ­ing Rhodes speaks of, the emo­tion­ally im­pact­ful story in which “you get to see the city, how it’s changed and how the KPA have af­fected it, and see how that af­fects the peo­ple and how they live their lives un­der this oc­cu­pa­tion,” and the “in­ci­den­tal di­a­logue that you will en­counter from the peo­ple who in­habit oc­cu­pied Philadel­phia who will re­lay their sto­ries and their ex­pe­ri­ences to the player.” We’ll have to wait for that.

The Rev­o­lu­tion is cer­tainly a de­par­ture – it has a new de­vel­oper in Dam­buster (for­merly Cry­tek UK and, be­fore that, Free Rad­i­cal) and a new set­ting in 2029 Philadel­phia. In fact, bar­ring the name and the in­va­sion nar­ra­tive, so lit­tle re­mains from a story stand­point that it feels a lit­tle odd that the name wasn’t dropped al­to­gether, since it’s hardly videogam­ing’s most pres­ti­gious. If the cheesy first in­stal­ment was Red Dawn, The Rev­o­lu­tion pro­fesses to be more The Man In The High Cas­tle, a thought-pro­vok­ing ‘what if?’ that starts with a well-re­alised set­ting and takes it from there. At least, that’s what Dam­buster says, and with co-op prov­ing fun but for­get­table dur­ing our hands-on time with the game, that’s what it will need to de­liver.

The Rev­o­lu­tion’s key point of dif­fer­ence is its evolv­ing, City-17-style dystopia

Night pro­vides new threats. Laser-sighted drones pa­trol streets and snipers sweep al­leys from rooftops. As an un­der-equipped un­der­dog, it pays to be stealthy

Stephen Rhodes, nar­ra­tive de­signer

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