Homefront: The Revolution
PC, PS4, Xbox One
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