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Homefront: The Revolution / 28th of May 2016

After four years of tumultuous development, Dambuster Studios, have finally released their open world follow up to Kaos Studios’ bitterly disappointing, politically minded FPS – a project that would see the studio ultimately dissolve after both critical and commercial failure. With that in mind, you’d probably be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t much pressure on the team to deliver their follow-up, but you’d be wrong. The Revolution has promised to be one of the most exciting projects of recent years; a story driven, open-world shooter pledging to deliver an extensive campaign mode with stunning visuals powered by Crytek’s incredible CryEngine. Did the final version manage to live up to these lofty goals? Well, not quite.

For those that avoided the first game, and that’s probably most of you, you’ll be keen to know that Homefront takes place in a near future setting, in it, we have a revised version of history that sees North Korea as the leading technological power in the world, bankrolling American national debt and supplying them with the bulk of their arms, until that is, they hit the killswitch, disabling all of their weapons and allowing the Koreans to simply walk in and take over the country. The action in The Revolution is centred around the city of Philadelphia, the home of the Liberty Bell and city of brotherly love, where a group of insurgents try to instigate a revolution to see the current crop of citizens throw off the shackles of slavery and send their oppressors scuttling back home. It’s a melding together of the American War of Independence and a stark reminder that America’s gross defence budget may well leave the entire nation in ruins, and sooner rather than later.
Homefront: The Revolution then, thanks to its setting, is an FPS where the odds are well and truly stacked against you, now most other shooters throw overwhelming numbers of enemies at you, but their protagonists typically utilise super-human abilities to overwhelm the enemy despite being an army of just one. This, thankfully, is not the case here, trying to go rushing in all guns blazing will only result in a swift and merciless death, instead, Dambuster have crafted an experience where guerrilla strategies are needed to survive. By taking out targets from distance, using hit and run tactics and inspiring the denizens of Philadelphia to rise up, this proves to be a war that can be won.

Now, given the tech that powers it, you’d think that it would be guaranteed that Dambuster would have delivered a stunning world for their players to venture out in, and it is perhaps most surprising that they failed to achieve this, though in their defence, Dambuster are a pretty small studio, and the vision that they clearly had for The Revolution was perhaps too great, but they’ve certainly come close. In places, they’ve created a detailed and attractive world, but in others, it’s pretty patchy, and the frame rate is consistently inconsistent, it wavers between 20-25 fps on both console versions and hits its target of 30fps on indoor sections. I played it through on Xbox One which runs in a native resolution of 900p as opposed to the PS4’s 1080p, but it holds a superior frame rate throughout, and not a single trace of screen tearing either. Dambuster also added in temporal anti-aliasing with the first patch, but this didn’t seem to affect performance in any way. Character models are nice enough, fairly well detailed, though there are issues with animation cycles either not completing or simply not being performed at all, and the lip syncing is just downright awful at times. Still, textures are mostly of a decent resolution and the lighting is solid throughout, foliage is okay as well, but we’ve obviously seen better use of the engine.
Audio wise, the game performs strongly, with good voice acting and a perfectly fitting score (well, except for the ending), but a special mention must go out to those outstanding gun sounds. Each and every one of them feels like they pack a punch, particularly after scoring a headshot, this sees the volume spike and the frequency range expanded towards the lower register to make the kill all that much more satisfying. Granted, the team could surely have done a better job of fading out environmental audio as the player moves between indoor and outdoor locations, but I’ll let this one go.

The bulk of the game is to be found in the campaign mode, a thirty hour or so jaunt across a city torn apart and broken down into multiple sections, each differing from the rest visually and in some cases, by offering new challenges. Those already familiar with the last few Far Cry games will feel at home here, attacking strongholds to take back territories from the Koreans and generally causing mayhem on the streets to show the people that they too can rebel against them. This might be sabotaging their equipment, saving common people from being physically abused and potentially murdered, assassinating ranking KPA officials, hacking displays to show messages of revolt and tuning radios to the rebels’ own station. The world changes as the Koreans begin to lose control, the people become braver, openly showing support for the revolutionaries, but as they increase their hold on each region, things begin to take a far nastier turn.
And this is one of the key elements of Homefront: The Revolution to me, it refuses to take a moral stance. For whilst the occupying forces are shown to be both vicious and violent, the rebels as it turns out, aren’t painted in a much better light. Sure, prior to overturning the Koreans, the revolution is a dream of a better world for everyone, but when each uprising happens, the people lash out at the Koreans, and more so at the Americans who aided them, threatening, attacking and murdering them on the street. I sat and watched in horror as “clabs” (collaborators) were having their heads stamped on and their throats cut. The rebels of Homefront show that change can come, but when it does, it can not only be a far cry from the egalitarian ethos of the revolutionary spirit that they wished to cultivate, but a commentary on the cyclical nature of violence itself.

Across the campaign though, the rebels (who are all rather single-minded and not particularly well fleshed out) hand out missions to strike at Korean strogholds, secure caches and generally do whatever it takes to overthrow the “Norks”, as they call them. On top of this, there are also job boards to uncover allowing for even more missions to be unearthed and completed; these take in a greater variety, from identifying targets and enemy tech, to simply wiping out set numbers of foes with particular weapons. The core missions are themselves well designed and varied in content, which, along with the rest of the tasks available, makes The Revolution one of the least repetitious feeling open-world gaming experiences available, which can only be a good thing, but as you might expect, it’s also far from perfect.
The different regions of the city are divided up into red and yellow zones, the former being chaos and the latter comprising the more civilised sections, where infrastructure has to be disrupted to inspire change. To help with this, Dambuster attempted to include a stealth element, allowing the player to blend in with their environment to avoid detection, but sadly, they didn’t bother to flesh it out at all. For instance, the game tells you that it is possible to simply blend in with groups of people, making sure to put them between you and your enemy, yet in practice, this tactic is beyond useless, seeing the protagonist identified almost immediately. Instead, the player must simply run and break line of sight, avoiding enemies until both the alarm and the manhunt cease, this can be sped up by taking refuge in one of the numerous hiding places dotted around each area. Ultimately this system works, but is initially frustrating as it simply doesn’t operate as it has been pitched to us.

The auto-save function that updates the player’s progress is a bit of a problem too, seeing the game freeze for as much as ten seconds every time it comes into play, and that, sadly, is rather a lot. When objectives are met or updated, or after simply leaving the game’s numerous weapon shops, Homefront locks up, breaking up the experience rather horribly. As if this wasn’t enough though, loading times are also rather extensive, and the game is also prone to crashing – my own copy saw fit to boot me out of the game three or four times, though this wasn’t too bad given the length of it. Unfortunately, I also encountered several strike point side missions that I simply couldn’t finish as the items I needed to collect were stuck to the ceiling of the building they were in, it wouldn’t recognise when I had cleared the area of enemies or because the mission objectives simply wouldn’t update, which unfortunately also helped to take the sheen off the finished product.
The basics, generally, are solid, with combat feeling as good as we could have hoped for, which is remarkable given the state of the frame rate, and the range of weapon types and gadgets are also pretty much spot on. There are multiple varieties of bombs and hacking devices, from simple thrown objects to the much more interesting RC Car types, these can be switched between on the fly, are easily bought or manufactured when out and about after finding the necessary components within the many nooks and crannies that the world offers the adventurous player. The guns thankfully, are also just good.

There are pistols, machine guns, rifles and much, much more on offer, and whilst it may appear to be a tad stifling to have a carry limit of only two guns (later expanded to three), Dambuster have come up with a rather inventive way of getting around this. Each weapon, as it turns out, is actually more like three (save for the RPG). Utilising a gun modification system borrowed from former parent company, Crytek, weapons can be altered on the fly, with scopes, barrel attachments, fore grips and so on available to be added to enhance a weapon’s attributes, yet the team didn’t stop there. Using only the base chassis of a selected gun, the weapon can be altered beyond recognition by spending the KPA tech points that are earned from completing missions and liberating strongholds to unlock new mods to enable entirely new forms to be built. For instance, the pistol can be adapted to create a pneumatic pistol or even a sub-machine gun, whilst the battle rifle can be changed into a sniper rifle (lower magazine capacity, increased damage and compatibility with higher magnification scopes) or even the “Freedom Launcher”, a firework spewing instrument of death. Each variant also uses entirely different ammo types, so when low on ammunition, it’s possible to simply alter the weapon type and continue the fight.
This comes in rather handy at times due to the overwhelming odds that the protagonist and his cohorts are up against, with a plentiful supply of troops, vehicles and drones patrolling each environment. Additionally, there are also transport ships hovering overhead, scanning for the player’s presence, and if detected, a huge quantity of enemies is dropped off, meaning that the bravest of soldiers can attempt to stand their ground and fight off the seemingly never ending horde, whilst most of us will simply flee for our lives. It helps to keep the game world feeling dynamic, much like the flashpoints that pop up on a regular basis too. Those that have spent time with Destiny will be familiar with this mechanic, with a small optional side mission appearing at random, typically these ones involve saving the lives of other rebels, securing a supply cache under siege or preventing the Koreans from launching chemical weapons. There’s always something to do, and the money gained from doing so can be put to good use purchasing supplies or weapon upgrades to improve damage, handling and reload speeds.

Initially I found myself displeased with the lack of RPG elements here, there’s no XP to earn, no levels to progress through and no magical abilities to earn, yet over time I found this to be a strength of the game. There are new pieces of gear to acquire, boots to limit the sound of footsteps, body armour to decrease the amount of damage taken, additional carrying capacity and such like. All of them grounded, plausible enhancements to the protagonist, yet they never render him a one-man slaughter house as such, it’s still remarkably easy to die. Complacency then is something that needs to be staved off, the hit and run tactics utilised at the start of the game can never be truly forgotten - and that helps immeasurably in creating a gritty believable universe. The writing could certainly have been better and the characters more developed, yet there’s no denying that the campaign mode of Homefront: The Revolution, for all of its inadequacies is a strong one, entertaining from start to finish and a refreshing breath of fresh air in the open world FPS genre.
It may come as some surprise to learn that there are no online deathmatches to find here, much like Far Cry 3 before it, the only online component on offer is a co-op campaign that sees players create persistent online characters to tackle a series of missions with. The development team were disappointed to only include six maps at launch, and as such decided to disable the micro-transaction system that they had planned to include, at least temporarily. These missions throw multiple objectives at the players, including guarding convoys and taking out sniper teams, but unlike the main game, there are experience points to be farmed out of it, allowing characters to develop and unlock new skills and abilities. Thankfully, Dambuster and Deep Silver are also following the Mass Effect 3 standard of DLC delivery, with all multiplayer content coming for free to prevent the community becoming divided by pay walls, meaning that the only premium content will be add-ons for the already extensive single player mode, there are currently three expansions planned with two launching later in the year.

As a side note, Timesplitters fans may rejoice in the fact that the second game has been ported and is available to play in its entirety, hidden away as an arcade game late on through the campaign. Switching between the two tends to highlight the substandard frame rate of the main game though as Timesplitters 2 runs at a rather speedy 60fps, and serves as a reminder to long-time fans that the series hasn’t been entirely forgotten about. You never know, that long awaited follow-up might just be closer than you think.

Ultimately, Homefront: The Revolution has been something of a disappointment, yet the finished product isn’t nearly as bad as you’ll have likely been led to believe, there is an extensive campaign and plenty of fun to be found here. With the online side and the impending DLC, there are many, many hours of gameplay to be coaxed out of it and, if you can put aside its technical shortcomings, savoured. It’s certainly above average, but there can be no denying that it really would have benefitted from an additional period to polish it up a bit. Still, there’s an excellent game trying to get out here, and personally I think that bodes very well for the future of the franchise and its developer.
James Paton
 
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