Homefront was released in 2011 from THQ and developer Kaos Studios. Most people remember the game as being terrible and having received low scores. This is an interesting case of how the public and the outlets remember games that received a lot of hype but didn’t meet expectations. The scores for Homefront average out to about a 7 in most cases. Depending on the outlet this means average to good. In the case of newer refined guidelines here at OnlySP, a 7 is solidly in the good category (see my recent DOOM review).
Having played through the title on the PS3 platform shortly after its release, I’d say a 7 was very generous. The game’s only true call to fame was the writing credit attributed to John Milius, screenwriter of the original Conan the Barbarian, Apocalypse Now, a number of Dirty Harry films, and, perhaps most relevant to this game series, Red Dawn.
The connection the latter film, which he also directed, is obvious, as both involve an America which had been captured and occupied by enemy forces. In the film, the enemy is Russian; in the game, North Korea. Both play on America’s fears of a communistic/dictatorial invasion and both obviously feel the influence of Milius. Despite any nostalgia for the film and its cast, both are thoroughly mediocre. In the case of Homefront, the contribution of Milius seems to have been overstated as well.
Though far-fetched, the original Homefront at least had an interesting concept with decent dialogue to accompany its progression through an interesting world, though with extremely poor A.I. and simple, repetitive gameplay. Nothing at all that warranted a sequel…yet here we were, several years later, receiving teasers for a Homefront sequel that actually looked interesting. Much like the aggregate score for the first title, the tease doesn’t tell the whole story.
Homefront: The Revolution‘s development history is a troubled one, filled with financial issues, switching of studios, and team shake-ups. Considering this was a sequel already built on a faulty foundation, the signs did not bode well for this entry in the series. And indeed, the end product isn’t a good one. The trouble with it is that it’s not an entirely bad one either. For all the numerous faults, both on the creative and technical side, there’s a good game hiding somewhere inside; a good game that simply can’t overcome all the negatives weighing it down.
The story of Homefront Revolution is more of a reboot than a sequel, a strange choice after only one entry in the series, yet that’s what it is. It reframes the concept of an America beset by huge amounts of debt owed to the North Koreans. The nation has become a superpower and large international supplier of arms due to their huge advancements in technology. This dominance in the tech field leads to the United States purchasing mass amounts of Korean weapons technology for their own battles.
As international tensions increase, the North Koreans decide that their promissory notes are now due, and a nearly destitute United States has no way to repay them. That’s when their enemy country, and sole supplier of modern weaponry, use a secret backdoor in all their tech, rendering the United States military mostly useless. The U.S. Is easily and quickly overwhelmed. Cities that try to fight are decimated with bombs and chemical weaponry, forcing citizens to either become “collaborators” or be driven underground and hunted.
The player comes in as a new recruit into the resistance fighters who seek to regain control of their country. Again, it’s far-fetched, but bigger and much more successful blockbusters have been succeeded with faultier premises. While the original Homefront set up a largely similar story, it served well-written and emotionally connected moments at several key points throughout the game – a combination of good delivery and writing. Revolution doesn’t even have this going for it. Very early on in the game I struggled to decide whether the voice performances were simply not working, or if the dialogue they were given to work with was simply falling flat. While it may be a case of both, by the end I leaned heavily to the side of an unsteady story with a rushed ending that was populated with terrible dialogue.
Nothing story-wise was able to achieve any weight outside of the opening moments. A new member of the resistance is quickly captured, tortured, and forced to watch his new compatriots die, only to be rescued by the leader of said group. It was an intriguing setup that never really delivered. We never even find out what happens to that resistance leader who is captured soon after the opening sequence events unfold. Deaths on the resistance side are tragic but have real difficulty garnering a genuine response from the player. Key moments and twists are seen from a mile away and simply don’t deliver the feeling they should.
The narrative isn’t the only thing that feels unbalanced. There’s a lack of variance in the setting of the game. That didn’t bother me as much as the game’s other issues however, as I thought the design was pretty good. Destructed segments of the city intermingle with neighborhoods that have become like shanty-towns in the wake of enemy occupation and years of violence. The collaborator city and more well-guarded areas do a decent job of differentiating changes based on status and level of occupation.
Technically is where things start to really fall apart. There are long freezes on auto-saves, which occur very frequently. These pauses in action can last for an eternity and will sometimes temporarily lock all NPCs into their default animation poses and jam any sound effects into a stuttering loop until the load is finished. Enemy NPCs and their patrols will appear very randomly. Do a 360 and baddies that were not there before are suddenly shooting at you. Charge straight ahead to a checkpoint and watch a North Korean soldier spawn right in front of you. It’s just bad.
It’s really a shame. As I’ve said, there is some good stuff in there. Revolution takes Homefront into a semi-open world. It feels a bit like the last Deus Ex in that it’s a limited openness, but it works. For those burnt out on open worlds, Revolution isn’t probably going to…revolutionize…the genre. However there are some things that work well. Flashpoints, which randomly pop-up on the battlefields, are interesting diversions that provide monetary and equipment incentives. Job boards at safe houses also provide side missions that have a fair amount of variety to them: take out enemy snipers at a location, re-establish power to a potential safe-house, photograph enemy guard details, destroy enemy mobile weaponry or soldiers using a specific method, etc.
These missions, along with clearing out occupied spaces, provide you with strike points and money, which are essential to upgrading yourself and your weapons. Strike points allow you to learn on-the-fly weapon modifications. Turn a bow into a flamethrower, an assault rifle into a machine gun, or a battle rifle into a patriotic, red-white-and blue firework shooting, ‘Murica weapon. The mods are interesting and fun, if not impractical. Money allows you to purchase supplies, which include different kinds of grenades or hack tools, which can also all be modified into remote, mobile, and motion-detection versions.
They’re fun diversions, but not necessarily required in order to progress through the game. If you want to make things easier on yourself, you’ll do a fair amount of them though. Many times, resistance caches or strike points will require some combination of these tools to capture them. The way these places are hidden makes them mostly fun and occasionally frustrating to unlock. Every cache and strike point gained by the resistance makes each area easier to navigate, and thus story missions usually easier to complete as well.
It’s easy to see the hard work put in by the team. It’s also easy to see that the many stops and starts and continuation of an already troubled and mediocre “franchise” as it attempts to move forward. Guerrilla fighting through American streets is a concept that has worked before. At the very core, it’s a setup that can make for an interesting story and a good game. In the case of Homefront Revolution, it served to showcase both the best and worst attributes of the title.
I’d love to be able to say that the early teases we received of Homefront Revolution delivered, that the idea that you can’t make a good sequel from a mediocre title was squashed. But it’s simply not the case. I can’t come straight out and say that it’s a bad game though. I enjoyed portions of it too much to do so. But I can’t ignore the narrative and technical issues that make up the bulk of the gameplay experience either though. Perhaps under different circumstance, this team’s hard work could have paid off, but if it does in the future, it will undoubtedly do so with a different IP. Homefront is done.
Homefront: The Revolution was reviewed on Playstation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher
Developer: Dambuster Studios| Publisher: Deep Silver | Genre: FPS | Platform: PC, XBox One, PS4 | PEGI/ESRB: 18/M | Release Date: May 17, 2016