Development Hell, quite unsurprisingly, doesn’t usually end happily for video games. Games are lost in the swirling ether for decades, or they arrive, limp, messy and uninspired (Duke Nukem Forever I hark at thee). The tale of both Homefront: The Revolution, and its developer Dambuster Studios, is awash with bad fortune, stumbling blocks, closures and a myriad of other issues.
The game first looked doomed when original publisher THQ first closed the studio responsible for the original Homefront, and then subsequently went belly up themselves two years later, only for Crytek to swoop in and retrieve the project. Crytek handed the project to Crytek UK, a Nottingham-based studio who’d been the team responsible for the beloved Timesplitters series and the less charming disasterpiece Haze. Crytek UK went on to clash with their parent company over unpaid wages, and before long, Crytek sold the Homefront ip to Koch Media and much of Crytek UK followed suit, forming Dambuster Studios.
Together, they have finally completed what can only be described as an absolute nightmare development cycle. Thankfully, it isn’t quite the unmitigated disaster you might have anticipated, given its torrid life thus far. That doesn’t mean it is without problems clearly symptomatic of the struggle.
Homefront: The Revolution takes place in a near-future alternate reality where North Korea got the jump on the rest of the world with technology, and the U.S. was more than happy to indulge them, buying up every snazzy piece of kit the country had to offer. This eventually leads to North Korea making weapons, which the U.S. end up implementing during desperate times of war. The downside is that the U.S. spirals into heavy debt to the North Koreans. When the American government defaults on that debt, North Korea reveals its deadly secret; every piece of tech has a back door and overnight, the Koreans shut down the U.S. military, and effectively enslave the country. You come in a little later, in the midst of a rebellion against the Korean oppressors.
You play as Brady, a new recruit to the resistance in Philadelphia who, through a series of unfortunate events, becomes a beacon of hope for the oppressed. You are basically expected to inspire the population of Philadelphia to rise up and take back the city from the KPA. It makes for a pretty decent story, if a little disjointed from the game itself in places. You get the population to rise up in a number of ways. There’s the bigger missions that mainly advance the story while making significant steps towards potential freedom, and then there’s the smaller things, which add up to inspiring sectors to rebel completely and flush out the KPA from that area. This involves tasks such as dismantling equipment, assassinating KPA Elite, providing for the needy and switching the radio station to Jazz FM (well, the resistance radio, but some smooth jazz would have been better). Each act inspires the public a little more until you reach that magic 100% mark and turn the tide of oppression.
Sounds easy enough, but the KPA are massively superior in terms of numbers, firepower and technology, so you and other resistance members have to work with the ‘Smash N’ Grab’ plan quite often. This means ambushes and clinical strikes that last seconds and require you to leg it pretty swiftly once the damage is done. If it does anything, it at least makes you truly feel like the underdog giving the big bad a bloody nose. Echoes of the future parts of the Terminator films (notably in the soundtrack, which is beautifully 80’s synth-inspired), fused with all the Red Dawn callbacks of the original Homefront. Even as you reach the later stages of the game, and you’ve upgraded your equipment, weaponry and taken back most of the map, the KPA are no cakewalk. You see, there’s little dawdling in Homefront: The Revolution. Different ‘zones’ have different levels of enforcement, but after the first few missions, the KPA are always on the lookout for you, so traipsing about the streets nonchalantly is a no go if you don’t want to be mowed down in a hail of bullets.
At first this is a tad overwhelming, and a bit unfair, as there seems to be little you can do to actively avoid the KPA without either inching painfully past at a pace best reserved for Emile Heskey in Medieval armour, or by just rushing past threats and praying they don’t get long enough to notice you. A little of both is obviously the optimum way to proceed, yet Homefront: The Revolution seems to make both options incredibly frustrating. The slow crawl is utterly boring, because you end up doing it for far longer than is necessary or fun. Plus, you inevitably end up in a firefight you need to run from. Rushing keeps you out of sticky situations more directly, but until you know the map a little better, it has just as many disadvantages.
Annoyingly, KPA units often just pop up out of nowhere, not appearing on your radar or your screen until you practically skid into their cold, gunpowder-flavoured embrace. You end up having to fudge your way through many situations outside of the more carefully-planned ones. It’s a shame that the balance is off, because when you do actually succeed in sneaking up on a KPA unit, ambushing them, and then slipping off to the safety of the tunnels and safe houses of Philly before anything more chaotic occurs, it’s very satisfying. Unfortunately, these moments are all too brief in the opening hours, and still pretty rare as you progress beyond that.
Things do get easier in time as you begin to understand where the escape points are, how to handle motorbikes, and by buying better clothing and armour and purchasing better upgrades for your guns, mostly via scavenging computer parts and rummaging in people’s sofas. Weapon upgrades come with a nice twist, as they have various snap-on parts for your base gun that modifies it into several different weapon types, rather than carrying around multiple weapons. Likewise, explosives and distractions (firecrackers) are also upgradeable. Starting as mere deadly projectiles, they evolve into timed teddy bear explosives and RC Car incendiaries. Amusing stuff taking out a KPA unit at a distance with a remote-controlled car bomb, a definite highlight of what is otherwise fairly standard combat.
So, the concept is solid and pretty well executed, and whilst flawed and mostly generic, the combat is passable. This is sadly about the best that Homefront gets. There’s no one major issue with Dambuster Studios’ game that derails it or makes it unpleasant to play; in truth, it’s very much a hit and miss affair, but there is a multitude of smaller irritations that will lead to much eye-rolling and frustrated sighing. Best examples are the visuals and the game’s overall performance. There are moments where Homefront: The Revolution looks quite nice, usually when it’s nighttime and rain-soaked, accentuating the illumination of the ragged streets in fire, and the sharp glow of colours from the KPA equipment and weapons, and further cementing that Terminator vibe. Otherwise, the oppression seems to have seeped into the color palette as everything is a depressing shade of mud. It makes sense given the tone, and it does make the flashes of color stand out, but it’s hard to get excited about brown and grey when you aren’t looking to get a new kitchen fitted. The graphical quality seems a bit indecisive. You have moments where the game looks like a serviceable current-gen title, but whenever things get busy, the game gets a bit too inspired by that color palette and decides to smear it into every texture. Not so much ugly as incredibly plain and dull.
As for the performance, well, a patch on launch day may clear things up a bit, but currently speaking, the framerate is incredibly choppy. The game also freezes briefly whenever a mission is over/beginning. The frequency of these issues is rather disappointing, cropping up far too often and hampering your enjoyment greatly.
More than once I found missions would glitch out, requiring me to restart the game before it would work properly again. This occurred most notably early on in the game, during the first examples of winning ‘Hearts and Minds’. You have to go around the neighbourhood, helping people, meddling with KPA equipment, and retuning radios. The percentage in the top corner would steadfastly refuse to change despite doing multiple tasks, effectively blocking you from continuing the main story. The game still registers that you’ve done the task, but the mission does not. It’s the most common glitch I found in Homefront: The Revolution, and, along with the other problems, it just makes missions intolerable, frustrating, and boring when they should be exciting, dynamic moments of nervous joy. As the game progresses, you end up viewing each threat as bothersome rather than fearing them. Slowly, the game is stripped of the danger of its underdog story, and the enjoyment of the uprising, eroding what are arguably its key selling points. It’s worth pointing out that the day one patch may have eradicated these issues, but it came too late for me to find out.
Resistance Mode does pep things up a bit, giving you co-op scenarios that involve the same ambush-planning of the main game, but with that satisfaction/frustration of having human team mates to plan with. As with many teamwork-based game modes, it lives and dies on how well you can trust your teammates. There was happily very little in the way of glory-grabbing during my time with it, but once a wider audience gets to it, that will inevitably change.
I’d have liked nothing more than for Homefront: The Revolution to be a better success story. You can’t help but feel sympathy for Dambuster’s troubled recent past and I dearly hope they get another shot at a less troubled project, but everything about the game echoes that horrific development cycle. It feels piecemeal, styles from different teams , resulting in an often messy shooter that still manages to have some genuinely good ideas, an interesting story, and some robust mechanics Just fixing one or two of the issues would easily make Homefront: The Revolution into a very good, solid, open world shooter . It will have its fans, there’s no doubt there. While some will warm to the Far Cry-esque familiarity, others will embrace the more competent aspects of its approach to combat strategy. We’re not dealing with a truly bad game, rather a brave one that hasn’t quite managed to push against the weight of investment and expectation successfully.