Some games have such terrific concepts and ideas that you try very hard to like them more than they deserve. Homefront: The Revolution from Deep Silver is one of those games. It has a great view of a city overrun by foreign parties and the effort to take it all back, tied to some generally interesting gameplay mechanics like modifiable weapons and ad-hoc support units. But but weak AI and a generally lackluster campaign bog the experience down.
The story of Homefront: The Revolution follows the ideas put forward in the original title. In this alternate reality North Korea is a tech powerhouse, while the United States has fallen on hard times and has faded as a superpower. Most U.S. tech, both military and commercial, is sourced from North Korea, and at a key moment Pyongyang unlocks the back door and occupies the United States.
It starts as a peaceful occupation, but swiftly turns to a despotic one. Of course a revolution starts and a pivotal figure rises up, much like John Connor from the Terminator series, named Benjamin Walker. You start as a new recruit, and a silent one at that (more on that later), who gets caught up in the disappearance of Walker early in the game and steps up as a key player within the resistance.
With the narrative established, Homefront throws you somewhat into the deep end, with a slice of Philadelphia open and ready to explore. I was surprised by the number of mechanics that you start to use that are unexplained until the next section, but I got the hang of it quickly and started moving around and taking care of problems.
There are a number of mission types you experience right away. Some are tasks to reclaim buildings, others to activate transmitters which flag the strongholds North Korea has set up. On the map view there are a number of metrics that show how far the resistance is engaged in the area; this was confusing, as the significance of this meter is not revealed until the next area is unlocked.
One of the things I like quite a bit about the objectives is that there are more instances available than you need to achieve the objective. For example, there are many more than the five radio signals you need to find to complete that check box. This removes the hunting frustration many open world games suffer from.
Oddly, it was once I had progressed to the next section of Philadelphia that the tutorials on the objectives, markers and support characters started popping up. I had mostly figured all of this out and found it odd that they were teaching me the game more than two hours in.
One of the things not demonstrated at the start is the Hearts and Minds meter, which activates as you complete objectives. Once I hit a certain level of disruption and mayhem to the “Nork” (nickname for North Korean) forces, I could send a broadcast inciting the local population to rise up and fight back. Before I hit this point I had to try to hide and blend with the population, otherwise I would attract attention and be swarmed by Nork forces without any support. If I was spotted I could hide in a dumpster or outhouse as the alert phase wound down, much like hiding in Assassin’s Creed works.
Speaking of Assassin’s Creed, I could not help but notice how much Homefront: The Revolution borrows from that title as well as from the Far Cry series and even the recent Division game. As in Far Cry, unlocking transmitters reveals items on the map. Hiding and stalking enemies allows knife-based assassinations as in Assassin’s Creed. And weapons can be customized much like Division weapons, although I like the real-time aspect of Homefront better.
One thing Homefront did not copy from other open world games is competent AI. In this game the AI is quite pathetic at times, greatly souring the experience. Enemies are either preternaturally aware of you or ignore actions inches from their faces. Your allies, resistance fighters whom I could recruit with a quick tap of a button, would get lost easily and often fail to attack enemies who are all over them.
There is also a feeling of wasted potential in the game, with the main protagonist being silent and all major narrative points generally out of your control. This is supposed to be a moving story about resistance and solidarity, and I played as a nobody strung along for the ride who doesn’t even speak. I would have rather played as Walker to really feel part of the story. For the most part, the character I played generally went from zone to zone, establishing footholds and then moving on to the next area, having little to no narrative impact on the story.
Progress was not always an easy task, as Homefront has a serious stuttering issue that triggers at every checkpoint, and a wildly fluctuating frame rate that made the game frustrating at times. Glitches and weird reactions also popped up quite often. Early in my playthrough I recorded a snippet of gameplay where you can see the good and bad aspects of the title.
There are some very promising features of Homefront: The Revolution that made the game interesting despite its overarching weaknesses. The environments are very well done, with many areas of Philadelphia labelled as Yellow or Red Zones. Red Zones are burnt-out, desolate areas where I was shot on site, while Yellow Zones varied between beaten-down neighbourhoods and clean occupied areas where I could blend in with NPCs to avoid notice.
The architecture of the levels provide plenty of places to explore, hide in, and use as vantage points. I really appreciated the freedom to plan assaults given with the designs. Weapons are another strong point. In this game you are given three customizable weapon types that you can adjust on the fly as you buy extra parts or modifiers. I had fun making a shotgun full-auto or converting it into a launcher of sorts. Gear also includes Molotovs, explosives, and hacking tools that can be modified for proximity or remote detonation, but I found those modifiers generally useless.
In the end Homefront: The Revolution is a game with some great ideas and concepts but a by-the-book story, weak AI, and stuttering issues that make it a title that will struggle to gain many fans. It is a shame because the core concepts and ideas are very strong, but the game needed some more time in development and some focus changes to be something truly great. If anything Homefront: The Revolution gives an interesting but flawed look at an occupied America. It’s a shame it wasn’t more enjoyable to actually play.