In Oppressed Philadelphia, Born And Tased…
Game: Homefront: The Revolution
Developer: Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
(Review copy provided by publisher)
It’s best to state this at the beginning; Homefront The Revolution could easily have been very good. I know you could basically say that of any game, really. It’s like pointing out that Superman 64 would have sold loads if they’ve have tried a bit harder, or Metal Gear Solid V would have been amazing if they’d have put some feeling into it and used more than the grey and green bits of the colour palette. But there is clearly something very enjoyable at the core of the latest Homefront instalment. It just feels like it could have done with a lot more work before release, which is odd considering early builds of it were knocking about two years ago. Admittedly, those two years haven’t been the smoothest of sailing for the developers, but even with that context this is still a game that falls very short of its potential.
To start at the beginning; H:TR takes place in an alternate universe, somewhere in the future. Americans have been buying weapons from North Korea (the bad Korea) for some time, who even in this reality are a bit of a concern, and then found themselves in debt to them. The Koreans have built backdoors into all the weapons that the USA are now relying on, and are able to switch them off remotely. They then do so, and invade the country, basically treating it a bit like their dustbin and not being the nicest of guests. Somewhat hilariously, the revolutionaries in the game shorten ‘North Koreans’ to ‘Norks’, which I assume doesn’t mean the same thing it did when I was at school.
Not everyone in the USA is thrilled about their newfound government and you play Brady, a silent protagonist and revolutionary in Philadelphia which, thanks to the North Koreans’ attitude, now looks a little like Grimsby. You and your band of outlaws are pinning all their hopes on someone called Walker, an almost mythical leader who is so damn important and good at being a revolutionary leader that he manages to get kidnapped in the first five minutes.
The start of the game is actually fairly startling. I’m not overly familiar with H:TR’s predecessor, but even so I wasn’t really expecting to see two people murdered with clawhammers in the opening cutscene. It’s especially jarring tonally considering how mainstream and cliche the rest of the introduction is; you’re treated to various individuals with less than ideal lip synching, and things are narrated by a man with a gruff voice that wouldn’t sound out of place on a 1980s Van Damme trailer. One of the characters even says he “picked a bad time to get shot”, which is just one example of the eye-rolling dialogue you’ll find as you progress.
In the interests of optimism, let’s get the worst bits out of the way now. The engine of this game is… Well, it’s not wonderful. Unfortunately for H:TR, I’d spent the several days prior to picking up this review playing Doom, which runs like a hell-based dream. Homefront, on the other hand, frequently judders and stalls. Like, as a matter of routine. I’ve heard a lot of people say the PC version is more palatable. I, however, had the PS4 version, so that’s what the review is based on.
Even when you’re strolling around the city at the very beginning, the frame rate stutters as you look around. Every time a new area is loaded, your player will freeze on the spot for a few seconds while the world continues around you. There also appears to be some serious lack of attention to detail in other places. For example, when you jump your hands briefly appear in front of you and in shot, yet they suddenly flicker and disappear unnaturally fast every single time. Similarly, I often found myself stuck on furniture and anything else littering the environments for no good reason.
It’s not just limited to the player character, either. NPCs perennially walk into, and through, each other and walls. The problem with all of this is, it’s so frequent it’s impossible to imagine no one spotted any of this during play-testing. So, did Deep Silver knowingly put out a version that was flawed and needed work? Unavoidably and embarrassingly so, it seems. Do they intend to patch the problems post-release? In a world where they’re competing with the aforementioned, almost-perfect single player campaign of Doom for the attention of shooter fans, it may well be too late for this.
With that out of the way, let’s move to the positives. Homefront is actually a decent idea for a game, and has a lot to offer anyone willing to look past the glaring performance issues. Unfortunately, looking past these is akin to trying to find a mushroom under an elephant. Either way, the game frequently looks impressively detailed, and for some reason makes a very good job of rendering leather jackets. The environments in general are excellent; the atmosphere permeating the whole world is one of oppression and poverty and the time that has clearly gone into making every house, shop and street look utterly run down and miserable is impressive. Not only that, but they’re also designed and plotted well; running through bombed-out houses and across yards and streets feels incredibly natural and flows with almost Mirrors Edge-like fluidity.
Rather than simply arming you up and expecting you to take on the Koreans one at a time with bullets, Deep Silver have done a good job of making you feel truly against the odds by making it clear from the start that gung-ho shooting will get you nowhere but the morgue. Therefore, you’ll find yourself fleeing from the authorities more often than not, feeling hunted and vulnerable. You navigate the world using your smartphone, which proves a codified and easy way of getting through messages, maps and so on.
There’s also bits where you have to hack into the Norks’ (ahem) systems, which is basically a complete lift of the remote hacking device sections of Arkham Knight, but still quite good fun nonetheless. The weapon system is also reasonably innovative and enjoyable. It makes the most of that contentious mechanic, crafting; providing you with the materials to make your own explosive devices and letting you get on with it. You can also adapt firearms, rather than simply upgrade them. Pistols can be modified (quite severely, but oddly quickly) to become sub-machine guns. You can also buy other firearms, but I’m not entirely sure it makes sense that you have to purchase these from your own team when you’re all supposed to be on the same side.
Similarly, the sections where you take to your dirt bike and barrel around the rubble and conveniently placed ramps are precariously fun, as is hiding from the constant surveillance while you dive behind walls and other people from the omni-present facial scanners and guards.
Your aim is to retake the city, and this is done via the Hearts and Minds mechanic. Philadelphia is broken into smaller areas, and each of these has its own Hearts and Minds meter. This starts low, and you need to get it to 100%; at which point the residents will follow your cause and join you in rebelling against their ‘Nork’ oppressors. This basically amounts to causing chaos, cautiously peeping out from hiding, killing some guards or damaging some property, then disappearing again. However, it’s impossible to talk about Homefront for too long without coming to another snag. You’re given prompts as you stroll around on what will help boost the meter, such as cutting the power to enemy installations, taking out advertising hoardings or even turning radios over to your revolutionary station, presumably playing lots of The Clash. However, on numerous occasions I was prompted to intervene in a ‘Nork’ (it doesn’t get any better, does it?) harassing a citizen. Literally every time I did I got a radio message saying well done, but it had absolutely no effect on the Hearts and Minds meter. I assume this is yet another a bug, and quite a glaring one. This frequently happened while performing other actions I was directed to do, making progress through the game like wading through particularly glitchy treacle.
If you want a decent comparison for Homefront: The Revolution (and who doesn’t?), try Just Cause 3. That’s a game that was still enormous amounts of fun despite an engine that fell to pieces if it had to deal with more than 3 moving objects at a time. It was also about revolution and liberating people whether they wanted it or not, although that’s on a nice Caribbean island and not in the desolate slums of Philadelphia. However, H:TR is even more buggy than that. Deep Silver appear to have done something far worse than release a bad game, they’ve released a game that isn’t finished. It’s easy while playing through the single player to think that, if some more thought had gone into removing the juddering issues with the performance, this could have been a strong contender for the game buying public’s money. There is fun to be had here, and there is a reasonable story, decent characters and a great sense of atmosphere that could have done wonders if it had the chance. As it is…. Well, it’s nigh on impossible to recommend a game that appears to have been released as a half-finished product.
No wonder the Norks are so angry.
I respect everything you have said here Jonathan, however for me – the story alone was enough to pull me through the bugs (and don’t get me wrong, there were some really game breaking moments) I am just happy that the developer acknowledges performance problems and has promised to patch… Read more »
Yeah, I mentioned in the podcast too that I like the story and the characters, but I’m not sure how ‘right’ it is to put out something that’s not finished. That seems to be something that people accept in videogames more than anywhere else. Like, you wouldn’t be happy if… Read more »
I am in complete agreement. The game is far from perfect and developers/publisher should know better than to release a game half finished, especially one with a bad development history as those are the games that will get scrutinized the most. I am sadly yet to play Doom, but it… Read more »
Ha! Indeed, I was imagining Game of Thrones but with tennis balls on sticks instead of the dragons. Films without CGI, that’s a DVD extra I’d be all over.
Haha! Can you imagine that! Well with all that being said; I enjoyed your review. Its a crying shame about the game though. There was so much more that could have been done – the recruit a freedom fighter system could have been a wee bit more involved too instead… Read more »