Homefront: The Revolution's eventful back story is well documented. To switch publishers and in doing so change direction mid-development is something that can really affect a game. Therefore, we were curious as to what would await us in war-torn North America, and what kind of experience we would have.
The game continues in the footsteps of its predecessor. North Korea has taken over the United States, and now all Americans live under the boot of their North Korean overlords. But not everyone accepts this as their fate. As the title suggests there is a revolution brewing, and you are one of the new recruits who has joined the fight. Your name is Ethan Brady and you are out to rescue a man called Walker, the architect of the rebellion, all the while fighting the enemy, and continuing to gather recruits.
So how exactly do you go about building a revolution? What does our so far insignificant Brady need to do to get everyone else's attention and spread the message of freedom? There are many ways of doing this. You must, among other things, sabotage the North Korean's technology, destroy their tanks, smash cameras, switch radio broadcasts around the city, and help the locals in their time of need. All in the name of the revolution. The most effective way is to break into and conquer North Korean bases, as this gives you a section of the map where the revolution can take control.
There are different areas, and depending on where you are, you need to play things a bit differently. In the open areas, you can run around more freely, team up with others, and get them to help you along the way. And then there are the red areas, where civilians live, but where the soldiers are most attentive. Therefore, whenever you're there you need to sneak around so as not to be seen while you do your illegal, libertarian deeds.
The concept that underpins Homefront is really good, and it works on many levels. Dambuster manages to convey the feeling of being the underdog as you start to build up the resistance almost from scratch. There's always something to fight for. At times we felt like lawless freedom fighters as we snuck into an enemy base and killed the soldiers there, silently, one by one. Over time we built up our rebellious force, all the time feeling like we'd made a difference, that we were doing something important.
Further feeding into this feeling is the constantly changing environments. Each area has its own meter, called Hearts and Minds, and as this gradually increases, the people around us put up more and more resistance to the soldiers. They began to attack them, to sabotage their electronics, and graffiti revolutionary messages on the walls. The greater our effort, the more support we received from the world around us, which in turn pushes us to keep on going.
Although we switched a lot - a LOT - of radio channels along the way, and repeatedly saved civilians from evil soldiers, we were never bored. It never became monotonous. Whether finding radios or breaking into North Korean bases, each time it felt different because the layout changed along with the subsequent challenge. Many times these missions required us to stop and think, and it was rarely as easy as walking up to the front door and fiddling with the radio. More often than not we had to scan the site to figure out how we would get into a hole in the wall above our heads. We regularly had to use our weapons and gadgets in new ways, which also gave us a reason to stop and try to figure everything out.
In addition, there's plenty of variation across the missions. Sometimes we had to sneak around without weapons, killing our enemies in complete silence with a knife. Other times we had to defend our tanks. And in entirely different circumstances all we needed to do was break into the enemy base with a pump-action in hand and go nuts. It never got dull.
And if you still need something else to do along the way, or if you just need a little extra money, you can always tackle some of the minor side-quests. Here, for example, you get to play the photographer using the camera on your phone to gather information about the enemy, or to spread a positive message by taking snaps of rebellion forces in action. You can also practice using your new guns by shooting enemy drones down. There's a little bit of everything here.
The extra money that you earn along the way can be used to expand your arsenal of weapons and gadgets. You can unlock six different weapons, all of which have two sub-categories, and you can convert them as you progress. For example, a regular pistol can be made into a sub-machine gun, and a regular crossbow can be made into a flamethrower. However, it's the gadgets that are the coolest. You can, among other things, get so-called Hacks. As the name implies these items can be used to hack the enemy's tech. You can also get a bomb that's attached to a remote controlled car. This, for example, allows you to drive into the North Korean camps, heading straight to a critical point before blowing it up, all from the comfort of your position outside of the base.
There are many ideas that work really well, and the premise behind it is really great. However, it's a shame that there are also just as many things that don't work, elements that simply feel unfinished.
Many of the problems are on the small side, but they add up. For example, the screen freezes every time there's an autosave. Then, every time we purchased something, completed a mission, or anything similar, the screen would freeze for a short while. Although it might sound like a small thing, it ends up being quite annoying. When, in the middle of a gunfight, we apparently completed some side-quest, it caused everything to freeze and pulled us out of the moment.
Another thing that really tested our patience was the many glitches and crashes that we endured throughout our play-through. It's probably something that can be fixed post launch, and it shouldn't be something that takes up much space in a review, but when a game crashes over ten times in one of the most critical and challenging missions in the game, every time just as we were nearing completion, it needs to be mentioned - perhaps only as testimony to how amazing it was that our controller actually survived the frustration brought about during that mission.
Additionally, we were troubled with the facial animations, with movements that weren't at all consistent with what was being said by the characters. It's the kind of thing that once noticed, can't be unseen. In addition, the dialogue sometimes seemed to be clipped together with little care, with an uneven audio mix meaning you were able to hear the different takes that had been put together. Other times, the characters just ended up saying two different things on top of each other, and it was impossible understand anything.
One of the major problems we had was the story itself. Although the idea of building a rebellion really captured our imagination, the story was just too sentimental for our tastes. It's like they've taken every American stereotype possible and stuffed them all into one game. The unknown rebel who fights his way up from the gutter, the dream of freedom, the American flag which decorates the game at every turn, the rebels' joy in using firearms. Perhaps we had problems relating to it because we're not American, but the emotional twists and turns that the game threw at us simply didn't hit as hard as they should have done.
In addition, we felt like we were being delivered a message that never really got an ending. One character, Dr. Barrett, advocated peaceful means of rebellion, and just when the revolution is at its lowest and violence backfires, he is ready with a reminder. But as you start to think that "ok, we're going to change perspective and our approach", it's not long before the tone once again shifts and we're grabbing our weapons and shooting away like mindless goons. It's just something else that feels unfinished.
There is also the option to team up with friends or other players and play co-op missions. To be able to do that you must first create a character. With very simple creation tools you build your avatar and then choose between 23 different backgrounds, ranging from dancer to cab driver. These backgrounds determine the starting skills that you will be expanding upon throughout the co-op missions. It's a neat system that ties into the fiction nicely.
When you're done making your character you choose what kind of mission you want to tackle. You can either do defensive missions where you have to rescue friendlies or fend off attacking enemy forces. And, as you might have figured out, you can also take on attack missions. Here you will be the one assaulting an enemy base. There are six different missions to choose from and you can either sign up for an online match or play them by yourself. Whenever you play a mission and accomplish something you earn some money which you can use on your wardrobe, weapons, and gadgets. You can create different characters but the things you unlock are shared between them all. The missions are very much like those from the single-player campaign, so it's a great way to experience the game with friends.
Our experience with Homefront: The Revolution a mixed one. It was fun at times, and it's certainly challenging. But the negative and frustrating elements, however small they were individually, were numerous, and together they paint a picture of a game that was rushed out the door. The lack of polish drags the experience down, and it didn't feel like the game we were hoping for, nor the game that the exciting premise deserved. It's a little sad to think how great Homefront could have been if only they'd sorted out the little details.