May 20, 2016
I experienced a whole bunch of feelings while playing Dambuster Studio’s open world FPS, Homefront: The Revolution.
The first was optimism. Homefront: The Revolution’s concept is basically that of an urban, near-future Far Cry. Set in occupied Philadelphia following a Korean invasion of the US, the game sees citizens impoverished and essentially imprisoned in their own country. I love a bit of Far Cry, so this sounded right up my street. The concept was strong: crafting improved weapons from stuff you’ve salvaged or stolen, liberating sections of the city with a mixture of stealth and shooting, and inspiring a full-scale revolution. Sounds pretty fun, I thought.
The second feeling, however, was disappointment. Before you even get full control of your character in Homefront: The Revolution, during an early in-engine cutscene, you can tell it’s gonna run like crap. And it does. The frame rate is really poor, noticeably under 30fps most of the time, slowing down even further when there’s lots of stuff happening on-screen (enabling temporal anti-aliasing improves the situation a bit, and the game performs better on Xbox One, but it’s still a bit rubbish). This is all a problem. It spoils any chance of the shooting feeling good and is minorly nausea-inducing at first. But truth be told? You kind of get used to it after a while. You learn to live with it. It’s not acceptable, but it is manageable. Onwards.
The next feeling was frustration. There’s a bug in the new Homefront that makes the game hang every time there’s an autosave. If you walk into a new area, pick up certain items, interact with a vendor or do any of a small handful of actions, the game just stops. The sound continues, but you can’t move. For seconds. It might as well be years.
Pushing on, the next feeling to hit me was sympathy. There’s a decent game here buried under all the shit, I thought. At times (largely at night, when some nice, warm lighting effects kick in) it can be a rather attractive game. Some of the character models are great too. And at it’s best, Homefront: The Revolution comes very close to nailing the feeling of being a guerrilla fighter.
The game achieves this partially through the way it handles stealth. The city unlocks in chunks and each of those chunks is controlled by an aggressive Korean presence. The Koreans aren’t just hiding in outposts, they’re roaming the streets, willing to gun you down for all manner of poorly defined reasons. You can barely move without attracting their attention. As a result, you really feel like you’re under the heel of an oppressive regime.
They’re better equipped than you too. While you get a basic loadout of a couple of weapons, perilously few bullets to fire from them, and just a handful of health packs, the Koreans stomp up and down the streets with armour and high-tech guns, accompanied by APCs and drones and all sorts. Above the city, giant floating mecha-blimps roam. People are harassed for no reason, dragged from their homes and beaten.
Basically, you’re weak and they’re not. You can be spotted easily. You can die easily. When everything aligns and the game doesn’t shoot itself in the foot, you feel like you’re a guerrilla fighter, taking out a couple of Koreans, looting their bodies, then scampering out of view to scavenge more items and craft better stuff. No other game captures that feeling.
Plus, I liked the way the game handles weapon modifications. There are just a handful of core weapon types, but once you’ve done some unlocking each can be swapped out into different variants, whenever you like. So a handgun can become an SMG or a silent pneumatic pistol, on the fly, to suit your situation. You can swap out optics and muzzles and underbarrels too. It’s a good little system.
The reason all this made me feel sympathetic was that Dambuster Studio has been through a lot making this game. When it started creating Homefront: The Revolution, the studio wasn’t even called Dambuster, it was called Crytek UK (formerly Free Radical Design). The developers have worked under a couple of publishers and endured all kinds of crap since then, completely outside of their control. It’s hard to make games in those circumstances, I thought. They’ve done kind of well, considering.
It’s not a small game, either. There’s a lot to see and do in Homefront: The Revolution, as you attempt to inspire citizens to rise up by ticking off a laundry list of rebellious acts; navigating Far Cry tower-esque environmental puzzles, taking out bases, engaging in crafted story missions, and hoovering up some (essentially) collectibles. Plus there’s a separate, promising but pedestrian co-op mode too, with a whole bunch of missions to play, its own economy and a Supply Drop-style lucky dip loot feature. That’s a lot to take on, especially for a studio of Dambuster’s size. I felt sorry for them.
The next feeling: amusement. The AI in Homefront can be hilariously bad. Whether NPCs wonder bemused in front of the camera, walk endlessly into walls, or float in mid-air, they’re very frequently up to something funny. The enemy AI, which veers between dumb-as-a-blind-stick stupidity and sharp shooting omniscience, meanwhile, is rather less chucklesome. Still, there’s always the chance that the bin in front of you will start spinning wildly when you walk into it, thanks to the game’s occasionally wonky physics. That’ll put a smile on your face.
Eventually, I returned to frustration. There’s design problems in Homefront: The Revolution to go along with those tech issues, many of which only make themselves apparent later in the game. The combat scenarios are just not fun, whether approached aggressively or stealthily. Difficulty spikes spoil the flow. Mantling doesn’t always work. Some items in the world only appear in the right circumstances, an occurrence of which had me searching around for an hour to find something that wasn’t there. These things pile up on top of each other, eroding any goodwill. The game is a mess.
Which leads me to my final emotion: anger. While I feel sorry for Dambuster and I admire Deep Silver for saving the project, Homefront: The Revolution isn’t finished. It shouldn’t be on sale. Both the developer and publisher were aware of the game’s state when they shipped, but they shipped anyway. Someone somewhere said: fuck it. And that’s unacceptable. Despite everything, I just can’t support a game that clearly should never have left the studio.
I’m not saying that if you buy Homefront: The Revolution you won’t have any fun. That’s not true. And hey, a bunch of the problems could possibly be patched out in the coming weeks. But if you do buy it, aware of these issues, you’re indirectly supporting the very worst industry practices. You’re saying it’s okay for a game to be shipped in an awful state. I’ll let you decide whether or not that’s the right thing to do.
Some of the individual pieces of music, and the voice acting, is solid. Good, even. However, the transitions between different pieces of music can be clunky and the angry crowd sounds often sit at odds with what you can see on screen.
A mixed bag. Some areas are beautifully lit, detailed and atmospheric, others are a boring brown sludge. The core cast of characters are modelled very well, but you’ll notice identical NPC models wandering around. The frame rate is very poor.
The poor frame rate spoils the experience, damaging the quality of the combat. There’s frequent hangs on autosaves, the odd difficulty spike, and many of the combat encounters just aren’t fun. There are some aspects of the game I really enjoyed, but the long list of complaints completely outweigh them.
There’s a lot of stuff to do in Homefront: The Revolution. The main campaign offers up around 30 hours of play, while the separate co-op mode is substantive. Trouble is, everything is plagued by technical issues and the some bad design.
It’s a decent list that covers a lot of familiar ground, without doing anything too exciting. Good luck getting the Deathwish difficulty achievement, however.
There’s some good ideas and nice execution beneath Homefront: The Revolution’s terrible performance and dodgy design. Very occasionally, everything lines up to make for a unique experience. However, the fact that the game was even released in this poor state is terrible.