Back in 2011, when THQ was still in business, Homefront was meant to be the publisher’s gateway into a burgeoning sector of the video game market ruled by first person shooters. Although Activision and EA had already carved up the lion’s share between them, there was still room for new entrants, especially those championing innovative, ground-breaking ideas. Homefront was hardly the antidote to the genre’s gradual stagnation, yet proved popular among a small niche of gamers. What stood out most was its approach to story and setting, guiding players through a broken America which had shattered under the imperialist might of the Korean People’s Army.
With Kaos Studios having been culled during THQ’s downfall, the Homefront IP was quickly snapped up by Crytek before being passed on to Deep Silver and the recently formed Dambuster Studios. Needless to say, Homefront’s long-awaited sequel has taken a long and rocky road to development. Impressively, despite the bumps and bruises along the way, that gripping core premise has remained intact.
Straight of the bat, players are treated to a cinematic prologue that helps to flesh out the game’s rewritten backstory. It basically asks how history may have panned out if Korea had birthed its own Silicon Valley during the early 1970s. It soon becomes a global superpower that sells its pioneering technology to the world, with the Apple-like Apex expanding its influence from the home to military tech in the early 2000’s. Fast forward to 2025 and, after too many wars in the Middle East and an increasing reliance on Apex weaponry tank their economy, America goes bankrupt. North Korea flips the switch, turning off all the tech they sold them and marches onto American soil under the flag of humanitarian aid. In truth, it’s a harsh military occupation.
Four years later, The Revolution has you play from the perspective of Ethan Brady, a rookie rebel fighter finding himself thrust right in the middle of the action. The opening moments feature KPA raids, daring rescues and more, but wind up with the resistance’s figurehead, Benjamin Walker, captured by the KPA. The first real goal is to try and get him back.
Despite a strong setting, Homefront: The Revolution does little to carry its story to new and interesting places. Everything, from moral conflicts to the occasional set piece moments, feels very by the numbers and don’t amount to much in the end. Characters – most notably, Brady himself – are nondescript and do little to make the player care about what’s happening. The lack of a discernible enemy figurehead throughout most of the game is also a major turn off as well. Although intimidating, the KPA is nothing but a highly-trained, well-equipped army of soldiers carrying out orders.
Luckily, what loose fragments of story exist do little to obstruct the player’s in-game experience. With next to no cutscenes or exhaustive dialogue, Dambuster Studios is able to focus on the open world design where Homefront: The Revolution shines brightest.
Where the original game was fairly linear, stringing a series of corridor shootouts together, here players are given more options to work with. As described in our road to review, The Revolution succeeds in making the player feel like an actual rebel fighter. This is done through combining guerilla tactics with a small arsenal of modified weapons. There are some cool gadgets too, such as remote devices and RC cars, that can be used to initiate an ambush or wreak havoc in general.
The city of Philadelphia is broken into a handful of sizeable areas, each one littered with outposts to liberate as well as “strikepoints” – landmarks that can be seized by the resistance and used for sniper overwatch. Those familiar with recent iterations of the Far Cry franchise will feel at home here, cycling between various waypoints such as a weapon caches and collectibles. What’s preferable to Ubisoft’s flagship shooter franchise is the compact design of these areas. Although a smattering of fast travel points would not have gone amiss, each of Homefront’s zones are – for the most part – quick and easy to navigate.
As the campaign map gradually turns from red to blue, players will unlock new weapons and equipment to mess around with like flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and hacking tools. With story taking a backseat, its progression systems are the main incentive to keep playing. That said, as you move from zone to zone, you’ll start to detect a familiar pattern.
Whether gaining ground in hostile red zones or liberating hearts and minds within civilian-populated yellow zones, players will find themselves in a repetitive cycle. This includes an initial scouting of the area before setting off to complete a shopping list of objectives. Once done, the process starts over in the next area, while story missions provide diversions from this loop.
The actual feel and flow of combat isn’t half bad. Homefront definitely hails from the Call of Duty school of first person shooters and it shows. Gunplay and movement feel light and fast with a few advanced mechanics thrown in there too. For instance, stealth and alert meters are used in yellow zones to monitor the KPA’s awareness. Stay exposed for too long and you’ll be forced to flee, keeping out of sight as the wave of KPA reinforcements go on the hunt. There’s some first person cover shooting in there too, complete with a blindfire action, though it’s far from being consistent.
While liberating those few first zones can be fun, repetition and a raft of bugs slowly turn Homefront into a dull grind. Although some of its technical issues are easy to gloss over, others are impossible to miss and can sometimes break the game entirely. There were a handful of occasions in which the game froze, forcing a restart of the console. More common are the bugs that see NPCs, interactive objects, and enemies simply vanish. This becomes particularly frustrating in those scenarios where you’re searching for a key character, only for them to not appear below the objective marker. The PlayStation 4 version also comes tagged with several broken trophies, including one tied to completing the game on its hardest difficulty setting.
Another notable issue is the game’s performance, even with the launch day patch (we reviewed version 1.02). During even its tamest moments, Homefront: The Revolution rarely hits the thirty frames per second that is needed for smooth gameplay. Chuck in several enemies along with some environmental effects and the action will drop to a crawl. Though far from bad looking – Dambuster Studios has done a decent job in bringing occupied Philly to life – the sluggish framerate doesn’t help Homefront’s gritty aesthetic. A muted soundtrack and middle-of-the-road character performances do little to add to the package, either.
Away from the meaty campaign is Homefront’s online component, dubbed Resistance Mode. Here, you create your own rebel fighter using a basic range of options before selecting a loadout and some bonus perks. Instead of opting for the usual PvP route, Dambuster has done up several of the locations found in singleplayer, dusting them with a few objectives for some quick action. It’s more directed and loses a lot of the open world freedom, and ultimately it’s all a bit too light and unfulfilling, feeling like a tacked on mode that will struggle to shift many of its microtransactions for cosmetics and consumables.
Expectations may not have been through the roof to begin with, but it’s difficult to walk away from Homefront: The Revolution without feeling disappointed. There are some genuinely enjoyable bursts of gameplay to be found, but for each one you’ll need to wade through a sludge of repetitive mission designs and annoying bugs.
Version Tested: PS4