by Nick Whitcroft
It’s not every day you stumble upon a video game set in a near-future war-torn dystopia; it’s about every other day. Yet there’s probably a reason for this – the grim, gritty surroundings and the classic David and Goliath underdog struggle of the inevitable rebel forces or clashing tribes leads to a word that’s fraught with tension and ‘rootable’ characters.
The question then: where does Homefront: The Revolution, the new game being developed by Deep Silver’s Dambuster Studios, fall on the spectrum of quality. During our time at i55, both Brad and I had a chance to get hands-on with a playable demo and, whilst this isn’t perhaps the ‘Revolution’ (sorry…) you might be hoping for, it’s certainly an atmospheric and meatye open-world shooter.
The sample opened at the same point as this year’s recent gameplay trailer (which is just below) so we knew straight away where to leap in, but the action continued for some time after, giving us a chance to delve into a bit of Homefront: The Revolution’s open-world.
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: at first taste, it’s very Far Cry. We’re not just talking about the free-roaming shooter element; The Revolution goes to far as to even unlock new areas of the map via the activation of relays. Yeah. I know, right. It’s frustrating in one sense, as it feels almost audaciously brazen in its lifting of gameplay elements, but, at the same time, I found myself forgiving it. There’s enough of its own game here to really provide a different experience, due in no small part to the genuinely oppressive atmosphere generated by the urban environment. With snipers, drones and armoured convoys round every corner and rubble-strewn warehouse complexes replacing Far Cry’s traditional stunning sprawling open landscapes, this is a far cry (*ahem*…) from the natural beauty of Ubisoft’s franchise.
Equally, the power flip is refreshing. Unlike many similar titles, where, as the game goes on, you find yourself emerging as an unstoppable action hero, I found the sense of vulnerability present in The Revolution a welcome breath of fresh air. Hit a convoy with an RC car-bomb or makeshift trap, break through the street and you’ll find yourself instinctively racing from the scene before drones can call in reinforcements to hunt you through the narrow streets (even if the AI could use a little refinement). It’s guerrilla warfare at its core and I seriously hope that remains the vibe in later stages of the game, rather than succumbing to the over-empowerment typical to the genre.
That’s not to say your “average joe”, Ethan Brady (does it get much more American?), does still take unhealthily quickly to carnage. I get it: it plays wonderfully off the Second Amendment fans’ dream of a homebrew militia standing up in the face of terror, and, just as previous games have played off real-world tensions, in today’s current climate, it seems that North Korea (sorry, the “Greater Korean Republic” and it’s Korean People’s Army) is fair game. Though I’m certainly impressed with how far their drone technology has apparently progressed; meanwhile America’s struggling resistance is stuck with exploding barrels and gaffa-taped guns. One advantage of this, however, seems to be the speed with which they can be modified – mirroring the weapon mod system from Crysis, scopes and attachments can be whipped on and off on-the-fly, even to the point of barrel replacements that (through some miracle of video game science) turn your humble shotgun into an incendiary launcher. Yeah, ‘Murica! Although, judging by the Thief-style exaggerated snatchy hands when picking up items, I guess maybe Ethan’s just incredibly dextrous.
It’s clear The Revolution is a big step up from its 2011 predecessor. It’s certainly not perfect, however. Many are already concerned by the departure from the highly stealth-focused feature from E3 2014, though I suspect, from watching it (especially given the lack of the character’s having a gun at the beginning of the footage) that this comes from a segment very early on in the campaign. It’s a shame though, as it whetted appetites for what could have been a very unique title, with your character actually scoping out areas, picking his approach, and then blending back into the oppressed masses between strikes and witnessing much more of the living breathing world, the city going on in suppressed hardship around you, providing a dramatic contrast to the action – one of the few things that Watch_Dogs actually did quite well. We already mentioned one other game that did this superbly – Half-Life 2. The developers cite City 17 as a major influence for the game, and it’s a shame not to see more of this in the way the interactions between the player character and the environment play out.
It’s certainly an interesting setting, however. Philadelphia is a city less known for its likeness featuring in video games, but it’s fitting: as the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution and American democracy (and, less relevantly, public banking) it serves as a stark antithesis to what the invading forces represent. Whilst the city isn’t precisely mapped, recognisable landmarks like Independence Hall and the Liberty bell will provide real-life anchors in what is now the KPA’s new U.S. capital.
It also looks lovely. Some people have derided the low-res textures but, playing it, personally I felt it came together quite well. The lighting effects, particularly in night scenes, with flames playing off the crumbling walls, are gorgeous. Most of the footage that has been released has allegedly been PC-builds, so fingers remain firmly crossed we avoid any nasty console porting issues, but it’s reassuring that live gameplay demos are holding up to scrutiny at this stage and I for one am optimistic that we’ll not see the title plagued by any major downgrade scandals. The character facial-mapping is pretty impressive too. There’s a degree of plasticky feel to the final results but their use of facial scanning has served them well in terms of both realism and adding believable diversity to the populous of the city – around six months ago, Dambuster Studios were actually looking for public candidates to come in and add to the database to build this out further. Perhaps most amusingly (though understandably) the developers themselves have been uncannily well scanned into the game, which must make for a slightly eerie experience when playing the game for themselves.
The gunplay is one of the most satisfying things about playing Homefront: The Revolution. The recoil, sound effects and overall smooth controls come together to create weapons that give the gratifying sense that they genuinely pack a punch and I sense players will certainly develop favourite weapons based purely on their ‘feel’. Games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. have given us some wonderful examples of this in the past and it’s great to see Dambuster have clearly placed some focus on this – especially when a gun certainly would leave a real impact on its everyman wielder. The actual impact on enemies could use a little work – the blood sprays felt a little bit comic-book, which just seemed a little out of context with the overall visual style, but hopefully this is something that’ll be cleaned up in the final release.
As you play through the game you’ll unlock more of the zones that make up the overall city – from the Yellow ghetto areas to the expansive, bombed-out Red zones, hopefully transitioning smoothly with no major breaks to load. It’s a nice touch, as it creates a change of scenery in what could otherwise become a monotonous cityscape, and it makes sense given the context of the KPA’s enforcement of the populous. There are vehicles to navigate Deep Silver’s Philadelphia, though it’s another area I felt could use a little work. For a game that plays so much off the sense of the underdog power-struggle, I’ve never felt so empowered by having a dirtbike. As I cruised through the streets to the next objective in my quest to squeeze as much out of the limited play session as possible, I was leaving the snipers and armoured units who’d previously had me pinned down on foot in my dust.
Originally in development with Crytek UK – formerly TimeSplitters maker Free Radical Design – the closures saw the game move to Deep Silver’s new studio, also based in Nottingham, here in the UK. Fortunately for Homefront: The Revolution, it also saw the migration of many of the staff, which will definitely have helped maintain a relatively cohesive development process. The studios’ heritage will also hopefully mean a good foundation for the multiplayer that many fans are hoping for. Whilst 4-man coop has been announced, there’s been no mention of competitive multiplayer to date, which was one of the most lauded features of the original Homefront, so we’re expecting to see this in the final release. My main gripe on the multiplayer front actually lies with the coop – as is so typical of today’s titles, the coop is again separate to the main campaign, with players roaming the world completing side missions and the like, with no option to play through the main campaign with a buddy or three, which, personally, I feel is a shame.
There’s still much to be fleshed out by the time the game lands on shelves, but if you’re a fan of the original, or Far Cry 4 (but fancy a change of scenery), then this is certainly a strong candidate for within what’s a relatively packed category. Take the movie Red Dawn, add a dash of Crysis, a scoop of Assassin’s Creed, two pinches of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and a health drizzle of Red Faction Guerrilla and you’ll get a sense of the game that Dambuster Studios have in the works.
Stay tuned to The Midnight Gamer for the latest and greatest from the gaming world! Homefront: The Revolution is developed by Deep Silver’s Dambuster Studios (originally in development with Crytek UK) and published by Deep Silver. It’s coming to PC, Xbox One and PS4 in 2016 (release date TBA).