by Ingvi Snædal
reviewed on PC
A slightly different sequel
Homefront was met with a mix of enthusiasm and dispassion when it first hit the market in 2011. While most praised the quality of the story, the campaign’s length and its relative lack of innovation came under criticism. I for one loved the story for what it was. Homefront: The Revolution is an altogether different animal. While its gunplay is solid and the effect your actions have on your surroundings manifest in interesting ways, the story and overall gameplay suffer from a lack of innovation that brings to mind reviews of its predecessor. The game is simply too similar to others like it.
The year is 2029 and North Korea has occupied the USA. They accomplished this by turning the entire US military off remotely and then simply marching in en masse. Set in an alternate history where the computer was invented in Pyongyang, North Korea has become the world leader in everything tech. The US becomes heavily indebted as they buy not only their tech, but advanced weaponry and military vehicles, tanks, planes, and helicopters with which to fight their never ending wars in the Middle East. When the US economy slows down, they default on their debt. Unemployment skyrockets and the Koreans arrive offering humanitarian aid, while at the same time promising to rebuild the country under a new government. Some see them as a stabilizing force in a country that had already collapsed. Others, however, see them as an oppressive force that uses threats of violence and death to keep its citizens in line and torture to get information out of resistance fighters, executing the ones who will not comply. Their brutality you will experience first-hand in the opening scene of the game.
The city of Philadelphia is split into red, yellow, and green zones. The red zones are abandoned and citizens are not allowed on the streets. This is where the resistance has the strongest presence and where you will be able to roam around relatively safely. A safehouse or two will be available in each zone but other points you will have to capture in order to establish a base of operations from which the resistance can operate. As soon as you accomplish this, resistance fighters will be present on the streets outside, ready to lend a hand should you find yourself in a firefight. The open-world nature of the game, however, makes it easy to choose what activities to perform and which areas to explore. The deeper you go into enemy territory, however, the further you’ll have to run if you get into trouble, so you’ll have to decide whether to go for a slow and steady approach, conquering all the strike points on your way to your objective, or a surgical strike at the heart of the KPA (Korean People’s Army). In these red zones, flashpoints appear randomly, offering a chance of a bonus reward for helping out fellow resistance fighters.
Yellow zones are an altogether different experience at first. Here, the KPA have a strong position and citizens roam the streets. You’ll have to be careful not to be spotted or you’ll be in a world of trouble. A firefight in a yellow zone is one that you cannot win, as more and more soldiers, vehicles, and drones will keep pouring in until you’re dead or gone. Luckily, there are ample hiding spots around and as long as no one sees you enter them, the KPA will lose your trail relatively quickly. Staying out of sight and only striking when necessary becomes the challenge here and after a few hours running and gunning in a red zone, that may be easier said than done. At no point in the game did I die as often as when I first transitioned from a red zone to a yellow zone and at first I blamed it on a steep difficulty curve. The problem is, though, that in a yellow zone, you have to play the game very differently from what you are accustomed to in red zones, so you’ll essentially have to relearn how to read your environment, how to move around, how to pick your targets, and a myriad other considerations that go into staying alive. Interestingly here, though, is the fact that the citizens of the zone and the very environment changes as a result of your actions. As you show the oppressed citizens of Philadelphia that the KPA can be resisted, that they aren’t invulnerable, and that the resistance is there to help them lose the chains of tyranny, you will see more graffiti on the walls, more barrels on fire, more cars tipped over, more open aggression toward collaborators, more groups rallying for protest, and fewer and fewer soldiers in the streets. These are signs that the hearts and minds of the citizens are on your side and that the zone is close to liberating itself.
Varying quality in voice acting
Throughout the game, you will meet a cast of resistance fighters hell-bent on getting their leader back from the grips of the KPA. He is believed to be a man who can inspire the people to rise up against their oppressors and place the desire for freedom higher in their minds than the fear of reprisal and is thus vital for the success of the revolution. While the voice acting of the main cast is fairly well done, some of the minor cast members are noticeably bad. At one point, you are jumped while entering a safe house by a couple of guards who take you to their commanding officer and the uninspired performance of those two characters leads you to expect the worst when the commander starts talking. Because of this, it may take you a while to hear how good her voice acting is, due to the jarring disparity between cast members.
The voice acting isn’t the only place where the game suffers from a somewhat less than fluent experience as the game is quite badly optimised. While my computer may not be the eighth engineering wonder of the world, I sport specs well above those recommended. I was therefore surprised to find that the game was almost unplayable with the settings automatically generated and even with everything turned down low, the game still stuttered. After three hours of playing around with the in-game settings and my graphics card, I finally got the game to work on medium graphics quality with my card overclocked and the fans running on 80% power, forcing me to play with a headset. This would be acceptable if the game was noticeably more aesthetically pleasing than others on the market, but it isn’t, so it’s not.
Satisfying, yet predictable
While the story takes a backseat to open-world gameplay this time around, the gunplay is very satisfying indeed. Headshots come with a loud auditory boom mixed in with the sound of the gunshot which will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand erect with pride. The weapon modifications work quite well and being able to change mods on the fly during battle offers a lot of variety. Bear in mind, though, that you will only be able to carry two weapons at first, which will limit your options to a sidearm (plus any modifications you have for it) and a main weapon (same). Playing around with these modifications and the different kinds of explosives and incendiaries you can create is entertaining, but driving a remote controlled molotov cocktail into a crowd of unsuspecting KPA soldiers is pure unadulterated fun; especially when watching them burn from a faraway rooftop.
While Homefront: The Revolution is a good game when you finally get it to work, it is not a new experience. The capturing of strike points is very similar to the radio towers and strongholds in Far Cry 3 & 4 (although the urban setting sets a very different tone for that mechanic) and the randomly generated flashpoints have been a feature in open-world games since GTA San Andreas. Being able to race through the desolate streets of the red zone on motorcycles is great in theory, but the handling makes them useless for anything other than solving puzzles in which one is required. The system of currency is also badly balanced as the tech points (used to unlock new weapons and improvised devices) are abundant and accumulate fast while money (used to upgrade weapons, buy attachments, and gear) comes frustratingly slowly, even when scavenging regularly. This is a good game, don’t get me wrong, and if you like the idea of capturing strongholds in an urban setting while delivering ultra-satisfying headshots to your enemies, you should definitely get it. Just be prepared to spend a long time optimising your settings to get there.
Satisfying gunplay, interesting to see effect of actions on environment.
Poor optimisation, inconsistent voice acting