The deck is stacked against Homefront: The Revolution from the outset. The forgettable first game; the license dumped into a fire sale; the project in progress passed around among publishers and developers like a too small T-shirt with a logo no one wants to wear; the eventual developers’ most recent credit for a full game is the half-baked Playstation 3 boondoggle Haze; the pile-ons about the silly story in a genre where almost all the stories are silly anyway, so I’m not sure why this is everyone’s new whipping boy; the Crytek engine at its level worst. Really, you don’t even have to play it to know Homefront: The Revolution is a stinker, right?
After the jump, what you find out when you actually play it.
The trick to appreciating Homefront: The Revolution is to ignore its storied history. Don’t even think of it as a sequel. It has very little in common with that other Homefront, anyway. Also, steer clear of the performance issues that plague the Playstation 4 version. Think of it as a PC exclusive.
As an open-world game, Homefront: The Revolution has a lot to offer. The economy of unlockables and gameplay progression starts out strong. Money is hard to come by, but always useful. The other resource, tech, comes from capturing territory. So many guns, so much gear, all these modifications. What will you buy first? Or will you save up for something? This is the sort of thing that pulls you into a game. But about half way into the game, you run out of meaningful things to buy with tech. The main incentive to capture territory turns out to be not much of an incentive. Can I sell my tech? Hey, anyone want to buy some tech? Because, really, I’d rather have the cash to upgrade my unlocked weapons. The economy in Homefront falls apart as sure as the stock market in Greece.
Fortunately, videogames — and history, for that matter — have a time-honored tradition of conquering stuff just for the sake of conquering it. And this is where Homefront: The Revolution earns its keep. This open world consists of two kinds of places, and they each change dramatically as you play. Yellow zones are bits of the city under martial law. Oppressed civilians wander around and get harrassed. Jerk guards wander around and are jerks. You can whip out your gun and just start firing if you want, but just as the police strength snowballs in a Grand Theft Auto, so do the bad guys in the yellow zones. The intent is that you play more subtly, that you avoid being scanned, that you subvert the jerk guards, that you encourage the oppressed civilians to rise up. It’s a touch of Assassin’s Creed, a splash of stealth, a healthy dose of Half-Life 2’s City 17, but a decade beyond the capabilities of the Source engine.
When you hit a certain threshold of completed Ubistuff in a yellow zone, the whole area converts into an uprising. The oppressed civilians take up bricks and bats, the jerk guards retreat into their strongholds, and you’re weapons hot. Just a few more missions to conquer this map. Well, technically, you’re liberating it. But the only difference between conquest and liberation is whether the people who live there have had a chance to get comfortable yet.
Red zones are straight-up Call of Duty gameplay if Call of Duty was an open world. All weapons, all the time. The only reason to put your gun away is to run faster. These areas are in ruins. They wouldn’t seem out of place in Fallout 4. Now it’s not so easy to get around, because of the clusters of roaming bad guys. Snipers peer down from towers. Zeppelins — sweet! — search the streets. Drones peek into windows. Shooting happens. But you have to get through it all to do the Ubistuff out here. Scavenging, collectables, traversal gimmicks, randomly spawned missions. Even photography. Take pictures of 15 bad guys with your cell phone (it turns out they have to be alive).
Among the Ubistuff are distinct missions that convert a patch of territory to the good guys. Now you can respawn here. Now you can change your loadout here and sell scavenged loot. Now friendly soldiers spawn here. Impromptu firefights break out around the edges. Even more shooting happens, and sometimes it has nothing to do with you. It’s like a war zone in here. Oh, wait, it actually is a war zone. You’re fighting over it block by block, resistance fighters at your side, sometimes recruiting a few of them to go behind enemy lines.
This is also where you play multiplayer games. Bring your own friends, because you probably won’t find anyone online. It’s an open-ended leveling grind and loot slot machine, but with scripted missions on large maps. And with no scaling for any fewer than four players, so when you bring your friends, bring three of them. The progression is too slow for anyone but die-hard Homefront players. Based on the online population, I doubt die-hard Homefront players is an actual demographic.
The story, which you can ignore 95% of the time, would have you think you’re making America free again. Whatever. I couldn’t care less who originally owned this ersatz Philadelphia, or even that it’s Philadelphia, or that Homefront is peddling a supposedly gritty alternate history cautionary tale about Apple. This is a war game about converting territory and one of the least relevant factors when you’re fighting a war is why you’re fighting it. So you call up the map, consider your options, and ponder whether to attack that fortified gas station yet. Or maybe you should do a scavenging run because you can almost afford to boost your sniper rifle to it’s maximum level. Then you can get a position looking down into the gas station and clear it out without breaking a sweat. Just as the latest Far Cries lets you clear out its jungle bases however you like, Homefront: The Revolution lets you take back these urban ruins however you like.
Eventually I don’t mind that the Crytek engine is so janky. I get used to it, or I turn down the detail enough so that it runs smoothly. I don’t mind that I’m only using my two favorite weapons and my two favorite grenades. I already bought the last thing I cared about buying half way through the last map. I certainly don’t mind that the difficulty level suddenly ramped up once I got to the areas laid waste by chemical warfare, dusted lightly with ochre powder and socked in by a perpetual chemical fog. I don’t mind the frequent reloading from not playing smart and careful. I’m okay with some contrived traversal silliness, motorcycle puzzles, and holes in the wall just big enough for your RC car. I’m even resigned to the handful of clumsily scripted story missions set in their own arenas. I’ll pay my game tax to get to the good parts, because they’re plentiful, dynamic, and gratifying. The parts where I get to shoot bad guys, do a bunch of Ubistuff, and convert the map from Korean red to Philadelphia blue. Some men just want to watch the world turn.
Homefront: The Revolution
An open-world waiting for you to conquer it, with varied types of areas offering varied types of gameplay. You don't even have to pay attention to the silly story! You just have to want to take over the map.