There’s always a sacrifice. Gaming journalism, or perhaps just journalism in general, is a strange beast. When titles are awarded unanimously high scores from just about every publication under the sun, you’re going to see the inevitable backlash where fans and non-fans alike all band together to decry the scores, citing payoffs and brand loyalty as the reason said title was given its glowing scores. What’s so interesting about this is, when a game isn't showered with gold and trinkets, but instead banished to the darkest corner of a room, those same people don’t all pipe up and defend it. Oh no; they’re going to jump in with both feet and join in the shit-slinging.
It’s one of life’s many enigmas. When something fails, we’re right there to jeer its existence and take a stab or two with pitchforks of our own. If something succeeds, we think that there has to be something wrong, that somehow it’s rigged. You know what I’ve concluded? You’ve got to have your sacrifices. Deep Silver’s Homefront: The Revolution looks to be 2016’s sacrifice. It’s a sequel to the Kaos Studios-developed Homefront, a 2011 Call of Duty wannabe that attempted to differentiate itself from its competitors by pitting gamers against North Korean forces who had attacked and then occupied a vulnerable United States. It wanted to be a contemporary military shooter with shades of Red Dawn and America's everlasting fear of communist takeover as its two base inspirations. It wanted desperately to be the game that usurped Call of Duty's throne, but its generic campaign, mediocre graphics, shoddy voice acting, and utterly wasted concept meant it lost the race before it even got out of the gate. It had a strong multi-player component, but its hyped single-player campaign fell well short of what was promised.
THQ, the owners of the Homefront IP, went bankrupt not long after its release. Crytek bought the property, began work on it, and they too folded after their Xbox One launch title Ryse: Son of Rome didn’t produce the sales figures Microsoft were hoping for. Now solely developing free-to-play titles, Crytek sold the rights to Deep Silver who then formed Dambuster Studios, made up of mostly ex-Crytek employees, who resumed work on the title. Development schedules like that can cast a looming shadow over a project. I don’t think anyone was really clamoring for a sequel to Homefront, least of all me, but Dambuster certainly seemed to be taking it in the right direction.
The first thing to go was the heavily scripted linear campaign of the original. The Revolution goes the route of the recent Far Cry titles by opening the environments up to the player, giving them numerous tactical opportunities and ways in which to accomplish their objectives, strongholds to conquer, and equipment to purchase. Really, the best way I can describe The Revolution in a nutshell is that it's a combination of Far Cry’s open-endedness and Crysis' customization. One of the best things about The Revolution is the way in which you don't switch weapons in the traditional sense, but instead bring up a radial menu for each weapon class that allows you to swap out various parts of a gun to turn it into a grenade launcher, a heavy machine gun, a high-powered rifle, a combat rifle, etc... It's a great feature that further emphasizes Dambuster's aim to make The Revolution, in a sense, more tactically sound than its predecessor.
Next in line to go was the Unreal Engine 3. Being that the game was initially in development at Crytek, it utilizes the latest iteration of their lauded CryEngine technology. And damn is it pretty. Dambuster also ridding itself of the linearity of the first game proves to be a winning gamble for Homefront. It's got the same premise of the first but feels completely disconnected from it in every other way. The layouts of each of the individual areas are distinct enough to feel different, though just small enough that they aren’t overwhelming. The digitally recreated, post-invasion ruins of Philadelphia take the place of the first game’s Colorado-based setting, and it’s completely unsurprising that it feels like such a natural fit. Since the game is driving home that you’re a resistance fighter, not a soldier, the bombed out buildings, apartment complexes, and multi-story houses give way to a myriad of hit-and-run tactics the game encourages you to use. Your crafted pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, and wide assortment of machine guns, shotguns, rifles, and rocket launchers feel sufficiently impactful. Going up to the third floor of a house, tossing a Molotov down onto a group of approaching KPA soldiers, and then blasting their armored escort with an RPG round and escaping via the rooftops nails the guerrilla warfare tactics that the first game's linear set pieces couldn't.
The first title was a bog standard run and gun shooter, so naturally I jumped into this one expecting much of the same. I died very quickly. Dambuster opts to give The Revolution a much more realistic sheen. Close quarters fighting is to be avoided as much as possible. Weapons aren’t terribly accurate and a few well-placed bullets will get you a dirt nap real fast. Your best bet is to use the environment to your advantage. Dambuster have incorporated something of a parkour mechanic into the game, although not as refined or as deep as, say, something like Dying Light. There’s a good amount of verticality on offer. Environments allow players to mantle over most waist-level structures and climb up a bulk of its structures. You’ve also got access to dirt bikes that’ll let you get from point A to point B quicker without taking nearly as much enemy fire as you would going by foot.
A lot of The Revolution’s core gameplay consists of liberating strongholds, outposts, and furthering the resistance’s influence in the game’s six districts. There are both yellow zones and red zones; yellow zones put you in the middle of populated areas where you have to complete objectives while maintaining your cover, and red zones are highly restricted areas where you'll be fire upon immediately if spotted by a KPA soldier. There are a handful of objectives to complete in each area – such as taking out a set number of snipers, tuning radios to the resistance’s frequency, and destroying enemy convoys – that will eventually lead to an uprising. Taking over enemy bases is done in much the same manner as games like the aforementioned Far Cry series. You can use stealth, such as close-range takedowns, silenced weapons like pistols and a crossbow, or you can just outright blast your way in. Quiet or loud, it’s your choice. There’s also a really cool mechanic where you can recruit up to four other resistance members to join you at any point in the game. Just approach one, hit the E key by default, and you’ve got yourself a hunting party. Their presence is invaluable. They do an admirable job of taking out enemy soldiers, distracting them as you make your way in and claim their base as your own.
There is a story here, albeit not a particularly strong one. The game’s narrative is more of an excuse to set the player up with an assortment of exciting, overall well-designed missions that see you doing all the revolution-y things you’d expect: sabotaging, sneaking, and destroying. The characters you encounter aren’t all that interesting, although the voice acting is definitely a notch above the original. The game’s story isn’t going for poignant or touching. It’s there as an overarching narrative to provide some level of context for what you’re doing, not just blowing shit up for the sake of blowing shit up (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The original game went for something a lot more emotional and relatable. The Revolution is first and foremost a sandbox game. Presenting players with a vast open world and a myriad of things to in it is its primary point of sale.
From the purely technical side of things, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with The Revolution. Sound design is excellent, the music is superb, and the graphics are gorgeous. The CryEngine-powered visuals left me gobsmacked. The most impressive thing about the CryEngine has always been its lighting capabilities, and The Revolution makes great use of them throughout. Most of the game looks positively beautiful with even the most minute of details being painstakingly rendered. The texture work isn’t always up to snuff with some jarringly low-res textures here and there, but I would imagine that has more to do with the give and take of game development. CryEngine is a powerful engine, one that has always required considerably high-end equipment in order to achieve playable frame rates at its highest settings, and the comparatively low-res textures are more than likely a sacrifice to keep the game’s visuals from requiring absolutely beastly specs to get it up and running.
Generally speaking, I think the The Revolution is a criminally underrated experience. It didn’t really stand a chance coming out a week after the excellent Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and the balls-out Doom, but the damning reviews really don’t give it credit for what it does. If nothing else, it’s a huge step over the original. The bulk of the negativity has been aimed at, you guessed it, the crazy amount of bugs and glitches this thing has. I understand that games today are more complex than they’ve ever been and that glitches are just part and parcel of most open-world games. That doesn't, however, make it any more acceptable. Graphics are approaching true photo-realism, the worlds these games take place in are so intricately detailed, and the amount of people It takes to produce even a mid-level title, let alone a AAA title, is astounding. Patching used to be a PC thing, but now that consoles have that capability it means that games are released before they’re totally ready to come out of the oven. They are eventually patched, but not before critics drag them through the mud. It hurts sales immensely.
As it stands, The Revolution is far from unplayable, but it isn’t all that playable, either. I’m rocking a pretty high-end PC here – an overclocked i7 4930k, 32 gigs of RAM, and a Titan X - and there are frame rate drops all over the place. I quickly gave up on even hoping to achieve a solid 60 frames per second and decided to lock my frame rate to 30 frames per second instead. There are still areas where the game will drop to the low 20s with absolutely nothing happening on-screen to warrant those drops. You’re also going to be dealing with frame rate hitching, micro stutters, some wonky, if not amusing, AI, and even sound and movement glitches. One particularly nasty bug I encountered involves taking over a stronghold. The problem? I can’t! The object I need to complete the mission simply refuses to spawn.
If I’m having this sort of experience on what many would consider to be a pretty top tier PC, I truly pity the folks who have lesser hardware. I can’t imagine what they’re having to do to play it or if they’re even able to play it at all. Sadly, most of the game’s bad reviews are because of these bugs, not in lieu of them. The gameplay is there. It truly is. The Revolution is a lot more fun than I expected it to be. The tactical nature of its gameplay is refreshing, its concept feels a lot more fleshed out than it did in the last game, and the action overall feels nice and satisfying. It’s a single-player-focused experience, and I love that about it. There’s no multi-player here outside of a pretty decent co-op mode. The main attraction is its campaign, and it’s full of content that earn it its $60 price tag.
Like I said at the start: sacrifice. Publications handed out their high scores earlier this month to Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and Doom. The Revolution was never going to stand up to those two. I’m still scratching my head as to why Deep Silver decided to stack this up against two of this year’s most anticipated titles. It seems to me that a two-month delay could’ve been mutually beneficial to the game and the audience it’s being pitched to. Give some time for the dust to settle, fix the bugs before release, and put it on shelves during the notoriously dry summer months. What else would gamers have to play? Maybe they would’ve been kinder to it if the competition hadn’t been so stiff.
Homefront: The Revolution was exactly what I wanted it to be. I got what was promised to me: an open-world first-person shooter that lets me enact guerrilla warfare-style revenge on an invading enemy force like a boss. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of the first game. It’s everything the 2011 game should’ve been. It’s got the graphics, it’s got the fun factor, it’s got the gameplay, and it’s got a much better, far more satisfying use of the first’s promising setup. I see lots of potential for a future franchise if Dambuster just fleshes out the characters a bit more and gets themselves a more focused storyline. I don’t see any reason why gamers itching for more Far Cry-esque action after this year’s disappointing Far Cry: Primal took the guns out of the equation wouldn’t have a bunch of fun with this one. It’s a shame those poor scores will sway a bunch of people from giving this the unbiased look it deserves.
Specs played on:
Intel i7 4930k
32 GBs of RAM
GTX GeForce Titan X