Homefront: The Revolution, the sequel to Kaos Studios’ underwhelming 2011 shooter Homefront (a game best remembered for correctly predicting the year of Kim Jong-il’s death), is nasty in numerous ways. The characters are awful, the gunplay is cumbersome, it’s riddled with performance issues, and there’s a faintly racist overtone to the whole affair. Yet it’s still a game that’s likely to divide audiences – your mileage will vary depending on whether you value ambition over achievement or not. For what it’s worth, though, I think it’s awful.
The game is based in an alternate reality where North Korea has crippled North America’s infrastructure and taken the country over (if you’re wondering, the racial slur everyone uses for the Koreans in the game is ‘nork’, and yes, it’s pretty uncomfortable). It’s up to you and a band of one-note psychopaths, tough guys and hand-wringers to seize back the game’s poorly fleshed-out rendition of Philadelphia. The Korean occupation is under-realized, beyond the bland nationalism the game seems to be going for – the American flagged draped around one of the freedom fighters in the too-long loading screens is indicative of the game’s tone.
This is a shooter, so naturally a lot of your liberating comes down to filling the occupying Korean forces with lead, but the game’s ambitions stretch beyond a linear level-based structure. The world opens up as you play through it, and each zone is color coded depending on what sort of aggression you’re going to face if you enter it.
The red and green zones are standard FPS high-danger and safety zones, but the yellow zones are a bit more interesting, encouraging you to be sneaky and commit acts of subterfuge. The ‘hearts and minds’ missions in these areas ask you to engage in some humorously low-level subversion of the Korean regime (my personal favourite: tuning radios placed in obscure locations to the ‘resistance’ station, even though no one will hear them), alongside some more bombastic, murderous objectives. These sections grow tedious pretty fast though, as the stealth is very finicky and the missions are often repetitive or unclear.
The game is especially frustrating when you need to pull out a gun and start shooting at people, which is a bit of a problem for a first-person shooter. The main character (whose name I forget; I could look it up, but I think my inability to remember it is telling) is too sluggish to be much good in a firefight. There’s none of that satisfying snap or fluidity you get in a decent big-budget FPS, or even the same level of grime and considered, purposeful awkwardness of a good lo-fi shooter, like Metro 2033. There’s not enough visual feedback when you’re in a fight either, which can lead to a lot of frustrating deaths when you can’t tell where the bullets are coming from.
The game’s appalling performance issues don’t help matters. Simply put, it’s not finished. Playing on Xbox One, there were frequent lengthy pauses, huge frame-rate drops, stuttering audio, awkward control issues, lengthy load times, and a heap of issues that just made me less inclined to care about a game that was already struggling pretty hard to hold my attention. It’s a real mess, a game that feels months away from being finished, but no amount of tweaking would get it to a point where I’d actively recommend it.
How’s the multiplayer? Your guess is as good as mine. A few days after launch, the multiplayer servers for the Xbox One version were deserted. I couldn’t find a single person to play with, so don’t expect to have much luck unless you have friends with poor taste in games.
There are so many ideas in Homefront: The Revolution, and several of them kind of, almost work. Rushing through patrols on a motorbike to avoid combat? Solid fun. Committing low-level sabotage in residential areas to promote an uprising? Interesting. Upgradable weapons that can be customised on the fly, including an absurdly overpowered, disturbingly satisfying shotgun that is available very early in the game? Cool. But Homefront: The Revolution is too ugly, too unpolished, too dull and mean and poorly built to capitalize on these ideas. Some players will admire what it tries to do, but few will enjoy what it achieves.