Bravery as a commodity is generally in short supply in the modern games industry – all too often, publishers adopt a default strategy of pumping out yearly updates of their most successful titles. So when a developer – and a British one at that – decides to make a genuinely risky game, it automatically deserves applause. With Homefront: The Revolution, developer Dambuster Studios has adopted an emphatically risky approach: it’s a fully open-world first-person shooter, so belongs to a sub-genre which is notorious for being particularly tricky to make. And unfortunately, that shows, as Homefront: The Revolution suffers from technical issues. But technical issues can be resolved via updates, and if you can see past them (a big if in these days of snap-judgments and offhand dismissals) and Dambuster Studios delivers on its promise to sort them out, a pretty decent game should reveal itself.
Homefront: The Revolution has an intriguing, if preposterous, premise: set in 2029, it postulates a world in which capitalism has finally eaten itself, the US has been plunged into post-2008-crash-Greek-style financial ruin, and the kindly North Koreans, having conveniently emerged as the world’s economic powerhouse, have stepped onto American streets in order to restore a semblance of order. Which, naturally, involves extreme brutality delivered via high-tech weaponry. You play Ethan Brady, co-opted into the disorganised but burgeoning resistance movement in Philadelphia.
Believable or not (and it will strike a chord with conspiracy theorists), Homefront: The Revolution’s storyline sets up some variations in gameplay. That’s because the Korean People’s Army (KPA) has carved up Philadelphia into red, yellow and green zones. The former are basically rubble-strewn wastelands that have become no-go areas to all but the resistance (so you shouldn’t get randomly shot if you venture out in them). The yellow zones contain the surviving citizens of Philadelphia, closely marshalled and consistently bullied by the KPA, so in those, you must take a pretty stealthy approach; cameras and drones will facially recognise you as an insurgent, thus if you fail to take an evasive approach, you’ll swiftly find yourself running from hordes of KPA. And the green zones are where the KPA themselves have settled – the poshest parts of town, of course, which are heavily fortified, and must generally be approached in a co-ordinated manner in the company of fellow-rebels, so there, the gameplay feels more like that of a conventional first-person shooter.
Those aforementioned technical problems, sadly, are evident right from the start – the most obvious shortcoming being an unimpressive frame-rate which lends a juddery feel to the game, and creates a general background aura of shoddiness, although you do tend to get somewhat used to it after a while. Dambuster Studios should be able to fix that problem in the fullness of time, but you also encounter some more egregious bugs and glitches – as you tend to do in more or less any open-world game at launch. Most annoyingly, though, it’s all too easy to find yourself stuck in areas that you can’t jump out of, which makes your blood boil if, say, you’ve only run that way to escape the KPA. Those situations necessitate reverting to the last saved checkpoint, which represents terrible development technique.
There are plenty of consolatory factors, however. The storyline is pretty good, full of twists and betrayals which examine themes of occupation and collaboration, and standing up to an enemy with vastly more sophisticated weaponry. There’s a great crafting engine which lets you turn junk into an impressively vast array of improvised devices, such as radio-controlled cars fitted with bombs, and incredible weapon customisation flexibility that lets you, for example, turn handguns into sub-machine guns with scoped sights. Countless side-missions and random events (save a civilian from a KPA beating and they will join the resistance) generate plenty of meatiness, and you can even pull off spectacular stunts on the plentiful motorbikes that are there to help you evade the most fearsomely armed pockets of KPA soldiers.
Online, Dambuster Studios has again decided to take Homefront: The Revolution in a different direction than its peers. Its multiplayer side consists of six long, hard and involving co-operative missions, with the promise of more to come (for free) over the next year. Those missions are tackled by four-player teams, in which you must find a role, or else you won’t stand much of a chance. So, as in Rainbow Six: Siege, you and your fire-team stand a chance of developing strong and satisfying forged-in-adversity bonds. The co-op missions are separate to the story mode, so you must build up a new character, and a new set of salvaged-junk weapons and accessories. And in one way, Homefront: The Revolution’s multiplayer mode provides some hope for the single-player side, since it is noticeably less buggy than when Dambuster Studios introduced it with an open beta. Although it’s still far from bug-free.
Famously, Dambuster Studios suffered adversity that would have killed many a lesser studio during Homefront; The Revolution’s development – firstly as part of the fallout from original publisher THQ’s disintegration, and then twice finding itself on the brink of closure. So it’s a genuine shame that the game’s technical problems present such a high initial hurdle for gamers. If you’re sufficiently broad-minded to be prepared to sacrifice smoothness and polish for the promise of a meaty, engaging and distinctive gameplay experience, you’ll find it rewarding. But that would make you almost as brave as Dambuster Studios itself.
• Game reviewed on PlayStation 4