Considering that first-person shooters have been around since the early-’90s, you’d think any modern version would, at the very least, get the fundamental mechanics right. But that’s sadly not the case with Homefront The Revolution (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac), an open world first-person shooter that has some intriguing ideas, but is ultimately undermined by some rather basic but easily avoided problems.
When Homefront The Revolution begins, the year is 2025, and the United States has been taken over by North Korea (though this is where the connection to its predecessor, 2011’s Homefront, ends). But not everyone is happy about living in such an oppressive police state. As a member of the Resistance named Ethan Brady, you’re trying to overthrow the current regime and rescue the rebel leader by any means necessary. Which, for the most part, involves shooting a ton of enemy soldiers from the first-person perspective.
As an open world first-person shooter with some elements cribbed from role-playing games, the single-player campaign in Homefront The Revolution — which is its main attraction — has a lot in common with such similar games as Dead Island, Dying Light, Far Cry Primal, and, to a much lesser extent, The Division. Besides having to complete missions critical to the story, there are also side missions, random encounters, and a lot of scrounging around for ammo, supplies, and spare parts you can either sell or use to craft helpful items. You also have the ability to improve yourself by buying better clothes, which will help you carry more stuff or reload your weapons faster.
But while the action in Homefront The Revolution takes place in a large, open version of Philadelphia, there are actually two versions of Philly in this game. In the yellow zone, which is the far more interesting part, there’s an uneasy peace between the North Korean military and the locals. While you will get into gun fights here, you can actually avoid them by holstering your weapon or by not getting too close to a soldier, since you’re a wanted man.
Being able to wander the city unnoticed is rather helpful in Homefront The Revolution because, in these parts, you main mission is to turn the oppressed against the oppressors in much the same way as you did in 2009’s The Saboteur. As you wander around the yellow zones, you can destroy the North Koreans’ stuff, tune radios to Resistance-friendly stations, take control of North Korean outposts, and help people being randomly harassed by soldiers. In doing so, you slowly but surely empower the locals until they rise up against the North Koreans.
It’s during these moments, especially the latter ones, that Homefront The Revolution is at its best. There’s just something about walking up behind a North Korean soldier and stabbing him in the back that really made me feel like a bad ass, especially since I’d usually just walk away like nothing happened. Not that it would matter; if someone did notice, and set off an alarm, I could just run off or hide in a dumpster until they lost track of me, and thus returned the alert status to normal.
Unfortunately, it’s also during these parts that you see the fundamental problems with Homefront The Revolution. For starters, the North Korean soldiers are all idiots. On several occasions I was able to stealth kill someone, even though I approached them from the side.
Though it wasn’t until I got to the red zone, which I’ll talk about in a moment, that I realized my people were idiots, too. While in the red zone, I took out a sniper who, just seconds earlier, had shot me twice, only to notice that he was on the same floor of the same building, and looking out the same set of windows, as some of my fellow rebels. Which is why, though you can ask fellow Resistance fighters to autonomously help you on missions, you probably shouldn’t.
Going back to the yellow zone, it was also here, as I was strolling around, that I realized that I was not walking like someone with a purpose, but instead like an old man enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon. Until you buy a snazzy vest, which is costly and will thus take a while to save up for, your regular movement speed will be so slow that you’ll try to run everyone…until you realize that running involves holding down the left thumbstick on your controller, which is never comfortable for long stretches.
While your time in the yellow zone of Homefront The Revolution can be engaging, that all goes out the window when you visit the red zone, where things have devolved into all-out war, and enemy soldiers will shoot you on sight, even if your gun is holstered. Here, such issues as your enemies being idiots and you being a slowpoke are magnified, while the gun fights themselves offer nothing new in the way of interesting battle zones or plot twists or even weapons. Well, save for the oddly over-powered shotgun that somehow works well over great distances.
There are also times in the red zone when the difficulty will suddenly spike. While in the yellow zone, a soldier shot me at close range with a shotgun and I survived enough to run away; in the red, a soldier shot me at basically the same distance with a shotgun and killed me instantly. Which makes it extra irritating that, when you die, the game reloads at a snail’s pace, and then drops you off at the last safe house you visited, often forcing you to travel great distances to get back where you were before you died. Which is why the red zones were where Homefront The Revolution really became rather tiresome.
Not surprisingly, there’s also some technical issues with Homefront The Revolution that crop up regardless of which zone you’re walking around. For starters, it freezes up all of the time; when you exit after browsing a gun locker; when you read a message board mission, when you reach a checkpoint; and so on.
Homefront The Revolution also has a problem so common these days that I cut and paste this paragraph into nearly every relevant game review I write: the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading your mission objectives, the tutorial and help messages, or any important texts you get on your cell phone.
Still, the most infuriating thing about the campaign in Homefront The Revolution is that its fundamental flaws cause it to squander a rather interesting premise. The idea of being a resistance fighter in an occupied land has great possibilities, as we’ve seen in such games as The Saboteur and Half-Life 2. What makes it even more annoying is that this is also what happened with the original Homefront.
Sadly, things are actually worse in the game’s four-player co-op mode, “Revolution.” In it, you and your friends have to complete select missions from the game’s campaign. But this mode, not surprisingly, runs into the same problems as the campaign, especially the red zone parts, while adding the burden of finding three other people who will work with you to complete your objectives and not just run around like idiots.
In the end, Homefront The Revolution is a fundamentally flawed game, one that squanders its promising set-up and setting, as well as some potentially interesting mechanics, under a mess of obvious mistakes, rote moments, and technical problems. While it’s not terrible, it’s not good either; it’s more just a real disappointment. You’d think, after twenty-plus years of first-person shooters, we’d know better; apparently, we don’t.