FBT is after some payback. If he pays up first
I really enjoyed the original Homefront, it was bombastic and brutal in equal measure, Red Dawn in digital form. But I was in the minority; Homefront tanked, dismissed as a CoD clone. Like the Wolverines though, Homefront wouldn’t go down without a fight. It’s publisher, THQ went bankrupt and the Homefront IP was sold to Crytek, who sold it to Deep Silver, whose parent company, Koch Media was sold to Nordic Games who rebranded as … THQ. And they commissioned a sequel. Boys! Avenge me. Avenge me!
This time around, we’re in an open-world shooter rather than the original’s strict linear experience. Rebooting the story, North Korea is basically Apple, and the US has become entirely reliant on its goods and software. When the US declares itself bankrupt, NK shuts down all it's electrical goods – which the military also relied on, rendering the US powerless. Under the banner of humanitarian efforts, NK invades, dismantling the US government and forcing everyone into slave labour and internment camps as they strip-mine the country to pay back the debt.
Four years later and a small rebellion has grown in Philadelphia, where people are either indentured or collaborators. We’re silent hero Brady, who’s joined a resistance cell under the command of Parrish and his ex-criminal sidekick, Moore. Brady must disrupt the NK Army (the KPA) and provoke an uprising so the resistance can rescue Walker, the leader of the rebellion who was captured after Brady led the KPA to the cell’s hideout. Sorry about that.
H:TR is incredibly derivative of every other open world game you’ve ever played - it’s Fallout 3 meets Half-Life 2, with side-objectives that lessen the KPA’s grip like in Far Cry 3, random attacks like GTA SA’s ‘Hood is under attack!’ and stealthy scrambling over buildings like Assassin’s Creed. But it’s pulled together in an effective, solid way. The place reeks of destruction and oppression; at night it’s grim and dangerous, while in the day you’re constantly at risk of being spotted. It’s really immersive and convincing. At least at first.
Philly is split into several zones, each a slightly different take on occupation. We start in a bombed-out industrial ruin before moving into slums and then a more advanced area where the KPA and collaborators reside. The main problem with H:TR is each area you unlock has the same requirements – take out strongholds or communication posts, accumulate collectables, do little disruption jobs, save other rebellion troops or random locals from harassment.
They are fun to do, sneaking about being all guerrilla one second then running for your life the next, and a few of the side-missions are incredibly clever, but it comes across as a lot more repetitive than most Open-Worlders because the free-form stuff has no real effect; they increase the ‘hearts and minds’ meter - get it high enough and the locals will rebel - but it’s just window-dressing, it doesn’t actually affect Brady other than award you coins that unlock upgrades – you’ll get them all within two regions anyway so H&M missions become redundant, except you have to do them to trigger the main missions. You rinse an area, then it’s story time and the next area is unlocked, where you do it all again, and the new environment doesn’t require you to change your gameplay enough to feel progressive or like you’re making a difference.
Another problem is the story isn’t that compelling. Rescuing Walker as a rebellion figurehead is all very well and good, but it’s not very involving, even if we did cause his capture. For the most part we’re collecting items so we can commandeer a Goliath, the AI-controlled tanks that roam, and the only way to survive a straight out fight with the KPA. The Goliath we partnered with in the original was a tough, scary, D0g-like character, but here the thing lasts as long as an iPhone. Half the time it’s us protecting it from attacks not the other way around.
Most of the missions are great in isolation, and bolting around the ruins on a bike, racing through buildings and across rooftops is great as is scrambling through the slums avoiding patrols – pretty much the entire place is traversable – but you wonder what it is you’re actually doing. Hearts and Minds should have been the main mission, the overall goal to disrupt the KPA and provoke some bigwig general to arrive and shift into assassinating them; those are real guerrilla tactics, a rebellion, a revolution.
Thankfully though, the characters you’re rebelling with make it worth while. The mo-cap is amazing, especially on Moore, the twitchy lieutenant. She reflects Connor from the original game, but whereas he loved his country, Moore is just driven by hate. She’s a brilliant, dangerous character and it’s a shame we only interact with her in the cut-scenes. Parish is a nice guy thrust into leadership after Walker’s capture, and we’re supported by Heather, a geek who wants to turn the KPA’s tech against it, Crawford, a conniving double-agent collaborator, and Burnett, a pacifist doctor who round out Brady’s bunch nicely.
Yet, it’s another squandered opportunity that with all those different personalities we follow one linear mission path; we’re not choosing between Parrish or Moore’s differing styles, taking a non-lethal path as the Doc suggests, using tech as pushed by Heather or trying sly manipulation like the collaborator; Brady should rise up to Walker’s position, choosing the path the resistance takes. There’s serious disagreements, betrayals and bad ideas being bandied about as the resistance tries to work out what to do without a leader, but Brady just goes along with it, walking into messes we can see coming.
The world has more character than our hero, and that extends to the way the rebellion makes use of everything they can find; all weapons can be modified to be something else, and you can hone them further to your play-style but it’s a huge faff to reassemble guns mid-firefight and it doesn’t pause the game so you’re never going to ponder which gun stock is best when you’re surrounded.
There’s a huge number of throwables too; you can hide explosives in teddy bears (who knew the KPA were such softies) or use hacks to operate electricals; but you rarely use those clever tactics effectively – piloting an explosive RC car into a squad is great but it triggers the same alarm as if you just shot at them so you never feel like you’re being tactical or an anarchist, and combined with the lack of choice, you start to realise H:TR gives you so much then won’t let you do anything with it.
There’s also signs of corner-cutting or crappy porting. Brady has a cellphone for messages, missions, maps etc. but to close it you have to use a different key which can’t be reassigned, and when you hide from patrols in dumpsters or portaloos, the game flags which key to exit – except it’s not that key. You can pick up bricks to injure or distract the KPA, but more than once the brick disappeared as I swung it, and instead Brady fired an invisible weapon just at the moment I was trying to be quiet. It also suffers from basic refresh; I turned a corner to see ‘save the civilian’ and did so, retreated then rounded the corner again to see the same scenario. I needed to save ten civilians to trigger Hearts and Minds and did them all on that one guy just by backing up enough to refresh the event, and twice I entered areas and had to leave then return to trigger the cut-scene.
So, with the wussy Goliath in tow, it’s off to rescue Walker in a good but blatantly obvious double-cross mission; and then it’s back to more Hearts and Minds for at least two more areas before the final mission takes shape. We’ve been lulled into this sense that once Walker is recovered we’re revolting, that we’ve been laying the groundwork but while the twist works well and guts the resistance (sending Moore into a great meltdown), the game doesn’t double-down. We fall back into Hearts and Minds missions and just lose all momentum. The final ‘free philly’ mission is a great fight though, with airships dropping gas bombs, Moore let off the leash and a desperate battle. Finally, some anarchy.
As the credits roll I ponder this ‘Revolution’ - we don’t revolt. It ends with them saying ‘the revolution starts here’. So this was a rebellion. To actually reach the Revolution you need to … buy the DLC. Literally, the game’s ending will cost you extra. Midway through you can discover a playable version of TimeSplitters 2 - but we pay for the ending?! Angry.
In ‘Beyond the Wall’, the final DLC, it turns out our little REBELLION was crushed by the KPA and Brady discovers their true goal was to use the US as a staging ground to attack Europe. So we failed then? Joining with a NATO operative, Brady’s bunch storm a nuclear bunker to launch an EMP at the KPA’s satellites and disrupt their invasion to inspire Europe and NATO into joining against Korea. Now that’s a revolution. That’s an ending, or at least a franchise-starter. And one I’m not willing to pay extra for. Rage Quit. Putting your ending in a DLC is not going to win hearts and minds of gamers.
The DLC thing gets worse. I even got suckered into paying for Horse Armour. A cool skin for the bikes you tear around on, I knew what I was paying for but they’re actually only available in the bombed out area. The slum and city areas, despite having roads and cars can’t be traversed with vehicles – which is a shame, it was awesome fun riding bikes through the ruins and buildings. Damn DLC.
H:TR was slated on release, and regrettably, I’d agree. It’s tiringly repetitive and it has no ending. It feels like a quick knock-off, cannibalising what makes other open-worlders special instead of adding something to the mix; the story has its moments, the landscape is great and the characters some of the best I’ve seen in recent games but while the main mission and the Hearts and Minds quests are good, and there's a realism here missing from most open-worlders, there’s just too many of the same chores and not enough involvement or impact. I liked H:TR at times, but it doesn’t avenge the original.
If you can pick it up to rent - complete with DLCs – then Homefront The Revolution is worth a go, if nothing else just to hang out with Moore. But I refuse to pay extra for the ending.
2016 | Developer Deep Silver | Publisher THQ
Platforms Win | PS4 | X0