Review | 6/7/2016 at 3:30 PM

Homefront: The Revolution Co-Op Review

This revolution should not be televised… or played

At its best, Homefront: The Revolution is an average first-person shooter with some interesting game mechanics. Far too often, however, the game is at its worst; a buggy mess whose mechanics are clunky and are at odds with the way you want to play the game.

Everything from the original Homefront has been scrapped in favor of a reimagining set in an alternate timeline. In this universe, North Korea develops the equivalent of the iPhone and becomes a technological superpower supplying its wares to countries all over the world. The U.S. over extends itself in its warmongering and can’t pay back its debts, so the North Koreans come to collect. All of the tech we use in our planes, tanks, and carriers gets shut down (thanks to a built-in backdoor) leaving us helpless to resist the hostile takeover. Four years after these events, you and your ragtag band of freedom fighters will do whatever it takes to push the North Koreans (or, to use the pejorative you’ll hear over and over, “Norks”) out of Philadelphia and take back the city.

There are a lot of great ideas and philosophical musings that could arise in this type of a setting; discussions on our on technological dependence and capitalistic drives, the notion of what costs (both in terms of human lives and infrastructure) come from mounting an insurrection within your homeland, or even the dangers of hero worship. Unfortunately, Homefront handles all of these topics with the subtlety of a Michael Bay film.

Characters are stereotyped into roles that hammer their one-note tunes to death by the third cutscene, the story never seems to want to move beyond just pushing you to your next objective, and on more than one occasion I found myself wishing there was an option to join the North Koreans. The latter, though, is due more to the struggles I faced with the game’s controls and mechanics than anything in the narrative.

The biggest feature that Homefront: The Revolution touts are the moddable guns. Your basic pistol can be turned into a submachine gune with a silencer and a holographic sight. Your battle rifle (long-range rifle) can turn into the “freedom launcher” (a rather ineffectual grenade launcher that bursts into red, white, and blue colors on impact). Once you’ve picked a gun to use, you can add different sights, underbarrel attachments, and muzzles to affect its accuracy, damage, and stability. The idea behind this is that you can change your weapons on-the-fly to fit the situation in which you find yourself. It’s a great idea in theory but the application of it is less than ideal.

By the time you bring up the weapon menu that presents your different options, go into the radial menu to choose the gun you want, and watch the animation for changing- sorry, you just died. The whole system takes too much time to implement and use when you really need it, not to mention the fact that it leaves you completely vulnerable to enemy attack. Making choices using a gamepad or controller requires holding down the appropriate button for a menu while using the movement stick to make a selection (thereby preventing you from moving), and using a mouse/keyboard requires you to move the mouse around to make choices, which prevents you from looking around at all.

I also never felt like the different guns really mattered all that much. The pistol has three configurations: regular pistol, submachine gun, and a silent dart gun. You can get a muzzle for the pistol and submachine gun so they’re quiet, but honestly, the dart gun was strong enough to kill enemies in one shot and it was already silenced. The same goes for the rest of the guns and their variants. I usually found one version of each type that worked for me and never considered switching to another one due in no small part to the amount of time it took to do so.

There’s also the matter of having to unlock all of those attachments and different gun types. You’ll start with the pistol and its SMG configuration, but everything else requires you to either buy it with cash or with Korean People’s Army (or KPA) Tech Points. The points are gained from freeing the different areas of the city by taking over strongholds or capturing Strike Points. These are easy enough to acquire and I ended up with an excess amount about halfway through.

The cash, on the other hand, is a grind. Most of the cash you’ll earn for completing the main story missions, but if you really want to purchase all of the weapon upgrades (which can increase reload speed, damage, and/or maximum range) and gear (i.e., character upgrades that allow you to carry more ammo, run faster, etc) then you’ll have to scour the streets of Philly looking for valuables to sell. Don’t let the name get you too excited, though; every computer memory chip, or tin of beans, or transistor you find isn’t worth much and should you die before you sell them you’ll lose any you have in your possession.

Much of that “progression,” then, becomes a tedious chore instead of anything that empowers the player. While it’s worth the KPA points to buy new weapons and new gadgets, the weapon upgrades never feel like they make enough of an impact to matter. Buying a few pieces of gear and upgrades are all you’ll need to make it through the campaign. The weapon and upgrade systems, though, are just a part of the underlying issue to Homefront.

From the small health bar and "stealth" mechanics, to the moddable guns and incendiary devices strapped to RC cars, I feel the developers wanted to convey the idea that you are just an average person taking on a much stronger force. The first big encounter you have with the North Koreans even spells it out in so many words when you set up an ambush against a group of soldiers with an armored vehicle. The problem is that after that initial encounter, the next several story missions either entail attacking an enemy position with a bunch of A.I. teammates, or running into some random building to interact with a thing. None of these require a great degree of espionage or stealth to accomplish. What’s more you don’t unlock all of the various gadgets and guns you need to do anything more elaborate than throwing a bomb at a group of soldiers until you’ve already played through a third of the game.

By the time I reached that point, though, I was engaging with the game as a first-person shooter with poor stealth mechanics and clunky weapons. I didn’t want to make full use of the various systems in the game to create elaborate strategies involving distractions, remote bombs, and moddable weapons; I didn’t want to complete side jobs to earn more cash to upgrade my guns or buy new gear. I wanted to get in, do what needed to be done, and move on. There was never much incentive (outside of avoiding some frustration) for me to try any different tactics. Thus each new zone became the same routine; capture as many Strike Points and Strongholds as I could so I wouldn’t have to deal with random patrols, then complete the story missions for that area. I had hopes that the co-op Resistance Mode would, at least, provide something new.

Those hopes were dashed within the first five minutes of a match. The Resistance Mode is essentially a cooperative version of the missions - both campaign and Strike Point/Stronghold capture - you undertake in the Store Mode. They are often reskinned and remixed, while also combining two or three into one longer form, but they are very much the same. Four online players are supported and at least two are required for a public match (private matches can be played solo if you wish). Each player chooses what weapons to take into battle and can customize their particular avatar with cosmetic items. You also have skill, like steadier aim while looking down a scope or reloading weapons faster, that you can unlock, allowing players to take on roles, like the heavy weapons guy, or the sniper lady. This is the only “new” idea presented within Resistance Mode and while it does make the mode more fun, it also requires a lot of time to make it worthwhile.

After each match, players are awarded experience and cash. Once you accumulate enough experience, you have to go into the skill menu and spend it to unlock a new skill for your character. Initially these only cost 1500 XP, or roughly two matches. Higher tiers of skills within each of the four trees become available once you unlock a certain number of skills within each tree, and the higher you go, the more it costs to unlock. The cash you earn can be spent to buy equipment, weapon, or vanity crates, which contain new attachments for your guns, a new gun, or new cosmetic items, respectively. They also contain a couple of consumable boosts that will give you increased damage or the ability to self-revive for one mission, and have a chance to contain weapon parts, which are used to upgrade your weapons. What attachment or gun you get is completely random. Considering the equipment crates cost $1000 and the weapons $2000, it will take you some time to completely unlock all of the different weapons and attachments for them. It is multiplayer grinding at its worst.

Despite all of this, the Resistance Mode is the one instance in the entire game where the ideas of guerrilla warfare and tactical ambush are (somewhat) present. The customization of your character’s gear and skills allows you to build a team to take on the North Koreans in a manner that seems more aligned with the game’s mechanics. It’s enough that I wonder, too, why this wasn’t just the main game. If the grinding was lessened and the missions were tied together in a slightly more narrative fashion, there’s the possibility of a good game there.

The best thing I can say about Homefront: The Revolution is that I didn’t hate all of my time with it. There were some fun moments where I was able to utilize the weapons and gadgets in semi-inventive ways to take on the North Koreans, like when I rigged up a remote distraction to lure a patrol around a corner and shot them with a rocket launcher. The rest of my time, though, was spent struggling with a clumsy weapon interface, waiting for the weapon modding animation to complete so I could shoot at the enemies all around me, and “soldiering” through each zone to see if anything ever changed.

What’s concerning to me most about Homefront, though, is that the best approach I found to the game was to treat as just another first-person shooter. I found the couple of guns with which I felt most comfortable, utilized the gadgets/equipment when needed, and then just ran-and-gunned my way to the end goal. This approach, which ignores the tools and ideas the developers built into the title just to make it bearable, speaks to a problem at its core; something that isn’t fixable with a patch. The interesting and, in some cases innovative, gameplay ideas that Homefront: The Revolution presents are at war with the reality of how the title actually plays out. Rather than being revolutionary, the end result is just revolting.

Mike’s Motion Sickness Special Report

Jason thinks this game is revolting, but it literally made me sick, which is part of the reason this review is running so late after release (sorry!).

Motion sickness is something I suffer from, but as a lifelong gamer, I’ve figured out many ways to negate it, especially with PC games. It’s very rare that I can’t counter the effect. Unfortunately, I was never able to get a good combination of options that made Homefront playable to me for more than 15-20 minutes at a time before I needed to step away.

Usually, the only thing I need to modify is the Field of View (FOV) setting - a shallow field of view is great for first-person games on a console, since you’re (presumably) further away from the screen and the game will feel more natural when looking at it. When I play on PC, I tend to crank the FOV up. Unfortunately, Homefront uses a vertical, rather than horizontal, FOV to calculate its viewport, which means the effectiveness of altering it doesn’t help me as much.

This, combined with the intensity of the motion bob (that you cannot disable in-game) made it so I constantly had to shut the game down to rest, and lessen the likelihood that I’d actually *want* to come back to it. Who wants to feel sick when they play a game?

I should note that the motion bob doesn’t seem to be as severe in the Resistance Mode, which made this the only part of the game that was semi-bearable to play for a longer session. Take that however you will.