This game has a past that is not one of secrecy but of an incredibly rocky and public road to completion. Homefront: The Revolution has been tossed between developers like an expensive game of hot potato but it's somehow found light at the end of the tunnel with a release window finally locked in. In fact, it's so close that we were able to get our hands on the peripheral co-operative multiplayer experience a few days ago, getting a healthy taste of what this open world shooter plans to bring to the already heavily stocked table of the FPS genre.
The original Homefront garnered some mixed remarks from critics and players alike, but most could agree that its story and universe – that of an occupied America – was its risqué shining jewel in an otherwise rusty crown. With that in mind, this isn't a Homefront 2 or a sequel of any kind: it's simply referred to as a spiritual successor. Subsequent developer Dambuster Studios seeks to preserve the universe and focus on a narrative-driven experience but also to improve upon basically everything else. That's namely where the open world setting of Homefront: The Revolution is born from; it's given the team free reign to re-imagine huge aspects of the Homefront universe while preserving what gamers loved about the original. Well, apparently at least.
The co-operative experience that we played does little to exemplify this direction. It goes without saying that the build that we played was by no means the finished article, with 'THIS IS A BETA' helpfully emblazoned above the HUD just in case we forgot. That being said, with only a few months until release, there are a lot of gaps still to fill if the studio's goals are to be fully realised. We're certain the single player campaign experience will be far more fleshed out and successfully narrative driven, at least in comparison to the co-operative experience, but this preview was just for the latter. Please keep this in mind throughout.
Co-op is played out through missions consisting of two-to-four players who work together to complete a handful of specified objectives to succeed in certain scenarios. Your typical convoy defence, infiltrate, and defend missions all make an appearance on a selection of different sections of the open world map. In co-op, the open world feels tiny and inconsequential, with little to no reason to deviate away from you targeted objective. You're able to flank enemies and ascend or descend buildings that give a fallacy of choice, but it makes no real difference when playing on the easy or standard difficulty. The missions themselves play out robotically, a strong narrative driving force feeling completely absent.
There's a distinct lack of purpose to the missions overall, at least without the solo experience for context. One minute you're aimlessly gunning down armour-clad troopers that are attacking an allied squad you'll never interact with, while the next you're defending your 'secret' safe house, the one that's covered in popped flares, bright spotlights, and illuminated signs reading 'FREEDOM' – super discreet. It feels about as thrown together as the dirty rag outfits your team are initially clad in, and the lack of direction is a confusing omission in a game heralded as story driven, even if it is a peripheral experience.
"The purpose of the missions feels lost under a lack of narrative and over-complicated combat, while the environments are unenticing"
Some hilariously atrocious AI comes into play to also pull you from any kind of atmosphere with apparently procedural patrols visibly spawning in front of you; enemies materialising next to the vehicles rather than having an exit animation. They're non-descript soldier chaps, clad in varying coloured uniform to depict their class. Aside from taking more bullets to kill, it's hard to distinguish what the colours actually represent. There are also some poignant inconsistencies with the team tactics, or overall lack thereof. Dambuster's aiming to develop a close-knit guerrilla cell feel to its co-operative experience but seems to have missed something pivotal along the way.
Each player can decide on a character's back-story that will affect in-game abilities, such as Sports Jock which amps up your physical attributes. It plays to the tune of Fallout's S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes somewhat but carries less weight in the long run. You're also able to kit out your freedom fighter in gear that's unlocked through the earning of in-game currency and work through a moderate skill-tree via earned experience. These unlocks come in the form of randomised Resistance Crates, delivering weapons, attachments, or tiered gear. Oh, and in-game currency also means microtransactions. We were told that although completely optional and accessible through play alone, these transactions would allow players to unlock everything unlockable for co-op immediately. This is supposedly to allow players to 'kick-start their experience', however all we foresee is drastic imbalance from the get go.
The weapon spread on offer come organised into classes with several variants sharing the same class. A sniper rifle and a firework cannon (it's called the Freedom Launcher and it's great fun) share the Marksman class, for example. Although an odd format, it's not without purpose. Weapons that share a class can be switched on the fly, allowing access to a few primary weapons on each mission. A nifty menu appears on your weapon at the tap of a button that allows you to cycle through unlocked attachments for those classes and pop them on mid-game. See a load of KPA forces in the distance? Whack on your scope, stick on an extended barrel, and pop those headshots. This is a really cool tool and is one of the few times that you feel more like a cobbled together guerilla fighter than a run of the mill grunt.
Combat itself is practical enough and excessive recoil on almost everything adds a degree of skill that's lacking from other FPS counterparts. Tools and explosives like Molotov's and EMPs can be replenished on the go by looting corpses and destroyed vehicles; this is also your main source of ammo besides sparse and hard-to-spot caches. This consistent 'on the fly' attitude gives the impression of unstructured warfare: combat can feel very haphazard when compared to the efficiency of other shooters, but it also makes everything feel very clumsy. There's too much to think about and we constantly felt like we needed another hand to successfully survive some of the more difficult encounters.
Homefront: The Revolution is set to drop with 12 missions with the aim to double that with post-launch DLC, all of which remain separate to the multiplayer aspect but are yet to be confirmed for local play. Dambuster also mentioned 'drip feeding' stuff throughout the initial year but didn't progress to detail any further. It's hard to see how it'll realise 24 different maps within this derelict and predominantly brown occupied America; the only mission we played with any lasting resonance was a night time objective that showed off the fantastic lighting CryEngine does oh-so well.
It's got a worrying amount of work for the handful of months ahead but there's the essence of something fun and functional underneath the handful of issues. It's a beta, so popping textures and the occasional bug are easily overlooked, but there's more to fix than just those. The purpose of the missions feels lost under a lack of narrative and over-complicated combat, while the environments are hollow and wholly unenticing to explore. There was never a point where we felt like part of this tight-knit team Dambuster wanted us to be, never even needing to communicate beyond occasional laughs at the eccentricity of killing enemies with fireworks.
Will you be buddying up with your bros and staging a revolution in Homefront: The Revolution? Fight the good fight in the comments section below.