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Homefront The Revolution Hands-on - Fulfilling the Promise of Guerrilla Warfare

Sarah LeBoeuf | 4 Aug 2015 15:30
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There's something ironic about flying from Philadelphia to the UK to play a game set in the City of Brotherly Love. At least, that's what I thought as I arrived at Deep Silver Dambuster in Nottingham early one July morning, still jetlagged. After traveling thousands of miles by plane, train, and tube, I'd finally reached my destination - well, almost. I still had to step inside the studio, meet the developers, and be among the first members of the press to get my hands on Homefront: The Revolution.

If the name Dambuster Studios isn't ringing a bell, you might be more familiar with its previous iterations, Free Radical and Crytek UK. Studio head and Homefront: The Revolution director Hasit Zala described himself as one of Free Radical's first employees upon its creation in the 1990s, starting out as a programmer on the TimeSplitters series. The Nottingham studio has had some notable successes and failures over nearly two decades; Free Radical was reportedly working on Star Wars Battlefront III when it was shut down in 2008, and its struggling successor Crytek was forced to sell the studio and the Homefront IP to Deep Silver last year. Considering the various evolutions the studio has gone through, it's not surprising that its legacy is important to Zala and his employees. TimeSplitters displays can be found throughout the open office - retail stands, game boxes, even the discs themselves for various consoles.

Despite only one game having been released, the Homefront series has a bit of a legacy of its own, though not necessarily a great one. The 2011 title was met with mixed reviews, and though a sequel was announced right away, it wasn't to be; the following year publisher THQ declared bankruptcy. Instead the IP went to Crytek, with Deep Silver assisting in publishing duties, and Homefront: The Revolution looked like it was on the right track when it was shown at E3 2014. Following the show, Crytek sold the IP to Deep Silver parent company Koch Media, and development went to the recently reformed Deep Silver Dambuster. As designer Fas Salim put it, the 2011 title "didn't live up to the expectations people had" for it. In crafting The Revolution, Dambuster kept the premise but crafted a new backstory about how the US invasion by North Korea came about, described as "a rebirth of the franchise." The studio's mission was clear: fulfill the promise of guerrilla warfare with an open world and strategic gameplay combining to make a more intelligent shooter.

"The fact that makes it an intelligent shooter is you aren't just running with a gun," according to Salim. This was echoed by Zala and producer David Stenton as well, using the war in Afghanistan for comparison. When foreign forces invade Afghanistan, they said, locals use "terrain, landscape, improvisation" and "different combat styles and ways to engage." What does this mean for the player? Simple: this is not a run-and-gun kind of shooter. Homefront: The Revolution was designed to be challenging and not hold the player's hand, instead forcing him or her to step back and think about tactics. "You will probably die fairly often," we were told, and if it happened too much, it was because we weren't picking our battles carefully or adhering too much to the "Call of Duty mindset."

When I finally got my hands on the game, I discovered they were right - both about needing to be tactical and dying a lot. In the year 2029, North Korea's invasion of the US has turned into a "mature occupation," with Philadelphia serving as its capital - and the birthplace of a growing resistance. The city is divided into three sections: the Yellow Zone, a heavily policed ghetto; the Green Zone, where you'll find City Hall and various landmarks; and the Red Zone, a bombed-out war zone. The army-occupied Red Zone is crawling with drones, snipers, and soldiers; it's strictly off-limits to civilians, with intruders being shot on sight. This militaristic section of the city - the city that had been my home for seven years - was where the demo took place.

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