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


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.


The Red Zone is full of strike points, strategic areas that need to be captured to increase the resistance’s power. Because of Homefront: The Revolution‘s open world, there are many paths to capturing strike points; the game won’t specifically tell you how to get to your destination or what to do along the way. That means there’s a lot of freedom – and a lot of room for error. I found that out the hard way.

My mission was simple: I needed to get to a network transceiver and intercept communications to give the resistance a foothold in that particular nook of the Red Zone. As strike points are captured, the area around them transforms, becoming more of a haven for guerrilla fighters. You’ll have more backup in those spots and run into less trouble, so even picking the order in which to capture these points is part of the game’s strategy. Since I only had 30 minutes to play, I thought I’d cut right to the chase. I hopped on a motorcycle, envisioning myself tearing through the ruined city blocks on makeshift bridges and rooftops. In reality, it didn’t go so well; my career as a resistance speed demon was short-lived, and I didn’t even see my explosive end coming.

It took several more failed attempts before I finally found that transceiver. Each time, I got a little smarter and a little closer to my goal. I tried riding on the outskirts of town and staying out of range of drones and aircraft. I tried ditching the bike entirely and going on foot. I am dying a lot, I thought. I must be doing terribly. Instead of making me frustrated, each untimely death and reload from a checkpoint only made me more determined. It was a combination of vehicle and on-foot traversal, along with some slow-and-steady planning, that helped me reach my goal, and doing so felt like a momentous victory.

Of course, there’s a lot more in between point A and point B than simply “go here, do this.” Despite taking place in 2029, the resistance doesn’t have access to futuristic weaponry or the military-grade equipment of the Korean People’s Army. Instead, protagonist Ethan Brady and his brethren have access to an astounding number of ways to customize weapons on the fly, such as changing the scope or using incendiary ammo. These become available as the player progresses, but in my demo the handful of “homebrew weapons” I had could all be modified in several ways.

At some point during my hands-on session, I realized I wasn’t actually shooting a whole lot. That might not appeal to everyone – the genre is called “first-person shooter” for a reason – but I found it really refreshing. Engaging with foes for too long means they’ll soon have backup and your scrappy band of resistance fighters will be even more outgunned. Thankfully, there were plenty of other tricks in my guerrilla toolbox – explosives, firecrackers to cause distractions, hacking tools, a smartphone, and my personal favorite, an intuitive remote device with its own camera. This can give you a different view of a scenario or just cause damage from far away, depending on how you use it. Are you trapped in a building with a tank full of enemy fighters outside? Send your remote friend out there and have it go underneath the tank and blow up. Without firing a single bullet, you’re safe and that particular vehicle is no longer a concern – but more will be there soon, so there’s no time to linger.


I only captured the one strike point during my demo; I was in the midst of taking another when the session ended. Because of that, I didn’t see the Red Zone change dramatically, but the little corner I managed to take back had transformed. It will be interesting to see this on a larger scale; as Zala pointed out, instead of having a “static” world like some other games of the genre, The Revolution changes over time, and those changes affect how you operate as a guerrilla fighter.

My only significant disappointment during my playtime was that I didn’t get a real sense of Philadelphia. Dambuster Studios chose the locale for its historical significance, as well as the fact that it’s a rarely-used game setting. With the exception of a few background nods to the city – a vaguely recognizable skyline, an abandoned cheesesteak joint – the Red Zone felt generically dystopian in design. I was told the Green Zone was where I’d really see that Philadelphia connection; though Homefront: The Revolution isn’t “an absolute Google Maps representation,” members of the UK studio did visit the city to see its historical landmarks. They even had full access to City Hall, which was shown in a screenshot during the initial presentation – I gasped a bit when I saw my old neighborhood blocked off by guards and security gates. It’s just a shame I couldn’t see more of that in the area where so much of the gameplay is focused.

I could have kept playing. I wanted to keep playing. But after half an hour, the time came to reluctantly step away from the demo, which will be presented at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany this week. As I walked out of the room, one of the developers commended me. “You did great!” he said, and I smiled, thinking he was just being nice until he followed up with: “I think you died the least out of everyone!” I guess my early failures weren’t so embarrassing after all.

The developers weren’t sharing much about The Revolution‘s story or Ethan Brady’s background, nor did they have a lot to say about the Green and Yellow zones. All they would say about multiplayer is that it would have four-player co-op, but it’s not clear if that means for the main campaign or just specific cooperative challenges. I wish I’d gotten to experience more of KPA-occupied Philadelphia’s other sections, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend any less time in my Red Zone demo – and when one of your complaints about a game is that you wanted to see more of it, that’s probably a good thing. And it’s even more impressive considering this Gamescom demo wasn’t even technically complete yet and all the voiceover work was just a placeholder.

There were plenty of things I liked about the first Homefront. The setting was really interesting and built in a believable way. The horrors seen in the KPA-invaded streets made the stakes feel really high. It had some of incredibly memorable moments, particularly having to hide in a mass grave and taking a helicopter to the final battle at the Golden Gate Bridge while The Chamber Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” played over the sounds of the chopper’s blades. And from what I’ve seen of its sequel, Dambuster Studios is doing a good job of keeping that premise while improving the gameplay in a variety of ways. Out with the linear missions and lackluster combat; “I think gamers are getting bored with that,” Zala said of “playing a stage set-up.” While I don’t necessarily agree with his assertion that gamers are over the run-though linear shooter structure, I certainly think there’s room for more than one approach to the FPS genre. A more open, more strategic, and more “intelligent” (to use the studio’s word) shooter might be just what Homefront: The Revolution needs to elevate the IP from its troubled past to a new legacy.

Homefront: The Revolution is due out in 2016 for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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