Somewhere within Homefront: The Revolution--beneath the choppy framerate, the hackneyed narrative, and the half-explored mechanics that are hastily introduced then forgotten just as quickly--exists a solid, cinematic shooter. All the ingredients are there. It casts players as American resistance fighters--outmanned and outgunned, but resourceful and resilient--which naturally paves the way for both novel gameplay and daring political themes. Unfortunately, Homefront doesn't quite deliver on either one.
Its attempts to explore those political themes feel clumsy and superficial. Its mechanics embrace the scrappy nature of guerilla combat, but technical shortcomings generally force you into rudimentary run-and-gunning. The lengthy story campaign packs plenty of impressive moments that make good on the promising premise, but the game's myriad flaws turn what could have been a thrilling yet thoughtful shooter into a derivative, mediocre also-ran with serviceable shooting and plenty of unrealized potential.
If there's one thing Homefront absolutely nails, however, its variety. The game's near-future version of an occupied Philadelphia is broken into eight districts, each of which is large, open, and dotted with dozens of ambient tasks like outposts to capture and supply caches to uncover. While these activities remain largely the same throughout the game, the districts themselves vary both visually and in the play style they demand. The first area I experienced was basically an open war zone filled with bombed out buildings and on-going firefights. But later on, I found myself in a tranquil, tree-lined district where unholstering a weapon at the wrong time could mean instant death at the hands of watchful, well-armed security officers.
Homefront also never cuts corners when it comes to world building. When I was sent to hijack a super weapon, I got to see it in action and revel in the volley of explosions. When the occupying army ordered blimps to gas the entire city, I saw blimps overhead as green fog filled the streets. And anytime my crew of resistance leaders needed to organize a new plan, there was a full (albeit unskippable) cutscene displaying the debate. Homefront never leans on empty exposition; it actively shows you the world and events surrounding the gameplay, and that, combined with the varied districts, imbues the campaign with an unexpected richness.
Unfortunately, the story stringing it all together fails on several counts. Most notably, there's no relatable hero, no substantial plot development, and no discernable villain beyond the faceless, undeveloped occupying army. You never see or hear protagonist Ethan Brady, and none of his actions imply any kind of personality. He's purely an empty vessel, and while that's fine, there's not enough other story substance to fill the void. There are three characters that stick with Ethan all the way through, but you only interact with them between missions as they lament the latest setback. While I did develop some connection to my comrades, most of their dialogue was trite action movie banter.
Homefront never leans on empty exposition; it actively shows you the world and events surrounding the gameplay, which imbues the campaign with an unexpected richness.
The minimal plot is similarly generic. There's no real arc to the narrative; rather, each new story beat is just another excuse to send you on an errand in the name of gaining some ground for the resistance. This feeling of running in circles stems, at least in part, from the absence of an obvious villain. Not every story needs a Darth Vader, but even the game's most important adversary--the fictional Korean People's Army--remains an entirely abstract entity throughout. You never once hear a KPA officer speak. You're never given any insight into their mindset. All you know about the KPA is you're fighting them, and frankly, it's hard to feel motivated to destroy an enemy you know nothing about--especially when the characters you're intended to empathize with constantly spout a thinly veiled racial slur.
Homefront's mechanics don't do the campaign justice either. As a resistance fighter faced with impossible odds, it makes sense you'd rely on stealth and subterfuge, and while the game attempts to accommodate that approach, it also constantly undermines itself. The biggest issue is simply the inconsistency of detection. More than once, I was spotted while fully concealed behind a wall. Other times, I would open fire on one guard only to round a corner and find another guy blissfully unaware of the gunshots that rang out just moments before. Because you can never be sure if your attempts at stealth will actually work, it's generally not even worth trying.
But even if you're seriously committed to sneaking, Homefront may not be able to satisfy your inner Solid Snake. Though you're given some helpful tools like diversion-creating firecrackers, certain essential stealth mechanics--like the ability to hide bodies--are missing. Other tools, while helpful in theory, end up being kind of pointless. You can tag enemies using your smartphone's camera, for example, but enemies (and their vision cones) are almost always visible on your mini-map, so why bother? The most effective stealth technique I discovered: awkwardly sprinting away from anyone who's awareness meter was starting to fill.
That just leaves combat, which is unremarkable but still enjoyable. The core shooting mechanics prove satisfying, with reasonably responsive aiming, punchy sound effects, and gruesome enemy death animations. Thankfully, enemies are not bullet sponges, so a few well-placed shots will reward you with an easy kill. You'll also have to contend with armored vehicles and attack drones, but these end up being a welcome sight, not only because they naturally escalate the tension of any conflict but also because they're immensely satisfying to take down with a makeshift bomb or hijack with a hacking device.
More than once, I was spotted while fully concealed behind a wall. Other times, I would open fire on one guard only to round a corner and find another guy blissfully unaware of the gunshots.
The crafting and currency systems--which allow you to create those bombs and hacking tools--are relatively simplistic, but they do allow you to unlock some memorable weapons later on, including a tactical crossbow and jerry rigged mine launcher. You can also modify all your weapons on the fly, adding attachments or swapping major components to convert, say, your pistol to an SMG. In practice, it's not hugely different from simply selecting gear from a radial menu, but it at least fits Homefront's themes.
Weirdly, you can also find mechanics that seem almost abandoned or incomplete. For example, the game never mentions it, but I discovered you can approach allies and recruit them to follow you into battle. Doing so doesn't fundamentally alter the gameplay, but...it's there. This particular mechanic, though strangely superfluous, might have added more to the experience if Homefront's enemy and ally AI were stronger. Currently, their behavior is unpredictable at best. Some enemies would smartly head for cover during firefights while others would mindlessly run towards me despite the pile of dead bodies practically blocking the doorway.
Unfortunately, spotty AI isn't Homefront's only technical problem--far from it. You can find rough edges basically everywhere you look, and on all three platforms (Xbox One, PC, and PS4). The screen freezes momentarily each and every time the game autosaves. The framerate is inconsistent, frequently dipping slightly and occasionally stuttering egregiously. The audio sometimes stumbled as well, blasting tense music during non-combat moments or cutting out when a character is speaking. I also encountered several random difficulty spikes and respawn locations that placed me perilously close to the fray.
These issues also extend to the game's co-op component, which is separate from its story campaign. Visually, it can't compare to the decent-looking solo mode, but worse still, it offers an anemic amount of content: six 10- to 15-minute missions. You can select any of three difficulty levels, but the objectives and map layouts don't change, meaning the only reason to replay the missions is to challenge yourself. There is a loot crate system that allows you to randomly unlock gear from the campaign, but you'll have beaten all six missions long before you get lucky enough to acquire the equipment you want.
Ultimately, co-op adds little to the overall package, which is a shame since Homefront definitely needs some help. Its substantial story campaign is impressively rich and its shooting can be tense and fun, but half-baked stealth, an unfulfilling story, and a vast menagerie of technical inadequacies drag the overall experience into disappointing mediocrity.