[This is a Homefront: The Revolution single player review/opinion piece. It is written from a long time Crysis fan and from someone who was let down by the Crysis sequels and pleasantly surprised by Homefront]
(skip to The Homefront: Reloaded Revolutions if you are not interested in the backstory)
The prequel to our story
somewhere after 2011 Crytek lost me. The German game development power house known for games like the original Far Cry and Crysis – these were the guys I always wanted to be a part of. My dream job: Creating the next Crysis experience, intense action and hyper realistic graphics of course.
Apparently they were very much a fan of themselves, too, and around the release of Crysis they decided to take drastic steps to become one of the largest independent game developers in the world by buying and creating several studios around the globe, rapidly approaching the 1000 employees mark.
They had a German studio, a Ukrainian studio, a Bulgarian studio, a Hungarian studio, an English one … two American ones … they founded smaller studios in Korea, China, Turkey. It seems almost unreal how many different studios Crytek had.
They had only produced 2 games at that time. Far Cry and Crysis (plus a standalone addon in 2008).
Crysis was moderately successful, but it came out in 2007 to compete with the likes of Call Of Duty Modern Warfare, Stalker, Unreal Tournament 3, Bioshock and Halo 3. Amazing year for first person shooters, really.
Not super great if your game was a PC exclusive which barely ran well on any PC at the time though.
Either way, with all these new studios Crytek very much relied on their next game being a hit.
That game would, of course, be Crysis 2.
A quick recap of the original Crysis: A strange energy reading is picked up on a pacific island, so the United States send their “nano suit” iron man supersoldiers to investigate. The island is occupied by North Korea though, who are interested themselves in what this about. Turns out: Aliens.
So the player uses his incredible exo suit to deal with hundreds of North Korean soldiers by either sneaking around like a chameleon or punching like a gorilla, until one eventually encounters the Aliens, who turn the palm island into frozen hell.
The general consensus was that fighting human soldiers with plausible AI and group behaviour is more fun than violating the rights of some strange tentacle ice aliens.
Ah yes and it looked good, too. Plus some wicked fast controls and intense unscripted battles.
The management at Crytek saw the player reception and decided to change a lot of things for the upcoming sequel.
Therefore, a big part of the enemy composition in Crysis 2 is still human. And actually the Aliens became bipedal and humanoid too. And the ice stuff is gone – they shoot different lasers and plasma grenades now.
So far so Halo good.
But it turns out Crysis players were only a small group of the player reception that Crytek were studying. Players appreciated Call of Duty. A lot of players did.They want to play blockbuster titles on their console. Linear action fests.
And they love the motivational “level up!” multiplayer. With classes and perks.
So Crysis 2 had to compete. It had to be catapulted from an appreciated game to a global franchise. A top seller. A Call of Duty killer?
And this conflict on some remote island, that was a joke, wasn’t it? Yep. Where do disaster movies usually take place? Yes, of course, New York. With an epic soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. And a big marketing campaign where known pop artists perform their version of Sinatra’s New York New York. A renowned science fiction author writes a book parallel for the game.
All the ingredients for the global smash hit are there, right? (I did forget multiplayer DLC, but Crytek/EA didn’t, so that was another novelty for the sequel)
Oh and by the way: The multiplayer component for Crysis 2 was made by Crytek’s British arm – Crytek UK. Formerly known as Free Radical Design and renowned for their last-gen console classic TimeSplitter 1-3 the studio was now to create a Modern Warfare 1/2 multiplayer clone (with a twist! The nanosuit!)
Now my write-up might have seemed very cynical so far, but I think they actually did a good job. I do enjoy Call of Duty multiplayer very much and I did enjoy Crysis 2 multiplayer, too.
It should be noted though that the player base was much smaller, there were fewer maps, and only a fraction of weapons/upgrades/unlocks and killstreaks. The long term motivation was much lower, especially for players that also own Modern Warfare.
Crysis 2 releases in spring of 2011, in a time slot where it does not have to compete with the big hitters. It sells at least 3 million copies, but it is fair to assume that it didn’t outsell its predecessor, which sold at least 4 million by that time and had longer lasting appeal according to some steam sale numbers.
Unlike Crysis 1, the direct competitors in terms of release slot are not the Call of Dutys or Bioshocks. It’s actually Homefront. Not a big hitter, not a sequel, not a big developer behind it.
Homefront, a game which basically tries to sell this ridiculous story of North Korea becoming a global superpower and invading the weakened United States.
The publisher, THQ was, like Crytek, desperately trying to become one of the big guys and made some bad decisions along the way eventually leading to its downfall.
Homefront; however, was not one of these mistakes. It actually sold 2.6 million copies in 2 months, well above expectations and actually comparable to Crysis 2.
I should note at this point that a big seller was the innovative mixed vehicle/infantry multiplayer, but I cannot say myself whether it actually was or was not great.
THQ decided to shut down the developer, KAOS, but still wanted a sequel since the first one sold so well. Crytek had a lot of studios, but nothing to do with them now that Crysis 3 definitely wouldn’t be the biggest release of the decade.
So THQ contracts Crytek to do it for them. Crytek then assigns its second biggest studio: Crytek UK, based in Nottingham. THQ files for bankruptcy. Crytek buys the IP. Crytek’s house of cards falls apart. They almost file for bankruptcy and sell IP and development studio to Koch Media / Deep Silver.
What a mess.
And so we come to Homefront: The Revolution and what it has to do with Crytek’s Crysis.
The Homefront: Reloaded Revolutions
Homefront 2 is a soft reboot of the first game. It’s still: China North Korea has invaded America, but the story is a bit more “believable” in that China North Korea produced all technical gadgets and finally weapons for America and when the post-Donald-Trump USA couldn’t pay up their debts the Chinese Koreans turned their toys off and invaded instead.
Small twist: Homefront was to originally feature a hostile China (a more plausible threat), but THQ feared for their Asian market. So it was banned in South Korea instead (Stupid western media trying to make propaganda for the North? Get out!)
The game releases in May 2016, sells really badly and gets absolutely torn apart in reviews. The metascores across the systems are around 50.If you search for Homefront TR reviews on youtube there will be dozens of videos with “worst game ever” in the title.
That’s impressive by itself, really. I mean the “worst game ever”. Wow.
So I, the brilliant genius that I am, decide not to purchase this title. I was looking forward to some nice screenshots of the title (it’s done by basically Crytek – with CryEngine!), but since almost no one bought the game I didn’t get to see any.
So then september comes along and with it comes a free weekend of Homefront: The Revolution.
I see 35gb download, I hesitate a bit but I decide to give it a try.
The Revolution is off to a bad start
[NOTE: These are not heavy spoilers, all of this takes place in the first hour of the game]
North Korea has long won and you sit around with your anarchy buddies watching TV when suddenly the house gets raided by angry fascists / North Koreans.
They try to convince the player – Ethan Brady – to reveal the whereabouts of rebel leader Walker. Even though they kill his friends in front of him they get nothing out of our man Brady, since he is a silent protagonist. Unlucky.
Especially since that information is basically useless as Walker comes along to rescue Brady. You guys leave the house, Walker tells you to manipulate some radio transmitter, you come back and so do the North Koreans and capture your leader. Not the best day.
So you try to reach the other parts of the resistance, but you get captured and almost cut up because this really crazy bitch (yes) thinks you are a Korean spy. Again, Brady can’t talk, so he can’t defend himself and only keeps his balls because the now de facto resistance leader – Jack Parrish – comes along and says he knows who you are. Mrs. Crazy is disappointed, since she’s a sadist.
Great day so far for our friend Mr. Brady.
He then gets send out to some barren industrial zone to capture some random points. You get there and there is nothing but: more or less bombed out buildings which are either empty or some sort of quarter for KPA (Korean People’s Army) which you can capture for the resistance.
Similar to the latest Far Cry titles this will fast forward the time a bit and then these control points are all graffiti’d up and filled with resistance fighters.
The game almost lost me here. This is not exciting. This is Far Cry 4 with a smaller map and no honey badgers.
Brave New World
Thankfully you get into a “yellow” – civilian sector for the next part of the game. I should clarify – this game is separated into areas which unlock with story progression. The size of these is roughly comparable to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s maps but much more detailed.
As with Stalker some of them serve only a story purpose and cannot be revisited later, but most of them are sandboxes which you can travel to and from at any time.
Anyways, does the game get better? Yes – a lot. In the civilian area you generally do not run around armed.
Yep. Weapons hidden. Just walking around minding your business.
Mingle with the civilians. Avoid patrols and looking enemies too much in the eye. Watch out for evil scanner drones. Watch out for CCTV.
If you unlock the silencer you can take out these cameras from hiding and have a good chance not to get detected.
Dealing with enemies in this area usually involves sneaking up on them and silently cutting their throat. If you get detected it usually means running away – OR – gunning the down the KPA witnesses and then running away. If you are out of sight you slowly lose the enemies’ interest, much like in AC/GTA. It’s faster if you hide in a container / bin / toilet. There are no haystacks or spray shops in this game unfortunately.
Like in most open world games there is some sort of general level of accomplishment needed to “finish” an area. The same is true for Homefront.
The metric of choice here is called “Hearts and Minds” and you fill it up by sabotaging the oppressors, helping out/saving cilivans and capturing control points.
If you get 100% the people will start a local “revolution” / an uprising and you can usually make your attack on the local police station which is tied to the last objective in the civilian areas.
“Better than playing stupid violent video games, I say!”
Now – that sounds like grind. Here me out.
I play open world games like this – if I come across something interesting or some small activity I can do while on my way, I will do that.
In Homefront these small things can be: cutting the cable to a power generator, saving a local from harassment by some soldier, giving money to beggars, assassinating some soldier, destroying a truck, tuning a radio to your “Free America” frequency.
These things I can do “on the fly” and it makes my path more interesting.
Sometimes my mates will tell me something about “a rooftop garden around here” – I look up and see a lot of planks across balconies and sides of buildings. This is exciting – I wanna get there. This I will cover later, because in my opinion the platforming puzzles are Homefront’s greatest strength.
So when the final mission for the area comes around and my objective is to get the people to riot, I usually sit at 80-85% progress already. This usually means one more control point and maybe killing an abusive Korean and I am done.
“Fry me to the moon”
This is great. Another metric I can show you is this: Every civilian area has at least 8 or 10 control points. These points can become save houses, give you information about secret stashes/radios etc. and they change the look and population of the area. In each sector I usually had 3 or 4 of them captured and it was enough. Most of the time some captures were tied to missions anyways.
This is not grind. It’s not a super long game this way (played through in 14 hours) and the open world is just giving you choice of movement. I liked this a lot about Homefront.
The real strengths will be discussed in comparison to Crysis 2.
If you incite a revolution the city scape will change even more drastically than after converting certain areas with control points. People will smarten up and smash their neighbor’s car while beating up the other neighbor’s kids.
That was actually a joke, a realistic dystopian video game future obviously features no kids. They are talked about though, but can’t leave the house or they might cut themselves on all this broken glass. Just a guess.
Red (abandoned / military) and Yellow (civilian) areas usually alternate. The red ones feature more – run here, do this stuff but they are usually much shorter when it comes to time spend. I think the balance is pretty nice, because you can just shoot down patrols and go ham in the red areas, enemies do not always call in reinforcements. The variety in civilian zones is really nice, all of them create a vastly different mood.
Unless one of those cliché airships/zeppelins spot you, then the game is basically just a Forest Gump simulator.
But you can avoid them easily and at no point was there a mission where you are just “on the watch – 5 stars – all the respawning world hunts you” by default, which I very much applaud.
One last point here: Story / pacing.
I think both are alright, the story won’t win awards. Like in any good game the last few hours of the game are a wild ride without much pause, some twists and drama. It’s a lot of shooting then and less of anything else, as you can probably expect, but thankfully I like the shooting.
Now a problem I have seen many mention is the characters being unlikeable. This goes for the whole game actually. Yes you have a great revolution, but afterwards the slums look even worse and many innocent people have died. This is picked up by some and dismissed by others. The characters themselves are sometimes really stubborn to the point where you hate them for their stupid actions, but so do other characters, which softens this issue a bit.
Homefront 2 is the better Crysis
Ah so we come to the point! Finally, you might say!
Why do I feel like a comparison is even fair?
Because of what was advertised and what fans were looking for versus what was released.
“The Urban Jungle”
“The Urban Jungle” was the term Crytek used for Crysis 2 over and over again. At interviews Crytek insisted different play styles and paths were possible and even encouraged.
Now I can’t say the openly lied – they didn’t. The result is just not what I and many others wanted from a Crysis game.
Crysis, much like Far Cry, is a game where you can set your own pace. You usually have a wide open space with some sort of cities / villages and a lot of vegetation / terrain and water in between.
Cat and mouse playstyles are encouraged, especially on higher difficulties. Go ham –> get spotted, sneak behind some wall or lay prone in the tall grass until your energy is refilled –> reposition with stealth –> go around the enemy –> go ham again.
Or make some creative (encouraged) things like breaking the palm tree someone is laying below. Or stick a c4 to a barrel and throw it to a helicopter with super strength.
This playstyle is not possible in Crysis 2. Creativity is super limited, flanking is almost impossible, running out of range and then reassessing the situation… all impractical.
It’s very obvious with the changes to the binocular as well. You can basically just have them turned on (normal view, binoc overlay) or zoom to 1.4. That’s it. They are absolutely useless. You don’t need to scout the area in Crysis 2 because you don’t need to think about the outcome in advance.
What I expected Crysis 2 to be
The Urban jungle.
Two or 3 streets wide, you can get through to the other street in small alleys and through houses, you can go into some windows, climb some stairs then get out somewhere else.
Only some, not all houses are modeled internally. But they have interesting paths, secrets and are interconnected somehow.
You find civilians in the houses sometimes. Sometimes, like in Crysis, you have small side objectives. You can trick the enemies into ambushes, you can use sleeping darts like in Crysis.
All of the gameplay simplifications are fine, really. But I wish the world was still a Crysis semi-open sandbox.
But – amazingly – Crytek UK had something like this in mind for their Homefront.
You cannot enter every house – but you can enter so many that it always opens up unexpected unmarked routes when escaping. And there is so many houses where you can access something in the second floor or through the rooftop, jump to the balcony of the house next to it and continue your journey.
There is another thing. I really hoped Crytek would use the opportunity given by the nanosuit to create interesting platforming puzzles.
This, to me, is mind-boggling. You have this versatile suit that can jump so high and pull itself up on everything, there could be so many possibilities of making interesting platforming puzzles. Hide secrets in locations where you really have to figure out the path first!
And here is where Homefront shines the brightest. In my opinion of course. I loved this kind of small challenges in Far Cry Radio Towers or Assassins Creed secrets.
But Homefront really takes it to the next level and I cannot think of a first person open world game that does it so well. It is simply fun looking up and seeing some wooden plank going across houses and looking for the entry point to slowly climb the way up to the house.
Let me give you an example during the midgame.
You see there is a control point on your map, it’s in a car park on the second floor. You enter and you notice the gate to the first floor is opened just a bit. So you slide through. You find yourself on the first floor and notice the gate to the next one is closed, but there is a blue motorcycle painted next to it. You notice a ramp outside, so you go out. There is a locked container, you break the lock and obviously you find a motorcycle. You then drive up the ramp and jump through to the first floor. There you find a generator which you power up with your motorcycle – it opens the gate. On the way up there is a closed door, but you find a way through the window up. Unfortunately it leads to a gated window – you can however shot the lock of the door. You go back and make it through the door. This is fun.
However, in the last civilian section these become really hard sometimes, I admit I had to use Google the solution in 2 cases. Not that these control points were necessary for the game progression, I could have gotten my area approval up in other ways.
Another neat thing about Homefront is that the civilian area feels like a lived-in world. You can see them leaving their homes (where you can’t go, cause they lock it) and you can even see how they actually spray new grafitti on the walls.
The original Crysis, let’s be honest, was not super varied in terms of environments and set pieces. The first few hours were very similar, but since the gameplay was so fun it was alright. Then later we got some tank battles, VTOL flying (never again), zero gravity, ice age, nuclear age.
While the variety picked up later, it’s the first few levels that are usually remembered most fondly because they were the most fun.
Crysis 2 I remember more for the varied locations than for the gameplay. It has two vehicle sequences, one of these is on rails, the other is as linear as can be.
But it does have good pacing, similar to Crysis 1, in terms of weapons that slowly get exposed to the player throughout the levels. This is well made in Crysis 2 I feel like. Plus giving players showoff weapons like the Majestic revolver is awesome.
Homefront has this horrible unlockable pacing problem. Basically you have all you want after the first hour of gameplay. You can buy new weapons for tech points, which you get automatically by capturing control points. Same goes for attachments.
But that’s it. In my opinion one of the largest strengths of a semi-open world was left out here. You can make players do extra stuff very happily if the reward is special. There are no special awards here.
There are no special weapons here either. You have your weapons, you can change them around, make an SMG out of a pistol and a flamethrower out of a crossbow, but that’s just unlocked by buying stuff, not by discovering.
If Homefront tied some upgrades – or even better- unique weapons to certain stashes / missions or secret locations it would have been much better in my opinion. This is a part where S.T.A.L.K.E.R shines a lot and I feel like Dambuster Studios could learn.
For example, instead of a mission where you free a control point, you could have the helping two different weapon smiths, one giving you the special assault rifle upgrade, the other the sniper one etc.
Speaking of variety though, the missions are not very varied and often do have a “do this 3 times” pattern – like check the 3 houses for the remaining prisoners. This has to be said, if you despise games like let’s say Mad Max, you won’t be happy here.
Oh it is a shooter after all, so let’s talk about that. I am a player that will always prefer the single fire to the full auto, so the “battle rifle” was for me. It’s perfect, really, felt absolutely right. The only option for the assault rifle was also an M4, which makes sense as the “American Rifle” but I just hate the feel of it. The system of having few “chassis” on which we can attach bigger mods is cool, but the resulting lack of variety of each type hurts. Crysis 2 is not much better unfortunately.
What I can commend them on is the weapon sounds. When you get a headshot a deep bass will join your shot and it is really satisfying. Something that I haven’t noticed in other games.
Crysis 2 had only limited scopes/attachments and the movement when aiming was totally off, I simply cannot play with the 4x assault scope for example because it moves so fast. But they put so much work into the weapon animations, this is something that really brings me joy. Every weapon will reload differently depending on stance. Prophet treats his weapons like a hammer when in armor mode, but gently like a baby when in stealth. Impressive.
But yeah, what’s up with only having such a limited amount of scopes per weapon? Why can’t I just put a sniper scope on my scarab? I can do that in Homefront luckily.
Enemies? Human enemies are not super varied in either game, but they are fun to fight. This has been nailed I think by both games.
Is Homefront a better game than Crysis 2? I don’t know, maybe not. But it is a better realization of the Crysis gameplay and feeling. Is it a Crysis successor? No, not at all. But it is a vision of an urban jungle that Crysis 2 failed to deliver.
For players that take the open world “as they go” I think it is a fun ride. I am baffled by the metascore, this is by any means an above average production. I often start games just to put them down again. I cannot stay for long with most releases. It’s almost ironic that a relatively generic open world game would make me spent my weekend playing through, but I liked it. It also helped that I was thinking about taking screenshots so often.
I would think many bad reviews had to do with technical problems, which I, many months after release, did not experience at all. I cannot say whether or not consoles have less problems now.
Graphics are great, but not relevant in the comparison to C2, which has aged rather poorly. I think they are on par with Assassin’s Creed in terms of lighting, especially when overcast and with rain. Really well implemented dynamic global illumination system.
A final note: The game never crashed on me, I once experienced a bug where my weapon had the wrong scope attached after a cutscene. It ran very smooth on a Radeon 280, which is to be expected.
I used the HUD Toggle from NeoGAF user The Janitor to create some of these screenshots.