Perhaps the best indication that we’re living in a global village is the fact that more and more Western publishers are picking the bad guys in military FPS games more carefully.
Where once the likes of Call Of Duty and Battlefield pointed their crosshairs at Russia, China and (ahem) an unnamed country in the Middle East, they now pick out nations where their publisher’s games are unlikely to sell very well.
Terrorist cells are popular targets, as are megalomaniacal dictators in Third World Countries. Nazis are a good shout too – but then they always will be. And then, of course, there’s North Korea, a nation that still sits outside of the global village and isn’t in the gaming industries target demographic. So no one cares if they get offended if they’re the antagonists in a video game.
Admittedly, Homefront wasn’t the first shooter to position Pyongyang’s Government a game’s main enemy – Rogue Warrior beat it to the punch two years before its 2011 release – but at least it’s consistent.
While some shooters chop and change their lore in order to suit explosive set pieces, Homefront supplied its narrative with a lot of juice by presenting a USA that was on the back foot militarily. With Homefront: The Revolution, developer Deep Silver Dambusters are taking that narrative wide-screen.
The first Homefront imagined a world in which North Korea landed on the shores of the Land of the Free intent on conquering it. Homefront: The Revolution continues with that storyline; the USA is now a subjugated nation where the occupying forces of the KPA (Korean People’s Army) demoralise the locals as much with propaganda as they do with brute force. (If the idea of North Korea conquering a superpower sounds too unbelievable a premise, don’t worry: the developers say that the story is more an alternative historical fantasy than a representation of current events.)
The city of Philadelphia, which is where all the action is set, is divided into three zones: Green, Yellow and Red. Green Zone is the occupying force’s stronghold, swarming with troops, social elite and media. Yellow Zone is the ghetto; it’s heavily policed, teaming with CCTV cameras and troops and the local population is battered and defeated. Red Zone is the badlands. It looks like a bombed out husk and the anyone on the street is a viable target.
The player takes on the role a soldier in the USA’s resistance movement that wants to kick the KPA out of America. Because the resistance is both outnumbered and out-gunned, it has to rely on hit and run guerrilla tactics to make an impact.
If they to go head-to-head with the enemy, they’ll die; the best – in fact, sometimes the only – approach is to ambush targets, cause as much damage as possible in the shortest timeframe and then flee back to the shadows.
For example, in one mission in which they’re required to take out an armed patrol, the frontal approach just isn’t feasible. So instead, the AI allies instruct them to wait on a rooftop as the convoy approaches and, at the critical moment, dump a bunch of flaming barrels on top of the enemy troops and Humvee. That way they turn the whole street into a firetrap.
Once the patrols is taken out, however, it’s not a good idea to stick around; remote drones hover into view and paint the player and the resistance fighters with light, pointing out their positions to incoming KPA troops. So, in short order, the resistance fighters make their way to the nearest equipment stash, grab some ammo and a dirt bike and burn rubber.
The key to staying alive is either staying out of sight or staying mobile. If they find themselves pinned down, the player’s best solution is to cut and run. Most firefights are over in seconds if the player has the element of surprise – especially if they’ve managed to craft a couple of Molotov cocktails or convert their shotgun into a flamethrower.
Speaking of crafting, perhaps the most interesting mechanic of Homefront: The Revolution is the feature that allows players to swap weapons mods and create makeshift ordinance on the fly. They can snap scopes, torches, grips and other mods at any point, and the world around them is brimming with ingredients for weapons and projectiles.
Our favourite involves strapping an explosive charge to a remote-controlled car. Simply pilot this baby under a Humvee and hit the trigger. Hey Presto! Instant fireball!
In terms of its structure, Homefront: The Revolution has the same free-wheeling, seat-of-the-pants atmosphere as Dying Light in that it’s an FPS in which players free-run through their environments using a multitude of BrickaBrack to expand their ordinance. It also owes a couple of nods to the Far Cry franchise, as players open up assets, targets and points of interest by hacking into nodes around the map.
But Homefront: The Revolution’s most engrossing aspect – and probably the one the developers are the least keen to go into detail about – is the fact that it flips the script on a lot of the West’s perceptions on terrorist cells and insurgent groups.
In Homefront: The Revolution, you play a terrorist. Well, a freedom fighter if you like, but you’re definitely an armed insurgent intent on bringing down the forces of a world power that’s both more heavily armed and technologically advanced than you are. You have to wonder how well this game would go down in some markets if the occupying force in the game was from a Western country. How would it sit with players if they were being tasked with blowing up convoys of US or UK troops? How would that impact on Homefront: The Revolution’s sales?
In North Korea, it’d probably do quite well…