Starting a War with Homefront: The Revolution

Sitting in Dambuster Studios in Nottingham, my slight hangover had all but gone. I was in the studio’s conference room, my human form starting to feel less like a tired shell and more like a living, breathing person after a two hour long train journey from London. It was the second day of a two-day preview event for Homefront: The Revolution, and I was waiting with other foreign press journalists for the studio’s head and game director, Hasit Zala, to come and chat with us. Armed with a dictaphone and a few of the complimentary sandwiches that had been placed on the long, oval table we were sitting around, I was ready to hear more about this game’s turbulent journey to the finish line.

Originally conceived as a sequel to 2011’s Homefront, Homefront: The Revolution has been in the works for a long time, with behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations leading to the game’s stalled development. “Would you believe that we started working on this game late 2011?” asked Zala, once he’d introduced himself. “We’ve had a few ups and downs. You’ll know some of it, but I think I’ll go through it.” Zala, addressing us from the opposite side of the room where the studio’s logo rested above his head on the wall behind, proceeded to do exactly that. Speaking aboutHomefront: The Revolution’s complicated publisher history, from its beginnings at THQ, before moving to Crytek then Deep Silver, who will publish the final product in May, Zala came across as an opinionated and honest man, although perhaps too honest for some. “I get kind of knowing looks from the marketing team when I start to speak about this stuff because they don’t really like me to talk about it.”

That wasn’t going to be the only thing they wouldn’t like him talking about. After he’d spoken for a while, with topics of conversation including the studio’s origins at Free Radical, the Crytek UK days and becoming Dambuster, he took questions from the press. When answering one Brazilian journalist’s question about how it felt to be a British team working on an America-centric story, he remarked, “I don’t think our story is, I probably shouldn’t say this, I don’t think it’s amazing by any stretch of the imagination.” Before the awkward silence in the room barely had time to settle, one of the three accompanying members of the Deep Silver PR team said in jest, “I’ll go ahead and just say the story is amazing.” Zala’s unexpected offhand comment captured the attention of every journalist in the room. “But the thing is,” he said, some form of back tracking having to be done, “…can you tell me what the story is in Halo or Destiny and stuff like that? At least I got a feeling you know what the story is on this and I think it’s a learning process for us.” After this, another PR person in the room quickly changed the subject, trying to move on from Zala’s statements.

After that the conversation turned to other matters, such how the team decided to leave all traces of the first Homefront behind when developing The Revolution, the volume of side content in the game (the main narrative will apparently make up about 30% of the game), and how they finally felt The Revolution had come together about a month ago. Zala also wanted to set the record straight about the game’s Xbox One multiplayer beta in February. “The console version really shouldn’t have been called a beta,” he passionately remarked. “It should have just been called a stress test, because we were testing our back end and it was really old code.” After nearly an hour, the conversation was stopped and we were asked to depart the room as we were about to go on a tour of the studio, as well as speak to some of the other developers behind the game. As we walked around the large studio floors, I saw Homefront: The Revolution on every monitor. The game littered each development floor, concentration firmly planted on getting it ready for release in a few weeks.

Seeing the game all around me gave me flashbacks to the previous day. 24 hours before my studio visit, I had been sitting in a building in London. In front of me was nothing but a sea of PCs in rows, occupying a large room that I was ushered into after watching a short presentation on the game in a downstairs room. Placed in front of one of the PCs, I and many other journalists were given the chance to play some of The Revolution, with certain sections made available for our visit. The opening cut-scenes gave us a glimpse into some of the game’s fictional history. Still sticking with its Korean enemy roots from the first game, the team have completely re-written the narrative’s history for The Revolution—this is much being a reboot rather than a sequel. The last game’s story garnering negative responses for its length and lack of believability, and this team wanted to learn from those mistakes rather than repeat them. “People liked the initial idea [of the first Homefront’s story], they just didn’t really like the execution,” said narrative designer Stephen Rhodes during an interview the next day. “We felt like we wanted to keep those elements and just go back and re-write them, make it flow better, make it make more sense and make it a fiction that people found interesting.”

After a rather brutal in-game opening, we were allowed to play some of the story and explore the games zones. The game is set in Philadelphia, which is split up into three zones. Green zones are where people live under intense KPA watch—that’s where the main missions will take place. In yellow zones you can get the beleaguered populace on your side by rescuing civilians and defacing KPA property, with people becoming less hostile to you and more to the KPA the more you do. Red zones are war-torn, dangerous and have no resistance force in place. We got to visit each one of these zones throughout our play through, and with the open-world setting and outpost-like side missions, they added up to a game that resembled Far Cry 3 and 4. The Revolution feels more challenging than Far Cry, though. Constantly the underdog thanks to your enemies’ overarching power, there really is a feel of being a guerrilla fighter in this game, which is something the team strived to create. “We wanted the game to really thematically feel like you’re a member of the resistance fighting,” Rhodes told me. “You’re always against it, you’re always on the back foot and fights are always hard.”

If that sounds like Dambuster’s struggle to finish Homefront: The Revolution, it’s probably not a coincidence. Plagued by forces outside of their control, and underestimated by the tepid response for the original, Dambuster has had to battle to get this game out, and no matter how much they’ve been pushed back, they’ve kept their drive and determination, believing that their cause was a worthy one to fight for, or at least that their job was one that needed to be seen through—even if they maybe can’t just go ahead and say the story is amazing.

Correction: A Deep Silver spokesperson was initially misquoted in this piece. We’ve corrected it to accurately reflect what was said.

Original article first appeared on Paste on 30/03/2016