The first Homefront was the video-game equivalent of a small boy who starts throwing stones at the older lads in the hope of provoking a fight.
It was about a war between America and North Korea. Not the hopelessly one-sided conflict that would really happen if the world’s most heavily armed superpower fought the ongoing humanitarian disaster that is the real North Korea, but a fantasy near-future in which Kim Jong-un has magicked up a few trillion dollars’ worth of military hardware and invaded America.
A lot of people found this morally uncertain. The scenes in which civilians are beaten and executed in front of you, or in which you have to take cover in a huge pile of corpses, didn’t help. Gamers who weren’t bothered by its content were offended by the fact that it cost as much as a full-length game but only lasted four hours. Then, for anyone hadn’t been offended by it yet, publishers THQ released ten thousand red balloons as a promotional stunt. The balloons fell from the cool San Francisco sky into the sea, where they choked and strangled the area’s seals and seabirds.
You might be forgiven, then, for raising an eyebrow at the news that a new Homefront is on the way. We did. Then we got a look at the in-game footage, and the other eyebrow went up: the new Homefront looks... actually, it looks really rather good.
We're still not entirely sure what to expect, but from our first look at the game, it seems like Homefront has grown up.
Where the first Homefront was an FPS-on-rails that offered very little in the way of alternative routes, Homefront: the Revolution is a sandbox game of the type that developer Crytek has had great success with before in the Crysis and Far Cry series. Set four years after the Korean invasion of the last game, it takes place in a Philadelphia (‘the birthplace of independence’, the blurb reminds us) ground beneath the bootheel of the Korean People’s Army. With its destroyed environments, terrified civilians and ever-present drones and soldiers, it looks a lot like the City 17 of Half-Life 2, only more explorable, and beautifully rendered by the latest CryEngine.
The gameplay, too, looks to have thrown off the limitations of the last game. The focus here is on guerrilla warfare, which involves a certain amount of planning – you use a smartphone to identify targets, as you did with the camera in Far Cry 3, you build and modify your own weapons, as you did in Far Cry 3, and you build a reputation and recruit NPCs to fight for your cause, as you did in… yep. Nothing wrong with that - Far Cry 3 is an absolutely brilliant game. Taking its best bits and placing them in a city in the future sounds like a recipe for another brilliant game.
There are still a few things that might upset people. All the KPA soldiers we’ve seen so far wear masks, which might be to make them look more menacing, or it might be because if they didn’t then one of the main objectives would be to shoot people who look Korean, and that would definitely be Not Okay. And perhaps we’re taking it too seriously – it’s just a piece of speculative fiction, after all - but the idea of playing a downtrodden American resisting the forces of North Korea still feels uncomfortable, a little like making a game about a team of brave Nike executives fighting a horde of shoe-factory workers who have suddenly developed terrifying superpowers. Although actually, maybe there's an indie game in that...
Platforms: XBO, PS4, PC, Mac Linux
Release date: 2015