There aren't many subscribers to the subreddit dedicated to the shooter series Homefront, with most topics coming and going without a single comment. The most popular recent post, with 15 upvotes, is titled "The reaction I get when I tell people I like Homefront: The Revolution," and links to an Arrested Development clip where David Cross' character, Tobais Fünke, stands up to defend his bizarre "never nude" syndrome. "There are dozens of us," he proclaims. "Dozens!"
That's what it feels like to be a fan of Homefront: The Revolution, a game that arrived to thoroughly mediocre reviews and unflattering technical issues that have marred impressions ever since.
"Sometimes, mission objectives fail to load into the game entirely" wrote Waypoint's Austin Walker in a review for Giant Bomb last May. "Sound drops out in the middle of a gunfight, or else an inexplicable and banging noise begins emitting from the corner of an empty room in your safehouse. Unpredictable hitches in the action on both PC and PS4 are by far the most frustrating offender."
Vehicles would float in the air sometimes, too?
"It's definitely true to say that, as a team, we weren't satisfied with the game at launch," said producer David Stenton. "We put years of hard work into it and felt we weren't really doing the players justice to the ambition and the hard work that we'd put in. It made us, at launch, more resolute to work tirelessly to improve the player experience over the next few months."
These days, Stenton is a creative director at Homefront: The Revolution developer Dambuster, formerly Crytek UK. (The game's origins are back with the now-defunct THQ.)
I found myself on Skype with Stenton because of an email that genuinely shocked me a few weeks back, which promised an update for the game with PlayStation 4 Pro support and details on the game's third (third!) downloadable add-on, Beyond the Walls. It's clear that Homefront: The Revolution was not the blockbuster everyone involved was hoping for, and during such moments, it's not surprising to see companies quietly scuttle their plans for the future. "That DLC we promised would be coming nearly a year later? Well, maybe it's not worth it."
And yet, Dambuster has continued to hammer away at Homefront: The Revolution. It took several months of work to whip the game into technical competence—it didn't really turn a corner until September, long after most had written the game off and moved on. (The game came out in May!) Since then, they've focused delivering what they'd promised for old players and, hopefully, new ones.
"We knuckled down," he said.
It reminded me of a story I wrote for Kotaku, about the two-year journey for a developer to finish DLC for Rambo: The Game, an awful on-rails shooter that was savaged by everyone. And yet, the DLC eventually came out.
"Obviously, it's an ideal situation if you can get players on board to kind of fight in your corner."
Stenton told me the team wasn't psychologically set back by the game's reception—a claim I have trouble fully buying—but instead, turned any frustrations towards a series of patches.
"When I first started the game I wasn't really into it," said reddit user tone3000, one of the few folks I could find singing the game's praises online. "Shooting felt off, stealth was terrible, and a number of other things. But as I started playing it with a different mindset, I enjoyed it more for what it is. I played it with the mindset that this is guerrilla warfare—hit-and-run type of tactics. I realized I am a rebel, and therefore inferior to this strong government. As I play it with this in mind, I realize how great this game is. It really makes you feel like a rebel."
tone3000 hopes they have a chance to make a sequel.
But it's these types of fans, a combination of diehards who've continued to quietly champion the game through its hard times and curious players attracted by the $10 price tag on places like Steam, that Stenton relies on. First impressions are hard to break, and the developers who made a game that didn't work right the first time aren't exactly the people with the most legitimacy.
"We're so grateful for the fans that really appreciate for what it is and for the gameplay and for the things that it tries to do differently," he said. "Obviously, it's an ideal situation if you can get players on board to kind of fight in your corner. [...] So you're relying on your own hard work and DLC and patches, but you're relying on your fans and the players to help try and communicate out that a lot of these issues are resolved."
It might be too late for some, but Stenton said he's encouraged by the response to the game's DLC and regular updates. The hope is that when Steam forum topics like "Despite the initial bad reviews" pop up, it'll have people making the pitch.
"Yeah, the game is much better now than what it was on launch," wrote the first response to that topic, "and the current price is more than ok for what you get."
It's a step in the right direction.