beta test: 1. noun - a trial of machinery, software, or other products, in the final stages of its development, carried out by a party unconnected with its development.
I was taught to never start a story, article, research paper - pretty much anything - with a dictionary definition. I've decided to break that rule just this once. I believe reminding ourselves of what 'beta test' means is very important as it applies to Homefront: The Revolution
"Trial of machinery"
"Final stages of development"
It's a demo of an unfinished product that is meant to benefit the developers via feedback from beta testers. In the case of Homefront
, that's us, of course. With valuable feedback, both by monitoring the game's technical response and by written words from users, Homefront
can become better between now and its May 17th release date. For the sake of the studio, the publisher, and anyone excited for the game, that had better be the case.
Recent beta tests like Star Wars Battlefront
and Tom Clancy's The Division
have really spoiled gamers, leading them to expect a very polished product when they participate in a beta. In fact, with those two betas, it really felt like they served as hype machines more than bug finders. Homefront
is releasing this spring after changing hands at the publishing level and developer level, and following multiple delays. On top of that, some people working on the game filed grievances or walked out on the game completely due to missed wages and bonuses from Crytek, including its director Hasit Zala. 'Development Hell' is an understatement and, sadly, the product on display in the beta this past weekend was very much representative of that.
Visually, the game looked right at home as a launch title for Xbox 360. Texture pop-in was constant and all characters and weapons looked very grainy and decidedly last-gen. The sound of weapons was lacking as well, with some weapons sounding like little more than firecrackers. The distance from enemy or ally fire didn't seem to affect anything at all. The battlefield was quiet, which could be expected from a city largely defeated by invaders, but it felt very lifeless, in a way that I haven't seen since games like The History Channel
shooters or maybe Call of Duty 3
. Animations were goofy, controls were unreliable, shooting was horrendous, framerate drops were almost as common as reloading. It definitely fell below 30 FPS often.
Enemy AI was no better. Really, it was even worse. Graphics and sound can be excused in a game that gets its gameplay right — Homefront: The Revolution
doesn't. The story is one of a resistance movement fighting with scraps to dethrone their powerful tyrannical overlords, but the enemies I encountered were so oblivious and unreliable as gameplay obstacles that I was laughing out loud at times. It was very much an experience you have to see for yourself, so I managed to take a few videos of the behaviors I witnessed. The videos below represent what was, in my experience, the norm, and absolutely not the exception.
Sometimes enemies never knew I was there. And what's with this death animation?http://www.trueachievements.com/gameclip.aspx?clipid=4054735...
Sometimes they teleported out of an incapacitated state to leap over a wall.http://www.trueachievements.com/gameclip.aspx?clipid=4054735...
I'm guessing this enemy lets me run right up to him because he's a bullet sponge with an invisibility cloak.http://www.trueachievements.com/gameclip.aspx?clipid=4054735...
Even things that behaved as the developers intended, a rarity in this beta, raised huge question marks. The weapon attachment system is a great idea, allowing players to customize their firearms in real-time whenever they want, but the interface in which you do this was very confusing. Swapping among different parts of the gun and different attachments for each part was far from intuitive. Surely more time with the game would get that sorted, but is there not a way to implement that smartly from the get-go?
The beta featured a trio of Resistance Mode
missions, which is the game's four-player co-op mode. Matchmaking always took a long time, which sometimes culminated in an empty lobby nonetheless. The objectives were pretty simple, as well. Go here and kill X enemies. Go here and hold out against X enemies. All the while, the enemies were as mindless as those seen above.
Co-op is almost always a plus in any game. Who doesn't love a good cooperative mode? The basic objectives could have been fun if all of these other issues weren't present. After all, it's far from the only game to give players dumb objectives, but in co-op they have a way of becoming more enjoyable. It was just hard to take any bit of enjoyment out of the beta besides the laughable AI behaviors. What they did get right was the scavenging for equipment (although the UI for this was a bit broken) and the necessity to stick together. As dumb as the enemies were, a small group of them could dispatch you very quickly if you tried lone-wolfing an area.
Part of me truly wonders if the teams behind Homefront: The Revolution
used the beta to not just test the game's infrastructure, but to see how bad the response might be. They surely aren't blind to it. Another delay might be the last thing they want, but if they believe the game can be salvaged with more than the two months or so until it goes gold and three months until it hits stores, then they have to seriously consider putting it off again.
The game's official Twitter handle
was out playing defense all weekend, assuring people that what we saw in the beta is from a Christmas-time build and things like graphics and AI have already been improved since then, but gamers absolutely have the right to be skeptical. Could all of that have been fixed in seven weeks? Could the release day version be substantially better? It certainly needs to be.
I would never root against developers. We have no reason to believe that they aren't doing their best to make the game fun and worthwhile. Conceptually, the game and the Resistance Mode particularly could be worth diving into, but in its state that was on display over the weekend, it simply wasn't that. This beta reminds us what beta tests are really for. They don't exist solely to boost word of mouth and publicity pre-release, or to give fans a simple demo of the full release. Betas are messy and buggy and, like Homefront
constantly reminded its players, "not [representative of] final content".
I find myself rooting for the game at this point, to turn it around and become a remarkable underdog story. Its development cycle was the worst case scenario and it was already an underdog compared to the likes of Battlefield
and Call of Duty
from the moment that it was announced, before all of the fallout behind the scenes and before this ugly showing. Maybe there really has been improvement since this build. I'll gladly take Dambuster Studios' word for it. My lingering question is simply this: by how much? Every facet of the game - matchmaking, audio, visual, AI, gunplay - was severely lacking in a way that I haven't seen from a AAA game in a very long time. I'm very curious to see if what they say is true, but a big part of me expects to read about a delay announcement any day now.