Preview - Yellow Zone and Emergent Play

Preview - Yellow Zone and Emergent Play

After years of corporate shenanigans, Dambuster Studios is almost ready to deliver the sequel to Homefront.

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The Yellow Zone is completely different style of play. While the Red Zone is a ruined No Man's Land, the Yellow Zone is a slum that is somewhat under control and with some sort of normal day-to-day life. Here, you have to holster your weapon, avoid guards and drones seeing you, and generally hide among the people. Combat is much harder here; being spotted leads to the same number of guards that you find in the Red Zone when a zeppelin sees you. When you're spotted in the Yellow Zone, you can fight, but it's better to break line of sight and hide. Throw firecrackers to divert guards' attention or jump into trash cans and portajohns as patrols try to figure out where you went. It's a stealth experience.

In the Yellow Zone, you're more concerned about Hearts & Minds, Homefront's way of tracking all the chaos you're causing. While the Red Zone is about taking areas, completing Strike Points, or helping the Resistance in random Flashpoints, the Yellow Zone wants you to wake up the populace and start a riot. You'll change radios to the Resistance frequency, sabotage KPA gear, assassinate officials, and free prisoners under KPA control.

"Right from the start, we took Philadelphia and we wanted to have some place where we could have an open-world guerilla FPS shoot-on-sight environment. And then we also wanted to have stealth," says Zala. "We wanted a change of pace. For us, it's about the diversity of gameplay."

Weapon customization is done on the fly.

If anything, the Yellow Zone is almost too different from the Red Zone. It's very much a cat-and-mouse style of play and I find that players who prefer one style of play may not enjoy the other. The Red Zone has some waiting, but it's about striking. The stick and move. The Yellow Zone is all about patience and waiting. Can those two styles co-exist in the same title? I'm unsure.

The Green Zone wasn't available in my demo, but this is where the KPA has full control and those who live there are loyal citizens. (Surprisingly, the Yellow Zone citizens are halfway there, angrily shouting at you when you pull out a weapon.) Dambuster did show us shots of the Green Zone and how the enviroment decays in the Green and Yellow Zones are you proceed in your mission.

See, Dambuster is a rather small studio at 120 employees, so the game leans heavily on procedural elements to build a AAA title. The game features a full day-night cycle and a weather system. When it rains, water runs down walls and puddles will form, only to day in the sun later. In one contaminated Red Zone, the acid clouds corrode metal and concrete. (I got to see all this in real-time, so it works.) And the AI has an order of operation: the KPA patrols and your fellow Resistance members all have their own rough objectives, objectives that will usually put them in emergent conflict.

"I'm just really tired of the format of these games," says Zala. "The scripted sequences. You play through the game and if you play through it again, you see it again. I think the medium is so powerful. We really wanted something pushing emergent battles and procedural gameplay. At the heart of it is this idea that basically that you the player can drop into the world and become a catalyst for change. Your actions influence the changes. Whereas GTA and Assassin's Creed are beautiful worlds, but they're in stasis."

So as you play in the Yellow and Green Zone, the world will shift. Signs and graffiti supporting the Revolution will begins to appear more often in the Yellow Zone. In the Green Zones, you'll literally be tearing down infrastructure and marring the beautiful buildings that the KPA has restored. You're a guerilla. You're an insurgent. Your actions will not be pretty. And that's the point.

"What we had to do was to be as smart as possible," adds Zala. "I'd say the game we have at the moment is the tip of the iceberg for what we want to do. If you keep playing the single-player, things should play out emergently and at random. We don't want to heavily script it, but we still want to have this strong narrative."

Story missions retain the driving narrative that Dambuster wants to give players. These are heavily scripted in points, trying to give you that blockbusters experience, like when you defend an area while a member is hacking an elite, high-tech tank or a later mission where the KPA launches an all-out attack on the Resistance in the contaminated green fog of a Red Zone. The story seems to be full of small wins, but Brady's bad day looks like it'll continue on for quite a while.

Brady's terrible 24-style day was fun for me though. The narrative isn't subtle, but unlike other open-world games like Skyrim, your non-story actions feed directly into the plot itself. Everything is for the Resistance, so you're not just off joining a guild or building a settlement while you're supposed to be finishing your primary quest. The run-and-gun play of the Red Zone is where my heart lies, but the Yellow Zone play worked for me as well; again, I'm just not sure if they'll work for everyone in the same game.

Homefront: The Revolution feels like it has the makings of something special. Dambuster Studios just has to stick the landing after five years of development and corporate shenanigans. Here's hoping the road up to the game's May 17, 2016 launch was worth the wait.

Look forward to a forthcoming interview with the team behind Homefront: The Revolution!

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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