When in 2011 Crytek secured a deal to develop a Homefront sequel, its game designer Fasahat Salim sensed "huge untapped potential" in the series.
The main attraction was the game's story, says Salim, which managed to avoid the typical route of casting players as a soldier killing natives on foreign land. Instead, Homefront plunged into a war on western soil, casting the player as a former marine - now civilian - ill-equipped and under-prepared to take on invading forces.
"At Crytek we made it our mission to take this interesting premise and reinvent it with the power of the CryEngine," said Salim during a recent pre-E3 presentation.
The Crysis studio eventually doubled down on the project by acquiring the Homefront franchise from the now-closed publisher THQ, and the long-awaited sequel will finally appear for the first time at E3 as Homefront: The Revolution.
"We've got procedural day-night cycles, dynamic rain and weather effects, we've got a rich, emergent AI system"
Revolution is set four years into the fictional North Korean occupation of America following the 2025 invasion depicted in the original game. The KPA (Korean People's Army) has established itself as the brutal and totalitarian leader of a now oppressed American society, and set up base in Philadelphia - iconic for being the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence.
The sequel casts players as Ethan Brady, a "normal everyday dude" who sets out to take on the KPA by leading a band of rebel fighters on a mission to spark a revolution that could turn the tides of a war already lost.
Brady is more your average Joe than the GI variety. He's not born a hero and has no military background. The odds are stacked against him as the KPA is not only trained and heavily armed, but also using 'superior technology' to take control of the population. This, promises Salim, will make for some very interesting gameplay.
"The city of Philadelphia is an asymmetric battlefield. The KPA have far superior technology and they can take out anyone they want to if you go up against them. The answer is you must use guerilla tactics."
Players aren't nearly as well equipped as the KPA, so to take them on you have to make clever used of the environment, the Crytek designer explains. This means staging ambushes and using hit-and-run tactics. It means gathering items and other materials to create weapons and tools that you can use in your fight against the KPA, including IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and distraction tools.
In a gameplay demo shown to CVG, Ethan, sneaking outside an enemy base, attaches an explosive to a small RC car. He then remotely drives the car underneath an enemy truck to stealth it past enemy guards and set off an explosion that triggers one almighty gun fight between rebels and the startled KPA soldiers.
Players don't have much weaponry as a civilian rebel, but the guns you find can be modified to your liking. The demo showed this mechanic at play, as Ethan turned an assault rifle on its side and a smart-looking HUD helped the player to customize attachments on the fly - Crysis style - including scopes, grips, under-barrel accessories, silencers and other options.
Ethan is also equipped with a mobile phone that is capable of tagging and tracking enemies on a live basis. Just like Big Boss's binoculars in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Ethan can pull out his phone at any time to survey the area around him, identifying enemies, cameras and other points of interest with his phone, all of which appear on his radar after having been tagged.
Players will also need to make use of the simplest environmental conditions - at one point we see Ethan picking up a brick from the ground and throwing it at a camera to break it, right after taking an enemy guard out with a swift melee attack.
The environment and the CryEngine tech that powers it will seemingly play as crucial a role in the game as Ethan himself.
"We're using the power of the CryEngine to create a living, breathing ecosystem," said Salim. "We've got procedural day-night cycles, dynamic rain and weather effects, we've got a rich, emergent AI system."
This isn't meant to be a static world either, but one that reacts to the player, according to Salim. "This is dynamic, evolving open world where everything that the player does affects the environment around them and the people that inhabit this world."
The major promise is "guerilla warfare in an open and evolving world", although we got the impression as the presentation came to a close that this environment wasn't quite ready for a full unveiling.
What we saw on screen was certainly impressive, with the CryEngine rendition of Philadelphia city boasting all the meticulous detail and obscenely pretty visuals that you expect from the engine that powers the Crysis series.
"Philadelphia boasts all the meticulous detail and obscenely pretty visuals you expect from CryEngine"
What we didn't see was how 'open world' mechanics will play into the action. The city appeared to offer numerous opportunities for open-ended gameplay, with plenty of other roads and dark alleys that were left unexplored in the demo.
But what the demo failed to showcase is if the player will be as open and free-to-wonder as the promise of an 'open world' game implies. The mission we saw appeared distinctly linear.
There is one simple explanation; early press demos can be meticulously pre-scripted builds, offering nothing but a small vertical slice of the action. They don't always represent the full extent of the game as it will be played in its final form.
But Homefront The Revolution is off to a strong start nevertheless. What we saw looked technically impressive, as you'd expect, the story has potential, and the promise of hard-hitting guerrilla warfare in an open, living environment is indeed exciting. Whether there's enough here to separate it from the Modern Warfares and Battlefields will be the key question.
Homefront: The Revolution is in development for Xbox One, PS4 and PC - its release date is tentatively 2015