Release Date: March 1, 2005
I selected to review Republic Commando with trepidation – I tend to be disappointed with high profile console games when they come to the PC (with some notable exceptions like Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City). It seems like many ported games don't take advantage of the PC hardware or limit themselves to more simplified gameplay that suits the combination of gamepads and comfortable sofas. But after hearing some choice words about Republic Commando, particularly about limb-yanking Wookiees, I decided to give in to my weakness for Star Wars games and give Republic Commando a go.
For those who managed to escape the marketing blitz on this one, Republic Commando is a squad-based FPS which gives you the chance to play as one of the elite clone commandos and use your superior training and arsenal to turn the enemies of the Republic into a slightly lumpy smear. So basically think Halo but you get a whole team of Master Chiefs and you get to blast bad guys from the movies. The opening cut scene introduces you to the clone you'll be playing as, 38, and your compatriots who actually have numbers AND names (if only you could be so lucky). After the cut scene, you get your first briefing and are summarily launched into combat, splatting some very large bugs on the planet Geonosis with the rest of your elite Delta Squad. You get a few popup tips along the way to serve as a tutorial during your early adventures.
The single-player campaign will take you from the invasion of Geonosis to a Republic ghost ship filled with Trandoshan mercs and slavers and concludes with some ammo-spraying charity work on the Wookiee planet Kashyyyk (apparently in honor of the soon-to-be-released Episode III and is being mirrored by the release of the Rage of the Wookiees expansion for the MMORPG, Star Wars: Galaxies). Unlike the genre top dog, Halo, the single player campaign for Republic Commando leads you through very diverse environments does not have you double back through half the game filled with new enemies (that always rubbed me the wrong way). The inhabitants, whether friendly or very vigorously hostile, vary from locale to locale and are very creatively interpreted from the Star Wars universe of movies, games and other licensed works; the Trandoshan slavers are thick, loping lizards that charge more like animals than humanoids and the Wookiees make Chewbacca look scrawny and heroin-chic. Common throughout the game are the battle droids of the Separatists including the nasty, rolling Droidekas from Episode I (and they're a bit tougher when you don't have the Force on your side).
Republic Commando offers you a diverse selection of weapons. You start with your trusty and highly modifiable DC-17m Blaster Rifle which can be augmented to serve as a high power sniper rifle or an anti-armor high explosive launcher, or as I prefer to think of it… the crowd pleaser. In the event that you run out of ammo for your rifle (and, boy, does that suck), you also have the trusty blaster pistol with an automatic recharging energy supply. You can also pick up dropped weapons, ranging from shoddy Trandoshan-made sub-machineguns to bowcasters and the Wookiee Rocket Launcher (God bless those big, furry lugs and their craftsmanship). Unfortunately, you can only carry one non-standard issue weapon with you so you have to choose carefully between those heavy repeaters, concussion rifles, and bowcasters. In my book, though, they all take a distant back seat to my favorite option… the melee attack. Your armor suit is equipped with an extendable blade in your left arm that makes mince meat (or metal) of most enemies in a single swipe. As a nice twist, your melee attack varies with the selected weapon and you can pistol whip a Trando with your blaster or spear the jagged heavy particle repeater into the abdomen of that guy between you and the nearest exit. Enemies dispatched up close leave a rather gratifying spray of vital fluids on the glass of your helmet which, while obscuring your view until it gets wiped away, makes you feel like quite the killer. Oh, and you also have a pleasing array of explosives for hurling including highly effective flashbangs, thermal detonators for every occasion and electrostatic charges to help with the droid armies of the Separatists. These explosives are particularly nice way to enjoy the ragdoll physics on your opponents. My only complaint in weapons department is that the variety of artillery is pretty limited in the early parts of the game and I was quickly losing interest in using just the default blaster rifle.
The gameplay itself is a blend of three parts Halo and one part Brothers in Arms. As I said, you're the Republic's version of the Master Chief and you've been thrust into battle with three similar lethal friends. That's where the squad combat part comes in. Unlike many FPS games where you have AI-driven friendlies following you around, mostly devoid of any of the I part of AI, your team is an essential part of your success. Depending on how you lead them into battle, whether you have them set to search & destroy, form up on your six, or secure the immediate area, they smoothly move to find the appropriate positions, take cover, and fire on anything that moves. You can give them direct orders with a single key press, ordering them to man turrets, snipe from fixed positions, heal from a bacta unit, etc. This game mechanic ranges from handy (having someone slice a terminal to achieve a mission objective while you blast hostile droids) to essential (blasting doors open). As you progress through the game it becomes second nature to put one of your team members in a good position to provide covering fire and the whole process becomes a seamless dance of optimized destructive firepower. Although, I will say my favorite aspect of the team gameplay is that you can be revived by a squadmate if you fall in combat – so long as one person is operation, there's still a chance of getting a jumpstart and returning to combat. I really liked the fact that LucasArts gives you this option because I prefer to play games like this very fast and loose and don't like having to worry about my teammates dying or having to revert to an earlier save so I can try the firefight again without casualties.
Now I compared the squad-based component of this game to Brothers in Arms and I need to admit that is a stretch. Brothers in Arms plays very differently with the "find, fix, flank and finish" tactic featuring prominently in that game. Republic Commando, on the other hand, has basically zero flanking; it's just constant run and gun. In this sense, it really is just like playing Halo with a team of four Master Chiefs and you get to boss the other three around with simple commands. Fortunately, your squadmates have pretty good AI and move, take cover, fire and support very nicely without you having to micromanage them or inducing a fit of foul language after one of them dies in a blinding flash of stupidity.
On the other hand, the enemy didn't get any of the brains that were poured into the helmeted heads of your Delta Squad. The enemy movements are simple and straight forward. Rather than relying on better AI to make the opponents more challening, Republic Commando just throws fairly substantial hordes of them at you. For variety, they might be placed in tricky areas but none of the enemies will actually do something tricky on their own accord. The closest to this that you'll see are a few rare scripted events such as a Trandoshan running to get backup. But by and large, the way the first Trando slaver or Separatist droid acts is the way the rest of the Trando slavers and Separatist droids act. In this department, Republic Commando comes up a little short compared to some of the top titles in the genre.
Where Republic Commando really shines is presentation. I normally have very high expectations for a Star Wars game, especially in the area of sound and music. I really want an immersive cinematic experience the sucks me into the Star Wars universe. And in this regard, Republic Commando delivers.
The graphics are very, very good and make use of all the gadgets and gizmos on a modern DirectX 9-compliant graphics card. The lighting really brings the environments to life and the textures are rich and varied. LucasArts must have flogged the poor artists something fierce, but the end product is a beautiful and near-perfectly detailed game, right down to the security cameras in the detention center ripped straight out of Leia's rescue from the Death Star in Episode IV. Each area of the game is distinctive and carefully rendered. So many games these days feel repetitive with rehashed textures or object models making appearances throughout the game and Republic Commando does a very good job at avoiding this pitfall.
The audio is truly brilliant, from the voice acting to the special effects and music. The voice acting in Republic Commando is perhaps my favorite for any game in the last few years. Each squadmate has their own personality, ranging from dark and brooding to class clown, and their personalities come out in their commentaries throughout the game. Your squadmates will compliment you on your successes, poke at your for your screw ups ("I think Three-eight is a copy of a copy of a copy, if you know what I mean"… nice Multiplicity reference), and generally chide one another as they rack up their body counts. There have been more than a few occasions where Scorch, the group joker, put a big grin on my face. Although, I will say that sometimes they can be a little repetitive with their lines on certain common tasks, such as placing explosives (Scorch: "Is it red-red-green… or red green red…" Sev: "And he's the explosives expert?"). In addition to the voice acting, the special effects are thoroughly on point. LucasArts brought in a Foley studio to create the auditory richness outperforms even exceptional graphics in producing an immersive experience. The Foley artists utilize a staggering collection of esoteric items to produce "just the right noise", which even includes slapping pineapple halves on hardwood to create the moist footsteps of the slimy Trandoshan. And on top of the voice acting and the special effects is, of course, a top notch musical score. The music ranges from the franchise requisite John Williams marches to choral compositions (which are more than a little similar to Halo at times). All of these elements combines to create a very enjoyable and immersive experience. In case you can't tell, I like it.
Now a quick, perfunctory paragraph on the multiplayer. Don't buy Republic Commando if you are looking for a multiplayer game. Yes, it does have multiplayer, but it appears to have been an afterthought. LucasArts really could have knocked it out of the park if they included a Halo-esque cooperative multiplayer option, which really was my favorite part of Halo. But that's not there. There are the basics like Capture the Flag and Deathmatch but I don't believe the game modes included are going to hold anyone's interest for long. As proof of that, when I last looked to see how many servers were up I didn't even need to use to the scroll bar on the side of the server browser to reach the bottom of the list – there were only about a dozen internet games listed.
So on gameplay, Republic Commando borrows a bit from squad-based games like Brothers in Arms, but doesn't do squad gameplay quite as well…. And it borrows heftily from one-versus-many games like Halo but doesn't get the "many" quite as well. If Republic Commando could have ratcheted up both of these aspects of the game just a couple more notches, this game would be an essential title to own. Sadly, it just isn't there. But what is there is an exquisitely produced and incredibly fun first-person romp through the Star Wars universe with a blaster rifle in hand. I went into playing this game really wanting to pick it apart… and it did give me plenty of reasons to pick. The squad gameplay isn't as good as Brothers in Arms, which kept me hooked from the moment I ripped open the box. The one-versus-many is handicapped by a lackluster enemy AI. And I am disappointed that a very good Halo-like game lacks any of the hallmark multiplayer goodness. But despite my wanting to dislike this game and rack it up as another bad console port… I ended up playing this game feverishly and staying up way past what would have been a sensible time to go to sleep. There aren't many games that have the distinction of being able to hold my interest so well that I actually finish them. In recent history, only Half Life 2, KotOR 2, and Brothers in Arms managed to pull that off. Yet, as of writing this review, Republic Commando is perilously close to joining highly exalted company and I fully intend to finish the game. So, I must conclude that Republic Commando is a highly entertaining and engrossing game. For fans of Star Wars or the FPS genre, it's a good choice to pick up the next time you're at your local retailer or sopping online. But if you are a value-conscious shopper that only likes to plunk down hard earned cash for a select few essential games, I would probably pass on Republic Commando or maybe opt for picking it up second hand; it simply doesn't have much to offer past a fairly short but very enjoyable single-player experience.
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