Star Wars: Republic Commando
There's a disturbance in the Force concerning LucasArts new Star Wars game. Apart from being designed to fit the constraints of a living room console, Republic Commando is being coded internally. As we all know, it's rare for a shooter to impress as wildly as it might when designed to work on lesser hardware. In addition, LucasArts' home record these last few years has not been as consistent as when it's recruited specialist p from outside - such as with BioWare's recent magnificent RPG Knights Of The Old Republic.
More pertinently, the game is obviously not set around events of the classic but specifically in between the climactic Geonosis battle from Episode II and the introduction of General Grievous, said to be a major antagonist in next year's missing link in the Star Wars saga. Going by the quality of the last two films and the games tied in to promote them, the worry is that Republic Commando will follow much the same path.
Yet, despite these reservations, we remain not only optimistic but really rather excited - aroused even - about the prospect of a new first-person Star Wars shooter. A game that not only enables you to step inside the white armour of those soon-to-be stormtroopers, but one that will require you to command a full squad of toughened clone warriors as they conduct secretive behind-the-lines missions where others - Jedi aside - would fear to tread.
Using the Unreal engine, heavily adapted from the 2003 edition to include its high detail models, ragdoll physics, cool lighting and confined level design, we can rightly expect Republic Commando not only to be the best prequel title to date, but one of the most tense Star Wars games ever.
We were inspired by movies like Black Hawk Down" says Steve Matulac, producer of Republic Commando. "We wanted that same sort of military feel, to move away from the high gloss of Attack Of The Clones and introduce a real sense of foreboding, where alien worlds feel very creepy and the game itself stylistically looks very de-saturated.
Matulac also puts forward Aliens as another influence - and after being treated to a view of some early levels, it's easy to spot why. As one mission begins, we see our squad descend into the bowels of Geonosis, steam rising from rocky pores and organic goo casting familiar spires that jut out from the dank and dim walls.
Static interference crackles menacingly across the teams' visors, making it hard to penetrate the gloom ahead. As a scout is sent forward, the familiar shrill of blaster rifles opens up as swarms of Geonosians (those insect-like winged warriors) set about the lone trooper. If there were motion trackers and corrosive body fluids, it could possibly pass as an official Aliens title: if nothing else, the change of mood and pace should make a nice change from the familiarity of the Jedi Knight series.
But it's the game's tactical aspect that most deliberately separates it from the other games in the Star Wars series, with your four-clone squad able to advance through 15 levels of close-quarter action as they fight back the separatist hordes of, among others, Battle Droids, Trandoshan slavers and elite bodyguards.
Run The Gauntlet
Defensive and aggressive stances will affect the speed of movement, with soldiers able to stand, crawl and even inch along the ground, covering the backs of their comrades and securing tactical hotspots in readiness for any counteroffensive. Also, instead of a tactical overview present in games such as Hidden & Dangerous, we're promised a simple dynamic interface that sees you responding to threats quickly and easily.
It's challenging to strike a balance between action and hardcore tactics, admits Matulac. However, we definitely don't want you to have to micro-manage your squad. We've yet to nail down the full range of tactical commands and options, but you'll be able to order your troops to 'leapfrog' through the world, where one guy moves up while another covers. You'll also be able to order 'stacking', where two guys can share a cover point, with one taking a high shot and the other guy the low shot."
Of course, the game's success will depend squarely on the strength of the Al. It's too early to cast judgement on 1 that right now, but from what we've seen, your comrades will certainly be able to think for themselves (Unreal Al being about the best in the business).
The Al will be intelligent, but the characters will also look intelligent while they're carrying out orders to help reinforce the military aspect of the game," adds Matulac. There wasn't much to see of the enemy's intelligence, but then the game's uber-badasses - Grievous's retinue of men - are yet to be unveiled for obvious reasons.
Clearly then, there's much to look forward to with Republic Commando, especially after the success of recent Star Wars titles. LucasArts seems more confident in trying out new ideas instead of shoehorning its expansive universe into tried and tested genres, and that can only be good news. Republic Commando may not be the most tactical shooter, nor the dark undertones as tempting as the Dark Side itself, but the new timeline is promising to be as enjoyable as those set during the original trilogy.
Download Star Wars: Republic Commando
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
You're probably not as excited about this game as you should be. Now I'm a practicing Episode II apologist (despite generally not straying as far as The Phantom Menace) so I'm about to attempt to scrub away the encrusted Jar-Jar cynicism from your preconceptions and show you that this is looking like the most streamlined squad shooter we've seen in many a year.
Reason for apathy 1 in your hearts and minds could be that this is a prequel game, starting up in the Clone Wars a few hours after Yoda "around the survivors, a perimeter created" and ending up on Kashyyyk in a battle that sets up many of the events of Episode III. I'm not even going to attempt to bridge any divide between you and the bearded one, but let me just say Republic Commando isn't going to subsist on licence alone. (Though saying that, there's still a lot for fanboys to salivate over, including a plethora of thermal detonators, giant Wookiees, Geonosians, the bodyguards of Episode III baddie General Grievous and a chapter set on a proto-Star Destroyer.)
Away from all the Skywalker stuff though. Republic Commando is looking like a highly competent military squad shooter on its own merits, albeit one very much in an arcade Freedom Fighters mould. Alongside a basic command system that either has your squad pushing forward or following politely behind you, a neat one-touch system can set your guys to plant explosives, take up a sniping position or carry out a tactical door-breach with the help of a few concussion grenades. Obviously this isn't far different from the "high-level squadtactics" blurb that accompanies clag like the Conflict games,' but here it honestly appears to work.
This is aided and abetted by some impressive Al on the part of your squad, who do neat things like ducking when they run past your line of fire, using health terminals without being prompted, running away from imminent explosions and swapping casual banter on what you're doing aqd who you're killing.
The idea is to create the illusion of a being part of a crack unit, giving your squad a high enough degree of consciousness to look after themselves in a firefight (always finding cover and rarely needing advice on running away when a droid army is pummelling them), while still giving you enough control to set them up in decent positions or allow some realistic teamplay. Even when you've been blasted into a motionless pile of plastic armour you'll be relying on them to revive you - after they've slain all the badness in the vicinity that is, unless you've ordered them otherwise.
And Whose Army?
The official names of your squaddies are Clone numbers 62,07 and 40, but they're better known as Scorch, Sev and Fixer - each with their own (conveniently) developed personalities that defy their dour kiwi origins. Scorch blows stuff up and cracks jokes, Fixer hacks machines and plays the straight man and Sev's a ruthless psycho who's a crack-shot with a sniper rifle. All of you have been freshly cultivated from the loins of Jango Fett, and your own development from floating tank-baby-through to the donning of your helmet is impressively covered in first-person flashbacks at the opening of the game. The action then moves on to a scene reminiscent of the start of Half-Life: Opposing Force, with your dropship flying over Geonosis, allied craft dropping like flies around you, eventually dumping you in the wreckage of the Episode II arena.
Moving on from here there are many and varied Geonosian spires to infiltrate and war rooms to fill with blaster-holes, all the while marvelling (as you tend to do these days) at the spectacular physics effects that send droid-parts flying and wounded Geonosians limply fluttering.
Over the game's 15 missions and three major environments (Geonosis, the Republic Assault Ship and Kashyyyk) there's a myriad of neat touches that, once you witness them, mark out Republic Commando as a game with a twinkle in its battered visor. Note, for example, the way that enemies kick thermal detonators back at you when they land at their feet - at which point your squad can pick them up and rechuck them should their sci-fi fuses be long enough. Note again (and I apologise for referencing a wonderful game that couldn't be less of a PC title if it tried) the clear nod to Metroid Prime in the helmet visor that can be alternately smashed, steamed up, rained upon or gooped -and then wiped clean by an unobtrusive Star Wars laser-wjqdscreen-wiper.
It's these little touches that show that Republic Commando is distancing itself from the conveyer-belt franchise releases that LucasArts has become synonymous with in recent times. There honestly appears to be some senous love going into this game, and not simply the blatant dollar-spipning of yore. If you've fallen out your long-running Star Wars romance through the prequels, then, for this game at least, you should unlearn what you have learned. Of henwise you could be missing out.
There's No shortage of squadbased shooters on the market, but to date, most of them have followed a very strict template. Real-world military milieus, accurate weapons and tactics, typical hostage/terrorist/siege scenarios. As a result, they've all started to become indistinguishable, and often rather dull.
Republic Commando, the first ever squad-based Star Wars shooter, should change all that. It's a military-style affair with a four-man squad and a host of tactical options, but the sci-fi setting gives it an unusual amount of freedom, and the developers have taken full advantage of this.
Crucially, they've reinvented the way you give orders to your squad-mates, introducing an elegant one-touch system that, while far from realistic, is both fast and intuitive. Now, instead of wrangling with waypoints and command menus, you use a single 'use' key to perform a squad manoeuvre. Simply click on a world object, such as a door, a wall or a computer terminal, and you'll see a ghostimage of a squad mate (or mates) performing a context-sensitive operation. Press F to confirm, and your squad will do that action, whether it's taking up a sniping post, hacking a computer or performing a coordinated door breach.
More general commands like 'search and destroy' or 'secure area' are handled with the function keys, which, in conjunction with highly autonomous squad Al, give you all the tools you need to effectively police the republic. With the additional benefits of Unreal-powered graphics and a raft of uniquely Star Wars scenarios, Republic Commando could be the freshest and most exciting squad-based shooter in years.
Better Reload Gordon! Yes. yes, I know. I'm with you Gordon! Yes, well come along then. Excuse me, do you mind if I just squeeze past? Thanks, yes these stairs are rather narrow. Better reload Gordon!" Yes, yes, come along now - have we left anyone behind? Barney? Barney! Barney Calhoun where are you going? What did I say about wandering away from the group? There are combine laser-trip mines all over this level, what would I tell your parents? No Barney! No! Not over there - aggrh! No! No! KABOOM! ARGH! Sorry Gordon. I'll get out of your way.
Squad mechanics are a tricky business, that's for sure. Even the mightiest of heavyweights like Half-Life 2 (in my miserable opinion at least) came unstuck more than a few times in its otherwise stellar closing chapters. In fact, it's hard to think of a recent shooter of the mindless fun' variety (so not including the SWATs and Flashpoints of this world) that manages to come even close to creating the illusion that your squad are real people, or even invented people who can be given an ounce of trust or responsibility.
Republic Commando however, for its several sins, comes closer than any other mindless' squad shooter to creating a believable, cohesive and character-enfused unit for you to order about. At times it may be a basic jaunt, and a game whose Xbox leanings are more than apparent, but in terms of squad dynamics it pretty much pisses all over its peers in the dumbed-down tactics brigade' - most notably Medal Of Honor: Pacific Assault and the mysteriously popular Conflict series. What's more, it's also a Star Wars game, and a Nu-Star Wars game at that, thereby officially making it the greatest Episode l-lll gaming release ever - an achievement much akin to winning a football match in which the opposing team are all drunk and blind, or are the Milton Keynes Dons.
Republic Commando kicks off a couple of hours after the close of Attack Of The Clones and finishes off with the buildup to Revenge Of The Sith - even giving the faithful a glimpse of the film's jedi/ droid chief badman General Grievous in the game's closing levels. There are three campaigns: bug-battering on Geonosis; a series of missions that see you dealing with an unhealthy situation in which some juvenile delinquent Trandoshans have found a Republic Assault Ship with the keys in the ignition; and a prolonged stay on the wookiee homeworid of Kashyyyk, fighting against the combined Separatist forces laughing it up alongside some absolutely goliath fuzzballs.
Your squad are of the same Predator/Navy Seals/Aliens heritage that you've seen many times before, even if they've been wrapped in Lucas swaddling clothes. You and your squad have all developed personalities that belie your common genetic heritage -although the key differences still remain in either how much they enjoy killing (a little or a lot), along with their favoured means of dispatch for troublemakers, whether through sniping, heavy weapons or general shootage.
For reasons unknown, you're the only one with Temeura Morrison's gravelly voice. Your fellow clones, meanwhile, are known by both serial code and nickname, and it soon becomes apparent that 07 (Sev), 40 (Fixer) and 62 (Scorch) are pleasant and clever enough to give the game some momentum, even in its lowest ebbs.
Basic as they are, until you work out the squad dynamics Republic Commando never really comes into its own; and unfortunately, the training mission based in the Episode II arena is decidedly skimpy in explaining the exact wheres' and hows' of what's pretty much the game's most important feature. General commands for your squad are delivered via the first four function keys and, unlike in Pacific Assault, when you order your clones to get in line, push forward or secure a certain area you genuinely see your will put into motion.
The intelligence on show isn't too bad either. For some reason though, my lot could hardly ever get to grips with the notion that gun turrets aren't necessarily the best things to stand next to. However apart from this, scripted nudges and squad Al are enough to have your men taking cover, healing themselves and moving in formation to a reasonably self-sufficient extent.
Squad tactics don't end there though. As you progress through the myriad of alien corridors, vents and hangars of the game, you start to come across points that the Gaming-God-on-High has decreed are excellent for sniping, grenading or heavy weapon action. It's your duty to then assign a man at these sign-posted points and he'll merrily provide cover for you and your other men to scurry around hacking into terminals and putting holes in droids in a more freeform style.
If all this sounds simple, then that's because it is. It's stupidly simple, and if you keep on getting mullered, then it's very often because you haven't found one of these nearby action spots.
Nice N' Easy Does It
If you're trained in worthier, more tactical, squad games, you may find it all far too basic. However, it still remains a streamlined system that works, not least because it forces you to put faith in your Al cohorts. It also urges you through a predefined tactical path that may not give much scope for improvisation, but does allow for some revaluation and quickthinking when your men start crumpling and valuable tactical advantages are lost.
By the time you're blasting Trandoshan slavers in the hangars of the second chapter, an area may contain 10-15 potential points where you could assign your men. The challenge is to work out the best order to select them in, working your way through the area and securing the room.
In a similar fashion, you and your men can get up to all manner of trickery - hacking into terminals, setting explosives, breaching doors with grenades, defusing mines and the like. The more important the task is, the longer it generally takes - so providing cover for a fellow clone beavering away at a terminal (or indeed listening to the ruckus around you and working up a sweat while you are the aforementioned beaver) is a regular event. In fact, the points at which your squad system shines the brightest are when droid dispensers continually pump out enemies while you try to destroy everything that emerges, while a compadre spends ten achingly long seconds attaching an explosive charge to stem the flow.
Enemies themselves are fun to shoot, if limited in variation -perhaps constrained by the need to keep everything in relation to the Separatist forces seen in Episodes II and III. So there are droids (bog standard, rolling and super) who shatter as spectacularly as they do in the movies, and Geonosians who fly around with some superb laser-beam weapons and are suitably squidgy. What's more, there are Trandoshans (lizard creatures of the same species as Bossk the bounty hunter) who are ridiculously boring until they start appearing with gas-tanks strapped to their backs - at which point well-aimed shots can jet them high up into the stratosphere and they automatically become the best villains in the whole piece.
Things Fall Apart
Negative stuff now. There just aren't enough different sorts of baddies to keep you entertained throughout, and the same goes for the environments that you fight in. The decision to have a mere three locations in the entire game certainly gives a far more campaign' feel to affairs, but this neither makes up for the distinct lack of story nor the repeated corridors, situations and environments. With the inclusion of some more fanfriendly. compact missions that weren't so strongly tied to the Lucas prequel masterplan (hunting down a troublesome Krayt Dragon on Tatooine, hunting a criminal gang in the depths of Coruscant, that sort of thing), there's no doubt that this could have been a far, far more attractive title.
As I've mentioned before, the game looks and feels like an Xbox release. If you're beginning to feel hemmed in when taken away from the wide open vistas of Far Cry or Tribes: Vengeance, you certainly won't get much relief from Republic Commando. Despite having a fair few large rooms and never approaching Doom 3 proportions, the game is essentially a corridor shooter with shiny knobs on. And while we're having a moan, the ability to look down your gun barrel CoD-style is ugly and unnecessary, while the introduction of some truly appalling and constantly re-appearing head-attaching hover-droids will make you want to break things. Which isn't great when you're sitting next to one of the most pricey things you've ever bought.
Industrious Light And Magic
Republic Commando is guilty of all the crimes I've levelled against it. but there is salvation - and this salvation comes through the detail. It's in the form of smoke, mirrors and shallow licks of fresh paint. What's boosted this game from a score in the high 70s and scraped it over the line of the 'Essential' boundary is the (sometimes inspirational) treatment of incidental features and signs of genuine TLC that's gone into the game's production. And yes, (because I know you're thinking this). I'm aware that the demo level isn't overly special - you're just going to have to trust me on this one.
It's in things like sniping the armour away from a Super Battle Droid's chest and hammering its hidden weak-spot. It's in that same droid perhaps having its legs blasted away from it and lying on the floor, before pushing itself up with its last embers of life and blasting you when you least expect it. Then it's in Sev wandering over to its carcass, kicking it and telling the world in general: This one's gone.
There are so many incidental moments like this that, despite a fair amount of repetition, you honestly find yourself getting reeled in and subsequently carried away. It's hard to explain, but you can't help but feel that the limited horizons I've mentioned has allowed the developer to look inwards and concentrate on gameplay nuggets that would have been brushed over in most other games. Whether it's Trandoshans kicking silently-ticking thermal detonators back towards you or allies ducking underneath your of fire. Or it might be your visor's in-built laser windscreen wiper removing Geonosian bug goo from your monitor. Alternatively, it might be one of your men grumpily accusing you of being a sadist for ordering him away from a healing bacta terminal. Whatever it is, there's a certain quality lying dormant here that we haven't seen in a LucasArts product in aeons. The way that your squad chat between themselves is entirely refreshing as well.
Whether scripted or prompted by on-screen action, there's always a background grumble emanating from your squad. They're either berating you for giving confusing orders and for dying all the time, cracking dry jokes about the enemy and even (unless I'm giving them too much credit) one moment when they gently mock the fragilities of the game itself - one moaning something along the lines of "What? Another hangar? and another responding, Well, I guess the wookiees just like hangars. Obviously, they occasionally chirrup the same glib phrases over and over, but it commits the crime so much less than Pacific Assault and Half-Life 2 that it's hard to come down too heavily on it.
Last, but by no means least, is the music. I'm a philistine, I rarely notice anything apart from loud Painkiller rock - but dear sweet Jesus the music in Republic Commando is wonderful, and easily the best in any game that I've played in recent years. Choirs chant, orchestras orchestrate and familiar Star Wars licks pound your ears into near delirium - it really is quite fantastic.
Republic Commando isn't rocket science: almost in the same way that opinion was split down the middle over Attack Of The Clones, this is designed for gamers who live in the box marked let's shoot stuff' rather than let's sit down and think about this'. It isn't an out-and-out success either, but there is an underlying charm and sparkle that simply cannot be denied. After so many dismal years, there's evidence that somewhere deep down in the LucasArts caverns, there's suddenly a flicker of hope for the future. A new hope, if you will. Or at least an almost-new, second-hand one that still looks slightly optimistic. Even if it is a bit grubby and has been in the wars a little. And a little bit of hope is far better than none at all.
In an effort to prevent the destruction of the Republic, the Clone Army was created to battle the Separatists. Among these millions of troops, select few were made better, stronger, smarter, and faster than their other brethren. In Republic Commando, you play one of these clones, one of these commandos, brave and steadfast, willing to undertake difficult and often nigh-suicidal missions to protect the Republic and guarantee it's union. The newest Star Wars title is an FPS that takes you deep into the heart of the war, battling across the plains of Geonosis, onboard a massive Republic ship, and then finally to the Wookie homeworld, Kashyyyk.
Using various types of traditional Star Wars style blaster weapons, you won't find much in the way of good, visceral weaponry in this title, but I'm of the mind that you won't miss it. Strongest among its features are the squad commands, allowing you to use a series of AI stances to control your team effectively. You can set them to search and destroy, capture an area, or simply back you up. Along the way, these commands get supplemented by a wealth of context sensitive actions that let you blow your way through a door, slice a command console to lower a force field, or set your squad to sniping, to provide cover. Most importantly, the commandos themselves are all powerful, deadly characters, and their AI can live up to that reputation, giving you enough back that you won't care that you're only a four man team.
Graphically, Republic Commando is one of the better Star Wars titles I've played recently. Looking at the Commandos, they're all highly detailed and frankly, they look like ass kickers. The game is replete with scripted events that just reinforce how cool the Star Wars universe can be, my favorite of which is watching a Wookie rip apart several droids. Aurally, you've got a great deal of scripted battle chatter, including Temura Morrison, the voice of Jango Fett from Episode 2, as your own character, the leader of the squad.
On the negative side, Republic Commando is extremely short, and extremely brutal. Be prepared to follow one path to victory, as the game throws you into fight after fight that requires luck and an extremely precise style of gameplay, as you regularly fight opponents that could be considered bosses in other games. Also, in terms of time, expect a good six to eight hours to play through the entire game on normal, definitely not what I'd call a single player game of satisfying length. Still, this is definitely one of the best Star Wars experiences you can get right now.