Star Wars: Republic Commando
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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.
Download Star Wars: Republic Commando
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
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.