Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Second Look @ Star Wars: Republic Commando

Made and published entirely by LucasArts, Republic Commando was launched just before the release of the Xbox 360 and received mainly 8/10 ratings. To be one of the better-praised FPS games of the time, it wasn't very widely spoken of among the people I knew.
Republic Commando puts you in the role of  Delta RC-1138, call sign Boss, as he leads an elite group of Clone Troopers, each with their own personalities and specializations, through missions on Geonosis, a destroyed spacecraft, and the wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk. You play through the tutorial in the first level and its incredibly simple, showing you all you need to know to use your armor's capabilities and to use your squad effectively. The rest is shown as you travel through the game and its very easy to pick up and play. One major drawback is the length: there are only three levels, each with several chapters, and once they're done, there's the multiplayer that feels like just an add on. Republic Commando feels like a build up to something greater, but I don't think we'll see it anytime soon. 

One major feature of Republic Commando is the use of squad tactics. Tactics is a word used loosely in the sense that all you have to do is aim at a designated point and press the USE button, giving a command to one of your three squad mates to complete the task at hand. By holding down the same button you can bring up a command menu to order your squad to secure an area, fire on one target, form up, or cancel whichever maneuver you had previously chosen. Its a little bit of Rainbow Six but doesn't really hold any significance here as these commands don't really feel necessary when playing the game.
Republic Commando definitely isn't big on downtime unless you want to be the one planting explosives or slicing (hacking) a computer, which there is a lot of both. Possibly 20% of the game time is used for this. You can give these commands to your team but they will take the same amount of time performing the task despite the backstory claiming they're best suited for these certain operations. All this happens while you're being shot at and listening to their banter during combat; they love to talk and are present for most of the game with the exception of the tutorial and parts of two levels. There is no lone-wolf gunning and your squad will take the initiative to take out enemies and are not satisfied to let anything slip past. They're not just random cannon fodder either: They take a lot of damage and you'll find yourself often reviving them mid-firefight during the latter chapters. Its a nice change of pace from other FPS game's bullet-sponge action but it does get bothersome when you're the only one left standing due to the AI being spread too thin.
Shields and health both deplete quickly if you're not careful but you're never too far away from a bacta tank, which in basic terms is a health refill station, or an ammo drop. Don't worry if you do get taken down: just as you have time to save your squad, they have time to save you. You can order them to carry out their current orders to take out enemies, finish an objective, or to come and rescue you. The latter puts them in danger as it takes a few seconds to revive someone, leaving the healer an easy target and only puts the downed member back at half health.
You're not stuck with the assault rifle for the total length of the game. At one point you can find sniper and grenade launcher attachments, you're also never left without your trusty sidearm which recharges ammo automatically. Alongside those you'll find an old-fashioned physical shotgun, a wookie bowcaster, a rocket launcher, and a mini-gun each dealing out better amounts of damage than your rifle. Thermal detonators (physical), Electro-static Charge detonators, Sonic detonators (mines), and flashbug detonators (flashbangs) are the grenade types and you'll use a lot of them to take out clustered enemies. One drawback is that the grenade selector display is cryptic and you'll find yourself throwing a flash instead of a thermal unless you memorize the icon for each.
Melee is satisfying as you put your gauntlet knife into an enemy and your helmet is splattered with fluids. Meanwhile gunplay feels weak as lasers constantly miss their targets due to the bad sensitivity for the Xbox version (setting at 1 feels sluggish while 2 feels twitchy, this is improved greatly when playing on the 360).
Your HUD is constantly working by displaying your health, identifying where your squadmates are as well as their health levels, objectives, detonator counts, and can be switched between normal, tactical, and low light modes. The melee splatters and low-light modes feel like ideas taken from Metroid Prime and they work well here.
Friendly fire is present, and while your squad does its best to avoid harming you they may get in your line of fire which can drain their shields or health. Your squad will do their best to revive each other but this will cause them to be in the open and take damage themselves. Luckily enemies aren't exactly the smartest and will charge at you instead of sticking behind cover. It feels like a let down and the difficulty is never too rough if you're paying attention to the surroundings.

There's not a lot of enemy variety and you'll face mostly Geonosians, Trandoshans and their scavenger droids, battle droids and the occasional elite guard droid throughout the game's three chapters. Hilariously enough, the game features ragdoll physics on dead enemies but its only good for a chuckle as you push them around. There are also Clone Trooper and Wookie allies throughout but most are immediately killed off within the first few seconds of appearing onscreen. While the levels feel like they belong in the Star Wars universe, level design is lacking in originality. It can be commended for not following the now-traditional "narrow-way-into-arena" gameplay but it maybe could have used a few of those to keep things interesting. Perhaps a test of the player's skill to use the team effectively is what's missing. You can choose to run ahead and take on enemies yourself, or you can actually stand aside and let your team do all the shooting. 
Graphics hold up well for a late console life release, looking crisp and without cracks, but it feels like the Unreal Engine 2.0 isn't being used to its full extent. Take Unreal Championship 2 for example, which was released a few months later and looked like an early 360 release. There are light reflections, lens flares, light blooms, and the HUD shows holographic standing positions for maneuvers. Several graphical effects occur throughout the game that affect the player's display including static from electric-based enemies, waving heat lines that distort the view, flashbangs filling the screen with white, and blood, oil, or rain that are wiped off by an electric wiper.

The sound you'll hear the most is from laser fire, which is familiar among the Star Wars universe, and oddly enough doesn't wear out its welcome. Even the chatter among your squad is somewhat comforting as they often talk to each other. Scorch being the sarcastic one, Sev being the sluggish brute, and Fixer being average. (To show that there's a lot of voicework done, a YouTuber has compiled all of their voiceclips into 15+ minute videos.) Explosions have no real impact in sight or sound and it feels very tame because of this. Even wookiee yells and "screams" from the battle droids sound like clips taken from the movies.
The orchestral soundtrack in the background is constantly giving off a powerful tone and it feels in-place with the Star Wars universe but somewhat cliche here. A different approach in the music would have given the game its own identity and its almost a shame that that idea wasn't implemented. To be the die-hard tactical FPS that it was billed to be, it doesn't really have any edge soundwise. While the music video from Ash (featured above) is a nice touch its merely an addition and is unlocked right from the start, seems more like a promotion from someone among the development team who heard the band and thought they were good. Despite all of this, the sound is not the weakest selling point for Republic Commando.

Multiplayer on original Xbox Live may be dead but couch multiplayer is still present with splitscreen. It includes the usual offerings of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Assault modes; the last being similar to Battlefield's Conquest mode.
Unfortunately, you only have 5 maps total to play throughout each mode. It feels more like an add-on than something worth playing. Regardless, if you can gather three friends to battle with you'll find that the multiplayer is hectic, fast-paced fun along the lines of the original Unreal Tournament. As your disembodied hands pick up weapons and throw grenades, you'll find that you can't aim down the sights of some guns, the bowcaster and the sniper rifle being the only ones that can. The same weapons from the single player campaign can also be found here. Aiming is very accurate and the multi-tiered maps offer plenty of corners to run away from a firefight. Running is the best option as it only takes a few shots to take someone out. 
The multiplayer aspect is weak in the overall package, like a lot more could have been done since, being built off the Unreal Engine, it should have a lot more going for it. The map Arena G9 features two low-gravity sections on each side that is a great idea, but isn't implemented anywhere else. Its the small ideas that could have made this part of Republic Commando something worth experiencing more.

There's never any big "wow" moments and the story taking place during the Clone Wars, one of the biggest battles of the Star Wars universe, is awfully bland. The only unlockables are concept art, featurettes, and an interview with the game's director. If, at the time, you were in to Star Wars then the game really held nothing new for you except for a few new vehicles that were to be seen in Episode III. It didn't try to outdo the current reigning FPS champion of Halo and is almost content to do what it was planned to do. It succeeds in that respect but fails to try and tread new ground. It seems very comfortable confined into its own universe.
Personally, I feel like a lot could be done with Delta Squad through their differing personalities and ability to think for themselves unlike the majority of Clone Troopers. its a section of the large Star Wars universe that would be awesome to explore. More unlocks like skins, HUD customization, cheats for the Xbox version, and maybe a few others would have been nice touches to finish things out. If one thing is wrong with it, it never feels too difficult. You'll get taken down by an enemy's melee attack, and it feels more like a pause in the action rather an urgency.
Republic Commando is backwards compatible with the Xbox 360 and not only looks better in terms of graphics and video playback, it controls better as well. You can find it cheap these days and its available on Steam for $10, PC having the best graphical fidelity.
As a total package, Republic Commando packs in a lot and I'm sure the dev team could have made it an early Xbox 360 release had they waited. It would have improved the graphics, the controls and physics, the game length, and the AI. But for what it's worth, Republic Commando is an excellent and solid game.

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Wait a minute.... What's going on here? I call shenanigans!

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