Star Wars: Republic Commando is a squad-based shooter played from a first-person perspective. Taking place during the time of the Clone Wars, Republic Commando casts players in the role of a Republic Special Operations unit as they prepare to lead a team of white armored soldiers across different worlds to investigate disturbances from an unidentified alien threat. As opposed to the adventure elements found in LucasArts' Jedi Knight series, Republic Commando emphasizes military combat not unlike Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, albeit in a futuristic setting. Players will arm themselves with an array of high-powered weapons and use their computer-enhanced visor displays to coordinate attacks, issue commands, and reposition the group to neutralize the potentially hostile threats encountered during missions. The game makes use of Epic Games' Unreal technology to deliver a dynamic environment as seen through the eyes of an elite clone trooper.
I know, I know. Another Star Wars game. Elite Jedi against the forces of tyranny, using The Force, crazy X-WIng on TIE fighter action, blah blah blah. But don't assume too much about Republic Commando. It's a bit different. There's nary a Jedi in sight and you spend the whole game as a Trooper participating in the Clone Wars between Episode II and Episode III. Furthermore, it's one of the best Star Wars gaming experiences you'll probably have due to great production values, simple but fun squad-based gameplay, and an overall solid shooter design. The game isn't perfect and it's a bit short, but it's pretty good.
Besides the Star Wars theme, the biggest hook on Republic Commando's feature list is its squad-based nature. You directly control Delta Squad's tough-as-nails leader with the standard first-person shooter design. You run around, shoot things, accomplish mission objectives, and keep track of things through your helmet's Metroid Prime-ish display. Republic Commando, though, flexes its muscles and stretches the boundaries of most first-person shooters by also letting you indirectly control three squadmates.
This isn't an in-depth tactical game like anything in the Rainbow Six series, as your control over the other three members of Delta Squad is limited to context-sensitive commands (like "snipe from here" or "hack that computer" or "focus your fire on that droid") as well as a set of global commands (like "defend this area" or "assume an aggressive stance"). The latter are accomplished by simply tapping the right function key, while the former, more specific commands are done by pointing your crosshair at an icon and hitting the "use" key to deploy a Commando. Instead of giving you complete control over where to post snipers or where your mates should take cover, though, the game limits these actions to certain "hot spots" where you'll see a special icon and a ghostly outline of what your teammate would be doing if you deployed him there. Use that nondescript crate over there to snipe? No, sorry. That one with the icon on it? Okay, sure. This kind of setup leaves the game's level designers in charge of a big hunk of the tactical element and may annoy some players, but I generally got over it and accepted it as a necessary convention that didn't slow down what is very much a fast-paced game.
In fact, "fast-paced game" is a term that pretty accurately applies to Republic Commando from beginning to end. The action comes almost always hard and heavy, there are no stealth missions, and things can get really hectic. This is especially true when you (or your mates) have to hack into or demolish something while wave after wave of enemies try to stop you. One area early in the game has an unending torrent of Geonosians swarming in through open windows that you desperately try to close by having one squadmate hacking into a terminal while everyone else covers him. Then one of the sequences that I found most challenging occurred in a derelict Trade Federation ship where the opposition clunked down multiple droid dispensers. My team's objective was to fight my way through the crowds of droids and stay alive long enough to demolish them, and then do it again in the next area and the area after that. These were really tough fights that took me a few tries to win, but they perfectly captured the feeling of a frantic firefight against overwhelming odds. And I felt bad ass when it was over.
Squadmates aren't limited to shooting things and blowing things up, though. One of the more interesting features in Republic Commando is that instead of getting "game over" when your health runs out, you can command your teammates to come to your rescue and revive you. You can also return the favor when they're down for the count, but if all four of you get gunned down, then it's time to visit your old friend the quickload button. This feature is cool in that it keeps the pace going and adds a lot of tension when you do bite it. Will they be able to revive me? Should I order them to clear the area first? But it also has the side effect of making the game fairly easy most of the time, and not having to replay tough sections of the game will make your march to the closing credits that much shorter.
One last word about squadmates is that they're pretty smart. Not "win a scholarship to Coruscant University" smart, but serviceable, which is obviously important for a game that revolves around the squad unit. If you order them to just go and do their own thing, they'll do a pretty good job of it and shoot what needs shooting. Furthermore, they'll heal themselves at health stations, revive each other without being prompted, and generally head in the right direction. Only a few times did they ignore enemies while they wailed on them or run stupidly into a deadly crossfire. My only other complaint is that while each member of Delta Squad is supposed to have a specialty -- one is billed as an expert hacker, for example, while another is supposed to be a superlative sniper -- they can all accomplish any task with equal efficacy. It would have been nice to have experts on certain tasks complete them faster to have another half layer of tactics to play with.
Besides the relatively simple but fun gameplay, Republic Commando also benefits from five coats of polish. Just about everything in the game screams "high production value" and it pays off by creating an immersive world in a universe that a lot of its players are going to already love. The graphics engine is impressive, chockfull of all the required bells and whistles: ragdoll physics, dynamic lighting, fancy particle effects, etc. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is the fact that it ran extremely smoothly and loaded levels quickly on my middle-of-the-road machine. In keeping with the general "fast-paced" theme of the whole game, levels would literally load up in a matter of seconds. Nice!
The real treat, though, is the wealth of fine touches present in the game. I'm talking about stuff like enraged Wookiees literally ripping the arms off enemies, getting bug guts splattered on your visor, enemies shouting to and signaling each other, watching droids shoot wildly in the air after getting their heads blown off, and seeing your vision get all fuzzy when nearby machinery interferes with your systems.
The polish has also seeped through to the script and voice acting, which includes Temuera Morrison, the actor who played Jango Fett in the movies. Your squadmates make themselves likable by providing witty remarks ("Squad Leader is down! ... Can I be in charge now?"), suggestions about how to proceed ("Better not engage those droid dispensers directly."), and genuinely funny banter about what's going on in the game ("Oh look. The base has another level.") The polish is just impressive and ever present.
To top it all off, Republic Commando includes unlockable content in the form of movies about the making of the game. These range from schmaltzy (actor Temuera Morrison blathering on about how utterly fan-freaking-tastic the game is) to fascinating (a documentary on how the game's sound effects are made, including footage of a technician slapping sliced pineapple against a wooden board). These aren't deal-making features by themselves, but they're nice to have.
On the flipside, one feature that I'm less happy about having just tacked on is the multiplayer. Republic Commando comes with four multiple gameplay modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and assault. The assault game is kind of misleadingly named, given other games like Unreal Tournament where you either accomplish a series of map objectives or try to keep the other side from doing the same. In Republic Commando, assault is essentially capture the flag in reverse: Instead of taking the flag from the enemy base to yours, you take your flag from your base to theirs. It's a bit less than awesome. So if you roll CTF and assault together and admit that deathmatch and team deathmatch are essentially the same, you're left with two multiplayer modes, both of which have been done many times before and many times better. None of the modes has specialized classes or kits a la Battlefield 1942 and none has vehicles a la Unreal Tournament 2004, so this part of the game is years behind the curve and pretty forgettable.
My last substantial complaint about the game is that the weapons just lack the kind of punch I've come to expect from other games of this (forgive the pun) caliber. There are shotguns and heavy repeater rifles, but I spent most of the game spewing blaster fire from my standard blaster rifle. Admittedly it's kind of cool that the thing is modular so that I can slap on sniping or heavy artillery attachments to mix things up, but the standard mode is still the workhorse of my arsenal and it just didn't feel very meaty. Neither did most of the other weapons, which is disappointing for a game built around almost nonstop action. Plus my squadmates never used any other weapon unless I ordered them into spots specifically designed for sniping or lobbing grenades, so I couldn't have them specialize in one kind of weapon or another to add a little more depth to the game.
But still, Republic Commando is a very good game I'd recommend whether you like Star Wars or not. The multiplayer game is subpar and under populated, but the single-player game is slick, polished, frantic, and exciting. The squad-based nature isn't revolutionary, nor is it as deep as "real" tactical games, but it's clean, easy to use, and doesn't slow things down. Add to that all the delicious details that LucasArts has crammed into every corner and you don't have many excuses not to enjoy it.
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