Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Star Wars: Republic Commando

Post-Launch Review
Star Wars: Republic Commando (PC)
Developer: LucasArts
Released: March 2005


Republic Commando is a first-person shooter set during the Clone Wars. You play as the commander of Delta Squad, an elite Republic clone commando unit, as they fight through some of the war's iconic battles, beginning at Geonosis and through to Kashyyyk.

At Launch

Republic Commando received average review scores of 78%. Critics enjoyed the darker twist on the Star Wars universe, and also appreciated the squad mechanics, voice acting, and intensity of gameplay. Many reviewers were disappointed with the game's multiplayer and length.

Post Launch

An additional multiplayer map was added as an optional patch. There's a patch that allows backwards compatibility for the XBox version to be played on the 360.
Update May 2015: there's now a mod that fixes bumpmapping and resolution problems on PCs

The Good

Not A Jedi In Sight
The word "Jedi" is used exactly once in the entire game, and only as text in a loading screen at that. There are no mystical powers or struggle between light and darkness - this is a pure military FPS set in the Star Wars universe. It's very rare to get a look at that side of Star Wars, and it feels great.
At one point there's a semi-hidden abandoned lightsaber in a ventilation shaft, and Delta 38 mutters "An elegant weapon for a civilized time, huh? Well guess what - times have changed."
The action starts out a little sparse, but it does give you time to learn the squad commands and to adapt to the terrible crosshair (see below). But later on, holy crap are there some intense moments. Many of them revolve around slicing into computers or setting charges. These actions require you or a squad member to spend a cumulative total of 10 seconds (sometimes 20 or more) working - so you could hack the console for 5 seconds and turn it over to a squadmate for the other 5, for example. The intense bits come when you need to spend a very long time working on a stationary objective while enemies pour in, or when that objective is on top of an enemy spawn point, or when you have a time constraint. The one I found the craziest was when I had to activate a battleship's automatic defence systems. You do this by hacking three separate consoles for a full minute each, while enemies are constantly pouring in. You could assign one squad member to do them one at a time, but you'll face more enemies. You could assign three squad members to each do one and take only a minute total, but you'll have a hard time defending them on your own. Finding a balance can be tricky, but awesome.
The developers managed to get Temuera Morrison, aka the guy who played Jango Fett and the clones in the movies, back to play squad leader Delta 38. The acting for the entire Delta squad is pretty fantastic - each character conveys a distinct personality, displaying some range and quirks while remaining focused and professional as you'd expect from a squad of elites. 
The music is also great. Most Star Wars games simply recycle bits of John Williams' soundtrack, but Republic Commando adds darker mixes and new tracks to fit the grittier atmosphere of the game. The new stuff blends in very well and adds some intensity.
The command system is very simple, but works well without getting in the way. You have four basic commands: offensive formation (spread out and look for trouble), form up (stick together), defend (protect the designated area), and abandon current tactical positions. You'll find those tactical positions scattered around the map. You can assign squad members to sniper or anti-armour positions, or command them to man a turret, by looking at the position and pressing a single key. You can also tell your squad to focus their fire on a single priority enemy. These aren't just win buttons, though - a commando in a sniping position is more vulnerable to attack from behind, and just throwing your whole squad into sniping positions can result in dangerous blind spots, so you'll have to cover each other - and even more so when you're setting demolition charges or hacking a console in the middle of a firefight.
Many doors give you the option to either slice in quietly or perform an offensive breach. You might think blasting your way in and throwing grenades should be done every time, but in some levels all that noise will activate the defence turrets and make life harder for you. And as a side note, the developers got some military guys to show them how a door breach should work (among other things) so it's neat to that kind of military accuracy in a Star Wars game.
Finally, when you or a squad member lose all your health, you're not dead, you're incapacitated. You only lose if your entire squad is downed, or if you die in a way that you can't be revived (like falling down a chasm). It may be a little too forgiving sometimes, but most of the game is plenty challenging anyway, and it means that losing all your health won't make you rage as hard.
Smart Squad (mostly)
For the most part, the squad AI is pretty strong. They're pretty competent on their own and do a decent job taking out enemies. Depending on your current orders, they can move ahead and seek out enemies, stay in formation with you, or guard an area. I have had a couple of minor issues with one getting stuck, but overall it's pretty solid. My only real complaint is that their unlimited ammo is balanced by an inability to lay down sustained fire to the same extent as the player, so against heavily armoured enemies you'll often see them fire a big coordinated burst, wait a few seconds, do it again, etc.
Art Direction
Despite the game looking a little dated, its art direction shows some neat touches that help make it feel grittier. Among other things, many of the textures - like the clone trooper armour - look dirty and worn. You're not wearing clean shiny armour; it looks like it's seen some action. And so do the environments. Another touch that's surprising for a Star Wars game is that when you score a melee kill, you get a splash of blood (or robot... fluid? oil?) on your visor that actually obstructs your vision until it's automatically wiped off in a few seconds.
You start with three weapons: a pistol, your trusty DC-17 blaster rifle, and a retractable arm blade. Your sniper rifle and grenade launcher aren't actually separate weapons, but attachments for your main rifle. You can pick up weapons from enemies but can only hold one of those at a time, thus preventing the infinite backpack problem. 
The DC-17 can feel weak starting out, and if it does, I highly recommend re-binding the zoom key (see below).

The Bad

Feels Short
Republic Commando is one of the only games I've ever played where the length is a disappointment rather than a simple fact. Despite the timeline covering the entire Clone Wars - which lasted years - you only participate in three battles: the very first one on Geonosis, investigating a missing cruiser in the middle of the war, and one of the final battles on Kashyyyk (the Wookiee homeworld). Each mission feels complete, is fairly lengthy, and plays well, but having only three environments through the entire game is a little disappointing. Having so much time between missions makes them feel like isolated events rather than a proper story. And then you hit the moment where shit hits the fan and things really get started... and the game's over. Sad face.
Crosshair & Default Keybinds
The DC-17 crosshair is atrocious. Like, seriously awful. One of the worst I've ever seen. The "crosshair" for the assault rifle is a giant circle with no point or cross in the middle. Not only that, but your rifle seems to pull just a slight bit right of the centre of the circle, so it's very difficult to be precise and very easy to waste a lot of ammo.
Fortunately you can use the rifle's sights to increase your accuracy, but for some reason zoom is bound to Z, and grenades are bound to right click. I swapped sights to right click and grenades to mouse 4, which you may not have, but you could just as easily do G or something.
No Widescreen Support
The game only supports 4:3 resolution settings. Fortunately you can fix this by altering the System config file (in Gamedata/Save). Under the field [WinDrv.WindowsClient] change:




FullscreenViewportY=480 your desired monitor settings, for example X=1920 and Y=1080.

Compatibility Issues
Republic Commando has a bit of a quirk on Windows 7 - you have to turn bumpmapping to low, or you'll crash when you try to start playing. Unfortunately it makes the game look a little worse than it could, but it'll solve that problem easily.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
Despite being a very different take on the Star Wars universe, Republic Commando fits in very well. It does a great job showing off the darker and less heroic bits of the Clone Wars. The squad mechanics are simple enough that they don't get in the way, but there's just enough tactical opportunity available to help you feel like a squad commander. The enemy variety is a little lacking, but combat feels tense and exciting most of the time. I hope there'll be a sequel or HD remake some day, because Republic Commando is excellent and all Star Wars fans should play it.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe the bad crosshair was why some of the imperial troops had trouble shooting at Han and the gang :P