Star Wars Republic Commando Review
LucasArts has made a real effort recently to increase the quality of their Star Wars games across the board. While they aren't all stellar titles nowadays, we've come a long way since the days of horrible titles like Force Commander or Rebel Assault, or even mediocre games like Obi-Wan and Rebellion. This time, they've cooked up a tactical first person shooter called Republic Commando where you'll take command of an elite squad of four guys during the prequel timeline's Clone Wars.
LucasArts promises, above all, great squad AI with the three other guys in your group. Command will put the four of you in situations against overwhelming odds and they'll figure out a way to complete their goals with brute force as well as other various skills. As you might expect, you'll take control of the squad's leader in a first person view (similar to Metroid Prime), but you can also order your buddies to complete various goals - and they'll automatically cover you if you decide to do them yourself.
As the leader of your squad of four clones, the story quickly goes over how these specially trained commandos started to develop unique personalities and specialties in their extensive training sessions. This differentiates them from the thousands of clones we saw in the battles of Star Wars Episode II, and it'd pretty much have to be that way for Republic Commando's combat and atmosphere to be remotely interesting. They've done a good job with this, to the point where the camaraderie here excels beyond what we see in most squad-based games.
Republic Commando has been released simultaneously on the PC, PS2, and Xbox, and we'll be looking at the Xbox version here. The graphics are sufficiently impressive, with plenty of eye candy, atmosphere, and just enough Star Wars charm to entice even non-FPS fans into it. The frame rate is sufficient throughout the game, but nothing particularly stellar. There are a few special effects here that I've not seen used in quite the same way before, and one of my favorite parts is the "wiper" on your visor that will clean off various splatters from combat. Classy!
You'll have access to a few guns at a time, including a main rifle with various attachments (assault rifle, explosive rockets, sniper, etc), a couple of various exotic weapons, and a backup pistol which is only meant for use when you run out of ammo. Just like in Halo, you'll be able to press the B button at any time for a melee attack, and some weapons give you a better attack than others.
One of my favorite parts of the game is the ability for any member of the team to revive any other member. You won't have to worry about keeping all of your squad constantly alive, and if you get killed, you can order your squad to continue with their current orders or to abort and come revive you. Your team will also automatically revive other squad members when they go down in battle, at least when they have a decent opportunity to do so. You'll have to tell them to take cover and snipe from a distance, hack a door, or blow up a section of wall (all of which have been pre-scripted by the game developers in specific spots), but there are a few things they'll do on their own.
While your suit has some rechargeable shields that can absorb damage, it seems that your health is the largest source of your total ability to take damage. This won't automatically regenerate, and there are health stations littered all over the game; rarely will you go for more than two or three major rooms without a health station or two. You can order your guys to grab some health, even in mid-combat if need be, and they can even also do it automatically if they're in the area.
Some have pointed out Republic Commando's similarity to other tactical games like Rainbow Six 3, although I have found that this game basically treats you like all you've ever played is the Halo series. Even the tutorials assume you understand the idea of rechargeable shields and basic Halo-style controls, and for the most part, I'd bet that for most of the players, they're quite right. But at the same time, the developers will hold your hand through most of the higher-level tactical options, almost to the point of removing any real element of tactics altogether.
Of course, if you want to just blow everything up yourself like a Jango Fett-flavored Rambo, then go right ahead. You'll run out of ammo fighting everything yourself, though, so you'll probably need to use your teammates' unlimited ammo in order to kill enemies. My problem with the game's various weapons is that they're not particularly memorable, nor do they pack a huge punch - visually, aurally, or in the game itself. It also seems that you're expected to order your squad to concentrate fire on one target pretty often, so it's not uncommon for your whole group to lay right into some of the tougher enemies for quite a while to kill them.
And that's one of the fundamental problems that I find with Republic Commando. The main character and his three squadmates show plenty of character over the comm channel, but they're all dressed basically the same and use most of the same animations. Without any really fun gunplay, I was hoping for an engaging story or at least some interesting characters or goals. I just wasn't into any of it, though, and with a complete lack of ability to do anything cool with the force (lightsabers are also out of the question, of course), I simply found this game a little dull most of the time.
The single player campaign isn't going to last you terribly long, either. Most players will be able to finish the game within seven to ten hours. LucasArts has tried to spruce this up with unlockable content, but I'm so sick of this stuff in these games nowadays that I just can't care to put any effort into unlocking stuff. If the actual game can't hold my attention for more than one play-through, the promise of a few piddly extras just isn't going to do it for me. The complete and total linearity of the game is also pretty obvious from the start. Sure, Halo was also just as linear, but at least the game made it seem a little like you had a choice as to what to do. Here, as soon as you finish one goal, the next is laid out before you with a beacon pointing in the right direction. In many ways, this game totally holds your hand throughout everything, leaving basically only the gunfights and a couple of tactical choices up to you.
This is not to say that Republic Commando is a substandard game, however. The production values and overall atmosphere is great, and while you'll only be visiting three planets throughout the course of the game, there are plenty of unique areas and some interesting battles to go through. Some of these firefights put you against massive odds, and you'll be cut off and scrambling for health and ammo by the end of some of them. Your squadmates will stay pretty solid throughout all of it, and this is where the game really shines, but these moments just don't come often enough.
Most of the sound effects here are fairly well-made; some of them have been yanked from Lucas' own prequel sound libraries, while many others seem to be brand new. The four guys in Delta squad each have unique voices (Knights of the Old Republic veterans will recognize one of the guys as the voice actor who played Carth Onasi) and they actually say some pretty funny things. The music is pretty standard Star Wars fare, with a major focus on the major prequel themes rather than the classic stuff.
LucasArts has gone ahead and thrown in a multiplayer mode, with split-screen play as well as Live! online play. Upto sixteen players can jump into a game, and the four modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and assault, have all been seen in many FPS games in the past. Nope, there's no cooperative play in a game which has has multiple protagonists finishing goals, and it seems like a huge missed opportunity. But the biggest problem is that the single player game's most charming aspect - the personalities of your squadmates - is pretty much gone in multiplayer. Those who have spent quite a few hours on Xbox Live! will probably realize that your squadmates over Live! will be pre-pubescent and teenage boys yelling racial slurs and various other trash at you through the headset.
Ok, sure, the attitudes of people on Xbox Live! isn't always this bad, and it's not exactly the fault or the responsibility of the developers to improve this for me - I understand that. And you can always unplug your headset if you like. Still, if I'm going to bother to get online and play an action game over Live!, I'd hope the game would be at least somewhat fun compared to its competition. Republic Commando is not much fun online, however, compared to Halo 2 or even LucasArts' other Star Wars Xbox games - the game's rather dull action just becomes more obvious in multiplayer. Star Wars: Battlefront seems to me to be pretty much a superior game in this respect, so if you've got Battlefront and are looking for more online action, you might not be too happy with Republic Commando.
While Star Wars: Republic Commando is a pretty solid game overall, it's entirely forgettable and will wind up in that large pile of good-but-not-great titles that LucasArts has building up recently. The squad gameplay's not bad, but the gunfights are a little dull and the multiplayer modes are entirely underwhelming. The game simply doesn't excel at the meat and potatoes of an action-oriented game: the action itself. Sadly, all the charm and character your AI squadmates show still have a hard time masking that shortcoming.