Video Game Review: Star Wars: Republic Commando

Republic Commando

– Spoiler Review –

With the Prequels focusing on Force users good and bad, a lot of people missed the focus on the little guy/gal rising up against a bigger enemy. In the prequel era, the clones were the little guy(s) and not much had been told from their point of view regarding events like the Clone Wars (until Emmy award winning The Clone Wars, of course). Several novels started giving them major roles while LucasArts secretly toiled away on their own addition to the clones’ ever evolving story. Releasing a few months before Revenge of the Sith, LucasArts decided to make their version of giving the little guys a voice with a tactical first-person shooter named Republic Commando. While it doesn’t avoid every pratfall of the FPS genre, Republic Commando’s tactical side saves it from true monotony.

Republic Commando ScreenshotThe game follows the four man Delta Squadron, an elite clone commando unit bred for covert missions and taking care of problems which can’t be solved by throwing tons of clones at it. Delta Squad consists of number 38, the leader, better known as “Boss,” the demolitions expert “Scorch” (62), sniper “Sev” (07), and tech-wiz “Fixer” (40). Their story starts on day one of the Clone Wars on Geonosis, skips a large chunk of time, and ends just moments before the Battle of Kashyyyk as seen in RotS. There’s sort of a loose story involving Trandoshans and the Separatists who may be (shockingly!) working together, but each of the 3 levels’ individual objectives and Delta Squad’s camaraderie carry more weight than the big picture, pushing you through the game. While 3 levels certainly isn’t much, the campaign can take up to 8-10 hours due to each level being split up into multiple (multiple) chapters.

republic commando screenshot (6)Republic Commando takes a much grittier approach to the Star Wars universe than we’re used to seeing. Everything seems exaggerated: Wookiees are massive beasts that look less humanoid and more Hulk-ish, droids have a dirty, dented, scary look to them, Geonosians look larger and scarier as well, and Trandoshans vary greatly from any previous rendition of them. Initially it’s a tad off putting, but it easily works, giving the threats a more dangerous air to them, since their usual looks wouldn’t inspire as much fear as this art style does. It’s definitely one of the more commendable aspects to Republic Commando and helps make you feel like you’re in the boots of the grunts.

You take the roll of Boss, where you’ll spend as much time shooting enemies as you will tactically ordering the other commandos around. At your own personal disposal are the DC-17m Interchangeable blaster, melee knife, a pistol, various grenade types, mountable turrets, and several enemy weapons that can be picked up throughout the game. The DC-17m has three modes: blaster rifle, sniper, and grenade launcher. Changing between the three on the fly is quick, easy, and looks great. Often times I’d find myself changing them just to watch the animation. It will easily be your most valuable weapon as each mode is necessary to complete the game without dying a whole bunch of times. That being said, you might run out of ammo when you need a certain mode the most. That’s what the other weapons are for.

Grenades consist of standard thermal detonators, flash bangs, EMPs, and sticky sonic detonators. Cherish these grenades when you have them, as they’ll be your saving grace more often than not. Throwing an EMP at an approaching swarm of battle droids and droidekas and watching them be electrocuted and blown up is both visually and emotionally satisfying. But, as with the DC-17m ammo, if you don’t conserve these you’ll have to rely on the less reliable alien weaponry. Geonosian and Trandoshan weapons, minus a shotgun or their rocket launchers, aren’t very strong and I rarely used them unless I was in a pinch. The Wookiee weapons on the other hand are great assets and it was interesting to see the bowcaster handled similarly to how it does in the Jedi Knight series, where you can charge the shot and it’ll ricochet around. All in all, there’s a wide array of weapons to choose from, but the most dangerous ones are Boss’ squadmates.

Republic Commando screenshot (3)It’s not just their solid AI and usefulness that makes the rest of Delta Squad dangerous, but it’s how they truly add another layer to basic FPS gameplay. Republic Commando definitely tunnels players down a linear path and throws waves after waves of enemies (sometimes too many waves…more on that later) at them, but having fairly reliable teammates and well-designed engagement zones really helps set the game apart. Levels consist of going simply from point A to B while blowing things up, but prolonged engagements make that all rather difficult. Unlike most modern day FPSs, health does not regenerate (though you can revive/be revived) and running in guns blazing is the shortest path to madness. Best options for survival come from placing commandos, with the press of a single button, at pre-determined tactical positions around any given engagement zone. Have one guy snipe, have another set explosive traps, and get the last one on a turret while you distract the enemies is a sure-fire way to succeed.

republic commando screenshot (5)Even if you don’t set them up in various positions (in the final levels you’ll have to), they’ll usually find a good spot to kill the enemy from while not being in an open line of fire. That being said, their AI has its fair share of issues. Turrets, whether they be manned or auto, seemingly do not exist to your teammates. They’ll just walk into a turrets line of fire and not attempt to shoot at it or flee and end up in a downed state, waiting for you to walk into the line of fire to revive them. During the investigation of a ghost Republic cruiser, there’re tons of turret locations and lots of frustration to be had if you don’t destroy the turrets first. To prevent your teammates’ sometimes suicidal gambits, there are three squad formations to deploy them in: form up, search and destroy, and hold a position. Form up means they’ll follow you, while search and destroy has them take the lead and stir up all the trouble first. I played the majority of the game in search and destroy and would say, minus the turret issue, it’s the most advantageous.  I only used hold a position once turrets entered the equation.

However, there are a few occasions where you’ll be forced to hold a position as a team against an overwhelming opposition, but these moments are an easy example of the slightly poor enemy AI. On the aforementioned cruiser level, you’ll go from hanger to hanger repelling Separatist docking forces, only to enter the final hanger grossly outnumber. Forced to hide by an elevator, Delta Squad awaits their doom unless an offsite clone advisor can hack into the elevator and get you some ordinance to win the day. But what should feel like a “struggle to survive” is more of a “watch the enemy stand there watching you instead of overrunning you.” Understandably it’s done to prevent the game from being unplayable/unbeatable, but when the enemies frequently do things that make you notice they’re programmed to behave only in certain ways, it’s now an issue. To fix that issue, enemies are either seemingly overpowered (I’m looking at you, Geonosian elites) or thrown at you in unending waves.

Republic Commando screenshot (2)At first the waves of droids, Geos, and Trandos aren’t bad, but towards the end it’ll feel exasperating. Now most games do have more enemies in their final levels, but it usually doesn’t feel excessive or like a chore. In Republic Commando, it’s like slogging through a tropically humid day with no relief in sight. I’m not bringing this up because I’m not competent to deal with the enemies of this game and was having trouble, but just to point out these waves of foes feel unnecessary instead of a challenge. The enemies in games are meant to challenge players as games progress and they simply don’t in RC and the decision to add more of them doesn’t cover up the fact. This also messes with the game’s rather swift pacing, occasionally breaking the experience or bringing things to fierce and sudden halt.

Republic commando screenshot (4)That being said, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the small picture objectives and teammate camaraderie are what really push Republic Commando along. From rescuing Tarfful, blowing up a Trade Federation core ship, or investigating the spooky and abandoned hallways of a Republic cruiser, there’s a great variety of objectives to complete throughout each level. Sure, you’re also advancing the larger plot about Seps and Trandos, but frankly that’s easily ignorable. What isn’t ignorable is the great squad banter present throughout the game. Though Sev, Fixer, Scorch, and Boss are technically all the same person, they all feel distinct (it’s not Orphan Black, but it’ll do). It’s all thanks to both the well written lines and personalities, but also to the voice actors. Unlike The Clone Wars, the commandos are all voiced by different people. Temuera Morrison “returns” as Boss, while veterans like Raphael Sbarge (Carth from KOTOR, fyi) and Andrew Chaikin help round out the cast. The commandos will chastise each other if they are downed, quip about current events, or even mock you and your commanding skills. It’s not Oscar material, but it’s fun enough to help the experience.

I can’t talk about the game without at least mentioning the ending. After all 4 commandos take up places on turrets, blasting down a Destroyer class ship over Kashyyyk, the squad is ordered to regroup on Boss’ position. Sev doesn’t make it and a quick garbled message reveals he’s under attack. Just as the squad decides to save Sev, the clone advisor recalls the troops at the personal summons of Yoda. Adhering to orders, they reluctantly abandon Sev and get ready for their next mission. The end. This is one of the most abrupt endings, especially as things are about to get crazy, in gaming…though it loses to Halo 2‘s much more jarring dead stop. The pacing of RC is pretty swift, so to end on a cliffhanger so abruptly is definitely an odd choice.

republic commando multiplayerRounding out the game is a multiplayer portion. I jumped into several matches, but it was mostly people playing deathmatch and it’s people who have been playing it since the game’s release. The few maps I played on weren’t anything to write home about, as there were many moments when I couldn’t find anyone. But that’s largely due to the lack of people playing, rather than the games own individual fault. If you don’t get the urge to play, you won’t miss much.

Here are a few other things:

  • Graphics are good in the tunnels and passageways of the more claustrophobic levels, but once there’s big picture/background events, they don’t look so hot. UPDATE 11/23/15: A fan has given the graphics an overhaul for modern PCs and from the looks of things, the entire experience runs smoother. You can download the mod here (via Kotaku)
  • Not only does Republic Commando have original compositions for its score, but some of them are Mandalorian war chants sung in Mando’a. It fits wonderfully into this grittier tale, but even OT music fits nicely over these PT events. Also, this is the first Star Wars game to feature licensed music (Wookiepedia tells me it is) and it’s from the band Ash. Don’t worry, I don’t know who they are either and their song isn’t very impressive though the more I hear, the more I kind of like it. Got to start somewhere I guess.
  • At one point I was wondering why there were so many bacta tanks in the Geonosian caves when a squadmate said: “I don’t know where all these tanks came from, but whoever left them here should get a medal.” Ironically enough, the Republic cruiser’s opening levels when you’re alone barely have a bacta tank in sight. You’d think a Republic cruiser would need them more than a Geonosian cave, but such as is the whims of game designers.
  • Though there’s the option to force squadmates to revive you no matter what’s going on around you, there were many moments where it didn’t work: they’d all die trying to get to me and other times they got me back up and running in no time.
  • My favorite line comes from Sev: “Boss, hold onto your guts while I rip out theirs.”
  • Your melee knife is a one hit kill on all basic enemy types.
  • HUD visuals are informative and never feel too cluttered even though there’s tons of stuff on the screen at one time. And the automatic wiper to get rid of oil, guts, and rain? Sweet! Got to get that for my glasses.
  • The night-vision mode of the goggles adds another level of freaky to proceedings.
  • In the final section of the Geonosian level, there’s a five minute countdown until the core ship you’re on explodes and you need to hack into a terminal to download launch codes before that happens. You’ll face fierce opposition on the way to the terminal and that’s when I found out five minutes in RC is different than most games: five minutes is nearly a whole real-world five minutes. Instead of hearing a countdown and it actually being just something to give the player urgency, here it actually means five minutes and makes the battle rather intense as you can imagine.
  • There was a sequel already being planned in the early stages of development for RC, to be called Imperial Commando. Ultimately, it was cancelled very early on.
  • Karen Traviss wrote a tie-in novel, Republic Commando: Hard Contact and followed it up with 4 other books. The novels do not uncover Sev’s fate, but do expand on Mando culture and their history. There was controversy following The Clone Wars‘ depiction of Mandalore and how it clashed with the books, causing Traviss to leave Star Wars writing.
  • UPDATE: The Lead Game Programmer for RC is doing a Behind the Scenes playthrough of the game with tons of interesting facts, including why the opening cutscene is unskippable and George Lucas was the one who wanted more humor and commando camaraderie injected into the game (via Kotaku)

Clone Commandos The Clone Wars

Republic Commando has garnered a cult following, as it were, landing Delta Squad a canon appearance in season 3 of The Clone Wars (as seen in the above image while another Commando starred in a S5 arc) and has appeased the Mando obsessed or curious fans with the five novels. It’s not too hard to see how people could be enthralled by Delta Squad, but it certainly wasn’t from the game alone. The single-player is worth at least a playthrough, but there’s not much to bring players back for another heaping, which is a shame since Republic Commando‘s tactical twist really helps place it apart from the average FPS crowd.

+ Tactical FPS gameplay

+ Gritty art style

+ Realistic squad banter

AI hiccups

Waves of enemies break pacing

Lack of replay value

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth.