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21st May 2020 | 619 views
Sometimes seeing an idea work at all is more satisfying than the individual components which make up the result. Republic Commando comes from a time where the Star Wars license truly had a galaxy full of potential. When the IP was not shackled to any one publisher, and the ideas presented were as vast and numerous as the inhabitants of the extended universe itself. It’s no surprise then that Republic Commando represents something of a unique take on the brand, as we experience the Clone Wars not in gigantic skirmishes or lone-wolf battles, but through the eyes of a small group of elite commandos. Developed internally by LucasArts and appearing on the original Xbox and PC, it is a must-have for hardcore Star Wars enthusiasts and a decent pickup for casual fans alike.
You are Delta-38, leader of Delta Squad, in charge of directing your squadmates through thick and thin over the course of three separate days. For players who are largely apathetic to video game narratives, Republic Commando offers little in the way of nonsense, but for longtime followers of the extended universe, there is enough here to be intriguing. What stands out most in Republic Command is that your duties aren’t just conceptual but well-realized in gameplay itself, as you have a key which allows you to issue context sensitive commands to your squad. This is incredibly useful and easy to use, and can change the tide of battle in an instant. You’ll often find yourself failing a battle quickly, wondering what you did wrong, only to realize how insignificant the encounter is when using your team efficiently. Pointing to sniping spots and grenade barricades, for example, will allow your teammates to use such positions to your advantage. One of the highlights is the hectic droid dispensers, which act like vending machines spewing out multiple enemies units at a time. While taking these out can often be frustrating and an exercise in patience, they represent the peak of Republic Commando’s strategic possibilities, as you have to not only clear a pathway to the dispenser, but also safeguard the member planting the bomb as new enemies spawn in. The tactical nature of the game lends itself well to the infantry combat experience, but some of the game’s best moments are also outside of such situations, when you have to go solo and fight on your lonesome. These sections represent the most challenge, and the stakes just amplify the atmosphere and immersion all the more.
At the time of release, first person shooters were at a crossroads between allowing for the player to equip a huge arsenal of weaponry at once, and restricting them to the two-weapon limit popularized by games like Halo. Given that the gameplay is rooted in decision-making, it might have been an easy choice to only allow for two weapons to be equipped at any one time. But the compromise found here between both philosophies is quite tactful, as Delta-38 is allowed three weapons at a time, but his main companion is a blaster rifle with multiple variants: an automatic mode, a sniper module, and a grenade launcher setting. The other two weapon slots are taken up by a pistol which is to only be used as a last resort, and a special slot reserved for picked up weapons - such as an enemy submachine gun, or a Wookie rocket launcher. This contextualizes the large weaponry of Delta Squad in an intelligent way, while also finding a happy medium that allows the player to make meaningful decisions about which armaments to carry with you. And if you run out of ammo, combat flow isn’t ruined thanks to your handy backups. Similarly, Republic Commando also adopts a rechargeable shield and a health system simultaneously. Shields are integrated thoughtfully, as they don’t last for very long and allow for less sponging of damage then your average shooters, but still help retain the pace of combat during more frantic engagements.
Unfortunately, numerous problems represent themselves throughout the campaign. For a game with so many great considerations on the part of the developers, the soundtrack is lacking. Nothing is memorable save for the rather iconic menu theme, because it all sounds like songs you would hear in any other media within the Star Wars brand. This might seem like an odd complaint, it’s a Star Wars game, why shouldn’t it feature tracks that allow us to reminisce on the many unforgettable moments in the franchise’s history? But it’s all so generic, blares so loud, and doesn’t even feel fitting on many occasions. With this game giving us such a different look at the universe, why not do something that stands on its own? The feedback for weapons also leaves a lot to be desired. Firing them is satisfying enough, but they tend to have little bite or oomph to their animations and sound effects. At its worst it got so bad that I actually didn’t realize the rocket launcher had the ability to charge multiple rockets at once for a multi-shot release until minutes before the game’s end, because there was no animation or sound indicating as such.
Speaking of the weapons system, the special weapon pickups are good in theory, but aren’t realized to their full potential. The most troubling aspect is how useless many of them are in execution, either because of overlap in usage or just generally being bad. Rocket launchers are rarely advisable over your trusty grenade launcher, crossbows are meant to be powerful but have too long of a charge-up animation and are just generally inconsistent at dealing damage, and SMGs have no advantage over your main assault rifle, making them only useful as short-term replacements. There are some which fulfill their purpose mostly satisfactory, but all in all this is one of the more disappointing aspects of the title. The shotgun, which is one of your first special weapons, remains the most consistently useful throughout the entire game, making new weapons less impactful.
This is more emblematic of Republic Commando’s greatest weakness. Back when it released in 2005, the most common criticism among reviewers aside from its lackluster multiplayer was the campaign’s length. At eight to nine and a half hours, it stands at a length which many similar releases in the genre occupy. The culprit here isn’t with how long Republic Commando is, but in how poorly it escalates the complexity and urgency of the game. The commands you’ll be issuing in the beginning of the game, are the same ones you’ll be giving out nine hours later. There are unique enemies and weapons for each level, but they’re not enough to provide significant distinctions in gameplay, and you’ll still often fight the same three sets of opponents. Mechanically, there just needed to be more meat. From a two-choice door breach feature which was largely inconsequential, to the fact that having three entire characters to lead means there’s rarely a time where your strategy doesn’t cover all your bases. There just isn’t enough there.
As a proof of concept, Republic Commando is successful. It offers enough value in it’s ideas and it’s moment to moment enjoyment to be well worth a look. But as a game inspired by the many classic first person adventures offered at the time, from Metroid Prime in it’s HUD interface to Halo in it’s shooter mechanics, it doesn’t exactly stand on the shoulders of giants. A more than fine game, but not one I’m eagerly awaiting a revisit of.