Even if the first prequel movies of George Lucas were disappointing (see the individual reviews for Episode I and Episode II), the idea of the Clone Wars and its warriors opened up all kinds of narrative possibilities. LucasArts’ squad-based FPS Star Wars: Republic Commando is a result of this, and a very good one.
Star Wars: Republic Commando (PC)
(USA 2005, developer: LucasArts (defunct), publishers: LucasArts (defunct)/Disney), platforms: PC, Xbox)
The Delta Squad group of clone warriors goes on dangerous missions to fight for the Republic against separatists, helping out to destroy enemy battleships and support Wookies on their home planet Kashyyyk.
Light on the narrative side
Plot and character development are unfortunately a bit hit and miss. The constant chatter between the commando members gives a glimpse of individual character traits, but with so much fighting going on, quieter moments are only used to build up tension for the next big confrontation, rarely giving more time to get to know them. However, this doesn’t mean that one doesn’t feel anything for them, as they usually provide some funny lines, at least in the case of the sniper or bomb expert.
While the story offers a few surprises (especially with an epic ending), it’s not really that memorable. This might be due to the lack of a main villain or that everything is so fast-paced that there’s barely time to think about the big picture. This is a shame, because the beginning shows promise with the player seeing through the eyes of Delta-38 when he’s trained with other clones, giving a sense of identity. One definitely feels camaraderie towards the other members, but usually because one depends on them during missions, not necessarily because they’re well-written.
Down without the force but with team mates
Narrative problems aside, where the game shines is in its squad-based battles which require assigning specific actions to one’s team members in order to complete mission objectives. The levels are well-designed and never run into the risk of being too complicated, so aimless wandering around corridors is a thing of the past. Using all sorts of positions for team members to snipe enemies or throw grenades is just as satisfying as trying to flank enemy posts, taking control of weapon systems and destroying depots which create an endless stream of robots if they’re not destroyed by bombs. Many consoles for opening or destroying doors (or the aforementioned posts) require a certain amount of time to be used either by oneself or by the rest of the squad. Taking cover and protecting/reviving team mates becomes essential, so it’s great to see that the AI works remarkably well most of the time.
The game’s difficulty is quite high, not only because there are many enemies on screen which require different kinds of strategies to get around, but because there are a few very unfair sequences. In one mission, a strict time limit requires fast movement, quick dispatching of enemies and even more coordinated assignment of team members for specific tasks before a ship explodes and one has to make a quick escape. Sometimes death comes from all sides, and with enemy fire from almost indestructible turrets which have to be reached and finally captured, this isn’t a game for the easily frustrated. However, the fluid squad commands system and various mission goals in addition to some rather creepy moments in the dark make it a game without any boring sequences. Even if it could have used more variety in the environments with only three campaign locations, it’s a blast from start to finish with amazingly action-packed set-pieces.
Strong on the technology side
Graphically, the game has aged much better than Dark Forces, which is to be expected, considering there are 10 years of technology in between the titles. Character models and environments are still great, even if they could have used more variety. Lighting effects are particularly good, although it takes a bit of modding for the game to run with all details if one plays it on modern machines. More cutscenes would have been nice as well, as only in-game scripted events tell the story. It’s still impressive to watch the squad coming down from a flying vehicle by ropes, but it also gets old after some time. Playing mostly in corridors, the exterior levels offer some great-looking vistas, especially in the latter part of the campaigns when one sees big ships battling it out in the distance. More of this would have helped make it more engaging. Fortunately, the soundtrack is one of the best the Star Wars series have put out so far. With epic chorus passages, fast-paced segments and quite atmospheric, creepy moments, the score is of the highest quality. Voice acting is also great throughout, although some repeated lines from the squad can get tiresome.
A better Clone Wars to play than to watch
FPS and squad-based games aren’t that unique, but in the Star Wars universe, Republic Commando certainly is. It’s a no-nonsense action-packed title with great graphics, sound and music that fits nicely into the not-so-great first prequel movies. Everything George Lucas promised with epic battles and the use of the Clone Wars is represented here in a satisfyingly strategic FPS that could only have been more character-driven and varied in its settings. If ever there was a game that would deserve a sequel, then this is it.
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