Star Wars: Republic Commando
LucasArts does away with those goody-two-shoes Jedi and puts you in the well-worn combat boots of an elite Republic forces squad.
If the purpose of a game is to envelop you in a world where you forget that you're playing a game, Star Wars: Republic Commando fails miserably. There are constant reminders that you're not actually an elite trooper in the newly formed Clone Army of the Republic but just regular Joe Public, sitting there with a controller in your hand and chip crumbs on your shirt.
Take healing as an example. Dealing with this issue is one of the biggest challenges for a developer. Some handle it elegantly, in a logical manner that gels with the rest of the game world. Others, well, don't. In Republic Commando, shields are charged using recharging stations littered throughout the game. Not only are they inside space ships, where you might expect them, but they're also in the middle of the desert and along jungle paths. And since none of the other characters or enemies in the game use them you know they've been put there just because you're weak.
But even with suspension of belief out the window, the game still provides one of the better first-person shooter console experiences, which is not a bad thing when you consider the calibre of titles populating the genre of late. There will be some that say the game borrows too liberally from Bungie's Halo series, but if you're going to take design tips from someone, Bungie will do nicely. Republic Commando does trump its mentor by offering a less vexing level layout. The sumptuously textured locales hewn from areas from the prequel Star Wars trilogy coax you in the right direction, never leaving you wondering where to go next.
The most obvious difference between Halo and Republic Commando is the squad elements present here. Designed with simplicity in mind, controlling your team of four Republic elite commandos is as easy as pointing and clicking. Hotspots in environments are triggered as you pass glance over them, giving you the option of placing one of your three identifiably unique teammates in position to supply covering fire or direct attacks.
What's more, you really do you feel as though you're part of a tight group of military professionals. From a gameplay perspective this is translated into a system in which until the whole team is unconscious, your turn's not over yet. If you're downed by enemy fire, you can issue a revive command to one of your teammates who will then run over to jolt you back to life. Combine this with the competent - though, to be fair, sometimes laughably poor - enemy AI and you have a game in which progression is satisfyingly achievable without being easy.
Squad AI is something that can make or break a system such as this, and for the most part Republic Commando manages to avoid the usual pitfalls. That's not to say that the remaining three members of Delta squad don't sometimes sit idly by as you're being pulverised, but they generally behave themselves using the well-honed teamwork instilled by the developers. You can order you teammates to do what you want, but left to their own devices they'll generally take up appropriate offensive or defensive positions, as the situation demands.
Less reassuring are the collision detection glitches that can entrap your teammates in environmental structures. Knocking them unconscious them with an eye to reviving them outside of their invisible prisons doesn't work and you can't drag them while unconscious either. Since there's no easy way to reverse their imprisonment you're essentially forced to restart the level or do without them when this happens, which can be particularly annoying when you've just cleared a room filled with high-power androids and have another one staring you in the face.
The campaign mode provides a satisfying arc spanning three separate days during the opening years of the Clone Wars. The story is told mainly through in-game revelations, with only minor use of cinematic sequences, and the elements of political turmoil and instability carried over from the Star Wars prequel trilogy are present throughout.
The distinctions between the various races that make up the game's population are a welcome addition and they help make each enemy type unique in both strengths and weaknesses. Part of the fun is discovering each foe's glass jaw, but brute force will always see you through if you haven't figured it out yet. It's in sheer numbers where Republic Commando distinguishes itself from other console squad-based shooters like Rainbow Six 3, as here the emphasis is very much on action and lots of it.
Outside of the main campaign mode, there are the rather rudimentary multiplayer modes to keep you busy. The rabid uptake of Xbox Live, now standing at nearly 1.5 million users worldwide, makes the system link and split-screen multiplayer modes seem rather quaint by comparison. Live support is good, but there are only a limited number of stock game modes, including solo and team deathmatch and capture the flag.
The online experience in Republic Commando is fantastic, provided you join the right game. If you're on a fast server you can basically play in a form that seems indistinguishable from the offline game, though it does stutter severely once one person too much joins your match. LucasArts is promising downloadable extras as well, but at the time of writing nothing was available yet.
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Star Wars: Republic Commando
E3 2004: Trailer from conference (640x480, 1Mbps)
Star Wars: Republic Commando
The complete trailer of LucasArts' forthcoming Xbox Star Wars title, as shown at Microsoft's E3 2003 conference.