Star Wars: Republic Commando
Imagine an attempt to cross the squad-combat aspects of a tactical shooter like Rainbow 6 with all the best stuff from Halo. Then beef up both sets of game mechanics significantly and set it in the Star Wars universe during the clone wars epoch. That's the best, briefest way to describe Star Wars: Republic Commando (SW:RC), though it's even simpler to say it's the coolest Star Wars FPS game ever. The following analysis may be a bit over-enthusiastic, but it's only because the game really is so much fun to play.
In the era of FPS games like DOOM 3 (D3) and Far Cry (FC), most everything else pales a bit by comparison. This is just as true of SW:RC as it is of other games, but only to a point. The textures are great, the animation is utterly fantastic—the best I think I've ever seen in a FPS game in fact—the special effects are lovely, and the in-game cut scenes and pre-rendered cinematics are all Star Wars quality. True, the game doesn't have all the snazzy lighting and shader effects of D3 or FC, but it looks great nevertheless. The level of detail is pretty stunning. The little stuff is especially neat, like the goo that splatters on one's visor when making a melee kill or the high-tech "windshield wiper" effect that follows.
And perhaps more importantly, SW:RC runs extremely smoothly. D3 and FC still tax my system quite a bit, even though I'm running an Athlon XP 3200 CPU with 2 GB of physical RAM and a Gigabyte X800 XT video card, but SW:RC runs smooth as butter at 1600 x 1200 x 32 bpp with all the graphical goodies set to maximum. My only complaint with the visuals is that I can't seem to enable anti-aliasing (AA) or anisotropic filtering (AF); with as well as the game runs, I'm betting it would look even better with 4x AA and 16x AF. But that's not really much of a complaint.
After writing the above I discovered how to enable anti-aliasing with the game; i.e., the option remains grayed out on the menu unless VSync is enabled. Once I turned VSync on, I was able to crank up the AA to 4x without any discernible frame rate penalty. Oh, and it looks even more awesome!
What can I say that does justice to the Star Wars audio? The sound effects are great, the dialogue performances are arguably the very best I've heard from any such game, and the music, though not the John Williams melodies with which we've all grown up, is fabulous in its own right. Everything in the audio department is exactly as it should be for this game. The little audio bits from the various characters are so well done that I felt like I was getting punched in the gut during the final scenes, about which more in a moment. In short, the audio does so much to bring the characters to life and immerse the player in the game that it's truly a work of art.
Note to other developers: adopt the interface conventions of this game! Yes, much is stolen from Halo, but that's a good thing. The interface is very simple and very straightforward, yet it allows surprisingly complex mechanics. I particularly liked the ability to order multiple squad mates to take up different positions, accomplish tasks, and even set remote charges that I have complete freedom to detonate at my convenience. In short, every man in the squad is as useful as he is flexible, even though they each clearly have specialties.
I have only one non-trivial complaint with the interface, really, and that's the inconsistency between the troopers' names and numbered icons on the heads-up display (HUD). Maybe others "got it" immediately, but I ended the game still not knowing the numeric designations of my troopers. It made it difficult sometimes for me to figure out what to do in the thick of combat. The problem is that they're given numbers on the HUD, but the player sees names next to them when they're in his field of view. I would prefer a more consistent approach, for it would really help.
Can you say "best game mechanics ever"? I knew you could! Ok, maybe I'm gushing a bit, but SW:RC gets everything right. Stealth works so well and so intelligently that I don't even need a stealth meter. All the movement options make sense and are useful as one would expect. I did miss a prone stance sometimes, but these were very rare occasions. The way grenades work is perfect. Climbing ladders and such is child's play. There is no ability to sprint for a short while, as so many other games are doing these days, but I really didn't miss it. Even the melee attack is as welcome as it is useful, which is exactly how it should be.
And perhaps best and most impressive of all, SW:RC manages to weld the squad-based tactics attempted in Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (MoH:PA) with the great feel of Halo, except that in SW:RC making good use of the squad makes all the difference. MoH:PA gives the player the ability to issue a few basic orders to the squad, but they never seemed all that useful, and the artificial intelligence (AI) just wasn't up to the task. In contrast, in SW:RC the squad really is the weapon! Wherever the player's squad mates can take up a position, a ghosted image of a trooper with appear along with a textual description. It makes it possible to use one's squad mates intelligently, providing sniper cover, throwing grenades, firing anti-armor rounds, and so forth.
There simply isn't anything for me to complain about with the game mechanics of SW:RC. They're utterly perfect in their elegance, simplicity, power, and sheer fun factor. Kudos, developers, for doing so many things right.
On the one hand I found the story compelling, particularly because of the characters in my squad about whom I really came to care by the end of the game. Yet on the other hand there's nothing deeper here than in any Star Wars property; i.e., it's The Good Guys versus The Bad Guys with nary a single plot twist or anything really interesting. I mean, it's fun to be at ground zero on Geonosis at zero hour for the Clone Wars, and it's a hoot to visit the Wookie home world as well, but the only story in the game is the larger, fictional history of the Star Wars universe. And it really doesn't get presented at all. The only character from the films that makes an appearance is Yoda, and then only at the very end of the game.
In the final analysis, this isn't a game that's going to grab the player with its story, but it is a game that Star Wars fans will likely love for the way it makes the player feel as if he's behind the scenes in film sequences that simply didn't make it to the big screen. In that sense, the game story exists as embroidery on an already well-known fabric, so the lack of obvious, unique plotting isn't such a big deal. I will say this: the lone plot surprise at the end was really wrenching to me. I wanted to tell Yoda to go stuff it and lead Delta Squad right back into the fray, but it simply wasn't meant to be. It was an awful, painful surprise to me.
First, the biggest complaint with the game is that it's simply too short. I completed it my first time through in roughly eight hours of play. Had I paid full price for the game—I managed to get it for a measly $21 by taking advantage of a Best Buy sale and gift certificate I had—I would have felt less enthusiastic about it. This game isn't a feast that's going to keep the player engaged for a solid twenty hours or more, not at all. It's more like a delicious slice of cake, insofar as every mouthful is spectacular but the experience as a whole is far too short.
A lesser complaint is that the game can be pretty uneven in spots. On more than one occasion, for example, I opened a door only to get killed instantly by the Trandoshan waiting on the other side. On other occasions, I came around a corner and ran into an armored juggernaut that could cut me down before I could even turn around. Fortunately, however, these spots are few and far between.
The only such really frustrating bit was the first time I faced a Trandoshan Heavily Armored Mercenary (HAM), because I was given zero help in figuring out how to handle him. If he opens fire on you, you're dead in a second or two at most. And you can chuck your entire inventory of grenades at him without doing him much damage at all, as well as emptying every weapon you carry at that point in the game. He'll just cut you down and laugh at your corpse. Once you figure out the trick (viz., blinding him with a flashbang and using the zoomed sniper rifle for head shots) he goes down in a few seconds, but until you figure it out he's an impossible juggernaut of certain death.
I know I praised the AI in FC, but SW:RC beats it, hands down. Seriously, SW:RC has the very best AI of any game I've ever played. And that is not an exaggeration at all. One's squad mates are smart: they take cover, heal up if possible, prioritize targets well, and are easily the most effective AI colleagues I've ever seen. The only problem I ever ran into with them was mines. If I gave them orders that would take them into a mine field, they didn't bother to tell me that mines were blocking the path; rather, they would just say they couldn't do whatever I wanted. Once I figured this out, it wasn't so irritating any longer, but it would have been nice if they could have given me a reason for their non-compliance.
Suffice it to say that SW:RC is truly the very first squad-based FPS game I've played in which I never felt like I was fighting alongside a bunch of idiots. Not once did they get hung up on walls, refuse to return fire, fall off edges, or otherwise freak out and do something stupid that breaks the illusion, as happens in every other such game I've ever played. The developers deserve great credit for finally getting squad-based game AI dead-bang right. Other developers should sit up and take notice, for SW:RC is as good as it gets.
I should also sing the praises of the weapons for a bit. I don't know what the other reviewers have been smoking, but anyone who tells you the basic pistol is useless simply doesn't know what he's talking about. The basic pistol is a workhorse weapon, even for taking down some of the game's tougher enemies. Sure, you can dump a couple of dozen rounds into a Trandoshan from your DC-17m blaster rifle, but why bother when the DC-15s sidearm can take the same guy down in two or three shots? Seriously, the pistol is useful throughout the entire game, particularly as a means of conserving ammunition.
And that's to say nothing of the flexibility of the DC-17m. Whereas other games give you a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher, and a machine gun, SW:RC gives you one weapon that can play all three roles. The sniper attachment is absolutely perfect for bringing down enemies at a distance, or any HAM that happens to wander by, while the anti-armor attachment is a godsend for handling the super battle droids (SBDs), droidekas, and über-nasty miniature spider droids. Frankly, those things give me nightmares if I don't have plenty of anti-armor ammunition on hand.
Just in case I haven't gushed enough yet, even more interesting are the auxiliary weapons that can be picked up from fallen foes. The Geonosian Elite Laser burns down organics quickly and efficiently, the APC Array Gun is basically an energy-based shotgun (i.e., packs an awesome punch up close but is less useful at range), and the LS-150 Heavy Repeater is simply to die for when coming up against anything that isn't mechanical. Seriously, it chews through ammunition at a shocking rate, but the large clip size makes it possible to clear even large rooms within a few seconds. I wasn't so enamored of the Trandoshan SMG—it seems to do a hell of a lot more damage to the player than it does to anything else—or the Wookie Bowcaster, but both do have their uses. Besides, the Concussion Rifle and especially the Wookie Rocket Launcher more than make up for them.
But perhaps best of all, at least in my book, is the devastating melee attack when carrying the DC-17m. When the player has that thing in hand, he can execute a wickedly vicious knifing in a second or two, a move that will cut down all but the toughest of enemies in the game. I absolutely loved the ability to run into the fray, firing a few shots to distract my enemy before I gutted him. That his bodily fluids splash on the visor is all the more rewarding. Ok, maybe I need some counseling, but it's no big surprise that Sev was my very favorite character.
All in all, the content in SW:RC is of the very highest quality. I suppose some might complain that there aren't more vehicles in the game, but this doesn't seem all that odd, really, given its emphasis on squad-based infantry. Besides, the one truly awesome sequence involving an AT-TE walker goes a long way toward alleviating that complaint. Sure, I would have loved the opportunity to stomp around in an AT-ST as well, but it simply wasn't in the cards. Don't worry, there's more than enough stuff in the game to make it fun and exciting.
On this point the game stumbles a bit. It's not that the multi-player aspect of the game isn't fun; it is. The problem is that it doesn't do anything really new or interesting. SW:RC is a game positively rife with possibilities for neat multi-player modes, but all it delivers is more deathmatch and capture the flag. I truly do love those game modes, but I've been playing them now for more than a decade. I'd much rather have a Battlefield 1942 inspired Republic vs. Separatists mode or something like that, but I guess that's what Star Wars: Battlefront is all about. I'll probably get a few hours of play out of the multi-player aspect of the game, but I don't see it grabbing me at all like the single-player campaign. Maybe third-party mods will do something about this, but we'll have to wait and see.
If you're a gamer who likes FPS games at all, then stop what you're doing and go buy SW:RC. It's a must-buy game for anyone who's even vaguely interested in FPS games generally or Star Wars games in specific. The only reasons not to buy this game are that (1) you hate single-player games, (2) you hate FPS games, or (3) you hate Star Wars games. I expect everyone else will enjoy this game a great deal, even if it is pretty short. I know I'll be playing through the entire single-player campaign at least two or three more times; it's that good.
Reviewed by Phileosophos