For the most part, Star Wars games have been a huge disappointment in the past few years. While they haven't sucked as much as Star Trek games, they have been pretty bad. But developer LucasArts used to be one of the premiere developers. For every Rebel Assault and Jedi knight, fans were forced to endure Clone Wars and Obi Wan. But with Republic Commando, that haze has been lifted and LucasArts is once again on the right track with the franchise.
The story of Republic Commando is simple. You play the leader of a 4 member squad of genetically altered clones fighting as members of the Republic in the Clone Wars. Each member of your squad has a different specialty and you all complement each other as a lean fighting force. Taking place after the events in Episode I, the story in not as much a linear narrative as much as a day-in-the-life story. The story is secondary and while I would have liked to have seen more than a bridge to Episode III, it was satisfying enough for me to want to keep playing.
As leader of an elite squad it is your job to bark orders to your squad members. Those who play more complex squad games such as Rainbow Six might be disappointed by the more simple controls and commands of Republic Commando. Hold down the A button and a context menu appears with 4 options which all boil down to hang back or go forth a kill. As you get to different places that require a specialty such as demolition or computer slicing, a symbol will appear on your HUD indicating what needs to be done. Hit the A button and one of your squadmates will take care of the task. While each character supposedly has their own specialty, it seemed that any of them could do any task.
In addition, you can command your squad mates to heal with strategically positioned Bacta stations. The most damaged squad mate will heal first. In addition, if one of your squadmates gets knocked out, other squadmates can revive him. Very nice touch. And anything your squadmates can do, you can do. If they are busy covering you, you can place the demolition charge yourself. And your squadmates will cover you if they can. If you fall in battle, you swoon and the screen goes fuzzy. From there you can call for help thanks to a context menu and if possible, a squad mate will come over and revive you. It's quite cool to see your guy run over, kneel over you and zap you back to health. Very nice touch.
The level design is good, but not great. It's very linear without to much Halo style backtracking. There aren't any puzzles per se and it's never difficult to know where you need to go. Lots of gun and run in the classic FPS sense. Frankly, it requires a fast trigger finger and not a whole lot of brain power to complete the game.
The variety of weapons is what I would expect from a Star wars game. We have blasters and pistols and even a shotgun type thing. And as necessary in every single shooter, there is a sniper rifle with the requisite zoom and a large anti-armor gun. We also have grenades and a melee attack for close combat. The weapon selection is rather ho-hum and weapons ammo is surprisingly sparse in the game.
Lameness Alert: As most FPS games now support dual wielding, Republic Commando is a little behind as it does not support this feature.
The AI is a mixed bag. While your squadmates do some cool things on command, and the enemy seems somewhat intelligent by dodging grenades, I also saw some examples of dumb things. Several times my squadmates would be on one knee shooting a large droid as it pummeled them with a close combat attack. Instead of backtracking to get distance, he just sat there firing. Kind of dumb. and regardless of the type of weapon I had, some enemies would bum rush me only to get a face blast of shotgun. Again, not too smart.
Republic Commando supports some interesting rag doll physics, but they are used more as eye candy than anything functional. Look! the body moves as my squad mates walks over it!
What makes Republic Commando good is that it starts off fast and furious and doesn't let go. It has constant action as well as some very nice touches such as many scripted events including explosions, beams falling and the like. It had a very cinematic feel to it which completely drew me in. I had a real blast playing the game despite that it wasn't hugely groundbreaking.
The biggest drawback is the length. I finished the game in less than 11 hours. And since it is linear there isn't much in terms of replay ability.
The graphics of Republic Commando, like the game itself were good, but not great. There is a fair use of particle effects and the environments are quite lavish. But they didn't take advantage of the power of the Xbox. No noticeable bump mapping or advanced lighting effects. Most of the textures are hi-res, but sometimes I saw what looked like PS2 holdovers as they got blurry close up. No biggie, I understand the necessity of economy.
The character models are very well done and detailed. The animations are fluid and plentiful. The animators really had their hands full as each type of special command employs a different animation. In addition, the cinematics are very well done. Of particular interest is the opening introduction of each character. Subtle nuances of the way you are greeted really did a lot to show the different characters. Kudos to LucasArts for making the animations a tool in building the characters.
Of note are your own animations. each command you give accompanies a swipe of the arm or pointing of the finger in a firm leader sort of way. A nice touch. But along with that we have a mild lameness alert: Look down; you have no feet!
The best part of the audio is the voice work. Once again, LucasArts has done a terrific job of creating lots of chatter that defines the characters. While the characters themselves are somewhat stereotypical, they are very well defined and fun to listen to. Jokes and banter are heard as well as a variety of ways for reacting to situations. So instead of one phrase when a squad mate goes down, there could be many different ones. In an interesting twist, your character has a voice. In most games, the player character is silent as designers want the player to be the voice of the main character. In Republic Commando, we have an English-accented voice that sternly barks orders without compassion. The voice is very well done and sounds just like I would want my voice to be in that situation.
As expected from a Star Wars game, we have the full arsenal of Star Wars sound effects. Taken straight from the movies (and every other Star Wars game) the effects are all around and plentiful. Kudos to the Foley and sound design team. I'm a huge critic of sound in games and Republic Commando does an excellent job.
Unfortunately, LucasArts really dropped the ball on multiplayer. While we have the standard system link and single console, the game also supports Xbox Live, but minimally. With only a handful of maps and the standard gametypes such as deathmatch, CTF, Team deathmatch and Assault, Multiplayer was obviously an add-on. You have the option of customizing your characters, but you only have 2 characters to choose from. What, no wookie??
LucasArts obviously tacked on MP because they knew they had to. After all, FPS and squad games are some of the most popular games on Live so they are somewhat obligated to support it. I just don't see any Halo or Rainbow Six fans converting to Republic Commando. There's just nothing new there.
I would have loved to see the resources dedicated to MP brought onto the team to add more depth and length to the campaign. But alas....
LucasArts didn't take any risks with this title. It doesn't break any new ground and some could see it as an ad for episode III. But the game is *fun*. The action is non-stop, the characters are interesting, and the only way to describe the game immersion is cinematic. Isn't that what any good Star Wars game should be? Recommended.
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