Retrospective: Republic Commando

By Alec Meer on October 1st, 2007 at 8:41 pm.

Knights of the Old Republic tends to be the only recent Star Wars game that anyone mentions with affection (yeah, I’m aware of a certain fanbase for Battlefront, but that doesn’t stop it from being absolute garbage). This is a shame. I give you Republic Commando, the lost Star Wars game.

Being bound in as it is with the boo-yucky prequel movies, RepCom is easily dismissed as just another easy cash-in. In fact, it’s the best Star Wars FPS since Jedi Knight 1 (I’d happily argue ever, in fact), and for all the sneering LucasArts is prone to from I Remember When All This Were Monkey Islands types these days, it’s strong proof that guys who really get games still work there.

This is mostly because it’s not really very much to do with Star Wars. It’s about four soldiers, not whiny farmboys with destinies or 20-something pretties moping woodenly at each other. It just so happens that those soldiers look a bit like Stormtroopers (pre-Palpatine makeover) and there are some Wookies in it. Republic Commando is free to do what it wants, and what it wants is to be a very accessible squad-based shooter. It’s even cheerfully sniffy about Star Wars, your character glancing disdainfully at a lightsaber at one point and muttering “An elegant weapon for a more civilized time, eh? Well, guess what? Times have changed.” Cue big gun action. Yeah.

I’ve been contentedly replaying RepCom as a result of RPS readers mentioning it in regard to Clive Barker’s Jericho, a game that also tries to bring squad play, a dynamic often associated with wilful complexity and difficulty, to the ADD masses. Without going into too much detail on Jericho because I’m reviewing it elsewhere, one thing that bothered me about it was that its squad are arrogant dicks. I just didn’t like any of them as people. RepCom superficially has the same approach of ultra-macho soundbytes, but it manages to successfully balance on that very thin line between sounding badass and sounding smarmy and charmless. I may not be able to remember a single line said by any of my RepCom buddies, but equally I can’t remember rolling my eyes at anything they muttered. They’re often cheerful, they congratulate me on headshots, they sound understandably nervous when things look bad, and they wisecrack amiably. They’re not posers; they’re the kind of good, honest folk I’d want with me in a war. With Gears of War setting a worryingly successful precedent for AI colleagues that behave, without irony, like the cast of Predator, I’m not sure we’ll see RepCom’s more chummy type again.

Controlling this squad is, even two years on, still compelling in its mix of stripped-down tactics and encouraging you to genuinely rely on their own guile. They’ll go use a health machine or get a downed colleague back onto his feet if there’s no danger around, rather than requiring you laboriously tell them to go do something about their massive blood loss, but if you’re all mid-fight, it’s your call whether they do such things. Is leaving cover to reach a fallen comrade worth the risk? You’re in charge. You decide. They might righteously complain about it, but they’ll still do it.

Particularly interesting in this regard is when you yourself take one too many battledroid blasters to the face. You’re immobile but conscious, still able to choose whether your men continue shooting whatever they’re shooting or whether one risks his own neck to come medikit you up. The dilemma, each time, is fascinating. You’re evaluating your trust in these computer-controlled troops. Do you have faith they can finish this fight themselves? Or do you consider your own skills so important that it’s worth risking a total wipeout by telling one to come fix you? The AI, though not without occasional idiocy, is just strong enough that this remains a dilemma every time. You know they can do it. You just don’t know whether they will this time. What to do, what to do? Truth is, I trust these three Commandos with my life. I understand that when they don’t save me, it’s probably my fault as much as theirs. There are very few AI buddies I can think of who I ever developed any real degree of trust in. Half-Life 2: Episode 1’s Alyx springs to mind. She’s about it.

And, of course, there’s the matter of being bored. You’re lying on the floor, unable to so much as scratch your nose, while the other three are off having all the fun fighting that SuperDroid. You’ll risk a Game Over because you just can’t be bothered to wait. Many other games have AI chums heal fallen players. Few let you choose whether your life is more important than theirs.

What really stands out, still, is a brilliantly simple, visual approach to how you manage your team. Their icons on the HUD – a HUD that’s actually a HUD, incidentally; everything you see is what your Commando sees on his helmetcam – turn Green, Yellow or Red depending on their state of health. A crosshair over it means they’re shooting, a cross that they’re healing themselves or someone else, an explosion symbol that they’re setting a charge… Simple. Obvious. Not original, even. But it’s all one-glance stuff, those three icons capable of telling you exactly what state your squad is in within a half-second. That’s what command’s supposed to be about.

The same icons translate to the game world, and the context-based actions that drive RepCom’s play. While it robs a certain degree of choice – why does that ledge allow me to tell a comrade to snipe from it, but not lob grenades from it? – again it’s about instantly appraising the situation and reacting in kind. Enter a room full of angry Geonosians and a quick sweep of the head tells you all you need to know. Point there click F you, take cover and snipe Point there click F you, man that turret Point there click F you, close those blastdoors. There’s no rifling through sub-menus or umming and aahing over what’s the best way to do this. There’s just instant military precision. That’s why you’re the one in charge. It’s ludicrously over-simplified compared to any squad shooter that claims any degree of reality-replication, but it makes you feel good about yourself, and surely that’s the point.

A sometimes infuriatingly linear structure, a lot of repetition and a few too many artificial restrictions mean I’m never going to slot this alongside Aliens Versus Predator, Bioshock and Half-Life on my shelf o’wonders, but it’s a clever, tight shooter I can go back to again and again. It’s a Star Wars game, you say? Nah. It’s about badass space marines shooting robots. It’s amazing how few FPSes get that right.

Interested in playing Republic Commando? There’s a demo here, with a filesize to the tune of a mere 28 Peggles.

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43 Comments »

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  1. Ferrous Buller says:

    Are Peggles now a unit of measure?

    Glad I’m not the only one who was fond of this game. One of the few good things to come out of the prequel trilogy. It streamlined Rainbow Six before R6 did.

  2. Andrew Mayer says:

    Definitely a lost gem.

    Some of the levels were too hard for their own good, and you had to put up with a lot of reminders of the horrible Stap Droids and the like, but overall it was a damn fine piece of software.

  3. Citizen Parker says:

    Excellent write-up! I missed this one due to a total disinterest in all things Star Wars, but I have to check this out now.

    The way you describe it makes it sound incredibly similar to the vastly-underrated FREEDOM FIGHTERS a few years back. I normally hate squad-based shooters myself, preferring to focus on one character rather than deal with a bunch of nimrods and annoying support vehicles (GRAW 2). But the tight controls, useful low-maintenance mates, and outstanding level design made it a winner.

    The fact that this same team is behind KANE & LYNCH makes me more and more excited about that one every day…

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Funny you mention that, Citizen Parker – I was talking to someone else about Freedom Fighters last week and am thinking about digging it out for a little re-examine. It really had the best henchperson code the world had ever seen.

    KG

  5. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    Hmm..yea this was on my “must buy” list and sorta got relegated to the “ah…maybe when its cheaper”…then…”too old to be good”…will check prices and buy it.

  6. ImperialCreed says:

    That was a nice little nostalgia trip. I got this on the Xbox about a year ago for the princely sum of €4 and was pleasantly suprised. My previous experience of Star Wars games had prepared me for this being rubbish, but I was shocked and enthralled at its almost total lack of Star Warsy-ness. Some of it did suck woefully- lack of ammo, most of the enemies became elaborately coloured bullet-soaks towards the end and the extremely frustrating ending sticking in my mind particularly. But that kind of plays into what you were saying about trust and attachment Alec – (spoilers!) when Delta (if I recall correctly) gets cut off at the end, I remember just reloading and charging back to go an rescue him, only to have the credits roll. I could barely choke back the indignant rage. ‘Tis rare a game can make you feel like that, even if I did think the moment was a bit cack.

  7. newt says:

    This – along with the Clone Wars animated series – may be the best thing to come out of the prequels. RC made me genuinely care about a bunch of clones.. friggin’ CLONES! Amazing. Vode an!

  8. James Lyon says:

    Well, you’ve convinced me to give this another look. I’m afraid I dismissed this as a simplistic Star Wars cash-in like a lot of other people back at its release. Not that you can blame me seeing all the dross they were putting out that tied in to Eps 1-3.

    And Freedom Fighters: excellent (and yet another game that’s desperately needing a sequel considering how it ends).

  9. Alistair says:

    Yes, this was pretty good. What your team lacked in reliably taking down the enemy they made up for in good-one liners…. ‘Are you sure we’re from the same vat?’

    AI buddies give about a +3 on the 7-9 scale. Everyone else take note :)

  10. Jachap says:

    The co-op mode on Republic Commando is worth a look, too. Better than Gears of War in that respect, too.

  11. Bart says:

    Incredible, I just had the same idea to ‘backbash’ this game on ‘our’ Dutch gameblog. It’s still one of the first titles that comes to my mind when someone asks me about fun to play Xbox-games.

    Well, no one ever asks of course but I’d gladly recommend this one.

  12. Craig says:

    Kieron, let me know if you get Freedom Fighters working on a modern PC without it running at 70 gajillion FPS. I ebayed it a while back and it was unplayable.

  13. Brett Douville says:

    Hey, thanks for the mention. We were real proud of that game, and Tim Longo is to be congratulated on the design work he put into streamlining the play (and the health mechanic). John Hancock did a splendid job with the squad AI.

  14. Ging says:

    The only soundbite that grated slightly was Scorch’s line about having “leet haxor skillz” – it was humorous, but still jarred slightly in a star wars game!

  15. Gulag says:

    And the wookiees were double cool too.

  16. ildon says:

    I had tried the demo of this game and found controlling the squad simply too frustrating. It’s been so long I can’t remember specifics, but I definitely remember not liking it. Hence, I did not buy the full game.

  17. Shanucore says:

    I’ve been a fan of this game since it came out, and recently replayed the first chapter myself. One strength of a Star Wars game (and for the record, I can’t stand the films) is that they often have real cinematic panache. RC has it in spades.

    I remember the EG review which argued that it was too easy, with resurrection being a request away, plenty of Bacta machines scattered about, etc. Couldn’t agree less – these did allow you to keep going, but some of the firefights in the game were intense. The bit near the end of the second chapter was pretty insane. Deliberately trying to avoid spoilers, so I shan’t enthuse further. But yes, RC is definitely a very accessible, well thought-out, and above all fun squad-based shooter.

  18. Will P says:

    My undoubted favourite line is when you tell a squad member to heal himself, but then decide against it and order him back into the fray – only to be branded a ‘sadist’ by said grumpy commando.

    Ah Scorch – I hardly knew ye…

  19. Will P says:

    Oh, and the music was quite brilliant as well. Still one of the best scores I’ve heard, bar the barking Russian choral music in Freedom Fighters perhaps…

  20. Dan says:

    I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed this – it used to be my lunchtime game on the 42″ plasma in the basement, back in my GAME days. After reading this, I’m going to have to go buy a copy again.

  21. Schadenfreude says:

    Blasted my way through this in under two days; loved it. The windscreen-wiper was a touch of genius.

  22. Alec Meer says:

    Brett – no probs. Thanks in return for making a great game.

  23. Theory says:

    I loved the RC demo but never bought it for some reason. Time to fix that. :-)

  24. Seniath says:

    Hmm yes, I tried the demo and liked it, but somehow never got round to buying it. I frequently see it in “buy two for £10″ offers and the like in Game, but there’s never anything else that catches my eye. I /almost/ picked it up from Woolies of all places a couple of xmas’ ago (they were selling it very cheap) but alas they’d sold out. I shall keep my eyes peeled next time I’m in town.

  25. Theory says:

    You can get it new from Amazon for £7.78, which seemed fair to me.

  26. jungleFish says:

    Hmmmm. Peggles as a unit of filesize. I’m assuming each Peggle is ~ 15MB? And this comes from this game: http://www.popcap.com/games/peggle ? I’ll have to add that to my vocabulary!

  27. Spacegirl says:

    Wow just found this site, seems sweet.

    Oh and yeh Republic Commando is … I would say the Shooter equivalent of Under Siege (Seagal Movie), It’s not A-List stuff but it’s certainly worth a trip. It also has practically NOTHING to do with Star Wars. I say that as…a huge Star Wars fan I’ve read about 20 books, played the D6 Pen & Paper RPG etc…(Disclaimer : I did not like Ep1, 2 and 3…I’m not one of THOSE Star Wars nerds lol..well Ep 3 was ok :P)

    Space, Out!

  28. Paresh says:

    While I do enjoy the Star Wars universe, I do agree that this game is probably one of the better ones out there that lives in that genre. Rarely do we get FPS games that utilize simple squad tactics and then put them in an enjoyable sequence.

    My favorite part has always been the end where *SPOILER* your squad loses a member *SPOILER* and you cannot do anything about it. I was major pissed at that point. That’s when I realized, now that’s a good set piece of both action and writing.

    I so hope for a sequel.

  29. Homunculus says:

    Averting my eyes from the spoilers above….

    Oh, and the music was quite brilliant as well. Still one of the best scores I’ve heard, bar the barking Russian choral music in Freedom Fighters perhaps…

    I’ve just picked this up, only played the first five minutes or so, but this was what struck me the most. The militaristic, percussive take on Duel of the Fates pleasingly reminds me of TIE Fighter’s wonderful midi Imperial March et al rejigs, skewing them all off into Soviet heroic pomp, which perfectly complemented the game’s perspective on the Empire.

    TIE Fighter. There’s a game crying for a sequel with all of the twenty first century’s latest rendering technology to power it. Bonus points for keeping the camp German officer from ‘Allo ‘Allo as your C.O.

  30. Springy says:

    Good write-up. This was a genuinely great little shooter, that might have actually spurned a decent cult following were it not a Star Wars game (and therefore, people reason, not in need of someone to fight in its corner).

    Mind you, it’s only since I bought it for a second time about six months back that I began to appreciate it, rather than just play and forget. It’s slick beyond belief, and all the features feel like they’ve had a lot of time poured into them. Some of the battles are the sort that leave you gasping for breath at the conclusion and the burning desire to exit the program and have a nice lie down somewhere for a little while.

  31. Radiant says:

    If you like squad based shooters on the PC I THOROUGHLY recommend Ghost Recon.
    Not GRAW, not GRAW2 but Ghost Recon 1 on the PC.

    Fully patched up with the add-ons [Desert and Island Thunder] it is perhaps my favorite game of all time and one I still go back to now.

    You just approach every fight with your brain.
    It has these stunning moments where maybe you set up an attack using a full squad on an enemy encampment which you can approach how ever you want based on the geography, there’s no set positions that the game makes you play; a sniper here, an attack screen here, ambush element there.
    The AI is awesome, it never lets you down.
    You let rip and all of a sudden your team is pouring bullets into the camp and one of your dudes fires a 203 grenade launcher into the mess which makes the bad guys run right into your ambush element [made up of 2 guys one with an M60].
    Or you’ll painstakingly [using move and cover tactics] fight your way through a mall in Moscow come out the other end still fighting and realising you’re having a scrap on the steps of the Kremlin with tanks coming across red square.

    It’s an awesome game
    When they dumbed everything down in later GR games it was heartbreaking.
    Where later GR games had you use the other team [singular] as some kind of auto turret; Ghost Recon 1 was the perfect squad shooter.

  32. Seniath says:

    Just finished it, and agree with everything mentioned above. I will say one thing, however. Who the hell thought “I know, lets put an Ash song in over the credits”. The note it ended on, with the (minor spoilers) Republic invasion of Kashyyyk, having the RotS Imperial March theme over the credits would’ve been much, much more fitting. But no, something totally unrelated to the game, or the universe. Not to mention the fact that an ex girlfriend left me with an intense distate for Ash.

  33. Garth says:

    I remember liking the demo, but not enough to run out and get the game.

    Maybe I’ll take a look at it (After I retry the demo ;)

    I’m also going to look for a demo of Freedom Fighters, as I’ve heard good things.

  34. Radiant says:

    Freedom fighters is good fun but it’s console roots really do show and the multiplayer is pants.

  35. Nurdbot says:

    I heavily agree, Republic Commando is one my personal favourite Star Wars games of the 2nd Generation LA has pumped out next to KOTOR, JKA and pre-NGE SWG.

    It certainly is worth getting, the primitive almost there Ragdoll Physics, The Chatter between your Squad Mates and the pleasure of finally mastering the really hard bit of the game (Escaping the shop about the go boom). Nothing is more manly that Pistol Whipping 8 Robots in a row in 4 seconds.

    An awesome SW game. Best thing about the game? The non presence of any generic Jedi.

  36. Carra says:

    Wee, playing through it again. Still as great as I remember. Clickie, go set that charge. Clickie, go snipe. Why has noone made another squad based shooter which is so intuitive as this one?

    Sure, I also enjoyed Freedom Fighters. That game was best with around three squad mates. At that point, I did about half of all the damage and my squad mates did the rest. With eleven running around, it didn’t matter much what you did yourself. They should have limited their squad to around four guys, just like Republic Commando.

  37. Fluorite Beads says:

    First love is only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity.Garnet Beads

  38. Huggster says:

    Dead thread is a curiosity and foolish. Loving first the willy directs us. Great prices and sponsors. Many people will read this.

  39. phenom_x8 says:

    Star Wars RepCom is the best FPS I’ve ever played. My first team based FPS played I supposed (sorry i’m new on PC gaming in 2005, I didnt even know about SWAT,R6 or another PC team based FPS). The feel and the atmosphere tottally unforgettable for me!