Re-Retro: Republic Commando

By Alec Meer on May 24th, 2010 at 10:11 am.

Combing my hard drive for dusty manuscripts to rehome on RPS, I stumbled happily across this revisit to Star Wars: Republic Commando, originally written for PC Gamer. Admittedly I’ve already given RepCom a little retro cuddle on RPS, but as Lucasart’s Star Wars shooter is now available on Steam it’s well worth restating its surprising marvellousness…

I’m still waiting for Imperial Commando. It was never promised, never so much as rumoured, but it always seemed the logical next step for Lucasarts’ surprisingly vigorous Star Wars squad-shooter to take. A sequel to this avowedly heroic FPS in which you play a Storm Trooper hunting down Rebel enclaves, brutally razing Jawa settlements or setting fire to Aunt Beru? That’s dream gaming – and a precedent laid down by, years previous, their following up saintly X-Wing with devilish TIE Fighter. Republic Commando seemed to be the way back to great things for this so-long unreliable developer – if you will, a new hope.

Unsequelled it may be, but it coolly retains a far-sightedness and a slickness that in some respects puts GRAWs and Rainbow Sixes and Flashpoint 2s and the like to shame. It makes controlling an AI squad easy, fluid and rewarding, and yet it seems so alone in it. Even nearly half a decade on, other squad games flail around with banks of hotkeys, jittery radial menus and the kind of pathfinding that’d earn a lifetime ban from the Ramblers Association.

It’s all in the F key – one little button that totally transforms RepCom from linear sci-fi trudging to an icy-cool military operation. F! You, snipe from there. F! You, lob grenades from here. F! Er, go help up that last guy who just got splatted because I sent him somewhere stupid. F! Everyone, kill that big, ‘orrible robot-tank-thing. F! F! F! Just one button, but it makes me feel like a soldier than anything else I’ve ever played. And it’s all within a still-slick HUD, location, ammo and health overlays on your character’s claustrophobically yet comfortingly fishbowl visor. Nothing new now, but just one of many ways in which RepCom was ahead of its time – and yet was forgotten.

Sounds like the kind of thing that’d make ARMA fans leave this dumbed-down globe behind and colonise a hardcore planet of their own, but the truth is that RepCom’s a remarkably effective shortcut to achieving military gaming precision. All the reward, none of the elbow grease. This doesn’t make it stupid – because this is a game about flow. It’s about walking into a new area, instantly assessing the situation, then rapidly giving a series of orders that are followed to the minimalist letter.

From your end of the affair, it’s simply a context-based button-push, but in the game’s world, your three clone-brother commandos know you so well, and think so alike, that the brief handsignal you give in response to looking at a bit of wall and pressing F is all the information they need. This is, for all the grit, pace and total lack of mythical/religious mumbo-jumbo, Star Wars, and all the ad-hoc derring-do that entails. Puzzling over hot keys or agonising at length over whether sniping or grenading would be best really wouldn’t be Star Wars. There is no try, only do. F!

RepCom isn’t a truly great first-person shooter, and it never was – too much corridor-pounding, some frustrating setpiece/boss fights, limited visual and locational variety, and creative hands noticeably tied as a result of being promotion for the stodgy, fan-service nonsense that was Episode III. But it was and is unfairly overlooked, because it’s a triumph of mechanics. In the same way Batman: Arkham Asylum masks a simple game with limited choice with super-slick, super-rewarding controls, you don’t notice that that RepCom is just a string of arenas and corridors full of convenient small walls. You just see what you have to do, and you feel good for doing it. You learn the weapon and grenade combinations necessary to take down bigger enemies, and /you just do it/. F! F! F!

And, at all times, the delicate balancing act – the path of maximum destruction or maximum protection. Whether you’re more or less likely to survive if you try to revive a downed squadmate. Whether your chums’ covering fire will keep you alive while you rig explosives or hack or a door, or if you should rely on your own reticule-based prowess while they do the chores. There’s never a perfectly right answer – the odds are artfully always stacked just a little against you – but there are plenty of wrong ones.

Death comes often in RepCom – but it isn’t the end. So long as at least one of your squadmates remains on his feet, the game continues. And you get to watch the fight unfold through blurry, blood-splattered retina, squinting to see whether your men are winning the day. If they’re struggling, you could take a risk. You can order them to come revive you. With you and your superior skills back in the game, the tables might turn. Or your helper might be gunned down as he injects your near-corpse with healing bacta. Is it worth the risk? And are you doing it because you honestly think they need your help, or just because you’re bored? Doing the right thing in death isn’t something that RepCom ever makes easy, and it’s a brutally, thrillingly effective twist to this day.

Key to surviving, always, is to think about your men as well as yourself. They need to live so that you can live – and they seem to feel the same way.Yours is a Squad that does what you tell them. Yours is a squad you can trust. And that latter is really saying something – you never seen any of your three compatriots’ faces, but you know them. They’re people. They’re your brothers. They’re not going to get stuck on a bit of wall or decide they like it over there better. They’ll do whatever you tell them to – because they trust you. This is profoundly rare – AI chums are usually unreliable, characterless callsigns or overwritten, over-scripted scene-stealers.

Seriously – give me RepCom’s Delta Squad over Alyx any day, and certainly over that /other/ Delta Squad – Gears of War’s preening, leering ogres. They’re all from the Aliens school of character design – thinly-sketched to the point of stereotype, but given enough bombast and enough distance between you and them that a raft of intangible, indescribable subtleties somehow sprout and blossom from them.

Perhaps officious Fixer and jocular Scorcher don’t leave an indelible impression, even if they’re comforting presences, but Sev’s the surprising standout. He’s a gruff, near-silent hardnut, a pastiche of military grit – but when he forgets to press an elevator button because he’s too busy doing a hardman pose straight to camera, suddenly he’s human.

A little hint of fourth-wall breaking and sharp dose of comic humility, and suddenly he’s someone you want in your gang, rather than someone who you’re stuck with because the game says so. There’s an unresolved cliffhanger involving him at the game’s close, a clarion call for a sequel that never came – and to this day I hunger for closure. Sev! Whatever happened to you? It’s a terrible cruelty. Oh, for Imperial Commando.

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62 Comments »

  1. Ashen says:

    I always find the praise towards this game very puzzling.

    I tried playing this back when it was released and found the mechanics clunky, unresponsive and generally horrible, which was typical for a console shooters back then.

    Also, this being set during the prequels was a final nail in the coffin.

  2. Langman says:

    It’s a solid game, with a nice squad-based interface but it’s no classic. It quickly becomes repetitive, with nearly every battle having the same setup: enter hangar, bacta/ammo by the doorway, a convenient turret for you to mount and droid pods at the other end of the hangar, rinse, repeat.

    Still, it’s reasonably good fun for what it is.

    • Springy says:

      Sounds like you’re referring to a very specific section of the game (the part where you fight off waves of Battle Droids in the hangars of the abandoned battleship you explore). It did go on a few hangars too long, but the entire game varied its set-pieces more than that.

    • Bret says:

      What can I say? Wookies love their hangers.

    • Langman says:

      Not really, the game had countless predictable battles littered throughout. I actually found it quite limited in what it had to offer. Rarely was there any real choice beyond what the designers wanted you to do in each encounter.

      Like I say, it was fun enough to play but tbh I was starting to get a little bored even halfway through the game.

  3. Spiny says:

    I really enjoyed this game, much underrated IMO. But then, I did always want to serve the empire. It never occurred to me that there might be an imperial commando…That Beru bitch would get it, oh yeah…

    Have google for “Troopers” to find out what really happened at the farm. It’s definitely an L and indeed OL.

    ;)

  4. Magic H8 Ball says:

    I loved the idea of the game – instead of being one-man-army you had the entire squad at your command which is always so much easier to swallow, and the “smart button” worked surprisingly well.

    Too bad everything else varied between “meh” and “bad”. I would also like to see more variety between the squad members – they were all identical except for models and voices.

  5. theSeekerr says:

    Yeah, it was pretty good at making you feel cool, but the actual shooty bits weren’t so great – mouse controls felt imprecise and the weapons lacked feel.

    Oh, and the droid-pod fights were lame.

    Still, I only paid a fiver for it a year or two back, so it paid for itself.

    • Vague-rant says:

      The weapons were definitely lacking something. It seemed like using a water pistol rather than a gun that could actually do damage. To be fair though the game did back this up by having the main gun be fairly useless.

      I did like the use of the visor of the commando though. It was cool to get splattered in viscera then have it be wiped away, and also made sense of the GUI for all of your fellow troopers.

  6. Senethro says:

    Have to say that I had a lot of fun with this. Lasted me about 9 hours and was simple, entertaining and didn’t outstay its welcome. A good buy from this years Christmas sale.

  7. mats effect says:

    So hoping they will announce a new one some time. Just love the game and the books.

  8. Senethro says:

    Aha, a lover of menus and messy hotkeys that let you do not quite what you want. Perhaps we should call those games Operational FPS as you can’t get to the tactical level if you’re too busy playing Quick Time Events to stop your squad standing about like idiots.

  9. GameOverMan says:

    “…you never seen any of your three compatriots’ faces…”. Well, you see them every time you look in a mirror :P

  10. blah says:

    If only it was Imperial commandos instead…

    • Sarlix says:

      Good gravy man, is that a lobster your wielding?

      I’m somewhat of a Gravatarologist and I can safely say I’ve seen a lobster genus until now.

      Good show.

  11. Corbeau says:

    Republic Commander is the best corridor-shooter that I’ve ever played. Fantastic pacing, perfect difficulty curve, and incredible flowing play due to the squad mechanics. It’s a study in the fantasy of perfect military efficiency. It’s just so incredibly good at being a corridor-shooter that it transcends my usual deep distaste for the genre. I’d even say that it’s tied with Shadow of Chernobyl as my favorite single-player FPS of all time – I value Republic Commando’s crisp focus on flow as much as I value Shadow of Chernobyl’s incredible atmosphere.

    In fact, if Republic Commando had multiplayer coop and some level randomization features, it’d outshine Left 4 Dead (2) as my favorite multiplayer shooter. But alas, that was never to be…

  12. Hazza says:

    RepCom has to be one of my all time favorite first person shooters. Something about it just clicked with me, its just so much fun! And your squadmates banter just enough to break the ice when nessecary, and having your squad there 99% of the time makes the other 1% where youre on your own truly terrifying imo. A fantastic game, id have to give it 9/10 at the time.

  13. gulag says:

    The only other game I’ve played recently that does one button squad command right is Bad Company 2. No no, not the single player portion. Those goons are too busy cracking wise to pay you any attention. It’s multi-player where that one button solution shines.

    ‘Q’ does everything. Spot enemies, signal which objective to attack and defend, spot tanks and choppers. Where it really shines is it’s function to call directly on other team mates to lend a hand with ammo, repair or a med pack. So satisfying when they comply, and an indicator of who has your back when the don’t. Collapsing all of the confusing options this mechanic splashed across your screen in the BF2 days to a simple context sensitive press of a key is a genius move. DICE made a confident design decision that made squad command/membership an easy and fluid part of the gameplay.

  14. Nihilille says:

    Did you have to mention tie fighter, now I’m sad :( Best game ever, and I doubt they’ll make a new one any time soon.

  15. Henry Turner says:

    Freedom Fighters is still the most fun I ever had with a squad based game, I have been looking for something similar (or even a sequel) for so long that I gave it another go a while back but couldn’t get past the 2003 graphics (so sue me, I’m a whore).

  16. Bhazor says:

    That was my biggest complaint too. Only being able to tell your guy to snipe in a few predefined places, not being able to assign fire zones or split the team really turned the whole thing into a corridor man shoot where you occasionally click on a wall to tell a guy to snipe.

    When I played it all I could think was “Wish I was playing Brothers in Arms”. I thought the game itself was alright on it’s own but when compared to Brothers in Arms, Full Spectrum Warrior or SWAT it was sorely lacking.

  17. tigershuffle says:

    I think this game was fantastic for its day……and it still gets played regularly by my 7yr old on my old Xbox1.
    He loves it!! The squad hot keys do lend themselves more to a controller but its okay on PC once you get used to it.
    Also there is a mod (which I cant remember the name of at the mo’) that expanded the original on PC

    KOTOR and Republic Commando where back when the Star Wars games had a good feelin about em
    I think Gears of War took some of the concepts and improved on it.

  18. Rick says:

    Still remains the best modern Star Wars game other than JK2. Of course, the X-Wing series and more specifically TIE Fighter stands aloof ultimately, but this was probably the last decent Star Wars game before the truely mediocre titles we’ve had in recent years. Entertaining, faced-paced, good mechanics if not overall brillaint gameplay, good writing. Not to mention the feeling: a heck of a lot darker, more militaristic than any other Star Wars media. There’s no grand yellow scrolling text with John Williams, but a secretive, dangerous original soundtrack compelling a similar atmosphere.

    It was just too short. And unsequelled.

    • Dain says:

      Yeah, why on earth didn’t the actual films look as good as this? (Design wise) They actually made those incompetent droids fairly menacing, especially the super battle droids. Meeting one of those was sgenerally a challenge. Then what did they do in the film? Give them amusing high pitched voices. Oh, hohoho.

      I think the intro deserves a mention as well, starting off as a baby in a tube all the way through to boarding the transport to WAR, with the excelent chanting soundtrack all the way through. Then being dropped in a gunship out of the bottom of a ship. This looked like a universe which actually worked. Better than the actual films we got.

  19. Rich says:

    It isn’t my favourite FPS. It is the best Star Wars action/FPS game though. Maybe even the best Star Wars game of any genre.

  20. Sunjammer says:

    One of my favorite FPSes, and the best Star Wars action game since Tie Fighter.
    Great tone, great writing, great acting, solid gameplay. Thank you for reminding me to give it another spin, even if that does involve the initial trudge of Geonosis.

    Sev must rise again.

  21. Sunjammer says:

    Man I just can’t let the tone go. It is a bleak, dreary, brutal Star Wars they’re showing off, with, thank god, not a light saber or jedi in sight. This is guns and ammo, Star Wars edition. Just war war war. You’ve got laser windscreen wipers for whatever blood or innards might hit your visor; Take that Metroid Prime. RepCom made me actually care about stuff from the prequels. I never thought that would be remotely possible.

    • Dain says:

      Except the one you find in the air ducts “An elegant weapon for a more civilised age? Well guess what, times have changed!”

    • Matt says:

      The Jedi Knight games were always pretty dreary until you got your lightsaber and Force powers, so I remember being wary of how good a purely blaster-based Star Wars FPS could be. Luckily, they proved you can make a decent Star Wars game without Jedi in it. It stood on its own merits.

      Plus Ash did “Clones” for the soundtrack, as I recall; probably the first time a non-classical soundtrack has appeared in a Star Wars product.

  22. Brian says:

    A fun game indeed, but one nitpicky detail always rubbed me the wrong way… if your squad is all clones then why do they have such distinct, individual personalities?

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Because you’re the special clones, who make up the ARC Troopers (the Republican clone army’s special forces, hence Republic Commando). Those are allowed to develop personalities because it suits their job. Ditto for officers and soldiers who are designated to liaise with personnel outside the army.

      That said, even the line troops have some personality. They’re biologically identical and raised in similar conditions but that doesn’t mean their personalities are all going to be identical.

      All this info is in the Clone Wars animated series (not the crappy CGI one, the awesome, Genndy-Tartakovsky-made cartoon one that aired on Cartoon Network between the releases of AotC and RotS), which you should really watch if you enjoy Star Wars because it’s pretty awesome.

    • DarkNoghri says:

      I need to go back and watch those cartoons again.

      A touch nitpicky, but the ARCs are actually different from the Republic Commandos. And the Null ARCs are different from the ARCs. The ARCs were even more alpha-dog than the Commandos, supposedly, and were trained by Jango Fett himself.

      At least according to the accompanying books, of which I enjoyed several.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, the books (by Karen Traviss – excellent reading, if you’re so inclined) make it very clear that there are several classes of clone. The regular grunts are raised to be largely interchangeable, but the squad commandoes (I forget their exact designation) operate in groups of four, raised and trained together for maximum synchronization and wordless teamwork. Because they have to operate well away from the chain of command, they’ve necessarily been trained for more operational flexibility and individuality. The ARCs are Advance Recon Commandos: solo operators, the elite of the elite, and yes, they’ve got even more individuality because they’re doing things completely on their own.

      The books are about a squad of Republic Commandos that have been put together from lone survivors of other squads, which makes them very unusual among commando squads in that they have not all known each other from the very beginning. (Delta Squad, seen in the game, also becomes important to the plot.)

  23. Radiant says:

    But there was only ever one correct way to place your men in every encounter.
    and that F key [or the button I pressed in the identical xbox version] wasn’t so much context sensitive as it was a “stand over there” button.

    The tone and writing were great it was just that “stand over there to defeat enemies” got a bit repetitive.

  24. Vadermath says:

    The fact that it was set in the prequel era didn’t really bother me that much. Really, while the films were awful (cheesy romance between every fighting scene? Fuck you, Lucas!), I find the era itself extraordinary, and many Expanded Universe comics and books presented those times in a more SW manner than George Lucas ever managed to in the prequels.

  25. Alexander Norris says:

    Bought and played it after the last RPS retro treatment of this, and I found it pretty mediocre. It didn’t compare very well to Jedi Knight or Jedi Outcast (the yardstick when talking about Star Wars FPSes, I’ll have you know) in terms of weapons, level design or even just fun.

    On the other hand: HELMET HUD! Something which more games need to have.

  26. sasayan says:

    I remember when this came out. I started it up after class one afternoon and didn’t stop until I was done with the whole game. There was something about your squad mates that clicked and made me want to see what happened to them next.

  27. bleeters says:

    “Yeah! Wookiee life-debts for everyone!”

    “Cancel that bacta, Commando”
    “Sadist”

    My favourite memory of Republic Commado remains the various banter between squad members. Any shooter that’s successfully elevated your fellow shooty-bang-pow types above ‘bullet sponge’ is doing something right in my book.

    It’s a shame the weapons weren’t more meaty or interesting to use. None of them really carried any weight, and I always ran short of ammunition, ending up using the crap-but-with-infinite-rounds sidearm. Boo, hiss.

    • Rick says:

      “Dammit! I can’t believe it!”
      “What’s wrong Sev?”
      “I’ve lost count of my kills!”

      “Once you’re inside, proceed with disabling maneuvers.”
      “Disabling maneuvers?”
      “Uh… blowing things up?
      “I knew that”

      “Cancel that maneuver Delta!”
      “Sir, are you trying to baffle the enemy into submission?”

      “That’s what I’m talking about. It’s a power generator… in the middle of a tree. Strange.”
      “If we get out of this, I’m going to make sure you get some R & R”

      So much good banter.

    • bleeters says:

      “You hear that, Sev? Someone thinks *I’m* excellent”
      “Well, at least that makes two of you”

      Good times.

  28. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    I really enjoyed (and still enjoy, every once in a while) RepCom. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, though some of the parts by themselves are quite good while others are definitely mediocre. I only ever really got stuck on the Wookie bridge with the two droid spawn things on the end. Felt pretty good to beat that.

  29. Fumarole says:

    Republic Commando is definitely in my top three Star Wars games, after TIE Fighter and Knights of the Old Republic. Imperial Commando with co-op would be very welcome.

  30. internisus says:

    If memory serves, I actually bought this on Steam as a result of the previous RPS coverage; and, yes, I did enjoy it greatly. So thank you for that!

  31. LionsPhil says:

    Steam have grabbed it? Damn. I was hoping GoG would get to it, as IIRC the original release was crippled with some obnoxious form of DRM or other.

    The demo, however, was impressive with its use of contextual “F!”, yes. An order system you can acutally use in the heat of battle.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Oh, hello past me. I’m from the future. They eventually patch out the third-party DRM. You’re going to buy it in a sale and love it to bits.

  32. Mr_Bacco says:

    ^ this.

  33. Corbeau says:

    Also, y’know why Republic Commando works as a story when the prequel movies fall flat? Because Republic Commando doesn’t get enamored with itself and it’s fantastical setting – it just tells a classic story (in this case, the “elite squad” military narrative) in a fantastical setting. Just like the original Star Wars trilogy, and utterly unlike the prequel trilogy (which got caught up in existing for its own sake, not for the sake of any classic narrative).

    Basically, the writers and developers of Republic Commando knew what Star Wars really was, far better than George Lucas did.

  34. Grey_Ghost says:

    Definitely one of my favorite games. I sure hope there will be a sequel sometime soon. I’ve replayed this game to death. Only issue I have with it nowadays is widescreen support.

  35. Axiin says:

    @gulag

    You mean when it ACTUALLY works!
    Because I absolutely love it when I have my cross hairs over something, jam the Q key and nothing happens. It’s a VERY rewarding system.

  36. Collic says:

    Great game, this one. It doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough. I still re-install and play it on occasion.

  37. Spacegirl says:

    This is a solid, semi-forgotten game. I played back in the day on the xbox and really enjoyed it. I guess every1 thought it would be a terrible tie-in game and passed it by…

    If you like pretty sweet shooters with a touch of squadery and / or like star wars stuff, this is easily worth a play.

  38. Jerod Jarvis says:

    Oh Republic Commando…this was a great game. Admittedly not the best shooter…or the best anything really. But it was pure joy to this Star Wars fan surrounded by prequel pap. I ache now only a little less than I ache now for an Imperial Commando.

    It did get several things right in terms of game design, but most of all it was just fun. Good memories.

    Great article.

  39. GurrrrDurrrr says:

    Doesn’t work with my 4870 with bump mapping *grumble grumble*

  40. Cradok says:

    I had a brief spark of hope for a sequel when I saw Boss’ helmet up there, damn you!

    I think I’ve played this game more times than any other I’ve played, although some WoW holds the record for actual hours played. I love the squad, I love the simplicity of placing them – although it’s not quite as simple as one key, F1-F4 tells them to do stuff too – and I hate LucasArts for never making a sequel.

    We don’t even get to find out about Sev in the books, because that’s being reserved ‘just in case’ there’s ever a sequel.

  41. tigershuffle says:

    this is the mod i vaguely remembered…..
    http://www.sandcrawler.net/ ……….*sigh*

    not sure if it ever got working

    but this does look promising :)

    http://www.moddb.com/games/star-wars-republic-commando/downloads/repubic-commando-arc-trooper-mod-beta

  42. oceanclub says:

    I may re-install this to finally finish it. There’s some widescreen and FOV fixes for it out there:

    http://www.widescreengamingforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=630
    http://www.widescreengamingforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1090

    Does the aforementioned Sandcrawler mod improve the graphics much?

    P.

  43. rajbaj says:

    You probably played it on a console, which is the sole problem with your opinion.

  44. dude says:

    Great game! Probably the best squad control and squad AI i ever saw (Bioware clearly didn’t played this game). Entertaining and well designed, but short.

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