Republic Commando is a middling shooter with novel team-based gameplay, but its use and reverence for the Star Wars license pushes it over the edge into a game worth playing.
In 2005, LucasArts developed and published a squad-based first-person shooter with Unreal Engine 2 to bring a “dark and gritty” experience to the Star Wars universe. Star Wars: Republic Commando provides a grungier, less rose-tinted, perspective on some of the locales, characters, and even some scenes from the Star Wars movies over its tenish hour campaign. It has scenarios that have wonderful pacing and mechanical options, but other parts of the game consistently drag and wear on the player with repetition and inexplicable difficulty spikes.
The story is entertaining enough, and never offensively bad. You take the role of RC-1138, or how he is often addressed, “Three Eight,” a commander of Delta Squad, clones of Jango Fett that have had additional training to be set a cut above most of the Republic’s clone army. Your squad consists of the same three Commandos, Sev, Scorch, and Fixer, each with their own numerical assignment as well. The game starts with the squad chasing a Separatist VIP on Geonosis to perform a tactical assassination, all concurrent with the events at the end of Episode II. The story takes Delta Squad to two other environments, a Republic cruiser, and the Wookie planet Kashyyyk, as they uncover and foil an almost interesting conspiracy between the Separatists and Trandoshan slavers. The events of the game do not try to surprise or make a fan out of you, but it does an adequate job providing context for your current location and why you’re shooting the droids and aliens in front of you. The other three squad mates keep the game feeling alive with their chatter which ranges from outright annoying to enjoyable schlock. The game presents Delta Squad members in unique enough ways that despite being clones of each other, all four characters feel like they have an appropriate place on the team and in the plot.
Interacting with Delta Squad is also the most unique and interesting mechanic in Republic Commando. LucasArts try to augment standard run-n-gun FPS gameplay with some squad-based mechanics. While not as complicated as a Tom Clancy or SOCOM game, it provides some satisfying interaction in the game that goes beyond shooting Star Wars bad guys. As 38, you can issue general commands to your whole squad like, offensive mode, or group up; however, it is the discrete nodes placed throughout each level that allow you to command your squad members to do context sensitive actions. There is cover where you can tell a squad member to snipe, objectives they might have to slice (Star Wars (lingo) for hacking) or demolish, and quite a few others. The levels open up to large arena-like areas that have many points of interaction where you can tell the squad to provide cover while you take care of the objective, but more satisfying, telling a squad mate to take care of the objective while protecting them. Defending one squad member as he completed the objective while covering him and ordering the others to do the same in a variety of ways in different places, having to adjust for the different enemy type that materialized felt more strategic and exhilarating than what many modern shooters offer today.
These high peaks of shooter combat come with some equally inane troughs. Between the exciting arena parts of a level (of which there are one or two a level), is a series of hallways that offer little variation. Corridors always look like the one you came from and you can swear more often than not, that you have seen a similar enemy formation. These hall crawls are a slog, but it was the promise of new arenas with new objectives and challenges that kept me motivated to run and stab my way through the trenches of the game.
Eventually, these lows take more away from the game then the good parts can provide. Republic Commando has a good number of enemy variants that require chaining weapons and tactics to conquer. Delta Squad has surprisingly robust AI, considering the game is almost ten years old and there are three AI companions consistently present for most of the game. That is not to say there were no hang ups in Delta Squad’s performance, it was just so rare, it was hardly worth noting (it only happened once or twice in my playthrough); however, that was not the case for enemy AI. Many of the enemy types have the strategy of running at the player as fast as possible. They might run differently or have different weapons, but the behavior was too similar to draw enough delineation between foes. Eventually you will discover ideal tactics to take down tougher enemies who rely on excess health and damage to be difficult. The lack of variety in enemy behavior sucks the excitement out of a lot of the encounters about two-thirds the way through the game. In order to make up for a lack of variety the game by just throwing more at you. Pair sudden increases of enemies with fickle ammo placement, and the game suffered through sudden and drastic difficulty spikes. The repetitive fights and impossible to predict difficulty end up making the game feel like it peters out toward the end.
Pacing is such a key strength of the Star Wars movies, it is a shame the climax of Republic Commando feels so lackluster compared to the parts of the game that came before it. Luckily, Republic Commando leverages many other parts of the Star Wars license well. The iconic sound design of the galaxy far, far away are sometimes integrated so well into Republic Commando it feels like the sound effects were made for the game. What provides the most evidence to the contrary is when you are presented with any sound that was actually specifically made for the game. Most of the weapons and the original music feel awkwardly out of place when they are played right along side some of the most notable sounds in film or games. It is like if a high schooler who draws bitchin’ monsters in his notes added on to Ralph McQuarrie’s original drawings for Star Wars (they’re seriously beautiful). Republic Commando stands so strong when it allows the player to interact with Star Wars, but falls flat when the game tries to add its own mark.
Republic Commando successfully adds its own voice into Star Wars through its art direction. The game is told through the perspective of the “little people,” not the larger than life mythical characters of the movies. The visual design of the game reflects the perspective of someone fighting a war in this universe that hasn’t been given super powers by a mystical force. To characters who have to have blood and other gunk wiped off their helmets, the galaxy as not as pleasant as it is to the warrior-sage jedi. Geonotians look large and fearsome, and friendly Wookies are designed to be intimidating and daunting. It is not how one is used to looking at Star Wars but it still feels like it is part of the same cohesive whole.
Star Wars: Republic Commando came out shortly after Halo 2 and Half-Life 2, which probably cast a large enough shadow that it couldn’t be appreciated. Republic Commando struggles where its competitors shined, but it has enough novelty to it that it can provide you with an experience that stands above its contemporaries at times. It is not perfect, it may not even be good, but the team at LucasArts took the strengths their game had and used the Star Wars license to create a worthwhile experience.