May 4, 2014 by Devin
Considering that it’s May the 4th, I decided to revisit Star Wars: Republic Commando. I remember playing this game as a kid and really enjoying it, and so when I found it on Steam for $4 (thanks Steam sales!), I decided I wanted to see how it held up.
In short, it is still one of the most unique perspectives on the Star Wars universe even if it’s more notable for its potential rather than its execution.
The pitch of Republic Commando, for those that don’t know, is that the game is a first-person squad-based shooter that follows an elite group of clone troopers during the events of the prequel trilogy. Though they are highly trained, these are still the other guys of the Star Wars universe. There are no Jedi or force powers. None of the major characters from the movies even show up. The closest connection it has with the movies is in the first campaign, which takes place during the assault on Geonosis (but is on a completely different front than the movie).
This allows the game to explore some really interesting sides to the Star Wars universe. The way the game plays never feels like an epic battle akin to the scenes in Attack of the Clones. Instead, it feels remarkably personal and strategic. You lead a squad of three other clones, and though battles do get quite epic, it is ultimately about your small group verses a much larger and overwhelming force.
While the presentation is excellent, the game has difficulty keeping the gameplay as engaging as the premise. Managing your squad is key to success in the game, and to do so, you have four basic commands plus a myriad of contextual commands. So while at any time you can tell your squad to form up or hold an area, the game will often give you perches that you can order someone to snipe or lay down explosives, which is critical to controlling an area. Executing these commands feels incredibly slick and really makes you feel like an elite commando. Seeing your squad breach a door and toss a grenade through like a well-oiled machine or cover an area with expertly-aimed sniper shots feels awesome.
Unfortunately, this system is not as deep as it first seems. Because the designers limited the player’s positioning to pre-determined cover, battles frequently feel less like you are creating a strategy and more like you are simply following the strategy the designers gave you, making the game feel very linear especially for a squad-based game. Many of the encounters also feel simply like corridor crawls, and though the game has a lot of interesting enemies, it relies too frequently on Super Battle Droids, who are boring to fight and have a ton of health. Furthermore, when you do die in battle, it is often not abundantly clear why and what you could have done differently, leading to frustration.
Still, this game creates such a wonderful atmosphere and spins such an interesting tale that it is still worth a playthrough, despite its repetitive nature. This game is a strong example of how important context is to gameplay. Had this been a generic FPS in a boring universe, it probably would have been quickly forgotten, but this game absolutely nails the feeling of being an elite soldier in the Star Wars universe, and that experience is worth the price of admission.
1. It is worth noting that, by default, the squad in this game is much more aggressive than in other squad-based games, even going so far as exploring areas you have not gotten to yet. It is nice that they are proactive about attacking enemies and clearing rooms, though this approach does lead to their deaths a bit too often.
2. These guys are incredibly frightening at first because they are so tough, and they force you to use tactics you might not have considered otherwise, but whenever the game decides to throw more than two or three at you, they just get annoying.