Review: Star Wars: Republic Commando (XB, PC)

Star Wars: Republic Commando
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: 2/25/2005

Well, if you look at Dictionary.com’s 2nd definition of ‘synergism,’ you might almost think that LucasArts tried to do:

“The doctrine that individual salvation is achieved through a combination of human will and divine grace.”

Taking one part ‘human will’ and one part ‘divine grace,’ the internal development heads at LucasArts must have attempted to follow the definition of synergism to a T. So what happens when you take a publisher whose last great game was made for 486DX machines, and couple it with a synthetic franchise that survives in basements throughout the western world via DVD and Al Gore’s internet? Why, you get a Star Wars game! So, in this case, how was this particular instance of individual salvation achieved? The formula, for better or worse, is “LucasArts + Star Wars = Individual Salvation.” And by some simple metaphorical algebra, we are today led to believe that Star Wars: Republic Commando is akin to individual salvation. That’s right, kids. LucasArts says be gone with the Bar mitzvahs and Confirmations, and don’t try any Ghandi like behavior. George Lucas and his wondering band of Ewok Computer Science majors hit the apex. Now go home.

But aside from the technical stuff, LucasArts has brought this game into the limelight with latent promises that the gaming world would otherwise scoff at. “A good Star Wars game that isn’t TIE Fighter?” Yeah- I know it’s a lot to take on faith, but when playing Republic Commando, you really walk away with a sense that they gave it their all in making an enjoyable game. However, being the quasi-skeptic that you are, you start thinking of other Star Wars games that have come from the franchise. Games like Super Bombad Racing and Bounty Hunter. Or what about the fighting game Masters of the Teras Kasi. And then you begin, perhaps either by tangent or because of moral justification, of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Yeah- much like Western-style democracy in the Middle East, the overall quality of extensions outside the Star Wars movies is spotty at best.

However, both Turkey and Israel are in the Middle East too, and they function in a democratic fashion. Likewise, Knights of the Old Republic actually worked damn well in creating a story towards the genesis of the Star Wars ethos. And Star Wars: Battlefront, which reminded devotees of the Jedi cult can function in concert with one and other in an effort to elicit a kind of joy you can only find in Civil War re-enactments in the south with re-written endings. You’re curiosity is peaked, eh?

So, if you’re feeling so inclined, let’s take an in-depth look at Lucas’s Star Wars: Republic Commando.


1. Story:

Set during the opening days of the Clone Wars, in between the battle on Geonosis between the new Republic Clone army and the Separatist factions and (presumably) the events that begin Episode 3 on Kashyyyk (the Wookie homeworld), Star Wars: Republic Commando puts you in charge of a squad of Delta Squad: a cadre of 4 elite Clone Commandos that go from locale to locale shoring up the requisite dirty work that commandos do. You assume the role of Delta 038, voiced in-house by Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett), who leads the squad through missions ranging from assassinations and pacification to full-scale “blow it up now” types of operations. In your squad, there are three additional ‘Deltas’ that exhibit relatively unique personality traits, as well as special skill that diffuse utility across the squad, which in the end attempts to make for a more well-rounded game experience. You and your team of Deltas will make their way through the rocky terrain of Geonosis, a seemingly derelict Republic space cruiser, and through the lush and green Kashyyyk completing various objectives for the Republic in order to keep the Separatist factions at bay.

There is one inescapable problem, however, that works against any originality that the story could have preserved: while the story of an elite squad of Clone Troopers might appear unique in and of itself, any instance of finite uniqueness takes a back seat to the inescapable fact that it is happening in the broad, ever-resonating and commercially omniscient Star Wars universe. It’s the same narrative that we’re used to, with the only real difference is that it’s coming from a different perspective. Sad to say, but especially when dealing with the Star Wars universe, there is only so much that can come across as fresh and new. And despite the fact that the player is given the very short story of 4 commandos in the thick of the Clone Wars, it is just that: a very short story. The characters presented to the player in Republic Commando, no matter how animated and ironically emotional they are as clones, are but a footnote in Lucas’s universe, and thus may not live in the narrative beyond the game. For some, the presentation may be enough. But others might walk away from this game wanting a little bit more.

When trying to present a game within an established universe such as Star Wars’, the story is bound by an almost too-linear progression. From that too-linear progression, innovation and creativity begin to choke. When it gets to a certain point, there are only so many angles from which to view the progression from. And while Republic Commando tries valiantly to distance itself from the established narrative, whatever freshness the perspective of it’s 4 heroes provided quickly takes a back seat to the overall narrative.

Story Rating: 5/10.


2. Graphics:

If there’s a reason you’ll only find this game on the X-Box and PC, and the graphics are it. While the game may lack soul in the story department, Republic Commando will no doubt win more beauty contests than a Wookie at a Furry convention. The internal team at LucasArts has really got to be commended on their efforts, as this is one of the better looking X-Box games to hit the system, and from the onset, it’s easy to see why.

The character models are probably the best ever seen in any Star Wars game to date. All 13 fans of Episode II, and the rest of you, will jump at the level of detail of the character models and their presentation. The menial Battle Droid is recreated in all of it’s stick-figure simplicity and Honda-grade construction, if not for the different color and shading in going from a healthy brown to a rustic silver. It is completely dwarfed in comparison to the Super Battle Droid, whose every movement and contour have been mimicked to perfection from the movies. Droidekas roll in with ease, and their shields actually pulse in real-time when fired upon. The Clone Commandos themselves take a certain darker que from the Halo series, which suits the purported darker mood of the game. Wookies are no longer lanky and disjointed, but rather tall and fearsome, standing at least two times the height of the Clone Commando models. The organic presentation of the Genonosians and Tandosians, while jerky, still look rather good alongside their metallic Separatist counterparts.

The environments are also noteworthy, as the three locales of the game are recreated only as only obsessive LucasArts heads can. Geonosis retains it’s barren dirt exterior as well as it’s cold and rustic droid-factory interior, as Kashyyyk really does look like it would make a good home for stray dogs and other hairy faunae alike.

Surprisingly good show all around.

Rating: 8/10.


3. Sound

Now is where things get dubious. Damn dubious. But first, let me dole out the good before I get to the bad.

As with any Star Wars game, the sound is top notch. And since this was developed internally at Lucas, you know they had the income equal to that of a small African nation to toss on anything and everything production related. The mixing of the foley and sound effects, thus, are top notch. The sound effects in this game sound great on a Dolby Digital 5.1 system, and every channel is put to good use. Be it a random bug screech, a Droid asking for his Mommy (if I heard correctly, they do it), or your fellow Delta telling you you’re a waste of good genes (a result of friendly fire), this game will deliver it in spades. The in-game banter between the Deltas surprisingly doesn’t get irritating at all, and is almost humorous throughout the game. Kudos to the mixers, I says.

But damned if they can’t deviate…

I mean, sure, you can write in all you want about how the Imperial Death March music always sends a tingle down your spine, or how the central Star Wars theme is such a great and uplifting piece of orchestration. That’s all well and good. But for the love of God, Lucas, how much love would be lost if you got someone other than John FREAKIN’ Williams to score a game for you? It can’t be that hard! Or if you don’t want to lose him, have him compose something -gasp- original for the game, rather than recycling tunes I’ve heard in every other Star Wars game to date! Deviation is your friend, Lucas.

“But Fred, you heard the song at the end of the credits, right? Doesn’t it rock like an Evanescence song?”

Unfortunately, yes. But that’s not the deviation I had in mind. And while I dig bands with cute girl bassists as much as the next guy, Ash’s song “Clones” is just… well, soulless. It’s inclusion strikes me as more of a marketing gimmick than anything else, and it kills whatever experimentation that Lucas attempted in breaking from the Williams-centric formula of soundtrack “creation.” And since you don’t ever hear it during the game, I’d be hard-pressed to even say it’s part of the soundtrack. A damn disappointment.

So sound-wise, it’s a horribly mixed bag. The producers hit the nail on the head with everything but the music. And for this, the game suffers exponentially.

Rating: 6.5/10


4. Control and Gameplay

As if it were ordained by the Gods themselves, Bungie practically re-wrote the book on how a First Person Shooter is controlled. And despite the high cliffs and walls of Skywalker Ranch, LucasArts caught wind of this and crafted it this new orthodox vein, with only one deviation in moving the “jump” button north to the Y button instead of A. The D-Pad serves to switch weapons from your standard machine gun-type on the top, with your sniper to the right and your rocket launcher variant to the left. Pressing down will get you a special alien-type weapon that includes anything from the useless Wookie Bowcaster to the Trandosian APC Array gun, which is a shot-gun variant. However, in order to accommodate the Rainbow Six-esque element of squad gameplay, amendments were made to the existing control model by holding the Use button and ordering your squad around with the D-Pad. Sure, it sounds good, but read on.

At first, I thought I’d pump up my look sensitivity to 5. Since I play at 6 in Halo 2, I figured it might be a nice place to settle in. I was plenty wrong. Do yourself a favor and keep on the default unless you’re feeling “Vegas-odds” lucky. The default level of 3 is still a little too sensitive; I’d wager to say it’s comparable to the 6 I use in Halo, and this makes the game a bit too jerky.

This fact alone hold bearing on one of the two thigns I really don’t like about the controls. The first deals with the asinine fact that you have to look down, line up the sight ON THE WEAPON, and press Y to ultimately pick it up. Now, if this were a slow-moving game, this might be forgivable. But when you’re in the heat of a battle, it takes a lot of damn time to do something so simple. It’s simply asinine, and a nuisance in multiplayer.

Ordering your squad around is as easy as pointing your sight on an object in the level and pressing the USE button. You can order anything from having a Delta snipe from a certain spot to get through doors via a clean computer hack or demolition breach. But while the level-based points of squad-use are cool and functional, there is an auxillary menu with more generic commands like “Secure the Area” and “Search and Destroy” Now, it doesn’t so much bother me that you have to press the USE button and navigate with the D-Pad, but rather that you have to hold it down for A FULL THREE SECONDS before they come up. That’s too damn long to hold a button for- especially in a room full of Super Battle Droids when you’re trying to issue a “Search and Destroy” command. To add insult to injury, though, is that through the course of the game, I used that context menu a total of 5 times. Control-wise, it’s inclusion ends up being a rather moot point.

In trying to cram so much into the interface, Republic Commando comes up a bit short on controls. For every useful aspect of the control, there is another to counteract it.

Rating: 4.5/10.


5. Replayability

The singleplayer component of Republic Commando is really the only sticking point to this game. The lush environments of the singleplayer experience will keep you content for the 10 hours or so it’ll take to beat the game. Over a few days, Republic Commando is a satisfying play. But that’s where the fun ends. And once it’s over, all you’ve got left is four pieces of unlockable content and a seemingly dated multiplayer. I’ll take some time here to briefly discuss multiplayer in some detail.

The overall mechanic of Republic Commando‘s multiplayer component is parallel to any generic PC shooter you may have played, despite it being on the X-Box. There is a bit of a spectator mode in between kills and spawning in, and you have to manually respawn yourself into the game after being killed by pressing the fire button. Even the multiplayer levels, while they are decently constructed with workable elevators and anti-gravity areas, exude a kind of emptiness that is reminiscent of old PC FPS.’ Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled by Halo and it’s sequel, but Republic Commando‘s multiplayer is too rooted in a PC FPS dynamic. With this in mind, it’s like trying to play a PC game on a console, and it simply doesn’t work.

X-Box Live play isn’t much better than splitscreen, offering the same kind of neutered PC-type interface with noticeable lag. You’ll be able to find games with no problem, but be prepared to see your opponent pop from one side to the other in the course of firing at him.

Rating 4/10.


6. Balance

In relation to the overall flow of the game, Republic Commando is fairly well balanced. It has it’s share of easy spots and hard spots, and the flow and placement of said spots appears to have been done with great care. As with any well-designed FPS, you’ll find the tit-for-tat rules of what gun works best against what, and what kind of placement of your squad will be the most effective in dealing with certain enemies.

For example: when dealing with a shielded Droideka, you can either wait out the time on it’s shield, or bring it down with -surprise surprise- an electricity grenade! Organic characters, like the Trandosians, come down easily with the APC Array or a melee attack. Pretty sound balancing design all around. Nothing revolutionary, but remarkable nonetheless.

The only complaint I have is in regards to the way health and ammo is placed. Phrases like “Get some Bacta, Delta” and “Bacta. Now” might become commonplace, and you’ll find yourself in areas where it might not be immediately available. The same can be said of ammunition, as you might find large caches of it when you don’t need it, and seemingly be frothing for it when you unexpectedly run out. Despite the misallocation, it’s effect is minimal and doesn’t really detract from the gameplay.

Rating: 6/10


7. Originality

Like most P Diddy songs, you can take a Star Wars game and identify which prior title it sampled it’s most prominent features and gameplay gimmicks from. And to a deep unfortunate degree, Republic Commando is no different. Every breath you take indeed.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the trailer on Star Wars: Battlefront was how much the Clone Commando character models resembled that of Halo, as they were all stocky, dark, and lumbering weapon-carrying beasts. In one of the unlockable movies, the animators said that they drew inspiration for the characters from “numerous sources including Navy SEALS, Swat Team operatives, and ninjas”(where that last one is evident is beyond me). The squad-type gameplay has been the saving grace of the ever-so-popular Rainbow Six series, as you’d have a small squad of characters in a more realistic scenario pulling the same types of maneuvers that the Clone Commandos were doing. So with all that in mind, it’s hard not to look at both franchises and assume that LucasArts drew from both pieces, trimmed what they didn’t want from them, and made them fit like mutilated jigsaw pieces. But given how the final product turned out, can such an alleged extraction be forgiven?

Insofar as putting both together for the sake of selling a product, I say shame on them. Only The Simpsons franchise gets away with it more routinely, and the games that creep out with that license, save for Hit N’ Run, are horrible. But for the sake of achieving the mood and feel that LucasArts was shooting for in the game, it makes Republic Commando almost bearable. It’s a lot like watching Taco Bell try their hand at authentic Mexican food and sort of bastardizing it with US gluttony along the way: while the original quality might be lacking outright, you get a decent facsimile of the original that meets your expectations vis a vis the Bell. So, in this case, Republic Commando can be looked at as the proverbial 7-Layer Burrito of the Star Wars franchise.

Rating: 5/10


8. Addictiveness:

But unlike the 7-Layer Burrito, Republic Commando is a one-off deal. Unless you’re going to go back for the splendid visuals or experience the high production value, there isn’t really much of an addiction factor to speak of. Perhaps if the game were a little longer, or offered more varied worlds than the three presented, then there’d be more to speak of. Also, the PC-esque multiplayer component is in itself antithetical to the idea of being addicted to this game. I could see diehard Star Wars fans wanting to get a darker glimpse of their beloved universe for an occasional replay, but I could imagine playing through the game again getting old quick.

Rating: 3/10.


9. Appeal

Well, it has Star Wars in the title! That right there is enough for some, but others might be curious to check it out for different reasons. You want a darker picture of the Star Wars universe? This isn’t American McGee, Trent Reznor, or even Mr. Lucard’s interpretation, but its darker than your garden variety Star Wars fare. It’s simplified squad mechanic might be a Fisher-Price-esque introduction for some more traditional FPS heads onto other squad-based games as well. Other than that, it still holds up as a decent FPS experience- just not revolutionary by any stretch.

At the same time, I wonder how many people might stay away from it based on the fact that it is a Star Wars game. It’s got a fair amount of appeal as it is, but the past sordidness of the franchise in the gaming world is just beginning to get back on it’s feet. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out…

Rating: 6/10


10: Miscellanious

Now for the one major irritation I have with the game: the inability to copy my user profile to my memory card.

Because of being unable to simply copy the small profile onto my memory card, I was forced to borrow my friend’s X-Box in order to complete this review. Because of this, the inability to save my profile to my memory card -a profile that included game progress, game preferences, and controller settings- became a 10-pound weight on my shoulder to and from his house. A 10 pound irritiaion vs a .5 ounce one in my pocket? I’ll go with the latter.

Now, this may not apply to everyone, but I play games like this under more than one roof. The ease of being able to copy my player profile and take it to other peoples houses for subsequent use is awesome. I have my Live account and my Halo 2 profile, which means I can play from any X-Box I damn well please. Because of your shortsightedness, this endeavor was all the more complicated. Because the game does not support the memory card, I, and gamers like me, will have the burden of creating a redundant profile on a friend’s machine, when on other games, all we have to do is copy a simple file. I really hate alluding to 10 year-old Bush songs, but I think it’s all too relevant when Mr. Rossdale belted out “It’s the little things that kill.” It’s a sorry song, yes, but it drives the point home. Republic Commando could have been so much more.

All I ask, rather humbly, of LucasArts and other developers, is ‘please support the memory unit in the future. That is all.

Rating: 4/10


The Ratings:

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control: 5/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 3/10
Appeal: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 4/10

Overall Score: 52.5/100
FINAL SCORE: 5/10 (AVERAGE)

Short Attention Span Summary
Star Wars: Republic Commando, at the end of the day, is a remarkable yet flawed work that is a suitable footnote in the commercial narrative of the house that Lucas built, yet easily one of LucasArt’s better efforts in recent years. Fans of the franchise will probably see Star Wars: Republic Commando as an excellent addition to their Star Wars game collection alongside some of the franchise’s other better titles. For the rest of us, the game is a decent rental; a ‘pop-corn’ game, if you will.