Take some Clone Troopers, some Storm Troopers, and some of today’s Special Ops soldiers (which are featured in most modern squad-based videogames), toss them in a blender, and mix until?well?blended. When these personnel ingredients are mixed together you end up with Republic Commandos, the soldiers featured in the new Xbox game from LucasArts. In Star Wars: Republic Commando, a first-person shooter/squad tactics game, you play as the leader of a four-man squad of commandos charged with completing covert infiltration-style missions during the Clone Wars.
The commandos differ from your average Clone Troopers in that they are cloned from different stock. Apparently, regular troopers were perfect soldiers in large groups, but when placed in smaller squads for more specific missions, they did not fair so well. So new commando clones were made, at least four different versions, each with their own strengths and specialties. These new commando clones developed their own personalities and are quite different from one another and the general clone population.
You play as the leader of one such commando squad that has just entered the fray as the Clone Wars begin on the planet Geonosis. As the game opens, you and your squad are tasked with tracking down and killing one of the enemies’ leaders. The game’s missions progress from there, smoothly interlocking with all sorts of different goals to accomplish, from hacking into computers and retrieving codes, to destroying enemy buildings and spaceships.
Each member of your squad has a specific specialty. Scorch is a demolitions expert, and is pretty easy going. Fixer is the slicer of the group, and can hack into any computer or open any door. Sev is the hunter and sniper of the group, and is actually kind of scary. Your character is the squad leader and issues the commands. And it’s here, with these commands, where Republic Commando pulls clear of the squad-based pack. Telling your squad mates what to do is made so simple in this game, and it’s executed extremely well. The usual squad commands are all present and accounted for – ordering your squad to protect a designated area, move forward and take out all enemy targets, or fall into formation behind you – and they all work terrifically. If your squad ever moves too far ahead, they will even take cover and wait for you; the game’s A.I. really is quite amazing. These guys take care of themselves. If one of them goes down in a firefight, another is swiftly there to apply medical attention and get his fallen comrade back into action. When you come across a healing station, the commandos will automatically heal themselves. And, furthermore, when they’re embroiled in combat, they won’t do any of these things until the enemies are defeated – thereby not interfering with your mission.
On top of all of that, though, are the maneuvers. Certain areas will show a holographic image of one of your commandos next to an object, like a locked door or a boulder that would provide good cover. This means you can execute a maneuver at that object. At the rock, for instance, you can command one of your team to execute a Sniper Maneuver, in which case he positions himself behind said rock, whips out his sniper rifle, and picks off enemies until ordered to stop. The Door Breach Maneuver, which takes place at the locked doors, takes all three of your accompanying commandos. One places explosives on the door, while the other two take up positions to one side. When the door blows, one commando tosses a thermal detonator through the opening, and then the others move through. These maneuvers really help you focus on using the squad to accomplish your tasks. There are a whole bunch of these maneuvers sprinkled throughout each area that you move through. These, coupled with the excellent command system, really make Star Wars: Republic Commando one of the best squad-based games around.
The gameplay provided in Republic Commando really is a lot of fun, and the controls are extremely fluid, too. The triggers fire your primary and secondary weapons while the direction pad doubles as your weapon selection pad and, if you hold in the ?A’ button, your order selection tool. You have Reload, Jump, and Melee Attack buttons as well. All fit nicely together and make it easy to control your commando(s). You even have some different visor modes to work with, including one for areas with low light levels, and a tactical view that helps you differentiate enemies from allies. The ?A’ button is used a lot, as it is the main way to interact with objects, and to order your squad to execute strategic maneuvers. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the ?A’ button’s use in focusing your entire squad’s fire on one target. If needs be, you just aim your crosshairs at the target you want them to focus on, and press ?A’. A red box will appear around the target and your fellow commandos will blast away at that particular target until it is destroyed. It not only focuses fire, but it lets you see the enemies’ health bars and even lets you see the targets position through solid objects that are obstructing your view. It’s an awesome tool to have at your disposal, and especially when fighting larger boss type enemies.
For the most part you use the same weapon throughout the game – the DC-17 Modifiable Blaster Rifle. Instead of picking up new weapons, this rifle is, as the title infers, modifiable. You can find attachments intermittently for your rifle, which give it new abilities. These include the Sniper attachment and the Anti-Armor attachment. The Sniper attachment obviously lets you zoom in on your targets and take them out from distance, while the Anti-Armor attachment shoots something similar to small mortars that will weaken and/or destroy most larger, well-armored targets. You also have an assortment of detonators at your disposal, doing everything from exploding, to disabling electronics and droids. There are a lot of droids in this game, by the way. A LOT. If you happen to be a robot hater then Republic Commando will provide you with a plethora of robots to play target practice with. There are side arms you can use as well, consisting of a few blasters and a Wookie bowcaster. The game’s melee attack is actually pretty awesome, especially as the commandos have a protracting vibro-blade that emerges from their forearms. If you get close enough to an enemy this usually results in an instant kill, which is more than can be said for a lot of existing melee attacks in first-person shooters.
The visuals in Republic Commando are near perfect. Most of the time you are focused on the task at hand and the enemies trying to kill you, but if you take the opportunity to look around, you’ll see an elaborate environment with tons of detail and expert rendering. In the sky are fighters engaged in combat, distant Destroyers crawling past, and battle explosions. It’s all very enveloping, and really gleams with that Star Wars look and feel mixed through real-world combat. There’s no doubt that you are in the middle of an extremely violent war. Every once in a while a Clone Trooper’s body will come flying out of nowhere and land with a fleshy thud nearby. This game is hardcore. The graphics here are all put together far too well to merit any complaint; we’ll have to save our insults for another game.
The audio, just like the visuals, is terrific. The ambience of battle, the Star Wars music, the sounds from droids and aliens; everything is done so well. You feel as though you’re actually there in a scene from a Star Wars movie. Everything, even down to the clicking of your commandos’ boots on the decking of a ship is executed perfectly. The best part, though, is the dialogue between you and your commandos. They talk amongst themselves, and often play off of one another’s comments. They all have their own personalities that fit with their individual commando specialties, and the banter between them is great fun to listen to. Sev, especially, is very sadistic – he really likes to kill things. The voice recordings are done exceptionally well, as are all of the sound effects and environmental audio. All in all, it’s hard to find something to complain about here as well.
LucasArts, it would seem, is definitely back on the gaming track. They have released a steady stream of excellent games over the last few years, and Star Wars: Republic Commando continues that reassuring trend. In fact, the game makes some terrific improvements on the squad-based combat genre. Take the wonderful gameplay, attach it to the Star Wars franchise and you get one hell of an awesome videogame. And, the best part is this – it’s completely original. There have been Star Wars games before, and there have been squad-based games before, but nothing like this combination. I, for one, whole-heartedly recommend Republic Commando to anyone who likes action games and/or Star Wars. This one is definitely a keeper.