Star Wars: Republic Commando
A long time ago (2005), in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars: Republic Commando was released on the XBox and PC. It was later made available as a backwards compatible option on XBox One and now, in 2021, Aspyr has brought a retooled port to the Nintendo Switch and PS4. Often considered one of the best Star Wars games ever made, we strapped on our helmet, grabbed a blaster, and jumped in to give it a whirl on the Switch!
At A Glance
|Visuals||7 / 10|
|Sound||8 / 10|
|Gameplay||5 / 10|
|Overall||6 / 10|
|Positives||+ Incredible authentic Star Wars music and sounds|
|+ Decent AI teammates that help with the heavy lifting|
|+ Fun multitasking squad gameplay|
|Negatives||– Repetitive gameplay filled with bullet-sponges|
|– Linear, corridor driven level design|
|– Remapping the controls breaks the squad commands|
Republic Commando is set amidst the Clone Wars, around the same time as Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The game centres around a squad of Jango Fett clones who have been given elite training in order to perform missions deemed unsuitable for standard clone troopers. You’re shipped around the galaxy, dropped in behind enemy lines and asked to infiltrate areas that larger forces are unable to access. Once you’re in, your small squad can be asked to do just about anything, from escorting a critical VIP, assassinating a crucial enemy leader or the suppression enemy forces despite being severely outnumbered.
You play as the commander of Delta Squad, known as Delta-38 or “Boss”, and must lead your three squadmates into battle and ensure that they’re working as a cohesive unit. Your teammates, while also clones, each have an area of expertise and you’ll need to use all of them to best complete your missions and turn the tide of the Clone Wars. Collectively known as “Deltas”, Delta-07 or “Sev”, is the team’s designated sniper, Delta-40 is known as “Fixer” and excels in hacking (or “slicing”, as it’s termed in the game), and Delta-62 is “Scorch”, the explosives specialist.
The game’s main feature is your ability to command your three squadmates to tackle tasks as a unit, rather than blasting your way through levels alone, and I have to say that it’s both successful and fun to use. By holding the action button and pressing one of the D-Pad directions, Delta-38 can have the team cautiously form up on his position, seek out and destroy enemy threats, or take up positions to use specialist equipment to engage the enemy. There’s a fourth choice that allows you to cancel any ongoing orders and continue through the level too. As you move through new areas, Delta-38 will notice tactical positions that lend themselves to a particular strategy and these will be highlighted by an icon on your HUD; by clicking the action button you can quickly assign a squad member to take up the position and fight in a designated way. These positions might be suited as a sniper nest, make a good spot for a grenadier, or even be a turret emplacement that can be commandeered; assigning a Delta to these positions allows your team to deal with the threats ahead in the best way. You can also click the action button on particularly large enemies to ask Delta Squad to concentrate their fire on a more dangerous enemy instead of mowing down droid grunts.
The squad mechanics are so simple and the tactical positions so commonplace that it very quickly becomes second nature to order your teammates around before pulling the trigger yourself. You become adept at scanning new rooms for places to assign your squad and really impresses the feeling of being a leader on the player, which meshes wonderfully with the premise.
The other aspect that makes the mechanic so successful is the combat AI of your teammates, which is surprisingly solid, making each member a genuine asset when battling through the levels. When not assigned to a tactical position, Deltas will hug cover and attack the most logical targets in the room, and with their weaponry given full damage capabilities, they can legitimately help the player clear swathes of enemies. A breath of fresh air, these aren’t cut-scene teammates who only kill enemies in scripted segments – it feels very much like these teammates are grinding through the levels alongside you.
Unfortunately, I do think that the aptitude of your squadmates actually has a negative effect on the design of the game as a whole. That might sound a little backwards, but it seems that in order to manage four protagonist characters on every level, the developer has had to create enemies that often require a huge amount of firepower to take down, or conversely fill the levels with wave after wave of onrushing chaff enemies. The first few times you face one of these prolonged killing sprees it is rather fun – commanding your teammates while blasting away at hordes of droids and picking apart tank-robots is cool, but there’s only so many of those battles you can take. Once you’ve undertaken two or three of these in each level, you realise it’s very much a rinse-and-repeat affair with enemy health levels far too high and their actions incredibly predictable.
The level designs don’t particularly help keep you entertained either, with every map boiling down to a single linear path that’s poorly-disguised as a more open area with junctions blocked with debris or a piece of scenery. Genuinely, there are perhaps a handful of occasions in the entire game where you have a choice of where to go, and even then the paths converge literally a few seconds down the way. I’ve got nothing against a linear game whatsoever – Valve’s Half Life is one of my favourites of all time – but it’s important to at least give the illusion that there’s more to the areas you’re playing through than a conveyor belt of baddies, and Republic Commando fails in this trickery spectacularly.
The controls however offered the biggest flaw without a doubt. The default configuration was as alien as the enemy roster and felt entirely antiquated, with buttons not at all where we’ve come to expect them in modern shooters. You are able to remap the buttons, but in doing so it causes a bug that means you’re unable to give out the squad commands like ‘search and destroy’ or ‘follow the leader’. You’re then left with a group of teammates who wander around in between orders to hold tactical positions and run ahead of the player into fights that they’re not ready for. While I found this a more palatable option than playing with controls older than Master Yoda, it did diminish the experience a lot, as Delta Squad started to feel more like a group of individuals and not a team.
Honestly, the lack of variety in encounters and level design is a real shame, because there really is a lot to like about Republic Commando. First of all, as the first Star Wars game to include licensed music from the movies, the score is as epic. There isn’t much more exciting than running headlong into a wave of aliens as familiar blasters sound all around you and pure, unadulterated Star Wars bellows out over the carnage – it’s fantastic stuff. The voice-acting is good too, with squadmates chirping at one another playfully between moments of mayhem, and Temuera Morrison – Jango Fett himself – brought in to give a performance as Delta-38. And having your teammates cover your back while you slice a terminal, or watching as they blow a locked door and storm through the breach never gets old through the whole playthrough.
Even the graphics, whilst admittedly dated, have been given a little spit-shine and definitely portray the enemies and trappings of the Star Wars universe faithfully. Familiar faces and enemies pop up too which is always fun with a Star Wars tie-in, and the hulking wookies in Republic Commando are particularly memorable. The story does perhaps get a little reference-heavy; I didn’t feel like I understood how any of the places or factions really fit together, but the in-level objectives and updates give you plenty to let you know what to do next – just not always why.
Remembering that Republic Commando was released in 2005, I can certainly see why the game was lauded over at the time and remains a fan-favourite today. That said, looking at it with fresh eyes and without the rose coloured glasses of nostalgia, it’s very much a product of its time. With the bulk of the gameplay somewhat repetitive, Republic Commando doesn’t give players too much to rave about outside of the squad mechanics and a good dose of Star Wars references. I’m excited for players who get to play one of their favourite games on a new platform – and with some nicely remastered elements, no less – but I think that newcomers may find that Republic Commando is not the game they’re looking for.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.