Hands-On: Star Wars: Republic Commando

Ever since the dawn of video games, there have been Star Wars games, of nearly every genre you could imagine. Racing, 2d side scrollers, fighters, etc. etc.. Unfortunately, the lot of them were either mediocre or just plain bad. But it seems that in this generation of video games, Star Wars titles have been lifted from the gutters and raised to a high and mighty status. With titles like Knights of The Old Republic, Rogue Squadron and Battlefront released, the Star Wars license spans even more genres than before, and is now looked at with delight, rather than disappointment and the thought of ‘Another damn Star Wars game?’ running through the heads of gamers. But there’s one realm of video games that Star Wars has yet to enter: squad based combat. But that’s all changing with the impending release of Star Wars: Republic Commando.

In Republic Commando, you’ll play the leader of an elite group of clones sent to take on the roughest, dirtiest, nastiest jobs the Republic assigns you. You are RC 01/138, the leader of Delta Squad, the very tip of the Republic military spear. In your squad is 40, Fixer, who excels in sabotaging security systems, and is enblazoned with green marking. Then there’s 62, a.k.a Scorch, who’s the wisecracking demolitions expert of the squad, adorned in yellow. And sporting the red in your squad is 07, a.k.a. Sev, the silent marksman who lives and breathes combat. Together, your the best of the best, the finest the Republic has to offer.

Now, when you think of squad based combat, Rainbow Six is undoubtedly the first game to pop into your head, and rightfully so. However, Rainbow Six is also a title that many people tend to have a hard time getting used to or even remotely enjoying, because of the punishing realism and vast amounts of orders at your command. Where Republic Commando separates itself is it’s unique ‘one-touch’ command system.

The command system couldn’t be simpler to use. First, you’ll need to spot an area where a command can be issued. When you find one of these spots, a small sqaure icon will appear and with a nimble click of the A button, your character will lift his arm and point to where he wants one of your commandos to be. With this, your able to have your squad in multiple places at multiple times. In the example of opening a sealed door, you have could either choose to breach the door, and have you and your squadmates up close and personal, ready for attack when the door breaks down, and simply rush in. Or, you could assemble your forces in different locales around the room, and slice the door (Star Wars speak for hacking the door’s security system). In the demo, I set up two men at different sniper positions and had the remaining commando slice the door and back me up when I decided to give whatever rested on the other side a very unpleasant surprise.

The incredibly intuitive squad command UI is one of the best we’ve ever seen.

The game’s tagline is ‘The squad is your weapon’, and this perfectly defines the way you’ll play Republic Commando. If you can’t utilize your squad efficiently, your as good as dead. There are some enemies whom you can down on your own with your trusty blaster, but when the bigger, badder foes come to fruition, it’s game over. For example, near the end of the demo, you’ll face a few of these enemies. One of these is a large flying insect with a beam weapon that will tear you apart. However, if you command your entire squad to attack the vermin, he’ll be bug bombed in no time. Another example from the demo is a hulking spider-bot, who requires just a tad more strategy. To defeat this massive droid, it would definently be best to have your squad strategically placed in different areas. Before the droid emerged from the pit he’ll crawl out of, I assigned one commando to a sniping position, another to an anti-armor position, and the final commando by my side whilst behind some cover, popping out to pelt the arachnid with blaster fire and grenades. While you play, should one of your commando’s die, you need not fret. In another move that further separates itself from Clancy’s counter-terrorism masterpeice, you’ll be able to run over and revive your fallen teammate. Of course what goes around comes around. Should you die, you have one of two options (at least in the demo, anyways). You can either have the squad finish the fight, or you can tell them to hurry up and revive your sorry behind.

With weapons still fresh in your memory, it bears mentiong that also unlike Rainbow Six, there is no weapon loadout screen. Instead your placed right into the battle already equipped with the tools you need. Your character will come fully equipped with a DC-17M blaster, sniper, and anti-armor, and pistol (essentially your assault rifle, sniper rifle, high powered grenade launcher, and pistol). The blaster, sniper, and anti-armor all fill their own little niche. The blaster, as you might expect, is your all-purpose droid buster and wookie killer. The sniper is an extremely potent peice of weaponry, able to FUBAR most small enemies in one headshot. To balance out this weapon’s raw power and precision, the time taken to fire another shot is a significant wait. Then of course, there’s the godly anti-armor. One blast from this will wipe out a small army of droids. However, the anti-armor is clearly not built for this purpose. While playing the demo, being the fool I am, I quickly wasted all five shots of the DC-17M anti-armor on minute little droids and boxes. Feeling like I was a big man, I then entered the room where the massive spider-droid would soon appear. The machine quickly put me in my place, and seemingly told me, “You may want to save that anti-armor for when you need it, chump!”.

Of course, there’s also secondary gear. Your commando will come with a built-in wrist blade that is perfect for melee combat, not to mention that its an instant kill to the feeble droids you’ll be fighting for the majority of the demo. There are also four varieties of detonator at your disposal (these are the grenades, people.). There’s the thermal detonator, which is essentially your garden variety frag grenade. There’s also the EC detonator, which will send out streaming arcs of electricity, which spell instant death for droids, and will severely cripple your shields. Also available are sticky detonators (This is not, repeat NOT the official name, as I have no idea what the official name is.), which will explode with great might once they’re attached to an enemy, and a flashbang which is apparently useless against droids, but will screw your vision up beyond belief if you just so happen to be looking in the general direction. Speaking of vision, you come equipped with three different vision modes. One is your basic vision. The second mode is a slight alteration of the first, it simply makes keeping tabs on your squad far easier, with directional arrows pointing to what side of the screen they’re closer to. Then there’s night vision, which is self-explanatory. Though instead of an eerie green, the vision is that of ghostly white.

The game’s Artificial Intelligence is something to behold, most notabally the AI of your squad. Your squad knows how to handle themselves perfectly, with or without your commands. For example, sometimes they’ll run ahead and dispatch of foes by themself, without your assistance. Should you cross through your teammates line of fire, they’ll stop shooting and allow you to pass. Or if they cross your line of fire, they’ll duck down, letting you continue to lay waste to your foes. The AI of foes is a mized bag. In the demo, you fight droids almost exclusively. The droids exhibit practically NO intelligence outside of “Kill the enemy.”. To this degree, the only kind of movement they’ll exhibit is either running towards your squadmates (whom you must rendevousz with in the demo), or running at you. Once they’ve spotted their target, they simply stop in their tracks and begin firing. They’re almost always in a large cluster, and with a swift toss of a thermal detonator, you’ll anihillate the entire group. However, when your dealing with foes made of flesh and bone, prepare for a greater challenge. The Geonosian Elite who inhabits the demo, is constantly dodging and weaving, and raining down a pure beam of concentrated death upon you and your squad. He’s the kind of enemy that you’ll want your squad to concentrate all their fire on, considering he’s one tough bastard who’ll take forever and a day to rid yourself of all by yourself.

Republic Commando features some of the best presentation seen in a first-person shooter.

Republic Commando is powered by Unreal graphics, so it’s going to look good anyway. And it look good it does. Characacters are finely detailed, explosions look great, the usual jist. But the game’s presentation is something special, indeed. While it’s certainly nothing new (it was first seen in Metroid Prime on the GameCube in 2002), the HUD actually places you inside of the helmet of the clone commando. And also like that game, there are various visor effects. Melee attack one of the droids, and there’s a good chance that turquoise and purplish fluid will splatter across your visor. Engage in combat and depending on how bad you start getting beat on, your visor will crack and splinter (both of these sequences are followed by a humorous little visor wiper that will slide across the screen and move the obstruction.)

Star Wars fans will likely rave over the sound found in the game. As soon as you come roaring into a big battle, epic music worhty of the film itself will begin roaring. The sound effects too seem worthy of a Star Wars flick. The sounds of lasers whirring, droids whirring, explosions. They all sound great.

In effect, Star Wars: Republic Commando should be the perfect game for those of you just haven’t been able to accept the cold, gripping realism of Tom Clancy’s squad games. Being a Star Wars fan will sweeten the deal even more, as events in this game take place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, so you’ll definently want to pick this up if you wanna get some more insight to the oft discussed Clone Wars. Throw in Xbox Live support for 16 player Clone warfare, and you’ve got a potential hit on your hands.

Star Wars: Republic Commando will tactically invade your Xbox on March 1st. Stay tuned to Xbox Advanced.