Star Wars: Republic Commando Hands-On

Scheduled to debut in February of next year on Xbox and PC, Star Wars Republic Commando presents one of the most enthralling First-Person-Shooters of the year, if not the entire Star Wars saga. Similar to most contemporary shooters, Republic Commando is squad-based; you’re the captain of a 4-man unit of Republican clone army soldiers. The storyline is set amidst the Clone Wars, and, in keeping with this, most of the fighting that took place in the demo took place against battle droids, on locations not named or visited in the initial Star Wars trilogy. There are over 14 unique levels, each complete with a set of its own sub-levels or “mini-games”. In all, there are more than 50 objective missions to complete, including battles with several “boss” enemies. The two playable missions at Lucasart’s most recent press event involved action in a Geonosis tunnel complex and a forest compound.

Gameplay is mostly linear, but that doesn’t make for a lack of freedom or creativity in Republic Commando. The game’s main innovation is its “one-touch squad control” which allows for orders to be handed to troops simply by looking towards the object of the command, and pressing, you guessed it, one button (A). With one-touch, you’ll be able to develop your own game plans and tactics. One touch will allow for more improvisation of squad maneuvers, and present a more intuitive interface.

This development is key to the games success: if gamers find it useful, time saving and ideal, the game will do well, if not, the game stands an easy chance of being forgotten along with so many other Star Wars shooters. Fortunately, any early indication seems to point to success. Squad control is brilliantly integrated into the HUD, so that you can see what each of your squad mates needs, and whether or not they are healthy enough to complete tasks. Common orders include: manning sniper posts, forging ahead, and working as a group to break through a door. One brilliant side affect of the one touch format is the ability to see what the actual order you give will look like. Whenever an object is targeted, the available squad action for that target appears in a sort of holographic transparent image. For example, if you want the team to break down a door, you’ll see suggestions of what the operation will look like. Also, in a neat expansion, there are often several different means for your squad to achieve the same goal. This is a very important breakthrough, as other games

In fact, “one-touch-squad-control” is a bit of a misnomer, because there are several other squad commands that take more than a point and touch. General commands such as “stand your ground” or “retreat” are delivered using the D-Pad. This set-up is almost identical to the team command in Star Wars Battlefront, even though the games have very little in common.

There are fewer unique weapons in Commando than in most Star Wars titles, and, although your most powerful weapon will always be your squad mates, this is not to say you won’t carry a powerful arsenal. Your main weapon is the DC-17, an awesomely adaptable assault weapon, with a host of attachments, (i.e. grenade launcher), to suit any battle situation. The many features and facets of the DC-17 provide a clever change from traditional weapon style. This feature also increases the satisfaction of gameplay, as you’re able to carry multiple add-ons, whereas in other games, you’d only be able to carry two or three weapons.
Several grenade-style weapons also enhance commando’s firepower. The electro-magnetic-pulse is an important feature of this category, as fights with super-battle-droids will be futile without it.

The graphics of Republic Commando are definitely the feature that most sets the game apart. Republic Commando is being developed on an enhanced version of the fabled Unreal engine. From Geonosians to droids to your fellow commandos, all creatures in the game are well mapped and attractive. The entire game is viewed through your character’s visor, an effect that is not hard to miss until an exploded Geonosian’s guts splatter onto your helmet, and your vision is temporarily obstructed until a high-tech electronic windshield wiper squeegees across and clears away any grime.

The surprisingly unique and original worlds around you are equally sharp and intricate. For example, the Geonosian underworld is at once unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in Star Wars movies or games, yet incredibly believable. Many Star Wars fanatics complained of Episodes I and II that the CGA made the worlds look too much unlike anything in the original trilogy. As a longtime Star Wars fan, I’m happy to report that the Republic Commando maps fit in perfectly with the rest of the Star Wars universe. Although most, if not all, the maps are original and ungrounded in movie scenes, they are strikingly realistic and feel as though they could be the corridors next door, or simply the parts of the jungle left on the cutting room floor.

Republic Commando is a fully featured game by any definition. It will support multiplayer action via Xbox Live for up to 16 players, PC gamers will find the same experience, only hosted by Gamespy. There is also a split screen mode for up to 4 players, head to head. Gameplay modes are all standard (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag…). The multiplayer aspect is perfect for anyone who buys the game and decides that they’re unhappy with the squad-based control, but are still impressed by the game’s guns, graphics, and gore.

Action in the single player campaign was intense, fast paced and alluring. If the action in the multiplayer mode is anywhere near as intense as the campaign mode, Xbox live subscribers are in for a big treat.

If the awesome gameplay, intense, original storyline and creative breakthroughs aren’t reason enough for Star Wars fanatics and Xbox gamers alike to check out Republic Commando, Lucasarts has included some initial incentive. The game will include “sneak-peeks” at the content of Episode III, the final prequel in the Star Wars saga. Content will include shots of the enemies, locations and vehicles in the film, as well as an opportunity to do combat as the Clones that appear in the movie.

My personal experience with Commando was very enjoyable. The controls are among the simplest of all action games, let alone squad based games. My initial impression of one-touch was that it seemed oversimplified, or too “dumbed-down” for any serious squad action. However, after a few minutes of play, I was convinced otherwise. The one-touch system may prove to be the saving grace of a sub-genre that has failed in the past to attract gamers who want plug and play action.

With Republican Commando, Lucasarts has apparently listened to all the fan feedback regarding FPS, and squad-based shooters in particular, and decided that what fans need is a compromise between simple action/adventure games and the complex planning and tactic of squad control. I for one couldn’t be more pleased with the results; the high impact action exists with a force and momentum rarely seen in squad games, while it remains absolutely necessary to learn how to implement the squad members.

Not only has Lucasarts achieved momentum and action through this approach, but also it has led to an interface that happens to look really cool. The aforementioned visor effects and holographic squad apparitions add to the awesome visuals of delicately designed enemy territory.

Republic Commando was initially scheduled for release this summer, but its current release date is set in February of next year. After my experience with Republic Commando, I can assure you this revolutionary FPS is well worth the wait.