Tactical HUD engaged
When I was a wee lad I always wanted to be a Stormtrooper, sure they got shot all the time and they couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with a rifle at point blank range, but they got cool snazzy white uniforms and nifty toys to play with.
There are always tonnes of military games out there most of the FPS based, but really up until now there has been no real sci-fi squad based Rainbow Six style game for Xbox owners to get their teeth into.
We've got our Halo and Halo 2's but they're not really squad based since your allies do their own thing and you can't order them about. With Lucas' creation of Episode one, two and now three we're once more thrust into a whirl about Star Wars.
Hot on the heels of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 is this new squad based FPS from LucasArts. Star Wars: Republic Commando.
Republic Commando takes place at the beginning of the Clone Armies' attack on Genosis from Episode II. You are thrust into the role of 38 a Republic Commando, one of the elite that along with your squad of Scorch, Fixer and Sev must accomplish the impossible and go where no baldy star ship captain would ever go.
Fans of Rainbow Six and other squad based shooters will immediately recognise the style of game, this isn't to say that it rips them off and puts a lick of Lucas' paint over the whole thing in the hope of disguising the truth.
Using a simple GUI and orders system your squad can be made to interact with the environment, each other and specific objectives quickly and fairly painlessly. They can be ordered to guard a specific location or seek out new enemies to engage. If they get into trouble you can order them to come to you and reform.
With a simple command you can order them to concentrate their fire on a specific target such as one of the Super Battle Droids or a Genosian Elite.
Your helmet HUD can be switched between various modes, the Tactical Mode allows you to get a constant stream of data and information about the area you're in. Objective markers are displayed along with your squad's position, health and other pertinent information.
Also displayed on the HUD of your visor are holographic markers that give an indication of the manoeuvres available to your squad. These can be as simple as sniping from a set location, tossing grenades from a vantage point or as complex as slicing (hacking) a console, setting demolition charges or breaching a door with a special manoeuvre, a quick tap of your A button will send the order allowing you to concentrate on other things.
Pressing A and tapping down on the D-pad cancels the current order.
You visor also has a low light mode for when things get too dark, the effect is quite pleasing and isn't too hard on the eyes.
The visor also comes fitted with a small energy wiper; you'll find out why if you shoot an enemy point blank or hit them with the melee spike in your left gauntlet. Blood or gunk often sprays up and coats your vision for a while until the wiper cleans it off, its nice touches like this that appeal to me.
It uses the standard control system, right trigger fires and left throws Detonators (grenades) of various types. Left stick to move and right to look around, there is an auto-aim for single-player and all of these things can be modified in the setup menus.
The game isn't over until your whole squad is wiped out, which means that there's a lot of room for error at the start. You can revive fallen squad members and if they're not involved in a fire-fight, they'll revive each other and you.
All of this is done via the A button and is simple to pull off in the heat of battle.
Your squad will also attempt to go for Bacta (health) if the going gets too tough, and you can see on the left hand side of your HUD their current status. They can be ordered to collect Bacta as well with just a tap of the A button, got to love that button.
There are eight varied environments split over fifteen big levels where all of your skills as a leader and tactician will be tested to the full, it's not just about running and gunning, often it's best to set up a nice tight sniping position if you have the option and take the enemy out from a distance.
Hardest thing to get right, biggest gripe of most reviewers and I am no exception. It's paramount in a squad based shooter that you need a decent level of team AI to back you up when the blasters start firing, in Republic Commando I found the AI to waver between scarily precise at times to downright stupid on others.
Enemy AI will often get stuck on some obstacles and refuse to move, this isn't a problem unless they're too far away to hit and you don't have a sniper attachment or its run out of ammunition. Your squad AI doesn't often catch you in friendly fire or walk into the line of your blaster, but they will sometimes stand there while a Genosian beats them to within an inch of their life.
Other times they appear to be somewhat brutal and vicious, lashing out with a quick melee attack and knocking the beastie to the ground, only to deliver a blast or two with their rifle to make sure.
Along with the movement AI they do have an excellent chatter AI that keeps the dialogue flowing back and forth, almost too chatty at times but it keeps within the feel of your slightly oddball squad.
If you shoot someone with a particularly fine shot you might get a compliment from one of your squad.
The prime weapon of the Clone Commando is the DC-17 Blaster Rifle that is fully modifiable and can be configured with a couple of attachments, the sniper attachment and anti-armour attachment.
There are a number of smaller secondary weapons and some enemies will drop weapons that aren't listed in the manual, nice little death-laden surprises.
Thermal Detonators (Detonators) come in a variety of sizes and shapes, all offering different bang for your buck. They are hurled via the left trigger and some of them can be especially effective against groups of droids.
Overall Republic Commando brims with tight clever level design and doesn't suffer too much from repetition, there are some places where the designers have opted for the crate strewn hallway and most of the action does take place in fortified structures and bunkers. This isn't a bad thing since that tends to be the core battle fields of the Star Wars universe when you're talking close combat.
Rooms are suitably Star Wars in feel and there are a couple of nice set pieces in the first level where you're storming Genosis with your squad and you have to shut the blast shutters to fend off waves of Genosian Elite warriors, armed with deadly beam weapons.
I like the graphics on Republic Commando; they are suitably shiny in places and encompass the feeling of Star Wars with its slick technology and dingy enemies. There seem to be a couple of places where the designers have let a missed texture slip through here and there, something doesn't quite join up right, but you have to be looking for it as I was.
The usual bells and whistles of dynamic lighting and various blurs are applied to add another level of graphical complexity, it doesn't quite rival some of the other Xbox titles for graphics but it's certainly no slouch either.
The blaster fights are satisfyingly colourful and thrust you into the movie-like atmosphere, coupled with a number of nice pyrotechnics and particle effects especially on Genosis when the caverns shake.
Models and Animations
They look like Republic Commandos and they move suitably well, crouching and taking aim, dropping into a combat stance for close quarters in-fighting and so on. Your enemies are highly detailed and the buzz of the Genosian wings is pretty impressive to see as they flit about jumping around like demented dragonflies on crack cocaine.
Everything is modelled really well and there were no missed or dodgy polys to be found, the animations for every feature of the game were excellent apart from a couple of turret animations which I found to be a bit stilted, again this doesn't overly mar the gameplay but I felt it needed a mention.
This is where I think Republic Commando shines for me in the sound department, these are effects we know and love from the whine of the blaster to the scream of engines as a star fighter roars overhead. The weapon sounds are suitably drawn from a plethora of Star Wars sources and there's a nice resounding boom when something big blows up courtesy of Scorch and his demo charges.
There are also some nice ambient spot effects and environmental effects as well, the wet squish as 38 punches into a Genosian with his battle spike is extremely satisfying, as well as seeing the spray over your visor - sometimes the comments from your squad are well worth going hand to hand for.
I was pleased to hear the dulcet tones of Jango Fett aka Temuera Morrison in the role of Delta 38. It was quite fitting since of course in the story, Jango is the father of the Clone Troopers (does that make him the father of the Stormtroopers? I wonder). He's joined by a good vocal cast that lend their own quirks to his squad and I especially loved the gravel-voice of Sev (Your squad's stealth and sniper expert) - some of Sev's one liners were perfect.
There are some slightly weaker performances from some of the cast but they don't detract from the great work overall.
No Star Wars game would be complete without the music of John Williams, and Republic Commando draws on Lucas' extensive library of tracks effectively. There is also new music of a powerful choral nature that makes me wish I had a soundtrack to go along with this game (hint: LucasArts *whisper* soundtrack).
The music matches the levels perfectly and rises to a resounding crescendo when the action hots up, giving subtle musical cues but not overshadowing the whole game or making it too easy to predict when things are about to get nasty.
Republic Commando boasts:
Deathmatch: No holds barred frag them all action.
Team Deathmatch: The same but with teams.
Capture the Flag: An old favourite, get the enemies flag before they get yours.
Assault: Take your flag into the enemy base and score points for doing so.
These are game modes that can be played across LIVE, System-Link or 2-4 player split screen. I was unable to get onto LIVE to review this part of the game but have since heard from a number of players that it ranks up there with games like Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow.
I was also bitterly disappointed to find that the squad based single-player had no cooperative gameplay mode, this actually knocked the review down by a number of points - these kinds of games are made for play such as this and the options available for you and your squad are tailor made for System-Link, LIVE or split screen play. Perhaps if they do a sequel they will bear this in mind.
Well there you have it, expect the game to be much maligned and compared to Halo as all promising titles that attempt to pull off science fiction are battered by fanboys and girls alike. This is a Star Wars game first and foremost and before Master Chef was pounding on the Covenant and Flood, Han Solo was making the kessel run and dumping shipments of spice in 1977.
Sit back, relax, put all comparisons aside and yes I am fully aware that I said Master Chef and not Chief, this is deliberate on my part. Oh and before some fanboy claims I have t3H H4t3 for their precious H4l0 - I don't (I love them both), but I do dislike fanboys immensely.
Republic Commando is not Halo and nor does it try to be, it's got more in common with Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon 1 & 2 and is a worthy addition to the name of Star Wars as well as the Xbox's growing number of good titles.