Review: Republique

By Owen Faraday 08 Jan 2014 0
Bro, tased. Bro, tased.

We've been caught, Hope and I.

It's my fault. Instead of waiting another twenty seconds and getting a good feel for this Prizrak's patrol pattern, I just told Hope to go for it. Pick his pockets.

Hope had just fished a screwdriver out of the guard's coveralls when he suddenly turned around. Hope, out of pepper spray and with no taser to hand, sheepishly reached for the sky. The Prizrak marched her off to a nearby detention cell and locked her in.

I watched the whole blundering affair go down from the CCTV cameras that are mounted on every wall of the city of Metamorphosis. I'm a hacker, and I've tapped into the security networks of the Republique, the totalitarian state that now has Hope at its mercy.

But I'm not afraid of the Republique. That's not revolutionary bravado on my part -- it's just the truth. There's no menace to the Orwellian regime at the centre of Republique, and that's one of the game's biggest problems.

The Hotel Republique (hourly rates available) The Hotel Republique (hourly rates available)

That guard (the Prizrak, in Republique's lingo) locks Hope into a cell in the detention chamber, confiscates her gear, then spins neatly on his heel and walks right out of the room. Because the most elementary of my hacking powers is the ability to open doors, as soon as he's out of sight, I do exactly that. The price of failure in Republique is a two-minute time-out in the naughty corner. If this is a totalitarian horrorshow, then The Breakfast Club was a Stalinist gulag.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a masochist, and I'm not asking for some onerous, unfun punishment for failure in a video game. But Republique's paper tiger oppressors are representative of the fundamental problems with the experience: the game's reach exceeds its grasp.

Using your god's-eye view of Metamorphosis through its ubiquitous cameras, you guide the suspected subversive Hope in her escape, aided by regular hints from a disaffected man on the inside. The controls are simple in the extreme: touch a camera (highlighted for your convenience in an alternate OmniView mode) and you'll switch to it's point of view. Touch a door and you'll unlock it for Hope to pass through, or lock it behind her to delay any Prizrak patrols.

Republique's environments are a bit cramped, but undeniably nice to look at. Republique's environments are a bit cramped, but undeniably nice to look at.

There's quite a clever AI at work in Hope -- she'll automatically watch a nearby Prizrak and move to avoid him, or sensibly move to a corner if you've ordered her to the middle of a wall, anticipating your next order. The AI occasionally fumbles, sending Hope out into the open when you meant for her to hide, which is frustrating.

But it's almost worse when the AI works as intended. It's easy to imagine Hope navigating the corridors of Metamorphosis without you. The control scheme grabbed me initially by virtue of being so different (there's a Spider-man web-slinging sort of fun in hopping from camera to camera) but once the shine wore off I realised that Republique was almost utterly devoid of challenge. I can recall only one room that had more than one guard in it, and there's exactly one puzzle in the entire first episode -- and it's a gimmie.

Even in a relatively simple game, you can milk some drama out of the fear of failure. And for sure, my first few games of cat and mouse with the guards had a tense edge to them -- until I got Hope caught, and realised that detention is entirely optional at Republique Junior High. Must be a Montessori school.

OmniView shows objects you can interact with: doors and cameras initially, but you can upgrade your system later to affect more gizmos. OmniView shows objects you can interact with: doors and cameras initially, but you can upgrade your system later to affect more gizmos.

So as a stealth game, Republique isn't all that. But Republique also has ambitions about being an engrossing narrative experience -- ambitions that, if fulfilled, would go a long way towards making us forget about the less-than-thrilling sneaking about.

The marketing line on Republique is that it's a AAA-quality console experience on iOS -- and that's true to a great extent. The game looks absolutely beautiful. The level design, textures, and lighting combine to make Metamorphosis a wholly believable place, and the facial animations on the characters are as good as anything I saw on my Xbox 360 in the last few years. Developers Camoflaj also appear to have spent a king's ransom on voice talent. Dwight Schultz (Star Trek's Reginald Barclay) plays the heard-but-never-seen administrator of Metamorphosis, and Commander Shepherd herself, Jennifer Hale, plays villainess Mireille Prideaux, albeit with a French accent she appears to have picked up from Skip the book and see the film, Lt Barclay suggests. Skip the book and see the film, Lt Barclay suggests.[/caption]

There's a significant amount of French in Republique, surprising for a game that otherwise appears to take place in a future United States, or at least an anglophone country, judging from the English signage. The title (which characters use to refer to Metamorphosis incessantly -- "our Republique"), Hale's pasted-on accent, an entire conversation at the end of Episode 1 that randomly slips into French (involving a character we hadn't even known was a Francophone until that point). I love French as much as the next guy (borrow my Spiral DVDs if you want!) but its inexplicable use in Republique borders on pretension.

In fact, there's a lot of content in the game that isn't quite as smart as it wishes it was. Republique's rooms are sprinkled with collectibles, each one accompanied by an audio clip. Sometimes they're banned books, which come with a short dissertation on their evils read by Shultz. These would have been a great opportunity to add some complexity to the characterization of the police state, but instead it's just rote moralizing bad guy stuff. How interesting would it have been if Lolita had been banned in Metamorphasis for reasons that you might relate to? Instead, Lieutenant Barclay just tells us it's wicked because it encourages us to be creative. There's nothing new under this totalitarian sun.

Republique is also much less political than you might think. Landing as it has in the middle of a global debate about the limits and necessity of government surveillance, it appears to be quite confused about its stance. We're meant to be immediately horrified by the level of scrutiny to which Metamorphosis subjects it citizens, but that scrutiny is also the source of Hope's salvation -- what would she do without you and your omnipresent cameras?

Here's Johnny. Here's Johnny.

Even if the story worked on its own merits, Republique smashes through the fourth wall with such a Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining intensity that it never would have had a chance to grip you. Inspect the ID card of a Prizrak and you'll find the face of one of Republique's Kickstarter backers beaming up at you. Many of the collectibles are Atari-style cartridges for contemporary iOS games, accompanied by a pithy analysis of the product. The snippets are really excellent, as a matter of fact, and I'd happily become a loyal reader of Camoflaj's capsule game reviews, but they're detrimental to Republique's already tenuous hold on your suspension of disbelief.

This is only episode one of a planned four-part season of Republique. There's a lot of potential here, I think. The game engine itself is impressive, and the story, as thin as it is, manages to end on a reasonably intriguing cliffhanger. But like the Metal Gear games that inspired it, it's a game that's much too fond of the sound of its own voice -- you spend as much time listening to those big name voice actors as you do actually playing the game. If you get Republique today, it's in the hopes that episode 2 makes the puzzles harder, the dialogue snappier, the fourth wall more durable, and the evil empire evil-er.

Republique was played on a 2nd-gen iPad for this review.

Review: Republique

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