Having played the first of five episodes, I can safely say that most of the lofty goals have been met, but there is a bit more that's yet to be seen.
Republique: Exordium (iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 5], Mac, PC)
Developer: Camouflaj, Logan
Release Date: December 19, 2013 (iOS) / PC (TBA)
MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode)
Republique is a stealth game at heart, with a bit of adventure style exploration involved. It follows the Telltale scheme of distribution, so you can buy the roughly two hour first episode now, and the four other episodes will arrive at a later undisclosed date. Right off the bat it's pretty easy to understand the concept, as the theme is your standard dystopian tale of freedom versus control.
You play the role of Big Brother. Literally. Using an entire network of cell phones and cameras (just like the ending of The Dark Knight), your job is to save Hope -- a young woman who is in danger of being "re-calibrated" because she read some literature she wasn't supposed to. The tale is told by way of top voice talents, and as a general rule, is on par with some of the biggest AAA games out there. An Otacon-like partner named "Cooper" (who talks only in text-to-speech) helps add some welcome comedy to the proceedings.
Having said that, Camouflaj hasn't really sold me on the world or the lore yet. Barring a cliffhanger ending and some hints of an interesting story, Republique hasn't offered anything unique in its first episode that really has me hooked. It's mostly just straight stealth, with constant (underwhelming) hints at what's to come. It's a good thing then that the series has plenty of promise.
As I said before, the entirety of Republique is seen and played through a security system, and it's done so well that it doesn't feel like a gimmick. Lest you think that a stealth game cannot work on a mobile device -- think again. Republique basically blew me away with how responsive its icons are, and the way Camouflaj handled the design is brilliant. Pressing the camera button in the top right corner "pauses" the game, and views every selectable object in the field instantly. No matter where an object or individual is on the screen, there's an icon attached to it, floating off to the side -- just tap on that icon, and it instantly selects it.
There's no pixel hunting, or "precise pinky touching" here -- you just tap the giant picture and go. It helps, because there are no clunky virtual joysticks or controls -- you touch an area to make Hope move, you touch a camera to "jump" to it, and so on. Everything is done by pointing at it like you would a mouse, and I was pleasantly surprised at how I had little trouble getting to where I needed to go.
The only problem is that traveling long distances is incredibly slow going. Even if you double-tap to get Hope to (slowly) "run" to the area you wish, only some of the time will the camera automatically switch to her new area. So basically, you have to command her to go to an area, press the camera button, pause the game, find a camera, jump there, then un-pause. In short bursts it's extremely fun to quickly switch and change up tactics on the fly, but it gets really old if you're just running around looking for items.
Republique initially stated it had elements of a Metroidvania in its Kickstarter, but I don't really see much of that here. Given the fact that you don't really want to explore too often because of the camera, it doesn't help that a lot of the first episode consists of heavy backtracking and one room, linear areas with nothing of interest. Maybe that'll change with subsequent episodes, but for now, the idea isn't fully realized yet.
Republique makes some compromises though, because although Hope is mostly defenseless from guards, she does have a few tricks up her sleeve like pepper spray and tasers. By equipping either one of these items, Hope can either attack a guard or use it as a defensive ability -- similar to the daggers in the Resident Evil remake. It works as these items are sparing in nature, which helps keep Republique as a stealth game without getting too action heavy.
It's incredibly addicting to steal from every guard too, similar to the dogtags from Metal Gear Solid. You can also sell data to the "Data Broker" at select terminals to earn upgrades like eavesdropping on phones (for more data, basically), and distraction hacks to keep guards busy. It's not too overpowering a feature, and it adds some RPG and progression elements to the proceedings, which is pretty unique for an episodic adventure.
There's another hang-up here, though. Hope can't die, as she is "ordered" to undergo a certain punishment by the higher-ups -- so if the guards catch you, they'll always bring you to a containment cell that you can quickly hack out of. At first, it's pretty unique, as you can thwart guards leading you to the cell by locking doors behind you (thus shutting them out), but you'll get sick of it very quickly after going through it every time. Eventually you can press a "fast forward" button to skip the escort part, but most of the time, it's more painful and pace-killing than a checkpoint or game over screen.
Unexpectedly, Republique brings with it a cool like meta-world element to it, similar to Kojima's oddball videogame, literature, and film references. Beyond the obvious Orwellian jibes, it may very well be the first videogame to heavily reference other Kickstarter projects, and pick-pocketing guards will sometimes yield old gaming cartridge collectibles with some commentary from Cooper. These little jokes range from "I spent too much on this Kickstarter for this poster," "before Infinity Blade, I thought mobile games were for babies," and so on. Scanning guards will even sometimes yield the mugs of heavy backers. It's not overly funny, but it's a cute way to tie-in the game's roots.
Like any episodic series, Republique's quality will be based on its offering as a whole, and not necessarily a single episode. Having said that, the game has the solid framework of a serviceable stealth title, but the story and cast haven't sold me yet that this will be a tale worth telling. I'll be waiting with bated breath to see if episode two is an improvement.
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