Republic: The Revolution Updated Preview
We get a hands-on look at this long-awaited political strategy game from Elixir Studios.
Real-world political success is an unpredictable thing that doesn't happen overnight, and re-creating politics in a game isn't any easier. We've been watching Elixir Studios' Republic: The Revolution develop over the last few years, catching glimpses of it at major game shows, including the last three E3s. But only recently have we finally had a chance to get our hands on the controls and see what this long-awaited strategy game really plays like. The game's story, which involves a conspiracy to overthrow a corrupt dictator in a former Soviet republic, seems like a recipe for a political thriller novel. But don't expect to see a red carpet lining your path to taking over the president's mansion--success in Republic will require some thought and effort.
Republic takes place in the fictional former Soviet state of Novistrana, which is currently under the thumb of President Karasov. As you might expect, he's not a very democratic (or very nice) leader, and soon after the game begins, he outlaws all political parties besides his own. It's your role to challenge Karasov and remove him from office. But this goal seems quite lofty at the start of the game--you'll start out with little more than an acute case of political ambition. Meanwhile, Karasov can call out the military and secret police to back up his regime.
Like many strategy games, Republic will give you a number of starting choices to make that can determine the strategic options that will work best for you. You'll begin by naming your character and political party, and then you'll make more-pressing choices, assigning points to four abstractly named attributes: power, presence, control, and charisma. All the other characters in the game--not just your leader--have these attributes, and they'll determine how well those characters can carry out their orders. In our brief run through the game, we opted to spend all our character points on power, which is rough gauge of a character's political connections and ability to impose his will on others. Fortunately, you can look forward to earning more attribute points every time you gain a character level, so you'll have the option of improving your character in other areas later in the game.
The other major choice at the outset of the game is determining your party's ideological stance. The choice is represented as a triangle of the three ideologies--wealth, influence, and force--that can be mixed in any numerical proportion you please. This party emphasis determines which segment of the population will best respond to your overall message and which characters and henchmen will work best with you. These three concepts also correspond to the three resources in the game that are spent when your character and lieutenants attempt actions. To keep things easy to understand, Republic will have a color-coding system that may be all you need to distinguish people, neighborhoods, and actions that depend on wealth from those that depend on force or influence. Despite these abstract-sounding features, the game's interface and mechanics actually seem pretty straightforward.
Your character starts off as the lone leader of a small grassroots party. You can scroll around the 3D view to investigate the city, right-clicking on passersby to see if they'll stop and say something significant. Any actions that characters take in this 3D view are shown in real time, but you may not see any significant effects if you don't have sufficient influence in that particular neighborhood, or if you haven't explicitly ordered your minions to scout out the area. This is effectively a political fog of war, and it plays a critical role in the game of intelligence and misinformation. At any time, you can jump to a more abstract view of the city that shows the neighborhood borders, which parties hold sway over what percentages of the local population, and key landmarks. When you've done the work to learn about an area, you can locate important neutral or opposing characters who can be targets for your actions. The lower-left part of the screen holds a foldaway view of the main characters in your party and their attributes, available actions, and upcoming schedule of actions. Along the bottom is a readout of your current supplies of the three main resources, and the lower right has a display of what might be the most important resource of them all: time.
Republic is played completely in real time, and the day is divided up into three periods: morning, afternoon, and night. You can't do anything significant with the game paused, but the passage of time can be accelerated. The interface is designed to keep these limitations practical, as you can quickly schedule routine actions far in advance so you don't waste much time telling characters to scout out a series of districts or canvass the streets to raise popular support. Once you get situated and figure out what's going on, your first objective will be to recruit a lieutenant. This isn't something you have to just figure out on your own, because the game presents you with a series of goals that helpfully nudge you toward developing a local power base in the first of three sequentially larger cities you'll visit in the game. Soon after you get a few lieutenants working for you, you'll need to consolidate your popularity in your home district--100 percent support is a practical goal--and then spread to other districts. While it might seem easy to concentrate on districts that directly align with your party's core ideology, each district delivers one of the three resources according to percent of control. Most character actions take up more than one resource, so you'll need to diversify and grab at least partial control in several districts to make sure you don't deplete the initial 300 resource points you get in each category.
It's easy to see your high-level progress on the zoomed-out screens and on the secondary interface screens, like the breakdown of the resource values of the districts you own and the diary of events and objectives. But you really need to zoom in on the 3D world and take direct control of events from time to time. As an added bonus, this is the part of the game that's the most visually appealing and action-oriented. It's from the close-up 3D view that you'll watch as your characters attempt recruiting actions with descriptive names such as headhunt, blackmail, and befriend. Each action is represented by a branching series of animated events that you can directly influence. So that you don't miss a critical action while managing everything else during a given turn, you can right-click on a scheduled action in the character interface and set a reminder to pop up when the action starts.
Nearly every time we've seen Republic, the emphasis of Elixir's demo has been on the real-time events. It's no wonder, given the library of well over a hundred available actions, including many that are quite underhanded in nature but are animated to appear somewhat humorous. However, up to this point, we really hadn't seen the much-promised real-time event interface in action. The idea is that if your leader is attempting to recruit a neutral character, then you can play a role in the conversation by choosing various tactics and appeals. We still haven't seen the final conversation interface at work, but we did get a look at a version designed to aid in balancing and debugging that essentially resolved the various choices down to numerical values. Although that doesn't tell us exactly how conversations will end up working, the basic mechanics are now set.
There are two phases to every conversation: an initial phase that determines how many conversation points you have to use and a series of dialogue options that let you spend these points in real time on various speech tactics that match up more or less effectively with certain individuals. If you figure out how to approach a person and make the right choices, then your action will be successful. Your attempts will result in various degrees of success, which in the case of recruiting, can result in an increased level of loyalty. The conversations seem to be a sort of personality-puzzle minigame that will give clues that help you deduce which tactics to use, particularly if an initial attempt is met with failure. Only conversation actions require this intervention, so acts of violent intimidation, political mobilization, or reconnaissance are simpler to carry out, and if you're confident in a character's abilities, you can let the AI do the dirty work.
After more than four years in development, Republic: The Revolution is nearing completion. The good news is that the gameplay seems concrete and easy to understand, despite some rather abstract elements. And while we didn't have enough time with the game to get far into the story, there are indications that the scripted story events will be a suitable reward for success. Even after all this incubation time, Republic's 3D graphics still look remarkably good, providing a detailed look at living cities with thousands of inhabitants and weather effects. Eidos admitted to us that a game like this is a definite challenge to test and balance, but Republic is expected to reach beta very soon, and it's scheduled for release this summer.
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