Republic: The Revolution Updated Preview

The revolution is almost here--we get a firsthand look at Elixir's game of political conspiracy.

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Republic: The Revolution is an unusual strategy game, in that it focuses on the world of politics. But rather than concerning you with the challenges of getting elected to office, such as getting involved with fund-raising and political action committees, Republic transports you to the fictional former Soviet republic of Novistrana, where taking on the establishment requires more extreme measures. We've heard all about Republic since its first E3 showing back in 2000 and got a quick look at the game last month, but now that the game is just weeks from release, we've finally had the chance to sit down and play an early version of the game.

Choices you make at the beginning of the game will determine the strengths and political leanings of your ambitious avatar.
Choices you make at the beginning of the game will determine the strengths and political leanings of your ambitious avatar.

From a new hand-drawn intro sequence to a 10-step character creation process, we immediately saw many features in the beta that weren't in the version we played just before E3. The opening sequence of still images describes the heinous acts committed by the current dictator of Novistrana--which seem to include ordering the abduction of one of your family members. Then the scene switches to the new character creation screen, which presents you with a series of 10 multiple-choice questions. Between the background text and the four choices, you can get a good sense of what's been happening in Novistrana in recent years and why an ordinary man could suddenly find himself involved in revolutionary politics. Plus, the choices define your avatar's abilities and the political leanings of your party, which has a major impact on the sorts of strategies available to you when you start the game. Fortunately, it's easy to tell if a given choice will push your character in the direction of being a respectable businessman, a fiery demagogue, a well-connected deal-maker, or an experienced thug.

In these volatile times for Novistrana, major swings in the political climate can happen in a matter of days. Your first day as an up-and-coming revolutionary begins simply. You'll begin with a few memos in a stack on the right side of the screen to indicate that your first priority is to recruit a henchman or two. But the first thing you might notice is that the camera is pointed straight at a detailed architectural rendition of a town hall built in the monolithic neoclassical style of Soviet institutions. The town hall represents the ultimate goal in the game's first area, Ekaterine: to build such a strong power base that the legitimate local powers have to sit up and take notice. Your path to ousting the president is divided into three city levels, and your success in one carries over to the next.

As important as it is to build up support and loyalty, you also sometimes need to use offensive actions to intimidate opponents or discredit them.
As important as it is to build up support and loyalty, you also sometimes need to use offensive actions to intimidate opponents or discredit them.

The first thing you're bound to do is explore Ekaterine with the 3D camera. There's a lot to look at even in the smallest of the game's clockwork cities. You can watch the inhabitants walk the streets, take the subway, or drive around in Soviet-era cars to get from work to dinner to home. Every person walking the streets has a name, a residence, and a political leaning, but you won't get much more than a one-line reaction to your party if you try to interview ordinary people. Moving the camera around the city, you'll notice distinctly different neighborhoods, some filled with luxurious mansions and others bustling with nighttime activity or filled with tenement housing and warehouses. In some cases, you'll be tasked with locating a hidden item, in which case, you'll need to click through the buildings in the 3D view to locate specific items, such as the printing press hidden in one working-class district. But much of the time, you'll guide the action from the 2D map that gives you a convenient overview of the city, with clearly outlined district boundaries.

To get the ball rolling, you have to recruit your first lieutenant. Most of the important characters and locations in the districts are hidden until you do enough scouting in an area, so at the start you'll just have three previous acquaintances to choose from, each with a given set of skills and abilities. This first decision is not that critical, but as you continue to build out your team, you'll want to meet other neutral characters and recruit those with abilities that complement the team.

Like Clockwork

If you start the game with strong business ties, your home district will be a wealthy one, and it will bring in the money resource that will let you perform actions such as "poster campaign" (which increases political support) and "easy life" (which increases a member's loyalty). You might decide to choose lieutenants with abilities that rely on the money resource since it'll be most plentiful, but you might also have to go out of your way to recruit someone with offensive abilities that can decrease another faction's level of support in a district, like a priest's revelation ability or the thug's vandalize ability. Alternatively, if you favor a more forceful approach yourself, you'll start off in a working-class area that earns you the force resource, and you might have an easier time spotting and recruiting like-minded heavies. The third resource, influence, is cultivated by those who bend positions of authority to their own ends and can be used for actions that tie in to the scripted story events.

The campaign to overthrow the president is divided into three parts, each of which takes place in a progressively larger city.
The campaign to overthrow the president is divided into three parts, each of which takes place in a progressively larger city.

It's possible to play most of the game from the 2D view, but it's not as likely that certain kinds of actions will be successful. Recruitment actions are those that most obviously require your attention, since they involve a conversation minigame. Depending on how convincing your character is, you get a certain number of points to allocate to a set of four conversational tactics. In the next phase, you and your target play four conversation cards, and in each instance, the one with the higher number wins. In the second card hand, you can see how the target has allocated his points, and it's a pretty good bet that the computer opponent will play the higher cards later, since the point value you win goes up as a hand progresses. The goal is to convince your target by gaining a certain level of points, and getting many more points than the minimum requirement can result in a more positive outcome.

The whole conversation sequence is played out with the camera zoomed in close to show the characters' faces, and they speak in the game's made-up language (which sounds similar to Russian). As it turns out, this was the only ability in the limited preview version we played that required you to get involved in the 3D action. Other actions were demonstrated at E3 that let you tweak a slider to adjust actions like how violently your character would fight in a boxing match or whether a lieutenant would stand his ground in protest in front of a tank. It's possible to watch any action up close, but the pacing can be quite slow, more often showing characters walking around the city and preparing their deeds than actually performing something of visual interest.

Though the 3D view is visually appealing, you may end up using the 2D overview to plan out most of the action.
Though the 3D view is visually appealing, you may end up using the 2D overview to plan out most of the action.

Winning the first city will involve gaining dominance in most districts and minimizing the power of rivals, but this is just one level of the game. There are scripted story events that are triggered as you accomplish specific goals, depicting some of the president's increasingly authoritarian measures, such as outlawing all political parties besides his own or sending out an alpha squad team to round up a certain political party. There are other story events that you participate in, such as winning over key members of the local prison and freeing a political prisoner of your choice. This particular choice will open up several short story branches that will lead you in different directions before getting you back on the main plotline, that is, wrapping up Ekaterine and moving on to the next city.

We were able to play through this first level with different approaches, and some certainly provided more interesting, illicit actions than others. Still, this first level didn't expose us to the more-dramatic actions available later in the game, including terrorize, riot, crime wave, and national strike. But we were surprised to see that the animations for abilities as violent as assault were tame and partly played for comedy. What we played was mostly focused on political maneuvering and convincing people to join your side, and it featured less of the underhanded events and directly controlled action we'd expected. We'll find out what course the revolution really takes when Republic is released later this month.

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