Star Wars Republic Commando Preview
We get an exclusive look at LucasArts' upcoming Star Wars-themed first-person shooter.
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Very little has been revealed about Star Wars Republic Commando since the game's eye-popping debut at Microsoft's E3 press conference. This first-person shooter turned heads when the trailer appeared in a montage at the press conference. The tightly shot teaser made those who saw it jump in all the right places and worked the Star Wars faithful into a frenzy. However, following its debut, the game disappeared quicker than Yoda's corpse in Return of the Jedi, with no information appearing aside from a few screens that started making the rounds early this year. Fortunately, LucasArts has taken the wraps off the game today, announcing a fall 2004 release for the PC and Xbox. We recently had the chance to get an exclusive look at the Xbox game to find out more on this atmospheric game that offers a unique view of the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars Republic Commando is set during the infamous Clone Wars that kicked off at the end of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and will continue in the upcoming conclusion to the trilogy, Star Wars: Episode III. Given that the many battles in the Clone Wars appear to take place between the films, the internal development team working on the game has had a unique opportunity to tell a story that doesn't try to religiously adhere to a film plot. Instead, the game's narrative will offer a slice of life from the perspective of a Republic commando. As a result, you'll visit familiar locales from the trilogy that reflect well-known events but from a unique perspective. For example, one of the game's campaigns is set on Geonosis during the battle seen at the end of Attack of the Clones. However, you won't be fighting side by side with the Jedi on the battlefield as all hell breaks loose; instead, you'll be navigating nearby catacombs in the hopes of infiltrating the Geonosian base. The more covert spin on events is a direct result of the game's context. The Republic commando is a decidedly different kind of solider from the grunts seen in Attack of the Clones. The backstory to the game is that following the initial run of troops it was decided that a specialized soldier was needed for the unique circumstances that arise in a war. The end result is the star of Star Wars Republic Commando, a specially trained Navy SEAL-style operative who kicks ass in new and exciting ways.
The game's story doesn't follow the traditional structure you might expect from a game. The main narrative is basically a linear series of moments in the life of a commando in the Republic forces, which marks a first for a Star Wars game. Of all the games that have been based on the trilogies, Star Wars Republic Commando is the first to ever offer a taste of what it would be like to serve in the military. The game will send you on a series of missions spread out over three campaigns. The soldier you'll play as won't be remarkably different from the rest of his team in terms of personality; he'll just be part of the unit. As a result, it doesn't appear that there's going to be a heroic story arc that will find you single-handedly saving all creation. However, that said, you can expect to find more than a few threads in the game that will lead to the upcoming final installment in the trilogy. Republic Commando's story will serve as a bridge between Episode II and Episode III. Star Wars fans will find more than a few tidbits included in the narrative to build anticipation. For example, it appears the game will introduce General Grievous and his bodyguards, who are slated to play a part in Episode III.
The game will unfold in a no-nonsense militaristic style, which helps set a darker overall tone for the experience. Each mission will begin with a briefing of some kind. More often than not you won't get all the details on your task in the briefing. Instead, your objectives will be called in to you over your com as you progress through each mission. The briefings we saw had a dynamic "you are there" feel, which seemed to effectively capture the feel of a war movie. One of the briefings we saw opened on a Republic gunship en route to a drop-off point. As the voice-over filled us in on what the mission involved, we saw other gunships following in formation, dodging enemy fire and, in some cases, going up in flames.
Star Wars Republic Commando has a unique gameplay system that is a blend of Halo controls and Metroid Prime presentation with a slick squad-based mechanic. While the exact control scheme is still being fine-tuned to ensure control in the game is both responsive and intuitive, we got a feel for how it's coming together. The core mechanics of controlling your commando are what you might expect. One analog stick will move your commando, while another will let you look around. The triggers will let you use grenades and fire your primary weapon. The face buttons will have several commands mapped to them. In addition to the expected commands, such as switching weapons and using your flashlight, you'll find an all-purpose action button that will work in tandem with the targeting reticle so you can issue orders to your squad.
While any game with squad mechanics is guaranteed to feature some level of complexity, Republic Commando is shaping up to offer a very accessible system, thanks to strong AI and a slick context-sensitive order system. You'll go through the game as part of a four-man unit. You'll be in direct control of one soldier, while the other three will follow behind. The members of your squad will tag along behind you and offer cover as needed when left to their own devices. However, you can issue several different commands, such as search and destroy, form up, secure position, recall, and other situational orders, like disarm a mine.
While these are pretty standard commands, the system for issuing them is quite unique. Your aiming reticle, which is an expected staple in a first-person shooter, will serve double duty. You will use it for targeting and for issuing commands. The marker system, which appears to work somewhat like the one seen in Rainbow Six 3, will let you use the reticle to target areas and direct your squad to them by using the aforementioned orders. The neat trick to the mechanic is that focusing the reticle on hotspots in the environment will let you issue context-sensitive commands that you're made aware of by ghostly, hologram-like images of your squad performing the actions. While keeping track of your squad, issuing orders, and keeping an eye out for hotspots may seem like a lot to manage, especially in the middle of a firefight, the system works surprisingly well. The game's HUD, which has a feel similar to that of Samus Aran's in Metroid Prime, lets you keep an eye on your team's health, as well as the ammo counter for your weapons and shield strength, via unobtrusive readouts in your visor's display.
The weapon and shield system in the game is a tip of the hat to Halo's elegant system. You'll have a primary and secondary slot for your weapons as well as the ability to use grenades. While the two-weapon system sounds exactly like the system in Halo, the developers have thrown a nice twist into the mechanic to offer some variety. Your primary weapon--a rifle--is actually three weapons in one. It will feature two upgrades in addition to its standard configuration You can use it as a basic rifle, or you can add sniper and antiarmor attachments as needed once you acquire them. Your secondary weapon, a pistol by default, can be swapped out for an enemy's weapon if you feel like a change of pace. Your soldier's shield works much like Master Chief's from Halo. Your shield will take a certain amount of damage before your health meter depletes. Once you're out of harm's way, it will charge up.
Star Wars Republic Commando's single-player game will be complemented by a multiplayer mode that will offer both offline and online play. The game is slated to include the standard assortment of game types: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag. You'll be able to play with two to four players in offline split-screen play, and Xbox Live play should support up to 16 players. In addition, the team is aiming to provide downloadable content. While both versions will include all of the above, it's likely that the PC version will get an extra perk in the form of a level editor
The atmospheric visuals in the game benefit from a combination of style and substance. The graphics engine uses the Unreal 2003 engine as a base and heads off into some cool visual territory, with high-polygon character models, richly detailed environments, and plenty of special effects. The characters all look very good and are a fine showcase for the virtues of normal mapping. The enemies you'll encounter include battle droids, Geonosians, Trandoshans, and some surprises. The animation is very well done and has some nice touches, such as bone-specific hit detection. The massive environments also benefit from generous polygon counts and get the added bonus of cool lighting and particle effects. You'll even find objects, such as turrets, that you can interact with to help fend off the forces of evil. While the campaigns take you to three locations--Geonosis, a derelict spacecraft, and Kashykk--you'll find a surprising amount of variety on hand. The game's heavy reliance on a darker color palette helps complement the experience. The visuals are given an added bump, thanks to the game's 480p HDTV support.
The audio, while still coming together in the Xbox version, will offer Dolby 5.1 support. Though the work-in-progress mix was rough, what we heard was promising. The radio chatter from the squad was good as were the orders that came in during the mission to provide more information.
From what we've seen so far, Star Wars Republic Commando is shaping up to be a promising new take on the Star Wars universe. The darker tone feels right, and the visuals do a very good job of supporting it. The gameplay mechanics are interesting, in a good way, and help give the game a fresh feel. The multiplayer modes and downloadable content should complement the solid single-player package. Star Wars Republic Commando is currently slated to ship this fall for the PC and Xbox. Look for more on the game in the coming months. Until then, check out our exclusive video interview with the team.