When you think of Star Wars, the first two things that likely come to mind are probably Jedi and space combat in X-Wings and TIE fighters. So logically, a Star Wars game that features neither element would feel like it's missing something. Right? As it turns out, Star Wars Republic Commando's laserlike focus on squad-based, military-style combat makes it a refreshing change of pace for Star Wars games. Its well-paced, albeit brief, single-player campaign will keep adrenaline junkies thrilled from the first dropship landing to the final dust-off. A pedestrian and unimaginative multiplayer mode is the only notable flaw in a game that otherwise plays, looks, and sounds fantastic.
Star Wars Republic Commando, as the title suggests, puts you in the shoes of an elite trooper during the height of the Clone Wars. You don't have a proper name, aside from "Three-Eight," but nonetheless, you're tasked with commanding Delta squad on tough covert ops stretched across three different campaigns. The three other commandos of Delta are also numbered. They are: 07, 40, and 62. Despite the impersonal monikers, each member of your squad has a very unique and likable personality, and this comes across through the entertaining chatter each will dispense over the course of the game.
While you're a clone, like the millions of other republic soldiers, you and your squadmates have been trained to be a little better than the other photocopies of Jango Fett. This means you'll also be outfitted with better weapons and armor than the regular soldiers you'll be fighting with periodically through the campaign. You'll start out with a standard assault rifle, but over the course of the game, you'll be introduced to special attachments that turn this same weapon into a sniper rifle and a grenade launcher. You'll also be able to pick up weapons from fallen enemies, ranging from heavy repeating blasters to submachine guns to rocket launchers. Should you run low on ammo, there's a laser handgun that recharges and never runs out of shots. But what's more fun than this is getting up close and personal with melee attacks. Melee strikes are powerful, and they count as one-hit kills on most standard opponents. So even if you do have plentiful ammo, you'll find yourself frequently stabbing Geonosian bugs and Trandoshan mercenaries in the face, mainly because it's both fun and extremely effective. Rounding out your armament is an array of grenades, like thermal detonators for soft targets and electrostatic grenades for mechanical enemies.
The interface and gameplay conventions in Republic Commando borrow some of the best elements from excellent games like Metroid Prime, Halo, and Freedom Fighters. There a visor overlay onscreen, for example. This gives you useful information, such as the position and condition of your squadmates, instructions on your next objective, and the obligatory ammo counts and health meters. You can also switch to low-light mode to enhance dark areas. The helmet conceit isn't just an excuse to have all these meters onscreen, however. You'll get some nice graphical effects to remind you that your character does have a bit of glass in front of his face. So you'll see blood spatter on the visor when you engage in close combat. There are also situations where droids or jammers will cause static to appear on your screen, reducing visibility.
Like Halo, you and your squadmates are protected by personal shields that will deflect a certain amount of incoming damage. This lets you step into the line of fire for a while before forcing you to duck back into cover to wait for a recharge. Should you take any real damage, however, there are plentiful bacta stations scattered along your campaign routes that you and your squadmates can use to restore health. Their placement can feel contrived at times, such as on a separatist droid ship (Why, exactly, would droids need a substance designed to restore health to organic life-forms?), but the game even manages to poke fun at itself there. From time to time, your teammates will remark, "Whoever left that bacta station there deserves a medal!" In the event that one of your squadmates goes down, he or she's never dead...just incapacitated. You or one of your other squad members can revive your fallen comrade with a device that acts much like a defibrillator, shocking the person up off the ground and returning the person's health status to half. What's great is that the game doesn't end if your own character gets incapacitated. Your screen goes blurry and red--and you can't move--but as long as at least one of your teammates is still up, you can command him to revive you.
Despite that creative aspect to the game, Republic Commando's most important design conceit is your ability to command your squad. There's a single command button to keep things simple, and it can be used on contextually sensitive areas on the battlefield. These include rock piles or debris that can be used as protected sniping positions. Or you may direct a teammate to hack a computer console to open a door or shut off automated defenses. Turrets can be manned by you or your squadmates, and you can also have your team breach doors or blow holes in walls with explosives. You'll also command your teammates to make use of bacta stations or revive fallen comrades on the field. There are also other commands that let you both direct your squad to concentrate fire on a single enemy or form up. The squad command controls work great on either platform, with the PC version getting some commands mapped to function keys for easy access.
It's comforting to note that the inclusion of these squad commands doesn't mean your teammates act like idiots without you ordering them around. On the contrary, they are fairly intelligent about following you around, finding their own cover, and, most importantly, killing the enemy as you encounter him. Certainly, taking advantage of your squad commands and asking your teammates to man turrets or sniping positions makes every encounter easier. But in many cases, you can get by without doing so, at least on the medium difficultly level.
The single-player aspect of Republic Commando takes you on three distinct campaigns during the Clone Wars-era of Star Wars. You'll invade Geonosis, along with the rest of the Republic army, investigate a derelict starship, and assist the wookiees in fending off Trandoshan slavers on the planet of Kashyyyk. The campaigns are paced extremely well throughout the game, offering up new and interesting challenges at just the right junctures. Whether it's hunting down and assassinating a Geonosian lieutenant, fending off endless hordes of super battle droids and droideka, or escorting a highly ranked wookiee, there's never a dull moment in Republic Commando.
The missions are heavily scripted to provide exciting pitched battles, some of which will see you as the aggressor and others of which will require you to defend areas from attack. This also means the game is fairly linear. So it's obvious which paths you'll need to be going down, and you won't be doing a whole lot of backtracking. But at the same time, nary a minute goes by without the blasters and rockets firing back and forth at full tilt. The only downer is that the fun doesn't last long, as most players should be able to tear through the campaign in fewer than 10 hours. It sure is an exciting ride while it lasts, though.
The game does include a multiplayer aspect on both the PC and Xbox platforms. Unfortunately, the multiplayer isn't nearly as creative or exciting as the campaign. There are standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes, along with an assault mode that's basically the same as one-flag CTF, with one team attempting to carry a special item in to a capture area in the other team's base before the timer runs out. There are eight maps total, which are designed for four to 16 players. Many of these maps, however, are just derived from specific parts of the single-player levels, although there is one special level that includes some zero-gravity areas that provide extra amusement. Those who've played a lot of shooters won't find much in Republic Commando they haven't seen before. So if you were looking at this game specifically hoping for a great new multiplayer experience, you're probably better off sticking with other alternatives.
Fortunately, the presentational values don't disappoint like the multiplayer aspects do. Star Wars Republic Commando looks fantastic on both the PC and Xbox, with excellent character models. The armor on each commando is extremely detailed, so you'll see the dents and dings that you'd expect of battle-worn gear. The game also animates extremely well, with the commando models exhibiting a lot of the same mannerisms (like the way they hold their weapons and breach doorways) you'd expect from highly trained operatives. The location-based damage on all enemies allows for a lot of variety in how they die, and the animators took full advantage of this. You can blow limbs off droids or Geonosian bugs. You can take the head off a droid, and you'll see it fire wildly in a circle before falling over. Hit a Trandoshan in its fuel backpack and he'll rocket wildly into walls and ceilings. Toss an electrostatic grenade at droids and they'll shudder with a blue electric glow before exploding into scrap. The varying environments also look great, whether you're in the forests of Kashyyyk or deep inside the guts of a techno-union ship on Geonosis.
The sound effects are extremely vibrant in Republic Commando. The various weapons all have great, punchy sound effects, and there's constant chatter between your squadmates and your adviser, which is both entertaining and useful to the mission at hand. Most of the time, you'll be so engrossed in the sounds of battle that you'll hardly take notice of the music, which borrows from traditional Star Wars themes but also includes some original tracks, ranging from pounding rock to choral pieces that fit the game's militaristic scope.
If you're a fan of Star Wars or action games, Republic Commando is easy to recommend. The single-player aspect combines the elements of this generation's best action games with an added flavor that's all its own. The campaign offers nonstop action from start to finish, making the game easily one of the most enjoyable and memorable Star Wars experiences in recent memory. Our only caveats are that the campaign won't last you long, and the multiplayer is merely competent, which doesn't make the game stand out in a crowded market of first-person shooters. Even with that in mind, the quality single-player experience of Republic Commando should not be missed by anyone who fancies him- or herself an action game aficionado.