What do we think of, the moment we hear "Star Wars"? Spectacular lightsaber duels, epic space battles, pristine planets swarming with countless droids, the deserted Tatooine trembling from a dozen podcraft racing across its plains, list goes on in the obvious direction. Regardless of the fact that the aforementioned tone hold the saga together for quite the time, minor creative minds decided to go the other way, twist the universe and show its gritty side, where harsh reality was clashed with futuristic battles. The side of the Clones.
For those unfamiliar with that particular aspect of the universe (if you're not familiar at all – wow), a little reminding: Clones were created from the genes of a remarkable mercenary, Jango Fett, and represented millions and millions of identical, highly-trained soldiers with boosted life energy and a metal-hard morale. And while most of those troopers were sent to battle with more reliance on luck than courage or skill, fewer, exceptionally strong both physically and mentally, were granted the possibility to train for commandos. Clone commandos were superior in any aspect to their lower brethren, donning top-of-the-line armor and carrying an array of powerful weapons. Some of the unique subgroup acted alone, or as battalion commanders (ARCs – Advanced Recon Commandos), whilst others were raised along with three other members, as a part of the Clone Commando Squad, an elite team of nearly unmatched clones sent behind enemy lines. Think of a Halo SPARTAN-III divided into four humans.
Lucasarts' Star Wars: Republic Commando tried as hard as it could to capture the essential moments from the difficult, but nonetheless routine missions the squads embarked on, morphing a colorful utopia to a dark, war-torn world, were Jedis were considered too good to spare. The storyline focuses on a particular team of commandos – Delta Squad – telling, albeit briefly, the story of the leader's birth, his trainings, his introduction to the rest of the team, and an atmospheric take off to his first mission. From there on, a whirlwind of happenings occur: an elimination of an important Geonisian general, an infiltration of a Core Ship (yep, those round things from Episode II), a droid facility shutdown, recapturing of a lost Assault Ship, and lots of other deeds done by the heroic squad, including an interesting series of events taking place on Kashyyk, known from the last Star Wars movie to be the lush homeworld for the Wookies.
The characters are extremely well-developed, showing enormous difference between personalities, which genuinely livens the squad, consisting of a strong leader, a life-happy demolitions expert, a brutal sniper and a textbook-dedicated hacker. The collision of such diversity gives room for lots of secondary storytelling and interesting dialogues, giving you the guarantee of one hell of a rich experience, where teammates respond like brothers, joke like brothers, and cover your back like brothers. It's a game delivering, with obvious success, not only the value of bonding with your character, but with other characters as well.
As for the gameplay, well, once you've stomached the fact that you have a lightsaber-less Star Wars before you, its pretty easy to comprehend and get used to it. Basic shooter mechanics are added up with basic squad controls, which magically transform into advanced squad controls if used in the correct order in favor of your tactical advantage. Plainly speaking, or probably even less plainly, its a game where every set piece turns into a board of chess. You place a grenadier behind a crate in the corner, stick booby-traps on explosive containers at the entrance, order Delta-07 to take a sniping position on the nearby catwalk, before scattering a few extra mine-bombs about and forming up with the remaining member, waiting for the scripts to work. Once they do, observe and let your foes storm right into a perfectly improvised and calculated trap. And while you won't always have time to get ready, quickly coordinating your squad and owning the correct firepower will almost always guarantee a happy end to any droid/organic problem. However, as the game is pretty much linear, times of yourself being ambushed will occur as well, so even more squad-based options are added to minimize the threat.
That is, the "aggressive" element of surprise, which is implemented much better than in any other game of the same genre. Take door breaches. Perfectly understanding the odds, your team takes tactical positions around the entrance, one of them places a detonator on the center of the gate, and jumps aside, while the other momentarily tosses a grenade inside one the way is clear. Organically spreading in, your team acquires the precious seconds needed to neutralize the stunned enemies, or what's left of them anyway.
But an FPS is an FPS, and strategies are eventually bought down to simple rock-paper-scissors once the action really pumps up the heat. Enemies come in impressive numbers and types, ranging from droids (which include standard battle droids, Super battle droids, Droidekas, scavengers and Grievous Bodyguards – almost impossible mini-bosses) to guys like Geonosians and Trandoshans – each of them possessing unique battle tactics and weapons. Droids are straightforward and dumb, and while some of them are tougher than others, a quick combo of EMP grenades and anti-armor rounds are sufficient for turning them into scrap metal. Geonosians can fly, and that irritates. They stick to walls, jump around, and utilize hit-and-run tactics, so a well-placed sniper shot carries more luck than blind firing. Trandoshans vary, with their most common representatives being the slavers, knee-high pests acting like berserkers and carrying either knives or projectile shotguns (funny for a Star Wars world – the irony is appreciated in-game as well). The mercenary Trandos are more intelligent, utilize teamwork and carry assault rifles, but are more or less slow compared to other organics and die easily due to their larger size. You can also hit their backpacks to send them flying – be sure, the squad will like the show.
There is no actual Boss system, but there are guys who can be firmly called mini-bosses due to their insurmountable firepower and formidable health. Trandoshan Heavy Elites, for instance, are a nightmare to face: Armed to the teeth (literally; only their heads are defenseless), they move slowly but carry, well, a big, very big machine gun. And while concentrated fire and grenades can send the guy to heaven, tougher foes exist. Aforementioned Grievous Bodyguards – the most dreaded droids the Separatists possess, personal guards to the droid Commander, they have been known to posing a formidable threat even to the Jedis. True enough, they literally swirl around the battlefield, jumping, sticking to walls, and generally being the sum of all in-game enemies, minus their weaknesses. Good luck bringing them down.
But the nature of your squad always pushes the game forward. There are moments of lone action, but those are more of an exception then a tradition. All those witty remarks and battle cries are what give the game its main charm, representing Star Wars from the darkest, but noblest of its sides.
2005 was rich with visually spectacular games, and amongst them Republic Commando feels a little too standard and out-of-place. What it lacks in models and textures, it refills with everything else: Outstanding art design, great animation, extremely diverse environments and quality graphics effects. What's even more, the original score for Star Wars has been re-created, maintaining the classic feel and added up with some new, more military sequences. Same goes for the incredible voicework, where all that droid banter, and lizard blabber wouldn't have costed a Trandoshan's ear if it wasn't for the incredible squad voicework, where even some movie actors were involved. It was the perfect last touch needed for the exceptional personalities of the former.
Diversity is almost always appreciated, and for a franchise like Star Wars, Republic Commando may be a grain in the sand, but the grain stands out from the rest of the desert. Comparing the product to other games in the series will be not only unfair but incorrect: with the exception of T-shaped visors and a lightsaber Easter Egg in one of the levels, this game is a fierce squad-based action not as much as even glancing towards Jedis and their Godly status. Who knew Star Wars had personality, realistic settings, military operations, great humor, and brotherly love? Anyone who has played through and competed the adventures of Delta 38 and his team.