Fall of the Republic
Two things have happened in the past few years to warrant a reminder that Star Wars: Republic Commando is not only one of the best Star Wars shooters ever made, but also one of the most influential. First, we have Halo 5: Guardians, a game whose major addition to the franchise—squad commands—owes more than a few things to Republic Commando‘s gameplay. And in 2015, we received Star Wars Battlefront, the franchise’s return to the FPS (although also third-person shooter) genre since 2005, when Republic Commando hit shelves to dish out one of the darkest storylines ever told in Star Wars.
A game I consider to be among the best LucasArts had to offer in its later years, Republic Commando arrived at an interesting time in the company’s history. As I mentioned in a previous article about The Force Unleashed, 2004 was the beginning of the end: corporate restructuring led to big cuts in staffing and budgets at LucasArts by a chain of command, which, it would be fair to say, understood dollars and marketing much better than video games.
The company, which enjoyed critical success in 2003, thanks to games like Knights of the Old Republic and Jedi Knight II, wanted to make a mega-blockbuster game that could compete with the Halo series, a financial phenomenon in gaming at the time. It wasn’t necessarily an unreasonable goal (this is the Star Wars license, after all), but a string of questionable decisions pulled LucasArts farther away from that dream. For example, cutting out several talented third-party developers, such as Raven Software, Obsidian, BioWare, and Factor 5, led to the end of many of the publisher’s best franchises, most notably the Rogue Squadron and Jedi Knight series. The Knights of the Old Republic series would live on with a MMORPG from BioWare called The Old Republic in 2011, but many don’t consider that game a true successor.
The projects to survive those early cuts included two games developed internally, Republic Commando and the official Revenge of the Sith tie-in game, as well as Pandemic Studios’ Battlefrontand Obsidian’s Knights of the Old Republic II, which was already quite deep into development and ultimately pushed out the door. This was LucasArts’ 2004-2005 slate. While Battlefront garnered all the praise and fandom, KotOR II didn’t quite meet expectations, and Revenge of the Sith did about as well with critics and financially as the film it was based on, it was Republic Commando that occupied that overshadowed middle position. But I’d argue that this first-person shooter is the most noteworthy of the three games. Not only was it tasked with telling an original story, it had to do it without any Jedi. And the result is quite spectacular.
Republic Commando is the story of Delta Squad, an elite group of Clone troopers tasked with completing some of the most dangerous missions during the Clone Wars. You play as Delta-38, the leader of the squad, from his early education and training on Kamino to deployment on Geonosis, the planet on which the Clone Wars began. Very early on, you witness first-hand the assembly-line nature of the Clone troopers, who are bred to become killing machines for the Galactic Republic, and ultimately expendable to the generals and commanders they follow into battle.
The overall tone is much darker, too, with a very liberal approach to violence, blood and gore, and exploding Geonosians. Unlike the cartoonish, “no-blood-ever” casualties of war we see in the movies, you’re pretty much drenched in guts and goo throughout this game.
It is true that Republic Commando does seem to lack a bit of the emotional core of some of its more famous predecessors, but that’s because it’s trying to strike a different nerve in its audience than the other Star Wars games of its time. Republic Commando tackles the horrors of war by putting you in the shoes of an “ordinary” soldier.
While KotOR showed us the destruction of Taris and the fall of Revan, a military hero turned tyrant, that game’s character can ultimately bring peace to the galaxy, one way or another. In contrast, the soldiers of Republic Commando are powerless to change the galaxy around them, and by the end of the game, the hopelessness of their predicament is in full display.
Unlike KotOR, there is no ticker tape parade or medal ceremony. While they’re being debriefed by Master Yoda (the only brief Jedi cameo in the game), Delta Squad witnesses the fruit of its labor, as Republic gunships zoom into Kashyyyk (the game ends a bit before Order 66, but during the events of RotS) for more death and destruction. Heartbroken by the death of one of their comrades (I won’t spoil it), the remaining members of the powerless Delta Squad prepare for another assignment.
If you search for more than what’s on the surface — a violent and fun shooter full of explosions and terrific set pieces — Republic Commando is the untold story (until this game) of four Clone troopers shackled since birth to a chain of command and the orders given to them. These heroes, unlike most Star Wars main characters, are not presented with choices beyond the tactical decisions they’re allowed to make to complete their missions. They will not alter the direction of the war in any meaningful way. This story is about the pawns.
In the beginning, as you’re watching your character go through the initial training and trials, it seems that the game is making its way to a specific conclusion. Geonosis and the Separatist Army, which is mostly made up of droids as the most basic and expendable units, draws a stunning parallel for Delta Squad. You eventually arrive at a droid factory that you must destroy. Moving through the tight corridors of the factory, it’s impossible not to notice the assembly line of droids, as the droids are first built and then sent off to blow up without much of a choice. This backdrop only an hour or two after the scenes where your character is being bred for war.
The ending of the game is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Delta Squad doesn’t choose to go against orders and save its fallen comrade. There are hints that the remaining Delta Squad members might have realized the truth about themselves — they’re no different to the droids — but they don’t do anything about it. Perhaps because they don’t see anything wrong with their lives after years of conditioning. Republic Commando doesn’t quite give you the ending you expect for these characters. They don’t change for the better.
Delta Squad’s adventures would continue in a mobile game called Republic Commando: Order 66, in which they hunt Jedi during the Purge, and the Karen Traviss’ Republic Commando books. Two video game sequels, “Imperial Commando” and “Rebel Commando,” were canceled very early in development during the cuts in 2004.
Bred for War
Republic Commando owes as much to Halo and tactical shooters like the original Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon as Battlefront owes to the Battlefield series. (It’s absolutely no accident that the new Battlefront was developed by DICE.) LucasArts sought to emulate the greatest contemporary hits in the shooter genre, and with these two games, did just that. It’s unfortunate (but it makes sense) that Republic Commando wasn’t able to compete as well as Battlefront.
In many ways, Republic Commando is the perfect, less popular analog to Halo: Combat Evolved, whose sequel ultimately crushed this Star Wars shooter in sales in 2004. But taking the marvelous Halo 2 out of the equation, Republic Commando emulated Halo: CE‘s guns, grenades, and melee formula quite well while also adding a squad-based element that the behemoth franchise only implented in Halo 5: Guardians, the first true squad-based shooter in the series. This is no accident, either. Tim Longo, director of Republic Commando, was put in charge of Halo 5 to freshen up the franchise a bit. Included in the package of this modern shooter are context squad commands that lend the game a more tactical feel and play more often than not like the Star Wars shooter.
The squad tactics are really where Republic Commando shines, every member of your team given a specialty on the battlefield. You have your demolitions, sniper, and hacker specialists, three pretty standard classes you’ll see in many of these sorts of shooters. Through screen prompts and button commands, you’re able to maneuver your team pretty effectively (there were latency issues sometimes, of course) through tricky situations.
You can command your team to go in guns blazing or stay frosty to sneak past an enemy horde (yeah right). Commanding your sniper and demolitions expert to setup different ambush points on the map is always exciting, as the super battle droids march towards a fiery doom. The hacker is the weakest specialist, mostly because he just opens locked doors and cues scripted moments in the game where you must defend a room while he does his hacking. Successfully lead your squad through impossible odds — the second and third acts of this game are certainly a challenge — and you’re pretty much the most badass crew.
It has to be said that it’s sometimes hard to tell the squad members apart. Although they’re color-coded and do have their own catch phrases and bits of dialogue, Sev, Scorch, Fixer, and Boss aren’t too different from one another. Which makes it all the more difficult to accept the “big” death at the end of the game as the emotional climax for these characters. Like I said, you have to dig a little bit deeper for that emotional core.
Republic Commando, despite being a very solid shooter, can’t quite escape its legacy as a Halo clone. Although the basic humans vs. aliens/robots shooter gameplay is made exciting by the Star Wars license, the weapons and environments just aren’t that interesting. The Halo rings, Flood-infested High Charity, and pretty much every Covenant gun are star systems beyond anything Republic Commando has to offer in terms of creativity and freshness. But I’m convinced to turn a gentler eye on a game that’s based on Star Wars‘ less interesting Prequel movies.
All in all, Republic Commando is a must-play game for Star Wars fans. You’re basically a Stormtrooper that gets to blow up Geonosians and battle droids while helping Wookies free their homeworld from Trandoshan slavers and General Grievous (who, I’ll admit, kinda sucks). Star Wars nerds will absolutely enjoy this game. And that’s not to take Republic Commando‘s place in the shooter genre lightly. If you enjoyed Halo 5: Guardians‘ squad-based shooter gameplay, I’d like to remind you that Republic Commando did that first.
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