Platforms – iOS, Android, PC, Mac, and Playstation 4 (reviewed)
What happens when an episodic game developed for mobile devices comes to a home console? République did just that. Originally built for iOS devices, it’s since gone on to Android, PC, Mac, and now, launching alongside the final episode of the game for other platforms, Playstation 4. République’s episodic nature isn’t quite the same as other games developed and distributed that way. The first episode released December 13th, 2013 and while most episodic games release within a few months (Life is Strange released all five episodes in ten months), République’s second episode didn’t come out until May 2nd, 2014, nearly five months after the first episode. Releases didn’t get any more frequent, as the third episode released October 20th, 2014, and episode four launched December 17th, 2015. During that amount of time, République switched engines and tried different methods of control, something I followed along with on their podcast, Camouflaj Radio. I’ve mentioned this previously, but I don’t do well waiting for episodic games to release. I only played the first episode and I decided to wait until all the episodes were released before I finished it.
République is stealth game that has you guiding Hope, the game’s main character, through a facility as she tries to escape it. You control her, but the camera is never quite settled on her. Instead, Hope is in contact with you through a cell phone that she carries around. You jump from it to the security cameras and computers scattered throughout the facility to get a better view of Hope’s surroundings. Doing so is necessary so she doesn’t bump into guards, known as the Prizrak, and end her journey to freedom. While panning around between cameras, called OMNI view, the game is effectively paused, allowing to plan and plot movements, lock and unlock doors, and look for hidden bits of info. Initially, you can check out the passports of the Prizrak guards and scan posters and other bits of info. Once you find your first information broker station, you’re able to sell all the information that you’ve been collecting to him. Doing so allows you to upgrade your abilities, some of which allow you to find even more bits of information to sell. Other upgrades let you see distract guards by making telephones ring and nearby alarms to go off, seeing their patrol patterns, and messing up their radios. While spending the time and scanning around for the information isn’t necessary, it does make your going a lot easier as you unlock more and more abilities. To that point, it almost feels necessary and slows the game’s pacing down quite a bit since searching for these bits of information act as the game’s economy.
Loading in the game is a surprising issue considering the beefier hardware the Playstation 4 is running compared to your average iOS device. The initial load on the first episode made me think the game had frozen completely, giving no indication that it was whirring away in the background loading. You press X to answer an incoming phone call from Hope and the game just gives you a blank screen to stare at from there. I don’t know how they could have handled it better, but loading the game and then having the phone call come in would probably make a more a positive first impression. This occurs between each episode and is a definite annoyance. The load time there isn’t the only instance of problems with loading. Jumping room to room, it will take a second or two to transition to the new room. It’s not a huge issue, but it does slow the game down quite a bit.
Controlling Hope is fairly simple, but it’s also not without problems. Hope tends to have a hard time unsticking from cover and often gets stuck on bits of geometry that you think she shouldn’t be. This is particularly problematic when things get hairy and you’re trying to quickly sneak from point to point, only to have her get caught up on the edge a potted plant or desk. It’s also a major problem when you’re trying to run away to a different room from a Prizrak that’s spotted you so you can lock the door behind her and find a hiding place. More times than I care to admit, I found myself getting snagged on something while running, causing me to get caught. The camera transitions happen at strange moments. You can move ever so slightly and have the camera change. It’s especially frustrating when walking from room to room. The slight load in between rooms becomes exaggerated when you find yourself sitting through it multiple times when walking back into the room you just left because of an odd camera switch. Sometimes when you set where you want the camera to be so you can monitor exactly where the Prizrak are and begin to move Hope, it will switch back to a camera closer to Hope. More than a few times I found myself becoming frustrated as it felt like the game was fighting me.
While Hope isn’t completely defenseless, her options are limited. She gets pepper spray to use either offensively or when a Prizrak that isn’t wearing a helmet grabs her. The pepper spray is a temporary effect as the guards will recover after a bit and come looking for you. A taser that works on Prizrak that aren’t wearing armor will put down the victim, effectively eliminating them for good. You also get sleep gas mines, which are few and far between and only show up a few times, so you should plan your use of these items well. If Hope is caught, her items are confiscated by the Prizrak that brings her to the confinement cell. You can get those items back by pickpocketing them from the same Prizrak, but you’ll definitely have to be more careful as you have nothing to defend yourself with. Aggressively trying to get your items back is a tough scenario, so patience in waiting for the right moment to strike is key, lest you end up back in the same confinement cell you just broke out of.
While the parts of République have a very Metal Gear Solid feel to their layout and design, the first section that you play through in the first episode doesn’t feel as well designed as its inspirations. The feel of the layout is what it lacks. While Metal Gear Solid gave you options on how to approach most sections, République’s first episode rarely gives that chance. By the third episode, you definitely start to feel it coming together and your options for approach seem to be more varied, especially if you’ve been unlocking abilities with the information broker. The upgrades help you feel less hopeless in your chances of sneaking by without being caught. Just as you get settled in that rhythm by the end of the third episode and it seems to be firing on all cylinders, episode four takes a huge turn. You lose all of the defensive items Hope has procured through the last three episode and nearly all of your OMNI abilities and you’re put into a new area that feels and looks completely different. Going from a Metal Gear Solid feel to, without revealing too much, something more akin to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is more than a little jarring. From a sterile facility that shares a bit of BioShock’s Rapture before its downfall vibe to something that would fit a horror game is a strange transition.
That transition and the one the fifth episode takes is where I think République shows where I felt its biggest weakness was: self-identity. The story is a mix of George Orwell’s 1984 and Metal Gear Solid. The game tries to play like Metal Gear Solid, then Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, and the ending segment reeks of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots with a segment of Rez thrown in. République only feels sure of itself in the third episode and once that episode ends, the game never seems to get its footing back. The main driving force of episode four is a thing I’m not a fan of in video games (something I won’t mention further but you may be able to figure out). Episode five brings back the play style of episodes one through three, but feels even more linear than the first one did because how the story affects the environment. The section that feels like Rez is a bit of an oddity as it comes from nowhere. With no indication as to what you’re supposed to be doing or how you’re supposed to control it, it left me frustrated to the point I stopped playing it for a bit and came back later to try to figure out.
And once its all over, there’s not much to it. République kind of ends with a thud, both narratively and your ability to play it more. Once you finish episode five, the game is over. There’s no New Game Plus, no revisiting chapters to try to find any collectibles you may have missed. If you want to try to get everything, you have to start from the beginning of the game. With each episode lasting around three to six hours, depending on how you approach it, it’s more than a bit daunting to try to grab everything in the game. Miss something in chapter four and want to go back to get it? Tough luck, you’ll have to start all over again rendering the last fifteen hours of progress useless. While the collectibles encourage replay, the option you’re given isn’t conducive to that.
The first episode’s pacing seems to be more suited to a mobile experience, as playing it all at once feels a bit drawn out. Popping in and out of it on a phone or tablet seems like a much better fit, but with the tendency to sit down and play a few hours, the first episode feels a bit like a slog to get through on the Playstation 4. The later episodes feel a bit better paced, which makes me think the extra time in the cooker had Camouflaj working on just that. I wish some of the more nagging problems, like the loading and the camera transitions, had been addressed as they would lead to a more positive experience with République. With all the hiccups in controls, loading, pacing, and identity, I still feel like République had something to it. Whatever that something was though seems to been largely squashed under its own ambition. Once you finally seem to settle in with how to play it, it flips the table on you and has you trying different things. Considering it took three episodes to come into its own, changing up the game seems like a misstep. I think République would have been served keeping episode three as its point of reference for gameplay, design, and pacing. République is an ambitious game for a studio’s first release, but it’s a bit too messy to really get behind.