There has been a veritable flood of AAA vet-helmed indie titles hitting the gaming scene this past year. To be sure, this is a great thing, but it can get tiring even for yours truly to open every other review with such a qualification. Camouflaj’s episodic stealther REPUBLIQUE distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack not only by boasting the most eclectic of backgrounds, but also by starting out as a humble Android title. Now that the final episode has been released, REPUBLIQUE is available in its entirety with a complete overhaul for consoles where it further distinguishes itself.
Players assume the role of a hacker who is contacted by PreCal 390-H, Hope to her friends, a girl being held captive in the Orwellian dictatorship of Metamorphosis. Remotely infiltrating Metamorphosis’ mainframe, the player’s perspective is entirely made up of the various camera feeds in the facility. Acting as an absentee eye-in-the-sky, the player must guide Hope to freedom by overriding security devices and diverting guards while the young prisoner tries to escape. Along the way, Hope can steal contraband media that the player in turn can sell for upgraded programs and security clearance, thus allowing Hope to progress further.
Metamorphosis has A E S T H E T I C that would make FLORAL SHOPPE blush…
With all of the commentary on state surveillance, WATCH_DOGS comparisons are impossible to avoid here, but while the hacking interface in that game functioned as a magical combat system to supplement the bland shooter gameplay, REPUBLIQUE’s technomancy is its main attraction. Players can only see what is happening on camera, meaning Hope is in danger whenever she leaves their gaze. On the flip side, players can scout ahead of Hope by jumping from camera to camera and making note of enemy positions. Camoflaj’s MGS roots are apparent in the simple but effective stealth system. Guard field of view is the determining factor in whether Hope is detected, and there isn’t much to the stealth besides memorizing patrol patterns. While Hope has very limited capabilities in combat (don’t expect her to kill anybody), her captors are equally passive. If caught, guards will usually escort Hope to a nearby cell, obviating the need for fail states. This casual design philosophy ends up working in REPUBLIQUE’s favor, ensuring that the narrative-heavy flow is rarely broken up by game overs.
…though its own plant selection is rather spartan
REPUBLIQUE can’t be perfect in every department, unfortunately. The plot is fairly standard as far as video game narratives go. Hope has to escape on the eve of “The Arrival,” Metamorphosis’ secretive plot to become a world power. Finding out what The Arrival is coincides with Hope’s journey, but there’s no real compelling conflict outside of this basic mystery. The episodes were noticeably developed years apart from each other, as they all have a distinct feel. Some feel like a traditional choice-driven adventure, others like survival horror, and some like pure stealth. While this adds variety to the experience, it also lends a disjointed feel to the game as a whole. Additionally, scant information is revealed about Hope for much of the game, making her a difficult protagonist to root for. Rather, much more time is spent delving into what makes the game’s villains tick, especially the enigmatic and perpetually obscured Overseer, to such an extent that REPUBLIQUE feels more like his story than Hope’s.
Though full-blown cinematics (which never break the camera’s POV) are few and far between, REPUBLIQUE is chock full of interactive props and set pieces that flesh out its world. While the central character and her journey leave a lot to be desired, the country of Metamorphosis and its citizens are endlessly engrossing to spy on. This is helped by some of the best voice over work yet recorded in gaming. Dwight Schultz is entrancing as the Overseer, but equally impressive is Jennifer Hale as Hope’s bilingual warden, whose French is as good as her English. But most entertaining of all is a rare, non-Solid Snake performance from David Hayter as a revolutionary fighting against the Overseer, whose oft-inebriated voice can be found on collectable cassette tapes hidden throughout the complex. In the end, it’s this captivating verisimilitude that makes the weak plot work, a fallback that can only really work in gaming and nowhere else.
“Are you detaining me?”
REPUBLIQUE’s console port is one of the most impressive of recent memory. Like the PC version before it, the console edition of the game looks leagues better than its mobile counterpart, which itself was already visually impressive given its technological limitations. This isn’t to say that the graphics are anything to write home about, but they get the job done for the pulled out, fuzzy feed perspective that much of the game uses. Several technical tweaks have also been implemented, including the ability to spot Hope through walls, as well as a very welcome survival mode with reduced item placement and limited saves for players looking for more of a challenge.
The biggest change, however, is controller support, which drastically alters how the game handles. The touch screen Android and point-and-click PC versions limited player interaction over Hope, leaving many of her actions, such as moving out of guards’ sight, up to her AI. This is understandable, given the limitations of such input systems, but the controller offers a greater degree of freedom. Now, players control Hope directly with the left stick while operating cameras with the right. While this sounds like an innovation on paper, in practice it feels more like a concession to draw in console gamers. The added agency over Hope eliminates the voyeuristic sensation of only being able to watch her through the fisheye lens, as well as partially undermining the game’s themes of mass surveillance and censorship. Though REPUBLIQUE plays fine with a controller, perhaps better than ever, it loses the clever subversion of genre conventions that separated it from its peers.
Regardless of which version of REPUBLIQUE you end up getting your mitts on, it is sure to be a gaming experience quite unlike anything you’ve had. Though occasionally implemented in an imperfect manner, REPUBLIQUE has some revolutionary ideas and makes core design decisions not seen anywhere else. Don’t let this one slip past you.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on PC and Android.