Star Wars: Republic Commando
The overall quality in Star Wars games has made quite a turnaround over the past several years. Lackluster efforts like Jedi Power Battles and The Phantom Menace are mercifully occurring with less and less frequency, and stellar titles such as Rogue Leader and Knights of the Old Republic are being released to virtually unanimous critical acclaim across gaming websites and magazines. The good news is this trend looks to continue for some time in the future, as LucasArts has several highly promising Star Wars games set for release later this year. Perhaps the most intriguing title on this up-and-coming list, which includes such hotly anticipated games as Knights of the Old Republic II and Star Wars: Battlefront, is a first-person shooter by the name of Star Wars: Republic Commando (due out for both the Xbox and PC).
Set between the events of Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Episode 3: The Creeping Fear (terrible title, I know), Republic Commando will show you a much grittier side of Star Wars than is usually portrayed in either films or games. In fact, the lack of Jedis, lightsabers and Force powers may initially seem like too great a departure from the traditional Star Wars formula, but, as you will see later, it turns out to be a refreshing deviation.
The game places you in control of a crack team of badass Republic Commandos — fully armored soldiers that make ordinary Stormtroopers look like bumbling mall security guards. The commandos will be sent on missions with varying objectives such as hostage rescue, data retrieval, assault, reconnaissance, sabotage and assassination. This wide breadth of mission criteria is one of the reasons why Republic Commando wonít play like so many other mindless, me-too first-person shooters out there. Missions will take the commandos to a variety of familiar Star Wars locales, but a few these areas have been kept top-secret due to their connection with the upcoming Episode III film. Locations that have been confirmed include: the lower jungles and tree cities of the Wookie home planet of Kashyyyk (rejoice fellow KotoR fans!), a disabled and overrun Republic assault freighter, a massive Separatist (i.e. ñ Trade Federation) core ship and the barren wastes and subterranean caverns of Geonosis.
As mentioned earlier, the game is played from the first-person viewpoint and, in a great move by LucasArts, you will actually view the action from inside the helmet of a republic commando. The helmetís visor realistically wraps around the screen (a la – Metroid Prime) and features a HUD that displays such critical stats as health, shields and teammate status and location. Thatís a nice segue into discussion about one of the gameís other impressive features: the squad-based combat. Similar to Rainbow Six III, you can use the d-pad to access different commands for the other members of your group. At any point while playing, you can tell them to act aggressively and seek out enemies, bring up the rear and attack only if provoked or hold at a particular location. On top of those basic orders, many levels will have certain spots where you will be given all-new command options, like the choice to set up a sniper on a particularly appealing raised platform. This squad-based gameplay sounds extremely promising and could end up making Republic Commando one of the must have first-person shooters of 2004.
Of course, commandos wouldnít be commandos without some blistering firepower, so these seasoned soldiers come equipped with the hefty DC-17m Repeating Blaster Rifle. You know the Imperial Blaster Rifle from the Jedi Knight games? Think of that, only 10x more dangerous. This large assault rifle is quite versatile and is capable of carrying attachments that allow it to be converted for use in long distance sniping and penetrating heavy armor plating. Commandos also come standard equipped with the trusty DC-15s Blaster Pistol and Thermal Detonators. Other types of explosives available in the game include the Sonic Detonators, capable of stunning those in the blast radius, and the EMP Detonators, able to disrupt all electrical activity in the vicinity. Weapons can also be scavenged from the various enemies, so expect to find and use Wookie Bowcasters, Trandoshan Slaver Shotguns, Concussion Rifles, Trandoshan Sub-Machineguns, Homing Missile Launchers and Genosian Beam Weapons. The Beam Weapon is perhaps the niftiest of the bunch, as it fires a formidable sustained laser that is capable of slicing through organic matter like so much warm butter.
As far as enemies go, plenty of familiar Star Wars baddies will be in the game to try and thwart your group of republic commandos. Trade Federation Battle Droids, made famous from their appearance in Episode I, will be encountered in large numbers, as will more advanced Separatist robots like Droideka (rolling, heavily armed sentry droids) and Advanced Spider Droids (massive eight-legged monstrosities). Those bug-like Genosians from Episode II will also make an appearance, with variations ranging from smaller, swarming Drones to the winged, Force Pike-wielding Elites. Old school Star Wars fans will be happy to know that some Episode IV love is being thrown into the game in the form of those yellow-garbed, scaly bounty hunters, the Trandoshans. Of course, there are several other enemies to be encountered in the game, but at this point they are being kept tightly under wraps because of their involvement in Episode IIIís storyline.
As you can tell from the screenshots, this game looks very pretty. Based on a greatly enhanced version of the Unreal engine, Republic Commando promises to feature dynamic lighting, particle effects and a super smooth framerate. At this point in development, there do appear to be some rough edges like choppy animations and aliasing, but the game is still six months away so things will almost certainly be cleaned up by then. You can also probably discern from the screenshots how much darker this game looks when compared to other Star Wars games. This realistic take on our beloved galaxy far, far away is intriguing to say the least, and hopefully the combat-based gameplay is significantly enhanced by the gritty, yet appealing, visuals.
The Xbox version of Republic Commando will support up to 16 players over Xbox Live, as well as some yet-to-be-announced downloadable content. Xbox owners will also be treated to offline multiplayer in the way of 16-player system link and two to four-player deathmatch. There has been no word about split screen or online co-op play, but weíll be keeping our fingers tightly crossed that that this will make it into the final build. PC users will also be able to get in on the online action with up to 16 players gaming at once over the Internet. The PC version of the game will also support downloadable upgrades and will ship with an editor.
The last true Star Wars first-person shooter was Dark Forces (Jedi Knight is played largely in third-person), so itís nice to see LucasArts dabbling back in the genre during this current generation of consoles. Consisting of a pinch of Rainbow Six III and dash of Halo sprinkled over a heaping helping of luscious Star Wars goodness, Republic Commando is easily one of Thunderboltís most anticipated games of the year. Heck, maybe after this is released in November Iíll stop walking around in public wearing a Stormtrooper helmet and muttering, ìRebel scumî at random passersbys. Naaaahhh…