A dystopian thriller with powerful story and great graphics
Republique is a fantastic stealth adventure game that was borne of a Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. The Android port was officially released this week, and there's a lot to say about it.
The core gameplay of avoiding guards, gathering clues, and employing an array of hacking abilities is paired up wonderfully with a strong storyline, original voice acting, and graphics with cinema-quality motion capture. That's a lot of hype to live up to, but there are some compromises to make with the episodic nature of the game.
Republique follows a young girl named Hope who lives in an oppressive totalitarian regime. You guide her movements to escape by watching through the system's cameras and the occasional video call. As you progress through the sprawling complex, you learn about a vast conspiracy that we'll do our best not to spoil for you here. Suffice it to say, the story, writing, and character acting are all top notch, and significantly raise the bar for what we can expect from mobile games.
The only real complaint here is that one supporting character, Cooper, is a little too far on the goofy side and undoes much of the suspense that is so meticulously built up. Perhaps there needs to be a part of the game where players can relax in a game this fraught with tension, but Cooper's implementation seems like a brash way to meet that goal.
Controls for getting around the complex are distinctly built for mobile. Tapping on a location will get Hope to move there while intelligently hugging cover. Tapping an icon in the top-right will pause everything so you can figure out your next move, scan for clues, and switch views between security cameras. Scanning certain items gives you information which can be traded for new hacking abilities thanks to an underground cybermerchant. You have to be careful about these choices though, since these nuggets of data are scarce, so you'll need to make quite a tough decisions about what to buy first, and what to save up for.
Getting caught by the Prizrak guards results in little more than being escorted back to a holding cell, which undercuts some of the urgency of all the sneaking. Some equipment can help you incapacitate and escape guards, which is always exciting. Getting close to unsuspecting guards lets you pick their pockets for more gear. If you are caught, busting out simply means retracing your steps, which can be a chore depending on how far along you are. On the flip side, it's a nice way of doing away with more artificial save points, and it offers a bit of leniency for more casual players. There's a dedicated Story game mode for those casual players, but it would be great to have a hardcore mode which ends the game for players if they're caught at all. Maybe toss in some exclusive unlockables to make it worth the trouble.
Republique's setting shifts from bleak to majestic, but either way, it's all rendered beautifully. Players enjoy splashes of sharp modernity as when switching to digital view. Cutscenes showcase some really fantastic facial animation, not to mention fine camerawork. The biggest standing complaint for graphics is that immersive mode is not enabled, so you're stuck with a black bar along the bottom with placeholders for virtual back, home, and multitasking buttons. Besides that, switching between cameras presents a delay that can be painfully long.
The bottom line
Episodic content, that is, something that is released with the expectation that new updates will continue an ongoing storyline, is still a relatively new way to take in games. The Walking Dead has set a solid precedent, but few others have given the model an honest attempt. Camouflaj has been consistent in their iOS releases, and the port to Android is entirely welcome. With any luck, they'll be able to get episodes 4 and 5 out on both platforms at the same time.
There are some bumps inherent to the format, though: for one, the idea of a season pass entails you paying for something based on blind faith, assuming that future releases will be worth your time and money. From the player's perspective, it's more sensible to wait until the whole season is done before taking the plunge. Republique still has two episodes left to go, so if you're able to sit tight for a few months, it may be worth the wait to get them all at once, and skip the suspense of waiting for the next release.
The other big issue is replayability. These stages are solved in a fairly linear way, so once you've finished it, you know the trick you need to pull off in order to move on. The only real value in playing through an episode again is for the fairly inconsequential bonus objectives (banned books) and for catching the developer commentary, which is admittedly pretty interesting, but requires the season pass or an in-app purchase.
All in all, Republique's highly original premise is artfully executed. Despite somewhat limited replay value, the plotline is strong enough to merit the cost, even just for a single play-through. Republique has a distinct movie quality about it that will appeal to anyone interested in sitting back and soaking in a good story.
The first episode of Republique is available now in the Google Play Store at a limited-time promotional price of $2.99, with episodes 2 and 3 available for $4.99, or the Season Pass for $14.99 which includes all three, the next two that are yet to come, and developer commentary. On Amazon, the first episode of Republique is even cheaper at $1.99.
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