République: review

 photo Republique_logo_zpsjcbmggqz.png

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), iOS, Android, PC, Mac
  • Unleashed: Out now
  • Publisher: NIS America/Reef Entertainment (PS4), GungHo Online (Others)
  • Developer: Camouflaj/Logan Games
  • Players: 1
  • Site: https://camouflaj.com/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

An ersatz underwater community cut off from the outside world, ruled with an iron fist by a man with twisted ideals. Any forbidden items from the surface that contradict the belief system of this underwater tyrant are considered “contraband”. Does this sound familiar? Thematically and stylistically, République owes a huge debt to Bioshock; yet the undeniable echoes of Rapture do nothing to detract from the uniqueness of this game.

Originally an episodic mobile title in 2013 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the PS4 release (the version we’re reviewing) coincides with the release of the fifth and final episode on all formats. What must be stressed straight away are the high production values. If you picked up a PS4 copy of République ignorant of its history, you’d never suspect that it started life as a crowdfunded iOS project.

In a sprawling facility known only as Metamorphosis, teenagers referred to as ‘pre-cals’ are held prisoner for reasons unknown. The game begins when one of these, Hope, manages to contact you (exactly who ‘you’ are is never explained) via a phone, begging for help. With assistance from a guard named Cooper, you’re able to turn the facility’s extensive surveillance system against Hope’s captors by hacking it. This means that you’re able to hijack each and every camera you come across, jumping between them at will. You can also unlock doors and, through the upgrade system, gain abilities such as bypassing higher security and activating electronics to distract patrolling guards.

“Well there’s a huge box here, but no point looking behind there.”

Story scenes aside (which tend to be viewed through the camera on Hope’s phone), the entire game is played with the facility cameras as your eyes. Though you can zoom in and out and swivel swivelable cameras, the heights and positions of these cameras pose an immediate problem. No matter how careful you are, won’t you be constantly stumbling into the path of a guard as you try to juggle character movement with camera management? Fear not! A quick tap of R1 freezes time, and this is in fact the only state in which you can interact with the world (switch between cameras, unlock doors, hack voicemail messages, etc. etc.). It’s the perfect solution, and never feels like a cheat – mainly because Hope, too, is frozen in this state.

If Hope is caught, she’s carted off to the nearest ‘containment cell’. This isn’t the end of the world. Getting caught will rarely, if ever, happen if you’re careful; and these cells seem to be placed at reasonable intervals. Your greatest concern, in fact, is that any self-defence items Hope’s carrying will be confiscated, making your second attempt yet more tense. Pepper spray will temporarily incapacitate an attacker, a taser will knock them out for the night, and the rare ‘sleep mines’ are excellent traps. Spray’s no good against a guard with a riot helmet though, while others are fitted with taser-proof suits. Use the wrong item, and you might as well use none at all.

The whole point though is to avoid confrontation entirely. Although the multiple-cameras system has a few minor rough patches that need sanding down (mainly the rare but irritating instances where an automatic switch to a different camera gives you a worse view than the one you’d chosen yourself), it’s more than fit for purpose. You’re also allowed freedom, to an extent, in how you progress. Do you keep your distance as much as possible, or gamble moving right in to pickpocket or grab a collectible left in a dangerous place?

There are a small number of puzzles, too, but nothing to frustrate.

Guards are usually only found in ones or twos, so sneaking past them is always challenging rather than frustrating. What’s a little disappointing (though masked to an extent by the outfits and camera positions) is that the same character model seems to have been used for every single guard. This despite the fact that each guard is given a unique name, photo, and details (obtainable by a camera scan) showing that they are of different builds, ethnicities and so on.

Despite the opulence of Hope’s prison, the script is where République most loudly and cheerfully waves to Bioshock. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Overseer (or ‘Headmaster’) who lords over Metamorphosis; his dialogue, and even his actor’s performance, carries more than a whiff of Andrew Ryan about it. The acting is in fact very good all round, which you’d expect with names such as Dwight Schultz, Jennifer Hale, and David Hayter on board. The writing – while sitting comfortably amongst the industry’s best – has a few shaky moments. The banned books scattered around, for example, each trigger an Overseer monologue when examined. They’re developer recommendations dressed as character criticisms, of course; but, now and again, these speeches stray dangerously close to a Fisher Price My First Dystopia with their lack of subtlety. There are also a few plot holes but, hey, like we said it’s reminiscent of Bioshock.

It would have been so easy for the game to become repetitive and tiresome very quickly, but this never happens. In fact we dragged out our play time as long as possible, taking the time to investigate every collectible, e mail, and voicemail that we could find. The last two chapters even shake up the gameplay a little. It’s a real shame (and rather baffling) that you can’t reload any previous checkpoints, or restart any previously completed chapters. There are a few choices to be made, and many will want to see what difference the other road may have led to.

In all honesty, both the script (which leaves many questions unanswered by the end) and the gameplay benefit from the crumple zone afforded by the fact that there is no game directly comparable with République. It’s a unique and intelligent game well worth your time and money, of that make no mistake. But if there’s a sequel – and we hope that there is – a little more polish will make it shine so much, everybody will gasp in awe.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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