Stealth in games has made a bit of a comeback recently. While Metal Gear Solid became more liberal in its sneaky approach, games like Klei’s upcoming Invisible Inc, and Hitman 2016 feel closer to that purity garnered by creeping about incognito, despite coming at it from completely different angles. Republique is another that embraces stealth in the classical sense, and it marries it to a rather novel concept and a genuinely interesting story.
Republique was originally a tablet-based episodic game, brought to life via the magic of Kickstarter, and featuring a voice cast that reunited sneaking stalwarts Jennifer Hale and Solid Snake himself, David Hayter. It was fairly well received, and now it has been remastered in the latest version of the Unity engine and shipped onto consoles as a complete package. Your role in Republique is that of a slightly hands-on voyeur. The game begins with you viewing proceedings through a mobile phone of a young girl, Hope, as she pleads for help. Before long she is being interrogated by the hard-nosed authority figure Mirelle, and you are now watching through the security cameras. It soon becomes apparent that you have hacked into the system of a place known as Metamorphosis to its inhabitants, and have plans to help Hope, but why?
What is this place? Where is it? When is it? Much of Republique’s story is draped in a mystery that you will slowly uncover over the course of each episode. Yet at its core, this is as much about living under a fascist, almost cultish regime as it is about anything. There’s more than a hint of Bioshock about Republique’s narrative, and for the most part, it does a very good job of living up to that comparison with its twisty-turny dystopian tale.
As much as you can call Republique a stealth game, it’s just as much a modern take on the classic point n’ click adventure, and the manner in which these two styles merge makes for a novel take on both. You do control Hope, but it’s generally to guide her around. She makes up the stealth-based parts of the game. You, the anonymous force controlling the cameras, have to do the pointing and the clicking, so to speak. Your basic ability is to flit between the many cameras to see what obstacles Hope has coming up (usually the security forces of Metamorphosis), but you soon get additional powers over the feed, and as each episode goes on, more and more are unlocked via a mysterious Internet seller in one of Metamorphosis’ safe rooms (respawn points effectively). These range from the standards that let you hack into emails and listen to phone recordings, to gleaning information from various objects. These enrich Republique’s world-building massively, and does much to keep you firmly ensconced in the sinister haven that is Metamorphosis. Then you have those premium upgrades that more readily aid Hope by manipulating the environment to distract guards long enough for her to slip by. Making phones ring, alarms blare, that sort of thing.
Credit is due to developer Camouflaj, because Republique feels like a great co-operative partnership within a single-player frame. You have limited power to physically help Hope, but thanks to being able to pause the feed with your ‘all-seeing eye mode’, you can point her in the right direction with the tools at your disposal and give her some tools of her own to combat the odds. As for Hope, naive and vulnerable as she is, she’s capable enough of outwitting and incapacitating the security guards with pepper spray, tasers, and later, sleep mines. These work as get out of jail free cards for Hope, as without them, when a guard catches her, she actually does get escorted back to a jail cell.
A couple of drawbacks to the camera system make your job harder and more frustrating unfortunately. Some camera cuts are horribly awkward, giving you either a poor view of what’s ahead or cutting at the wrong time and forcing Hope to go backwards. It’s something that only happens a handful of times, and later abilities make it less of an issue, but it’s still an avoidable issue. More frequent, and making up the frustrating portion of this technical problem meal, is the speed of the camera transitions. More often than not, transitions take at least ten seconds, a stupidly long time for it. On occasion it was almost as if the game had frozen because a good twenty or so seconds passed with the screen stuck on a fuzzy CCTV freeze-frame. This was a problem in the original version of the game, so it’s disappointing to see it reappear when such care and attention has been lavished on the rest of the game’s remastered edition.
And Republique has scrubbed up very well indeed. Remade in Unity 5, the game’s grand, regal lobbies and cold, hard computer rooms are far sharper and more detailed than before. It isn’t a jaw-dropper, but it doesn’t need to be. The art design is so on point that it hauls the game engine up by its bootstraps and makes the very best use of it without resorting to pure graphical grunt to sell the game on. What is definitely top notch is the sound. The voice cast is superb, with an effortless calm to their collective delivery and some really compelling dialogue comes from that. That’s probably helped by a decent script, which makes the only weak points all the more strange as it’s arguably the two biggest stars that falter. David Hayter doesn’t get a lot to say, and what he does say isn’t the man’s greatest work, going from cocky and assured lothario, to mumbling and bored in mere sentences. Jennifer Hale is better in her delivery, getting much more to say, and being more involved helps, but she’s laden with a deliberately awful French accent that sucks a bit of magic out of her performance. Whilst we’re on the audio, the soundtrack and ambient noise are also great too. The soft electronic stylings of the musical score compliments the near-future design of Metamorphosis to a tee, while the sound design has audio that trails off when a camera isn’t pointed at the noise source and lots of lovely ambient chugging, beeping, banging and clanging going on that builds the atmosphere and sense of place well.
With all the great world-building going on, it’d be a shame if Republique wasted it with an unfulfilling story. As I alluded to earlier, it’s got plenty of mystery, dystopian dread, twists and turns to hook you in, but it is a bit of a slow burner, a necessary evil that ties in with the need to search Metamorphosis for more snippets of information. Not doing so robs you of vital clues as to quite what’s transpiring. Even though Camouflaj still spell out the bigger revelations for you, there’s such a depth of narrative detail that means you enrich your experience just by exploration alone.
While on the subject of picking things up in the world, Republique has two absolutely fantastic sets of collectables. First are a bunch of modern indie videogames like Guacamelee and Gone Home,found on floppy discs that guards carry, you can’t play them obviously, but you do get a character describe what they love about each game in wonderfully nerdy fashion. The other is classic novels, such as Catcher in the Rye, which are all accompanied by withering commentary by Metamorphosis’ overseer (not a fan of books that one).
Back to the story, and Republique builds nicely for the first three episodes, keeping the same oppressive tone of this fascist place you’re sneaking about in, giving you decent cliffhangers (especially the third one, that keeps prodding you into morally questionable areas). The fourth episode completely changes tack in so many ways that Republique briefly becomes a horror. It’s a slightly jarring episode, but one that makes sense in hindsight, and kudos to Camouflaj for shaking things up so much and just about getting away with it. Sadly that makes the final episode a bit flat for a while. Despite revelations raining upon you like a winter weekend in Arbroath, the switch back to the style of the previous episodes is a tad disappointing. Much is explained in this final stretch and there’s a finale that, while understated, has a cleverness that will frustrate some and be applauded by others. Going into it with as much knowledge gained during your playthrough as possible is the best way to get the most out of this ending for sure, but to be honest, I found it fitting enough as ends go. Just a little abrupt.
Still, it’s a highly enjoyable ride in a rather fascinating world. Few games have this level of depth to its story, characters and world, more impressive considering how hokey it can be. If it weren’t for some glaring technical faults, Republique would be closing in on classic status. Ah well. C’est La Vie.