Generally speaking, I love first-person shooter (FPS) games. I enjoy playing fast-paced, visceral, exciting games where stuff gets blowed up but good. I am particularly fond of the “space marine” sub-genre of FPS games, where a faceless hero destroys endless hordes of tactically challenging and difficult enemies.
However, unlike most console gamers, I don’t like multiplayer games. I am a “campaign gamer”, which means that I dig story-driven games with engaging, interesting plots married with great, intuitive, fast-paced gameplay. I like playing games where the enemy AI puts up a really good fight, so that slaughtering them isn’t just an exercise in mindlessly mashing the trigger.
Better still, if the allied AI units are also programmed to be skilled and competent, then that just makes the whole experience better. What few modern FPS games pass the first test, usually fail this one.
The best scenario of all is where your friendly units are independent and aggressive in waxing your enemies, but can also be brought under your control and assigned to specific tasks in order to achieve a challenging objective. Such a game will require you to assign your friendly units carefully, to maximise their tactical advantages in combat. This kind of game would be the closest thing currently available to the average video gamer of real-life combat, in which your survival depends not on being a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier with incredible equipment and resilience, but on the skills and training of your brothers.
The problem is, there are very few FPS games like this.
Most modern FPS games are focused on the social aspect, where gamers gather online and engage in competitive matches or team slayer competitions, which is all well and good, but those same games tend to have pretty thin, even outright preposterous campaigns. The few that do focus on story and character tend to focus on a single supersoldier, like the HALO series, rather than on the more realistic “band of brothers” aspect of real combat.
However, there is one vastly underrated gem, released about 10 years back, which had all of these things: a great story-driven campaign; a cleverly designed squad AI; an intuitive and easily-mastered control scheme; a challenging enemy AI; and fast-paced, dark, visceral gameplay.
That game was STAR WARS: Republic Commando.
“We Go Feet First!”
In SWRC, you step into the shoes of clone commando Delta RC-1138, also known as “Boss”, “Three-Eight”, or “Delta Lead”. You are the commander of an elite four-man fire team of commandos, given superior training, armour, and weapons, and then dropped straight into the brutal crucible of the Clone Wars.
The game’s plot overlaps with the story of the movie Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. (I was once a huge Star Wars nerd. Note the use of the past tense. That movie is a large part of the reason for it.) It starts with a combat drop right into the middle of the giant battle royale between clones and droids, with very little time indeed to get acquainted with the realities of ground warfare in the Star Wars universe. You’ll get quick tutorials in how to shoot straight, how to use your HUD, how to get field treatment for injuries through the use of rapid-healing “bacta dispensers”, and how to use squad commands to get results.
And then you’re on your own, to win or lose based on how well you use your squad.
As you progress through the game, you rapidly link up with members of your squad, your brothers Delta-62 (“Scorch”, explosives and ordnance), Delta-40 (“Fixer”, 2IC, comms, and tech), and Delta-07 (“Sev”, sniper and scout), and are given increasingly more complex orders to carry out, with rewards and upgrades to be found by way of better weapons loadouts and considerable tactical flexibility in accomplishing those objectives.
If you use your commandos wisely, make full use of available cover, understand what weapons to order for a particular enemy type, and move aggressively yet sensibly, you will do well.
If you fail to use your squad commands properly, if you fail to take cover, if you fail to use the right loadouts of weapons and position your squad correctly, you will simply keep losing.
I can’t stress the “squad” aspect of this game enough. Throughout the game you will encounter challenges that you will not be able to defeat alone- battle droid dispensers, super battle droids, dwarf spider droids, destroyer droids, overwhelming numbers of Trandoshan slavers, Geonosian guards and elites, you name it. You cannot take on these enemies and win solo. Your weapons are not strong enough, your shields won’t last long enough, your health metre isn’t large enough, and you won’t be able to move fast enough.
Delta Boss is one tough S.O.B., but he isn’t the Master Chief. And he’s not supposed to be.
You can order your team to perform various actions through “squad commands”, which will tell them to take offensive action, regroup, hold a particular location, or cancel all previous orders. You can also order individual members to perform various tasks, such as planting explosives, hacking terminals, taking up grenadier or sniping cover, or using particular weapons platforms. You can even task your entire squad to perform a door breach- and the game presents you repeatedly with the choice of “going in quietly” via a “door slice manoeuvre”, or doing it “hard and loud” with an “explosive solution”.
Simply put, it’s difficult to think of another game that gives you such a clear feeling of being in command of an elite commando unit. Other games have tried—Ghost Recon: Future Soldier comes to mind—but almost all have failed.
The members of Delta Squad also come with their own unique voice actors, and therefore have their own personalities. Delta Boss, voiced by none other than Temuera Morrison, the man who played Jango Fett as well as various clone troopers in Episodes II and III, shows off flashes of wry, sarcastic humour and is given an engaging, interesting personality. Fixer comes across as “a pure and uncomplicated soldier”, every bit as reliable and stolid as the DC-17m ICWS that you take into combat with you. Scorch is the joker of the group, a pyromaniac who also happens to be “the heart and soul of your squad”. Sev is a ruthless, almost psychopathic killer, “the fiercest hunter among all your brothers”.
These unique personalities, along with the witty dialogue and interplay scripted into the game that clearly shows the deep bonds between brothers, make the squad AI truly exceptional and very engaging.
Dark Heroes For Dark Times
The game itself takes place in significantly darker and grittier settings than you might expect from most STAR WARS-related media. The films have always had a sort of high-fantasy sheen to them, as if they were somehow above the gutter, separated from the grime and blood and guts of real war. This was, of course, entirely intentional- the movies are all PG-rated.
This game, however, is deliberately dark, and strives to show some kind of realism in war despite the sci-fi aliens, weapons, and planets.
The visuals are appropriately toned down; rather than the bright, vibrant colours of the films, and indeed of most previous STAR WARS games, this game prefers shadows and smoke, grit and grime. Even when you’re fighting on the surface of a world like Geonosis in broad daylight, the visuals are moody and grim. And when you’re conducting a quiet infiltration deep behind enemy territory at night on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, the game takes on an almost noir look.
Even your enemies aren’t the sterile, kid-friendly aliens from the films. The robots are genuinely menacing. The Trandoshan slavers are truly ugly- and their mercenary counterparts are worse.
And don’t get me started on how nasty the Geonosians are.
Good Clean Violent Fun
This game is very much the kind of thing that fans of the HALO and Metroid series will love. The campaign is fun, intense, and challenging. The characters are fully formed and given great depth by some terrific voice acting. The weapons balance is excellent. The sound effects are very good. The graphics aren’t exactly class-leading, but they aren’t terrible either. And this game is considerably darker, grittier, and more violent than your typical Star Wars game—anyone who ever played the Jedi Knight series knows what I’m talking about when I say that LucasArts really tended to sanitise a lot of the violence in their games, but not here. When you splatter an enemy, you really splatter him.
“Fat Ugly Fierfeks…”
This game isn’t without its flaws, though. For one, it’s just way too short. You could blast through the entire campaign in under 5 hours, and that’s with a coffee break. It also gets very predictable once you’ve played it through a few times, and even the hardest difficulty setting isn’t really that hard; there are so many fast-healing bacta dispensers scattered throughout the game, in locations where they logically shouldn’t even exist, that I wonder how in the name of the Force these commandos could ever really feel endangered.
The biggest flaw in the game, by far, is that despite the fact that each member of the team has a particular special skill, assigning team members to use those skills confers no actual benefit. For instance, if you assign Fixer to hack a console, it takes him exactly the same amount of time as it would Sev or Scorch or Boss himself. If you assign Sev to shoot someone’s brains out, he’s no better or worse at it than his brothers. This makes it impossible to make truly informed command decisions, which robs the game of some of its otherwise hard-won realism.
I doubt the technology existed at the time to fix this, but if they ever do a remake of this game, this should be changed post haste. What’s the point in having elite super troopers at your disposal if they aren’t really super at all?
(Also, if you know the cheat codes- and they’re not hard to find- this game becomes as easy as mocking a feminist. You only really need the code for limitless ammo, and you’re off to the races.)
The Bottom Line
Following the usual Reaxxion-approved template for rating games, here’s how I score this game:
Gameplay – Solid, engrossing, highly immersive, and very original, yet far too short to be truly satisfying; you can burn through the entire game in a single morning. Replay value is limited; once you’ve played it more than three or four times, you know exactly what to expect, and where, and when, and unlike, say, HALO: Combat Evolved, there is really nothing new to experience the next time you play. And once you know what you’re doing, even the toughest difficulty level is pretty easy. 30 out of 45.
Controls – A doddle to use, whether on PC or Xbox. The control interface is intuitive and simple, yet your squad commands are highly effective at getting things done. 25 out of 25.
Graphics – Nothing great, and indeed they’ve aged considerably over the last 10 years. This game could really do with an HD makeover along the lines of the HALO anniversary editions; unfortunately, it will almost certainly never get one. 10 out of 15.
Sound – Top-notch sound effects make you feel like you’re right there on the ground, fighting hard against difficult, intelligent alien opponents. The Mandalorian vocals of “Vode An” are a particularly nice touch. However, this game lacks the kind of instantly memorable and brilliant soundtrack of, say, the HALO games. 8 out of 10.
Story – This is a game completely driven by storytelling. The storyline is heavily integrated into the wider canon of the STAR WARS Expanded Universe (for those who are interested in that sort of thing), but you don’t need to know the first damn thing about it to enjoy playing the game. 5 out of 5.
Total Score – 78%, a very solid and enjoyable game that is let down badly by its short length and less-than-spectacular graphics. Bearing in mind that this game is nearly 10 years old, though, it’s held up remarkably well.
If you’re interested in getting your hands on a copy of this game, it doesn’t seem to be available for Xbox at a reasonable price at all—even as a download. You can, however, get it via Steam, though multiplayer functionality doesn’t work. Then again, the point of this game never was the multiplayer aspect; this is a campaign-driven FPS, which is exactly why I like it.
Here’s some solid gameplay footage to whet your appetite: