For me, Republic Commando is the pleasant surprise of 2005. Not a fan of Star Wars since George Lucas butchered it, the only reason I played this game was because my friend Brett Douville worked on it. But damn if it didn't turn out to be very cool!
I'm getting exhausted with first person shooters. The hit games at the end of 2004 didn't bring much new to the table. Republic Commando gives us a new game mechanic, the ability to easily and intuitively control your elite squad. It's a completely different approach than Full Spectrum Warrior: FSW's interface was complicated and highly strategic - you needed to plow through a long tutorial before you could even function. Republic Commando takes a page from the PC version of Harry Potter, and builds your squad's actions right into the environment in the same way that which spell Harry Potter would cast was built into its environment.
You press the same button every time, and your squad mate always does the right thing. It makes a whole palette of actions available to the player. The only downside is: the player usually doesn't get to choose. This crate is a crate to snipe from; this crate is a crate to throw grenades from; etcetera. Sid Meier would not approve - although there are choices (you can hack the door or breach it with explosives; you can snipe from this crate or throw grenades from the crate right next to it; you can order your team to attack or you can go in yourself, guns blazing), for the most part, the game is a linear thrill ride.
I love linear thrill rides, and think that Sid Meier is off the mark in placing so much imporance on meaningful choices. (Especially since if you look at top games you see a lot of linear thrill rides.) Republic Commando has a very high density of spectacle in its level design; it constantly treats you to views of red-shirts getting gruesomely killed, allies executing vicious combat moves on assailants, explosive environments that fall apart around you.
Given that the game is unabashedly a linear thrill ride, there's no reason to complicate the interface FSW style. The interface is so simple, almost no tutorial is necessary. Whoever designed it should get a medal. It obeys all the principles of good interface design:
* Information exists in the world. You know exactly what pressing the button is going to do when you press it, because it tells you on the screen.
* It doesn't violate prior conventions. For the most part, Republic Commando plays like Halo, on the sticks and triggers. The only differences: they move the jump to the Y button (this actually is an example of a good affordance, IMO, and I agree with the decision, since the A button is now the command-squad button, which means the most important button in the game is right where it wants to be, under your thumb), and put weapon selection on the D-Pad. Since millions of people have played Halo, Republic Commando is going to be a snap for most of its players.
It taps perfectly into the fantasy of leading an elite squad of soldiers. These guys are incredibly badass, and you're the most badass one of them. A side note: another difference between this game and FSW is this game has the mass-market kill count. In FSW, you'd be up against two or three enemies at a time. It's hard to feel badass when your elite team of four is being challenged by just two assailants.
In a nod to Gauntlet, the game tends to hit its fever pitch when you're faced with droid generators: you need to demo the generator that's constantly cranking out a stream of droids, making it damn hard.
What I'd love to see is this game mechanic take off, and not be another innovation dead-end like Die By The Sword, Galleon, or Homeworld.
Unfortunately, LucasArts pulled the ripcord on itself right as Republic Commando was coming to the finish-line. They previously had a history of failures, and started spreading the mantra of fewer, better games. As have all publishers; but at Lucas, they eventually panicked and took it one step further than everyone else. They laid off most of the staff and decided to concentrate their efforts on One Awesome Game, currently in development.
This may have been a premature decision. Republic Commando has done a quarter million units on the Xbox in its first month, which may not be Halo numbers but it isn't shabby at all. And Star Wars: Battlegrounds hasn't been doing too bad either, as I understand it. LucasArts may now be regretting the dismantling of some excellent teams.
So there is no Republic Commando sequel scheduled for the foreseeable future. So maybe it's the end of this mechanic.
But maybe not. There's no reason a Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, or other game couldn't steal it. That might actually be the hook I need to play another WWII shooter. (But I'm not most people, and if I was developing a Call of Duty sequel I wouldn't want to mess with the formula until sales started lagging.)
Republic Commando isn't doing as well as I think it should on gamerankings. So let's look at some of the complaints. One guy's saying it's Halo for 12-year olds. Um, Halo's already for 12-year olds. In fact, I know a couple of 6-year olds who love it. A lot of Rainbow Six comparisons. It's been a while since I've played a Rainbow Six, but as I recall, controlling your teammates was FSW-level complicated. Excuse LucasArts for making a game actually accessible. Let's see: one guy hates Star Wars products on general principle. I can understand that.
One interesting thing about Gamerankings is that Republic Commando and Devil May Cry 3 are the only two games I've found where the user reviews are higher than the critics reviews. Could this mean that Republic Commando is one of those few games that are actually designed for players rather than reviewers?
I believe it could.