The year was 2005. The Wii was still only known as the Revolution. Halo 2 was the biggest game in the world. And everyone was gripped by Star Wars fever as Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was releasing that May. With a new Star Wars movie comes, of course, an unconscionable amount of merchandise, including video games. This was a golden era of Star Wars games, with a string of hits coming out, including Knights of the Old Republic, Rogue Squadron, and Battlefront. In February of 2005, three months before the final prequel movie, Star Wars: Republic Commando was released for Xbox and PC, eschewing lightsabers for blasters and shotguns. Now, over a decade later, the game has been rereleased by Aspyr Media on Switch and PS4. But does this version capture the unique charm of the original?
Republic Commando takes place during the Clone Wars, that lengthy and profitable time period between Episodes II and III. You play as Delta-38, an elite clone commando, bred and trained to be above and beyond the average Jango knockoff. You are the commander of Delta Squad, consisting of yourself, Scorch, Sev, and Fixer (who I only realized during this play through have all the personalities of the Ninja Turtles: leader, jokester, tough guy, and “does machines”). You and your squad fight over a time period of several years, jumping from mission to mission throughout the Clone Wars, going to places like Geonosis and Kashyyyk.
This game came out in 2005, which means it is heavily inspired by Halo. From the regenerating shields to the variety of grenades, this game is much more about slow, heavy fights than later FPS games that modeled themselves after Call of Duty. You have the ability to direct your squad to various points, such as low cover to take a sniping position, or to act as heavy artillery against an armored mech, or to hack a door or plant an explosive. Much of the game involves covering your squadmate trying to open a door while hordes of bugs and robots try to fry you.
The squad gameplay was pretty revolutionary back in the day, and it is still quite fun when you get everyone in a tactically beneficial position. However, many games that have come after have done similar things to a better degree, and the game’s age shows when you have moments like a turret downing a squadmate, only to have the other two get downed in the same spot by trying to revive him and not doing anything about the onslaught. That’s definitely one of the most annoying parts about the game: your squad follows orders too well. They will charge headfirst through three Super Battle Droids trying to get to a sniping spot you saw before the enemies spawned and promptly die, rather than waiting to clear a path first. Again, it’s understandable, as it’s an early version of this sort of gameplay system, but it can be frustrating nonetheless.
Other parts of the game haven’t aged super well. The story is paper thin, which is a shame because the idea of unique clones is really interesting. But the story is mainly told through voice over during levels and short debriefing scenes between missions. Some actual cutscenes would have gone a long way. Not to mention the game has always had complaints lobbied against its cliffhanger ending, as, other than a series of books, no sequel has ever come out.
In terms of gameplay, the guns feel great. Most of the weapons are mods for your starter blaster that turn it into a sniper or a grenade launcher. You can also pick up a variety of enemy guns. Shooting feels good enough, though, fair warning, this was the era where aiming down the sights was relegated to clicking in the right stick, so that style of gameplay is secondary to run and gun. A big issue comes from how many shots it takes to down enemies. Most bad guys take a few too many shots before exploding, and some are straight up bullet sponges. And there’s not much in terms of feedback for when your shots are connecting, as they just keep doing what they are doing until they fall over dead. I found that this meant I relied on grenades far more than in most shooters, as a single blast will wipe out a squad of droids that would take dozens of blaster rounds to do the same. The moment to moment gameplay is satisfying, but if given the opportunity, I think it would have been good to lessen the health of at least the basic grunts. That being said, the brilliance of the original still shines here. The voice acting is great, and the music is fantastic, and the gameplay is still impressive. Imposing enemies, satisfying gauntlet knives, and a very specific “mid-2000s” feel make this stand out today.
Back from the Bacta Tank
As for this particular port of Republic Commando, there are many positives and minuses. The resolution is much sharper, even in handheld mode, and the sound is gorgeous. However, the framerate on the Switch version, both handheld and docked, is atrocious. The game runs just fine when there’s nothing happening, but once you add even one or two enemies, the framerate drops well below 30. At one point, I was sniping from behind a door that opened and closed on its own. When the door closed, the framerate was probably about 45 fps, but the instant I moved forward and the door opened, it plummeted to probably around 15 fps. This is the main strike against this port. However, it’s not the only flaw. The port is also missing much of the atmospheric effects from the original. Explosions, fog, smoke, sparks, and many other effects are either missing or far lessened. It makes the game feel far less cinematic and much more clinical. The enhanced resolution doesn’t help the muddy textures, either. The SD graphics of the original Xbox smoothed out the textures, but here, they look drab and washed out.
This port also completely cuts out the multiplayer from the original game. While the multiplayer wasn’t anything revolutionary, it still hurts to not have the option to even play it locally in this port. Still, $15 is a fair price for just the campaign, as it’s easily the best part of the game. This rerelease also keeps the amazing music video of “Clones” by Ash, in all its mid 2000s compressed glory, so that’s a plus.
Wrap it up, Squadron
Star Wars: Republic Commando is a gem of a game, one that stood out among its brethren when it first launched. Nowadays, it’s still plenty fun to mow down hordes of robots and lizards, but some of the gameplay elements have lost some of their luster. While the music and squad mechanics are amazing, this port’s technical issues cannot be ignored. The developers have promised to look at the framerate issues in the Switch port, and if they do, I will update the score. As it stands now, though, the original Xbox release is still the superior way to experience the story of Delta Squadron, but even so, it’s a journey worth taking all the same.
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Categories: First Person Shooter