The Star Wars prequel game that helped influence The Clone Wars TV show has been remastered for PS4 and Switch, but was it worth the effort?
It was always inevitable that the prequels would undergo a critical revaluation at some point, as the kids that grew up with them viewed them in a less cynical light than older Star Wars fans. That process has been accelerated as disenchantment with the sequel trilogy grows and Disney+ makes it clear that the best Star Wars content of recent years has been on TV, not at the cinema, with The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars.
In preparation for this review, we watched Attack of the Clones for the first time in over a decade and… it was exactly as awful as its original reputation suggested. It is, by any normal measure, a truly terrible movie and yet it’s fascinating to see how The Clone Wars CGI series managed to pick through it, like the proverbial curate’s egg, and find enough merit in the background lore to create something far more entertaining and nuanced.
We mention this for two reasons, the first being that Republic Commando had a major impact on how the clones were portrayed in the series and because, frankly, Republic Commando’s influence on the wider Star Wars universe is far more interesting than the game itself. Especially as the new CGI show The Bad Batch seems to be borrowing even more from the game than the original series did.
Republic Commando originally launched in the spring of 2005, a few months before Revenge of the Sith. It was only ever released on the original Xbox and PC, so many will not have had the chance to play it at the time. As a result, it’s ended up with a reputation that’s more flattering than the cold reality of this re-release.
Like most late era LucasArts games, Republic Commando is a clone – ironically – of a popular series of the time, in this case the early Ghost Recon games, which back then were still primarily single-player, tactical squad-based shooters. There’s also a heavy influence from Halo (the original Xbox version had a small multiplayer mode but that isn’t included in this remaster) but the gunplay is nowhere near tight enough to survive any real comparison.
Many Star Wars games have managed to get starfighter combat right, so that it feels how you imagine from watching the movies, and a few have even managed to come close to doing the same with lightsaber combat. None have really got blasters right though. Even Battlefront’s gunplay failed to offer any satisfying sense of feedback or weight (most Star Wars props are based around real guns and the actors often talk about how heavy they are) and Republic Commando is especially bad in that regard.
The default blaster has such a high rate of fire it feels like you’re shooting water out of a hose, which is completely unlike anything in the movies. To make matters worse, some enemies soak up a huge amount of damage before they fall, which combined with some questionable hit detection often leaves you feeling uncomfortably impotent as a solider.
The compensation for this is that you’re able to order around your squad-mates, either to perform specialist roles like hacking a computer or to take up cover behind a conveniently placed obstacle. Because the game relies on a single-button control system you can’t choose who goes where, but while that rarely matter the controls used to target a specific enemy are fiddly and imprecise, which often causes problems.
The other troopers will happily do their own thing if you don’t give any orders though and since anyone can revive anyone else the game is disappointingly easy most of the time. It’s also so ruthlessly linear that there’s little real opportunity to experiment with unusual tactics and the few chokepoints in difficulty can easily be navigated simply by learning the set piece by rote.
This is made worse by the fact that your radio handler is always on hand to tell you what to do and where to go at all times, with a mission pointer to underline the fact – in case the simplistic level design doesn’t already make it abundantly clear. The story campaign is also only around nine hours long, with just three separate locations, which only adds to the sense of repetition and sameyness.
As with Aspyr’s other recent LucasArts remasters, such as Episode I: Racer, there’s no change to the guts of the original game but in this case increasing the resolution, smoothing out the frame rate, and speeding up the load times does a lot to improve the original Xbox release. At the time Republic Commando’s graphics were above average for the era but today the bland art design and limited number of enemies quickly begins to numb your senses.
That isn’t a dig at the prequels either, as the attention to Star Wars detail is surprising poor. Many of the creatures and droids look and act off-model, to the point where it’d be difficult to tell what they’re supposed to be if it wasn’t mentioned in dialogue.
This was a period of time when Star Wars games were beginning to feel embarrassed about being Star Wars, so there’s a half-hearted attempt to appear more edgy and mature. The game even toys with a horror atmosphere at times, especially with the cool-looking night vision filter, but never commits enough for those brief sections to feel worthwhile.
Republic Commando is not a terrible game, and there’s no single flaw that stands out as ruining the experience, but at no point did we really enjoy any of it – despite actively looking forward to revisiting the era. Its value as a piece of Star Wars history is academic at best and as an example of a squad-based shooter, it’s very far from the best of the genre.
Despite all the flaws though we would welcome a modern sequel. Fans have been calling for one for years and while there’s little of practical value to be retained from Republic Commando the concept itself still has plenty of potential. As bland and repetitive as it may be it’s still more enjoyable than the movie that inspired it, and as The Clone Wars has proven it really is possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Star Wars: Republic Commando review summary
In Short: Although its reputation is as one of the better Star Wars games from the prequel era, this shallow, unengaging squad-based shooter has little to offer modern gamers.
Pros: Squad-based shooters are, sadly, a welcome novelty nowadays. Competent remaster, especially if you’ve only ever played the Xbox version.
Cons: There’s little entertainment to be had with any of the game elements, with flaccid gunplay, simplistic tactical controls, and repetitive level design and enemies. Visuals are strangely off brand.
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