République (PS4) - So Much Potential, So Little Payoff | A Short Pause Review
I didn’t like République at first.
It felt slow and clunky and just…old. (Being old is kind of the point, but more on that later). There’s not a whole lot “to do” in République; you basically sneak around, look at stuff, and try to find a way to open up new pathways throughout the sprawling, totalitarian complex you find yourself trapped within. Combat is all but nonexistent, and the environment doesn’t change much from room to room. I wasn’t having a good time with République, and I felt like this for much of the game’s first episode. The game wasn’t connecting with me for whatever reason, and with four more episodes waiting in the wings at the conclusion of this one, I was worried this was going to be long, drawn out slog through a game I wasn’t going to enjoy.
Release Date: March 24th, 2016
Platforms: PS4 (Version Played), PC, Mobile
Something changed before I finished the first episode, though. We (us here at Short Pause) were planning to release a video of the game’s first 20 minutes (which you can view here), which meant I had to go back and record the beginning of the game. No big deal; I’ll boot up a new game, play through the beginning, and we’ll upload the video to our YouTube page. When I went back to start a new game, something changed this time; the proverbial, and occasionally mysterious, “something” clicked for me. I wasn’t a new player trying to figure out what to do anymore. I was two hours in, and something of a seasoned veteran when it comes to the game’s operation and mechanics. I knew what to do during the game’s first 20 minutes, and suddenly, the game started to open up and speak to me in other ways. The writing had been strong the first time I played through République’s beginning, but this time I really noticed it. There were tons of objects in the environment to collect and help build the world around me, but now I was paying attention. I realized that I had been playing République incorrectly all along. This is a game that requires patience, focus, and a methodical, analytical approach to the world at large, not speed, obliviousness, and a blatant disregard for lore. Once I slowed down and paced myself, and really allowed myself to get invested in my surroundings, République was suddenly a much different — and much more enjoyable — experience.
This is not to say that République doesn’t have issues. In fact, far from it; more on this later, too.
République follows the tale of Hope, a young girl yearning to free herself from the shackles of the future authoritarian French settlement known as Metamorphosis that she finds herself imprisoned within. While Hope’s journey to escape from Metamorphosis’ steel grip is the game’s driving force from a narrative perspective, République is a game more so about building the world around you than anything else. Almost everything you pick up in République has a story to tell that crystalizes and develops the false utopian society of Metamorphosis. In-depth conversations between characters are relayed to you via the objects in the environment, allowing you to paint a detailed and clear picture of this dreary near-future dystopia. Once I surrendered to the idea of a more vigilant play through of the game, I found myself really getting immersed in Hope’s world. Few games flesh out their setting the way République manages to, and it’s a testament to the game’s writing that characters I have little direct interaction with and events I was never present to witness are so vividly realized. The voice acting cast, led by Jennifer Hale and David Hayter, hold up their end of the bargain nicely as well, bringing an element of complexity and humanity to each of their characters. République is nothing if not a vehicle to explore Metamorphosis. To truly enjoy the game, and to follow the story with any degree of understanding and focus, exploring the world around you is a must.
It’s unfortunate then, that the actual narrative being delivered in République can’t live up to the promise of its world. Things start off strongly enough, as the fairly straightforward initial three episodes nicely build on one another, culminating with Episode 3’s shocking cliffhanger ending that had me eager to get started on Episode 4. Things get murky from here though. I really enjoyed Episode 4’s unique change of pace and setting when compared to the rest of République, but this is where the story starts to take some ill-advised and confusing turns. Plot points from both Episodes 3 and 4 are never properly addressed, while the disappointing fifth episode brings to light even more perplexing narrative turns. Eventually, everything comes to a head in a bizarre and unsatisfying ending that had me scratching my head in bewilderment. Maybe I missed the point. Maybe I wasn’t looking “deeply” enough into what happened. Maybe the ending just sucked. Whatever the case, after 20 hours and five episodes, I was hoping for a better payoff than what I got. The potential for a truly great conclusion was there, it’s a shame the execution was so flawed.
I mentioned earlier that République feels old. Character movement is a little cumbersome, and the stealth mechanics are rudimentary at best. Playing République feels a bit like playing a PS1 or PS2 game, and that’s ultimately by design. Developer Camoflaj, a studio housing a number of Metal Gear Solid veterans, wanted to hearken back to the 32-bit era of gaming with their episodic stealth opus, and I can verify they’ve achieved the desired effect. I’m not sure how many were clamoring for a return to the days of 32-bit era stealth, though. Stealth mechanics and character movement have come a long way since Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 and, as I alluded to earlier, I wish there was more to actually do in République. The game has some really neat puzzle sections, but they’re few and far between. Your cellphone, which can be upgraded with new abilities to help you sneak around Metamorphosis, allows you to utilize some nifty new talents — such as distracting guards by tapping into nearby radios — but in the end, they don’t do a whole lot to change the stealth experience. Just stay out of the patrolling guard’s line of sight, pick his pocket if you want, and move into the next room. It’s basic stuff that we’ve done in these kinds of games many times before.
Then there are the cameras. The camera switching mechanic at the heart of République’s stealth-based gameplay is a novel idea that nicely ties into the title’s theme of surveillance and privacy, but the system can be finicky at times. In any given room, there are a series of cameras you can bounce between and take control of in order to strategically plan your way from point A to point B without getting caught. The problem is, République automatically switches between these cameras as you make your way through the various rooms in Metamorphosis. Several times I found myself walking the wrong way, getting stuck between rooms, or bumping directly into a guard because the transition between cameras was awkward or jarring. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it happens enough during the course of the game to be a nuisance.
I enjoyed my time with République, but the game fails to reach its full potential and that’s disappointing. The world of Metamorphosis is an incredibly interesting place; I just wish the narrative could have delivered on its promising setup. I want more to do in this game. When it comes down to it, there’s just not enough here from a nuts-and-bolts gameplay perspective to make up for the game’s narrative faults. That said, République is still a valiant first effort from Camoflaj, and I’ll be eagerly anticipating where their next project takes them from here.
This game was reviewed with a code generously provided to us on behalf of developer Camoflaj and GungHo Online Entertainment America.
Ben is a lifelong gamer and a hardcore PlayStation fan. He's sure that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was all just a bad dream. Follow him not-tweeting @piccolo930.
- World building is excellent
- Strong writing
- Solid voice acting
- Unsatisfying fifth act
- Finicky cameras
- Lack of more robust stealth mechanics and gameplay options