Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: République Episode 1: Exordium

Kickstarter has certainly seen its share of success stories over the past few years, and now it’s new studio Camouflaj’s turn to have a go at making the Kickstarter magic happen with it’s debut game République. The game is planned for episodic release in five parts. As of this writing, only episode one has been released.

République is a stealth game in the purest sense. Gameplay consists of traveling from room to room evading enemies with a real emphasis on patient gameplay. You look ahead and watch guards to get a sense for their patrol patterns before committing to movement. The protagonist, a young woman named Hope, has no means of defending herself aside from using consumable items - pepper spray and tasers - to ward off attackers. Refreshingly absent from République is any kind of stealth takedown move. Hope can not incapacitate enemies without using precious, finite resources. Enemies are to be avoided, not engaged.

Along the way, you can pick up various bits of information, hacked emails, newspapers, and the like, (including a bizarrely out of place option to collect game cartridges to get a chance to hear the developers gush about their favorite mobile games) which can be sold on the information black market for upgrades. A lot of games have collectible bits of lore lying around, and more have upgrade systems, but I’ve never seen the two combined in this way. It’s a great system, and it enforces the running theme in the game that information is power.

The story is typical dystopian fare. The government controls and watches everything, relying on information control and propaganda to keep the citizenry in line. The story follows Hope, a young woman living in the titular république of Metamorphosis, found in possession of anti-government propaganda and now facing a “calibration” procedure, the details of which are never revealed but implied to be very bad. Hope escapes from confinement and then seeks to escape from Metamorphosis altogether.

As far as dystopian fiction goes, République is competently written, but otherwise unremarkable. The government of Metamorphosis is every oppressive authoritarian government you’ve ever seen in fiction. It bans books, it watches everything, it uses excessive military/police force. The writing is heavy-handed even by dystopian standards, and the propaganda is often so transparent that it’s a wonder anyone gets taken in by it. It feels like it has very little new to offer the dystopian genre, no Hunger Games style twist on the formula, but then again, the game has four episodes left to bring some surprises.

The one really interesting part of République’s story is also its most interesting gameplay mechanic. You see, you don’t actually play as Hope. You play as a mysterious benefactor helping her escape. You connect to Hope through her phone and can hack into the surrounding security systems. Security cameras become your viewpoints as you guide Hope through Metamorphosis. This creates an interesting gameplay element where finding the right camera and wrangling it into the best position to guide Hope through a room feels like an engaging challenge instead of a simple chore. Jumping from camera to camera is also how you scout ahead. Since your viewpoint isn’t bound to Hope, you can move your viewpoint to cameras around corners or the other sides of doors to check for guards or analyze patrol patterns without exposing Hope.

It also creates an element of mystery in the story, as it’s never made clear who or what the player actually is. Are you a friendly hacker? A sympathetic Metamorphosis security officer? Personally, my money’s on rogue A.I., but in any case, the mystery does a good job of drawing you in.
I am a little disappointed at the lack of options for the player’s seemingly unrestricted access to Metamorphosis’s automated security system. You can acquire a few upgrades that let you remotely lock doors or create distractions, but the vast majority of what you’ll be doing with your control over Metamorphosis security is simply jumping from camera to camera. I feel like an opportunity was missed to give the player more of an omniscient puppet master feel. Let me turn out the lights to let Hope sneak by. Let me activate sprinkler systems to make enemies slip.

Controls are largely functional, though they often seem imprecise. You direct Hope by tapping where you want her to go. Double tapping makes her run, which is faster, but the noise can attract guards. The imprecision can be a sticking point, however. On a few occasions, I found Hope moving in ways only vaguely associated with what I wanted from her. This makes getting just the right camera angle critical, but it nevertheless feels clumsy. Time is stopped whenever you enter hacking mode, and it feels like the control problems would have been eliminated if you could give Hope directions while paused. The game is also sorely in need of a map screen, as jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint can be very disorienting.

In conclusion, République is competent, but not stellar. The story and writing feels largely unoriginal, but is presented well enough to be entertaining, and there’s enough mystery there that I’m interested to see how things turn out, keeping in mind that there’s plenty of room for curve balls in future episodes. Gameplay is similarly solid, but there was never a point where I felt like the game really wowed me. Certainly worth a look, but not something that I anticipate setting the world on fire.

Get it on iOS (PC and Mac versions coming in 2014)

Released: 2013-12-19
Developer: Camouflaj LLC


It's like ESCAPEE GO! taken to the next level:

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