Republique is an impressive offering for a number of reasons, but chiefly to me is its melding of its narrative/concept and gameplay. Set in a mysterious facility governed by an oppressive leader, known as The Headmaster, and his band of goons (known as Prizrak in-game), we play as an unspecified individual who can hack into the various security cameras littered around the facility.
It’s in this way that we are introduced to Hope, or 390-H as she’s been branded by the authorities that be. We don’t know much about Hope, other than that she is a member of this unusual community and referred to as a ‘Pre-Cal’ – kept, essentially, as prisoners and brainwashed. Kept in confinement and ignorant of influences from outside information, only The Headmaster’s ‘Manifesto’ and things he doesn’t consider ‘contraband’ may be enjoyed. It’s a community of complete censorship, which means no books with conflicting ideologies (or that The Headmaster deems dangerous to people’s minds), no alcohol, and *clasps hands to face* no video games.
Unsurprisingly, it seems that Hope wants out. The game starts with her pleading to a camera, saying they are going to “erase” who she is, and you must help her escape utilising your ability to control the facility’s surveillance cameras.
So how does this work mechanically speaking? Well, it’s surprisingly intuitive for how it sounds. Your view is restricted to that of the camera you are hacking. Controlling the movement of the camera with one of the analog sticks, and controlling the movement of Hope with the other. You can switch to different cameras by looking at them and pressing the button that appears, thus giving you a different view of the area. You can pause time by pressing R1, giving you a chance to switch camera or hack anything without fear of being taken by surprise by guards. It sounds a bit silly, being able to pause time for no apparent reason, but from a gameplay perspective it makes sense and reduces the chance of frustrating encounters.
You can choose to stand, crouch, walk or sprint as Hope, though most of your time will be spent crouching and walking to avoid detection. The Prizrak generally stick to movement patterns, so getting your way past is a matter of remembering where they move and sticking to cover. In more difficult areas you may want to pause with R1 and scout ahead, hacking cameras in further areas so you can plan your approach. If you do get caught, any items you may have picked up along the way (excluding collectables) will be removed and you will be escorted to a prison room…which you then hack to get out. Items can be retrieved by pickpocketing the guard who caught you – this can come across as slightly easy since there’s no death and you can’t officially lose, but on the other hand it does still work as a form of punishment for messing up (you will need to work harder now to get your stuff back), and the pace of the game is kept steady.
In terms of the main objective, an ally named Cooper (a turned Prizrak) is walking us through the facility in hopes of getting us to an escape route. Of course, things turn out to be a little more difficult than that sounds and we have to adapt accordingly. Generally, levels can be explored freely, with the exception of some doors and areas that need unlocking. As the game progresses you will gradually upgrade your hacking abilities, thus allowing you to enter rooms and areas that were previously inaccessible. As you might imagine, this means there’s some backtracking involved. In fact, the game is more comparable to a hub – the narrative may be separated by episodes, but you will find yourself traversing through or past previously visited areas, giving you the opportunity backtrack if you wish.
Collectable-wise, you can find contraband in the form of books and tapes, as well as video game floppy discs that you need to pickpocket off guards. The tapes hold recordings of a man named Zager – someone who turned against the authorities and is fighting to bring them down – and the books and games cover a wide variety of real titles. It’s in the case of the latter two in particular where the developer’s passion really comes across, not just in terms of painting a picture of the extent of The Headmaster’s manipulation, but also a passion for culture and art in general. Each book you find comes with a bit of audio from The Headmaster himself, giving a scathing review of the title in question and his opinion on how misled the author and its readers are. It goes lengths to show how this man is justifying what he is doing, and perhaps why he is doing it as well. The voice acting of The Headmaster (and throughout the game, actually) is superb and makes listening to these audio clips enjoyable and interesting.
And on the hand we have the game floppy discs. Our ally Cooper has had his stash of video games taken from him by the guards, and thus we can find them in their pockets. Similar to the books, we get a bit of audio about the games, though this time from Cooper, and a significantly more positive review. Games such as Gone Home, Bastion, and Frozen Synapse all get a mention. It really is a brilliant and unique way of presenting their collectables.
In addition to these collectables, there are also bits of information that provide some story or background. You need to look around with the cameras a bit to find all of them, but these come in the form of letters, e-mails, posters, and even objects. When you scan or hack one of these, again, we get some dialogue, only this time we’re listening in on a conversation or instance that took place with relevance to the object in question (e-mails are read-only affairs, however). Again, it’s a nice way of presenting the story with relevance to the surveillance state concept, and provides some very interesting backstory.
As with unlocking doors, however, some of these methods of prying need to be unlocked, and in this way the bits of collectable info you find have a practical purpose. In the prison rooms there are terminals which can be entered to sell information. Depending on how juicy the bit of info is, this will determine your pay, and with that money you can purchase upgrades. These could be predicting a guard’s movement patterns, distracting a guard by hacking a phone, and even unlocking the ability to snoop into phone messages to get more info to sell. It’s very simplistic, and there are few upgrades available, but I found it a nice touch nonetheless, and it makes life a little easier.
The actual stealthing and exploration is workable, though not without its issues. There is some clunk to Hope’s movement, resulting in my capture on a couple of occasions because she decided to stick to a wall. And, I suppose in an attempt to make the game more intuitive, when Hope moves out of sight of a camera you will switch to the nearest available viewpoint, but this often has the opposite effect. Instead it disorientates, and sometimes switches camera view unnecessarily. It’s annoying, to say the least, when you’re trying to figure a way past some guards and the camera flicks to another corner of the room, especially if you end up walking into the sight of a guard as a result.
Additionally, there are some framerate and loading issues. Larger areas chugged along a bit, making stealthing a little uncomfortable, and switching cameras and entering new rooms occasionally took way too long to load. Especially considering my criticism of the camera changing automatically, it was a common occurrence for me to enter a new area and then accidentally guide Hope back to the previous one (holding the stick in the wrong direction because the camera has changed view). That’s annoying on its own, let alone when it then takes ages to load again.
I must stress that the stealth gameplay and level design is actually quite well done and enjoyable, but the slightly clunky controls, and the technical issues (along with a few bugs that caused me to reload) makes the game come across a bit rugged, and more frustrating than it should be. It’s a serious, dry game and there’s a lot of waiting around, listening to audio logs, and revisiting areas. It works because the narrative is so compelling, but those few issues did make one or two of the game’s sections become rather tedious.
Get past all that and there is way more to like than dislike here. The story is utterly gripping and the concept/world/aesthetic well realised. I felt driven to help Hope get out of this place, and at the same time wanted to find out more about this Headmaster and his plans – they keep referring to an event called ‘the arrival’, which stinks of some weird cult preparation. I became attached to characters along the way, and after getting used to the quirks in the stealth it became generally quite a rewarding experience. There’s a lot to get stuck into as well, lasting roughly ten hours – spread across five chapters. Avoiding guards gets steadily more challenging, and there is the odd mini game and moral choice to make that mixes gameplay up (a particular favourite was producing manipulated headlines for the local propaganda rag).
Republique is a passionately delivered title, albeit with some annoyances, but has a great story to back it up and some serviceable stealth gameplay. If stealth is your thing, I would definitely recommend giving this a shot.
+ Brillaint, gripping narrative
+ Fairly unique concept
+ Developer's passion shines
- Camera automatically changing can be annoying
- Framerate and loading issues