So many games put you in another person’s shoes. Whether climbing your across treacherous terrain or on the right end of an assault weapon, these stories are generally told through someone else’s eyes. If the immersion is successful, never once do we stop to remind ourselves that there is a screen and controller between us and what’s unfolding in the game. But the episodic stealth adventure Republique has different ideas. Developed by Camoflaj, this is one game that doesn’t seek to break the boundary between player and protagonist. Instead it strives to reinforce it without forfeiting our suspension of disbelief.
390-H has only known life from within the walls of the Metamorphosis facility. However, after years of experimentation and imprisonment at the hands of the Prizrak, the rumblings of revolution are beginning to appeal to her. Before big brother can purge her mind of these wicked thoughts, she makes one last ditch attempt for freedom. Adopting the alias Hope, she steals a smartphone and calls the outside world for help, hoping that someone receives her message. As it turns out, that someone is you.
Originally funded as part of a Kickstarter campaign, Republique was initially designed and released episodically for smart devices. Over two years later and the series has come to an end, with the fifth and final episode bringing a shiny PlayStation 4 remastered version along with it. And while the voyeuristic overtones may have been lost in the transition from tablet to home console, the game holds up surprisingly well, benefiting from the unique controls and enhanced graphics that the system has to offer.
After answering the call and hacking into to the Metamorphosis security systems, your goal is to guide Hope through the facility without allowing her to be seen. Thanks to the powerful technology of your OMNI-View tool, hundreds of cameras are at your disposal as you monitor guard movement patterns and pave the way forward for our cautious heroine. The entire security grid is at your disposal as you move from room to room, unlocking doors and utilizing electronic interfaces in order to keep the path clear. The questionable motives of the supporting cast also comes into play, with a number of decision making mechanics crafting the fate of Hope and the other Pre-Cal prisoners of this mysterious facility.
The OMNI-View can be accessed by pressing the R1 button, which upon pressing will pause the game and highlight the various aspects of the environment you can interact with. Jumping from camera to camera will give you a full view of the obstacles that stand in your way, while items and objects which Hope can put to use will also be picked up by the analyzing display feed. As you progress deeper into the Metamorphosis facility, you’ll eventually unlock further abilities such as being able to predict guard movement patterns and distracting guards by meddling with other hackable electronics. But as with any mobile device, you’ll eventually be restricted by loss of signal or low battery life - something that we can all relate to.
Taking full advantage of the PlayStation 4 analogue controller, Hope can actually move around freely thanks to the left analogue stick, removing the somewhat restrictive nature of the original tap controls of the tablet version. Aside from sneaking passed or pickpocketing Prizrak guards, she can also taser or pepper-spray them if they happen to catch sight of her. She can also use convenient chargers to replenish the battery life of the smartphone that you’re using to access the network, as well as interact with objects such as keyboards and pin-locks in order to open up new areas of the map.
Generally, the gameplay is a mash-up of Watch Dogs inspired hackery and Metal Gear Solid stealth. Much of Hope’s covertness boils down to crouching behind walls and pillars, while your role as the cyber infiltrator performs the necessary tasks to keep the coast clear. Hope responds well to her new control system, but the AI of the patrolling guards leaves a lot to be desired. Hope can sometimes dart across their line of sight undetected, which is great for her, but is a bit jarring from the player’s perspective. Still, each episode ups the ante by stripping back the environment and making it increasingly difficult for Hope to find a safe place to hide.
There isn’t much in the way of action sequences or set-pieces, but what it lacks in this department, it makes up for with its tone and sense of world-building. Each episode takes place in a different area of the complex, keeping the whole experience fresh throughout while further crushing any sense that escape is indeed possible. Map sizes are restricted, but often demand a certain amount of retreading in order to unlock new areas and secrets. At times it can almost feel claustrophobic, which works well given the themes on offer in this 1984-inspired story. A huge amount of credit for the game’s engrossing story can be credited to the vocal cast, which includes Jennifer Hale, David Hayter, and Dwight Schultz. Not only does their presences give the game a blockbuster feel, but they add some genuine emotion and personality to each one of the characters, no matter which side of the political spectrum the pledge allegiance to.
Much of this game’s back story can be discovered by scanning various objects within the environment. Computers and telephones can be hacked for intel, while files, newspapers and even posters knocking around will flesh out the history of both Metamorphosis and the mysterious revolutionary who threatened their tight grip on the population. Even Hope gets her own side-quest in the middle of her escape, as she searches for banned books and cassettes scattered around the facility. Every scrap of data you collect will further tease out the history of this nanny state and while it may take some patience, going out of your way to find everything makes it well worth it in the end.
The easter egg hunt doesn’t stop there as the game also gives a warm high five to the backers of the Kickstarter campaign and fellow Indie titles were also subject to the fundraiser treatment. Every guard in the game can be scanned, revealing the details of those who donated towards the development of the game. Meanwhile, pickpocketing guards can sometimes reveal floppy discs proudly sporting the logo of other games, such as Shovel Knight, Gone Home or The Banner Saga. It’s a nice nod to the grass roots origins of the game, but these meta references threaten to break the immersive perspective which has already taken a bold step by somewhat distancing itself from the main character.
The episodic structure remains, despite the fact that the PlayStation 4 version is billed as being the complete game. It makes sense in order to heighten tension and puts the cliffhangers that book end each episode to good use. However, it does break up the gameplay and at times, the game will cut to black just as you’re beginning to find your stride. It also highlights just how dull episode four really is, in comparison to the rest of the game. More of a point-and-click adventure than a stealth ‘em up, this particular episode falls flat and doesn’t quite live up to the suspenseful tone of the others. Thankfully, it’s short-lived and it doesn’t take long before you hurtled back towards a thrilling and intense climax.
What the PlayStation 4 drops as far as voyeuristic immersion goes, it certainly makes up for with graphical improvements and a control system that feels far more natural than the touch screen scheme of a tablet. Some minor gameplay issues aside, Republique does a notable job of taking an innovative idea and crafting an ethically-charged, politically driven story that most triple-A titles fail to grasp in their storytelling.