A Blast from the Past review
FBT goes back to a more civilised time
Funny how things come full circle. Dark Forces was Star Wars’ answer to Doom, and the most common complaint was it lacked Lightsabers and force powers. A decade on, Dark Forces’ Lightsaber and Force-heavy sequels had run their course. What followed was Republic Commando, a run n’ gun FPS aiming to join the ranks of Call of Duty and Medal of Honor.
There’s only two things I can remember about Republic Commando; Droids and those crappy Aphids from Attack of the Clones. I do remember it was interesting playing a Clonetrooper and then being disappointed when I realised it was pre-Order 66, so I was a good guy. But I do recall liking it. Time to get my Clone on.
Still a Blast?
The mid-noughties were a more elegant, civilised time. 2004 had been a watershed in gaming – Far Cry, GTA SA, World of Warcraft, Manhunt, Doom 3 and of course, Half-Life 2. They set a very high bar but 2005 met the challenge with FEAR, Gun, Battlefield 2, Quake 4, two Brothers in Arms and Call of Duty 2; I guess it’s easy to understand why I can barely remember anything about Republic Commando in amongst all that lot. But then again, it’s Star Wars, and it’s from LucasArts. You’d think some of it would stick. But I don’t really recall any of it.
Beginning on Geonosis at the start of the Clone Wars, I’m clone ‘1138’, aka Boss, assigned to command Delta group - ‘Scorch’, the wiseacre, ‘Fixer’ the quiet one and ‘Sev’, who loves his job a bit too much. This group, by virtue of their additional training, aren’t just mindless clones. They’re exceptional soldiers but also individuals, having personal opinions and unique markings on their uniforms (Sev has a bloody hand-print on his helmet, pre-dating Finn’s image at the start of Force Awakens). As the Boss, I can control Delta with the standard commands, but there’s also specialist elements like hacking, while actions like breaching doors can be done stealthily or explosively. I still don’t remember any of this. I didn’t get my memory wiped at the end to preserve hokey continuity did I?
It’s odd I wouldn’t have a better memory of RC, simply via repetitive training. Spanning three deployments, each is a never-changing environment and Delta trudging along a strictly linear path; mindless it becomes. There’s no great game-changer or thrill, no standouts or changes in approach; it’s purely clear the same room, complete an objective, loading screen, repeat and the only thing between you and those objectives is endless Geonosians and those grasshopper-looking droids from the prequels. It’s hard to take them seriously as combatants and you’re only in danger because of their huge numbers, not threat – completely un-intimidating, the droids mutter in that high-pitched gabble, run around after their heads have been shot off or just do the robot before exploding, while the Geonosians are annoying bugs flapping about. The larger Battle droids get a look in (referencing their behaviour in Phantom Menace, shoving aside the wimpy droids to get a better shot) and those roller-droids, but you just whittle them down, and when you combine the forgettable firefights with the same location, look and level design it’s no wonder the game starts to slip your mind. Even while you’re playing it. I’ve not had to remind myself of mission objectives this often since Skyrim.
Your camaraderie with the Deltas is minimal too so they don’t even stand out; their AI is passable although it’s not uncommon to see one staring at a wall, miles away as a dozen droids run around behind him; guess he forgot why he’s here too - Although once I caught Sev teabagging a Droid. Although you can direct them you rarely do because it’s so linear there’s nowhere to send them apart from highlighted cover spots which they use automatically anyway. You do have to wonder what they think of Boss; they all sensibly take up defendable positions and I run in blindly into everything. The good thing is if Boss or another clone dies they can be revived, which keeps the pressure on rather than a checkpoint system (although I did get caught in an infinite loop of me and Sev reviving each other then getting killed by the same Battle Droid over and over) and for once, having replacements drop in would underline the disposable nature of the clones. If you can’t be reached it’s reload time though and there were a few times where I watched each Clone try to revive me only to go down before I could get up, until all four of us were lying in a heap.
In later levels there’s equally annoying, chubby little slavers to deal with and Bossk’s species the Trandoshans, but they don’t last – soon you’re literally fighting vending machines as they spit out those bloody droids until you shut them down. In the final mission, we’re on Chewie’s homeworld of Kashyyk; aside from a few amusing Wookie moments, it’s the same environment and the same fights again; Trandoshans, Slavers and droids - Most shooters stick to two or three adversaries to be fair, but this was prime military/tactical FPS era, which RC is trying to emulate, where a combo of clever AI scripting and inspired level design kept you on edge and in the game no matter how many times you seemed to shoot the same bad guy – RC doesn’t have either, and it exposes how plain a shooter can be without some flair; it’s literally and figuratively flat and just isn't up there with the heavy hitters - it's more 1995 than 2005. When you consider something like FEAR or Max Payne and how they kept the same environment/baddies interesting, RC really starts to drag.
The biggest problem though is the universe it’s set in; no matter how many hands get cut off, Star Wars just isn’t brutal; there’s some attempts - blood splatters on your visor trigger a great little laser window-wiper across your screen, Boss is indifferent to the deaths of standard Clones betraying his completely compliant nature, and the Deltas all have cool little finishing moves but it’s still a Star Wars game and by not replicating the realism, the harshness that other military shooters dealt out, it feels a little like a kid’s game. Especially with those clown droids for opponents. Even the Trandoshans are a bit boo-hiss panto, only the Wookies show any characterisation; when a sidekick has more personality than your lead, it's a worry.
For a while I thought the reason I forgot RC wasn’t bigger, better shooters, but bigger, better Star Wars games - Knights of the Old Republic II was released Dec 2004 and Battlefront II in Dec 2005; maybe it was just too much Star Wars for one year. But really, it’s just not a very memorable game. And of course, there’s Order 66; or rather, no Order 66 - throughout, we get our orders from a bland clonetrooper via a hologram – if instead we’d been a detachment assigned to a Jedi on the ground, worked with them, built up a relationship with them (as the TV series explored), then one Order 66 later RC might have become something – or maybe Boss didn’t turn on them, depending on moral choices; a key element in Star Wars as a whole. Imagine choosing to disobey and being turned on by the Deltas, whom you’d grown fond of as pals. Boss becomes part of the Rebellion! Becomes a tragic character, or just a straight baddie, it could have gone so many ways. Without anything to set it apart, RC is just a clone. Amongst the many Easter Eggs, Boss finds a Lightsaber and it’s a nice, ominous reference that should have been the coda to the entire game, not an in-joke - I am the bad guy, I just don’t know it yet. That would have been memorable.
2005 Developer LucasArts | Publisher LucasArts/Activison
Platforms; Win | Xbox