There are few feelings quite like exploring the cramped, claustrophobic halls of the first Resident Evil or the pure simplicity of sneaking your way past guards in the first Metal Gear Solid. Other than both being examples of great game design, it’s also just not how games are made any more. With that absence however, Republique emerges, a modern, brilliant take on classical fixed-camera style games, set in a beautifully deep, detailed world.
Originally released on mobile, Republique was kickstarted in 2012, and launched its first episode all the way back in 2013. In the over two years since, the game has been ported to PC, and now to PS4 with the release of its fifth and final episode.
The game begins as the player receives a phone call (something admittedly more clever while playing the mobile version) and answers to discover a hacked video-feed connection with the main character’s phone. From there, you are able to hack into the video feed of any camera you can see at any given time. And therein lies the ingenious twist.
The entire game is played while viewing the world through, and controlling, security cameras. Using the ability to hack into computers and control different technology remotely through a system called OMNI View, the player is tasked with guiding a young girl named 390-H, Hope, as she prefers to be called, out of the facility she is trapped in.
From a stealth point of view, there’s not much in Republique that hasn’t been seen before. Crouch to walk softly, stray out of site, distract guards to change up their patrols, and even hide in lockers to evade capture. While simplistic, it’s also a callback to the purity of older stealth games. There’s no fighting your way out of a bad situation, let alone any killing. Hope has a few things she can pick up, like pepper spay and tasers, that help her evade capture, but these are in short supply, and don’t work on every type of guard as the game progresses.
Adding just one wrinkle though, the ability to jump from camera to camera opens up new possibilities. Leaving Hope where she is, the player can scout ahead, hack machines, and even collect intel, all without endangering Hope in the slightest. All in all, I spent just as much of my 15-hour playthrough hopping between cameras and scanning rooms as I did actually controlling Hope.
The stealth is fun, and engaging. But more than anything it serves as a gameplay backbone to what truly makes Republique shine: its story, characters, and world.
Hope is only one of many children being held in a facility called Metamorphosis, in a totalitarian nation called Republique. You don’t know where. You don’t know when. You don’t even know if there’s actually a world beyond the closed, mercilessly cramped hallways Hope finds herself sneaking through. But, as the game unfolds, subtle clues and veiled scraps of information come together to create a morally flawed, but inexorably fascinating world, filled with characters just as complex and layered.
Republique takes the fixed cameras and claustrophobic tension of Resident Evil, and the stealth of Metal Gear Solid, it then also takes its storytelling cues from narrative exploration games like Gone Home. Every newspaper, post-it note, or abandoned item you scan, every email you hack into, triggers an audio log, giving insight into the characters, their motivations, their secrets, and, of course, their conflicts with each other.
As with the very best in the narrative exploration genre, each little piece is just that: a piece. Together however, different snippets of information playing against each other, the whole picture eventually appears.
This is made all the better by a truly outstanding cast. While even the smallest of characters receive completely solid voice-work, Khary Payton (who many will know as the voice of Cyborg in the DC animated shows) delivers a great performance as the villainous Derringer.
Upping the ante even more however, Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect’s Femshep) and David Hayter (Metal Gear Solid’s original Solid Snake) both turn in absolutely fantastic work as the mysterious Mireille Prideaux and the crazy-as-a-fruitcake revolutionary Zager. Even in a game entirely about the evils of constant and complete surveillance, I can say it was a joy to pry deeper and deeper into their character’s lives.
The storytelling doesn’t stop there though. While often, in games like Gone Home, the collection of information, and the subsequent understanding it brings, are the actual point, Republique reworks this.
All the information you find can be sold to a data broker, and used to buy better hacking equipment, unlocking new skills ranging from the ability to hack into voicemail, to stealth abilities, like being able to see guards through walls or on your map. These abilities then feed back into making it that much easier to continue the central narrative of the game, the events unfolding around Hope’s escape.
And that isn’t even taking into consideration the game’s many, many collectibles. Stashed throughout Metamorphosis you’ll find plenty of contraband, including audiotapes, banned books, video games, and more.
In the case of the books, each one you find comes with a bordering-on-disturbing, but usually quite funny, audio clip of the Overseer (the ruler of Republique) explaining why each was banned. The different books span the gambit of history’s actual banned books. Offering a totalitarian take on how Slaughter House 5 uses the guise of time travel to pollute young minds, how Animal Farm could inadvertently implant ideas of racism, or even how Frankenstein is too close to a modern allegory for anonymous teenagers ranting on the internet, each does nothing if not add flavor to the world.
When it comes to the video games however, it’s all fan service. Throughout Metamorphosis you can find floppy disks for some of the great smaller games that have risen to prominence in the past years. Everything from Shovel Knight to Journey makes an appearance, all accompanied by a quick audio file explaining why each was so special.
In a similar vein, scanning any guard opens up his passport, each based on a person who helped kickstart the game, showing his name and picture. The truth is, when I first encountered these passports, all marked with a “Kickstarter backer” stamp, and all of the modern, real world games, it rubbed me the wrong way.
While clear and admirable fan service, it also took me out of the world Republique was trying to build. Seeing how looking or listening to any of it is optional however, it soon faded into the background, as much a part of the setting as anything else.
Encompassing everything, from mechanics to story, the amount of time taken between the release of each episode, while painful to wait for on mobile or PC, is likely the game’s greatest boon now that it’s a single whole on PS4. The first episode, though perfectly strong on its own, is a bit heavy-handed, and is the weakest of the five. With each episode however, came improvements.
The storytelling gets more subtle and layered, environments more varied, and mechanics, overall, more complex. Even beyond that, each episode manages to feel distinct, with a character all its own, each dedicated to peeling back new, unique, and meticulously measured layers of Metamorphosis to be explored in full, each in their own time.
In the end however, oddly enough, Republique’s biggest problem stems, in a way, from its own immersive world. Jumping between cameras, especially if entering a new room or loading a cutscene, often takes far too long, resulting in a jarring stop to the action. Effectively pausing the game (dialogue, music, movement, everything), the loading from one view to another sometimes takes up to four seconds. While that might not seem like a lot, the simple amount of time you spend constantly jumping around will really begin to add up, especially given that every room has at least two or three cameras.
The four-second delays however, were the worst of it. In most instances the switches took much less time. Even though far short of truly detracting from the game as a whole, it did put an unfortunately recurring hiccup in an otherwise smooth, engrossing experiences.
Despite these small problems however, Republique is a unique mash of genres that manages to set itself apart from just about every other game out there. Telling an emotionally engaging story amidst a rich and mysterious world, it managed to scratch the same itch as older, classical games, but did it in a wholly modern fashion, showcasing something new that most gamers will likely never have guessed they wanted.
Superb. A games that finds its way into the top of all our lists, but lacks that special something which makes it exceptional. This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 console.