So I replayed this game recently, and figured it was worth talking about.
I’m not 100% sure how I was first introduced to this game, but I’m almost positive it was through the demo provided on the KotOR II disc. How it probably went was that I played that demo, and then immediately, at the next available opportunity, had my mom drive me to Blockbuster to rent it.
One thing that perplexes me is that it seems like they wanted this to almost be a horror game. Like, just look at this teaser. It’s almost like a gritty military found-footage horror game or something. Which would have been AWESOME. And there was one part in the game, which I’ll talk about later, that really seems like they wanted it to be horror.
Republic Commando puts you in the role of a clone trooper named RC-1138 (is this a reference to George Lucas’s early film THX-1138?), aka Boss. You are the leader of Delta Squad, a four-man team of elite commandos a cut above the rest of the clones. Your tasks are far more dangerous and, at times, nearly suicidal, and as a consequence, a lot is riding on the missions you undertake. The game takes place in three sort of mini-campaigns spread out across the Clone Wars conflict, starting with Geonosis, then taking place on a large Republic ship, and finally ending with the conflict on Kashyyyk.
The first thing that stands out about the game is that it’s squad-based, and they tried to work in a lot of ways to handle your squad. Setting up in specific positions, tasking them with breaching doors or hacking terminals or placing explosives, all things that you yourself can do and have your squad cover you. At the time, this seemed pretty remarkable, and even now it works out fairly well.
The second thing that stands out is that the developers kind of cut against the canon for the sake of gameplay and gave your clone squadmates distinct voices. As in, completely different voice actors. There isn’t really a good in-game or canon reason for this, but honestly I don’t really care, considering it makes sense gameplay-wise. When you’re relying on three different characters and they’re all shouting things at you, it really pays to figure out who’s where quickly. You have Sev, your gruff, disturbing sniper who sounds like a Krogan, Fixer, your by-the-books, no-BS tech, and Scorch, your smartass demolitions expert. The most notable thing about him is that he’s voiced by the same guy who voices Carth. Or if you’re a less old-school BioWare fan, the same guy who voiced Kaiden. They did a good job making the clones distinct from one another and making them seem alive. There’s a lot of chatter over the comms and they all make comments about the situation, the environment, each other. There’s even little segments between levels where they tell you about each other, although the loading on the Xbox One goes by too fast to read.
The opener is really cool. It’s basically a slightly interactive first person sequence of how one becomes a clone trooper, starting with ‘birth’. I especially love that end part, with the rain running on the helmet’s faceplate. It seems to highlight the fact that the game is going for a grittier, more realistic military view of the Star Wars universe, which is not a particularly popular subject. Everyone always wants to be a damned Jedi. Based on the ‘research’ I’ve done on the game, it seems that this was their primary motivation for making the game and the thing they wanted to get across. The game actually comes with some making-of footage, and it’s pretty cool. They actually hired like an ex-Special Forces guy to help advise them on real-life tactics and even had him run them through basic exercises in their actual office, so that was neat.
They talked about how they wanted to show how although some things would be run-of-the-mill for Jedi during the Clone Wars, dispatched without hardly a second thought, they would be more serious threats for clones. A good example were those silly basic droid models that were always comic reliefs. There’s a ton of those things in the game and they aren’t seriously dangerous, but enough of them can definitely kill you.
With regards to the enemies, I don’t know how to feel about them. They had three basic groups: Geonosins (the bug people from Geonosis, the desert planet from the second movie), droids in a few varieties, and trandoshans, which are basically lizard people. On the one hand, I really wish there would have been more variety, because it felt weird when the exact same groups were showing up again and again and again. I mean, it made sense for the droids, and they did work the trandoshans into the plot in a specific way, but I just wish other antagonists had shown up. On the other hand, I understand that making a game is hard and time consuming, especially creating and animating and programming hostile entities.
So, yes, the plot. Geonosis is a pretty good starter, actually, since it’s fairly iconic and if you remember the movies at all, then you’ll recognize that sequence on the desert planet. It serves as a good introduction and throws you into a number of dangerous situations as you get to know the game and your squad and exactly what you’re up against.
The second campaign takes place entirely on a Republic vessel out in deep space, and this is where the horror aspect begins to come through. It takes place something like a year later, and opens with the ominous title Ghost Ship Recon. Like, come on, that’s awesome. The situation is almost Event Horizon-esque. A Republic vessel disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and suddenly reappeared in a totally different place. There’s been no contact, and your task is to get onboard and figure out what’s going on. Due to the size of the ship, you have to split up and each of the four clones must enter solo.
You come in through a maintenance sector near the engines and make your way through eerily dark and silent back areas. You hear your other squadmates making occasional reports over the radio, and very quickly you all begin finding evidence of some kind of attack. And then one of your crew is attacked by something, screams, and drops off the air. They managed to build a lot of horror atmosphere and tension with surprising effectiveness for a very militaristic FPS set in the Star Wars universe, but…it very quickly begins to disappear. The first thing that seemed really off was when you run into a clone trooper and he’s acting very strangely. What I took from the conversation, from the hesitant way he answered every question to the tune of you asking “Are you doing this thing?” and then he would very hesitantly answer “Uh…yeah, definitely, that was DEFINITELY the thing I was doing!” like he’s lying his ass off, I was under the impression that it was someone pretending to be a clone. But apparently he was just an idiot, because he dies abruptly and the protagonist brushes the whole thing off like, “Oh, that was a little odd but it would have been nice to have some help.” It was a really bizarre scene and honestly stuck out in a very bad way.
And then any and all tension collapses and dissolves the instant the reveal happens. It’s just little hovering robots and trandoshans. It becomes a completely standard shooter sequence of levels after that, which I guess is fair, given what the game is, but it would have been cool! There aren’t anywhere near enough horror first person shooters.
The final campaign takes place on Kashyyyk, the wookie homeworld. It made for a decently cool environment, and fighting alongside the Wookies was interesting. Especially considering it feels like one of the only times you get a true appreciation for just how big they are. And then the game wraps up on a big cliffhanger that…they never fucking followed up on. What a great legacy guys. But it wasn’t their fault LucasArts just dicked everyone over when they shut down basically everything in production back then. Including fucking KOTOR 3. Bastards.
Another thing that comes to mind is the amount of ways they worked the squad-based tactics into the game. There’s a lot of interactivity, a ton of things you can assign your squad to do, although it isn’t super effective sometimes. There’s contextual orders, which is basically you pointing to a specific spot and telling your squad to get to cover and provide sniper support, or explosives support. You can tell them to hack a terminal, or do a breach-and-clear. Or you can order them to get bacta, which is basically the miracle healing stuff doled out by dispensers placed everywhere. (Although I have to say, if you tell them to do it but none of them are injured, the way they tell you that no one is hurt is oddly hesitant and even condescending.)
So all the contextual stuff works pretty decently. It’s the broader commands you can issue that seemed to give me a lot of problems. These are assigned to the D-pad, you engage them by holding down A. (Regular D-pad controls which weapon you’re using.) You can tell them to hold an area, search and destroy, regroup, or cancel the orders. None of these seemed to actually DO anything, and it was honestly a problem. Probably the one I wanted to use the most was regroup, because I’d assign each of my clones to specific places before a battle, and once it was done, I’d naturally want them to, you know, regroup. Except it would NEVER work. They’d just stay where they were until I got far enough away that they began following. The game would have felt much smoother if that had actually functioned.
Probably the biggest gripe I have is that there was no campaign co-op. How was this not a thing!? It was basically DESIGNED for campaign co-op. It would have been amazing. Maybe it was something they were going to implement in the sequel? And one thing that made me sad was the fact that this showed up before the great DLC rush. Another thing this game seemed not only designed but absolutely optimized for was campaign DLC. There’s about a year gap between each of the mini-campaigns, and they’re very isolated from one another. You insert at the start, do your shit, then extract at the end. Very cut and dry. There was a TON of opportunity for extra campaigns in there, visiting not only places from the movie, but totally unique and original environments as well. But apparently it was too much to ask for.
I’ve got no idea what the multiplayer was like because even when I had it back in the day, I never had a chance to put Xbox Live to use, because I couldn’t afford it back then. I didn’t get consistent access to Live until Halo 3 came around. And obviously the original Xbox Live servers are long, long dead. Honestly, it’s sad because this could have been a franchise. A tactical squad-based FPS based on clones from the Star Wars universe? It should have been a juggernaut to rival Call of Duty in its heyday.
Instead, it’s a relic. It wasn’t dead on arrival, it had its time in the sun, but now at most it’s a nostalgic revisit you can play on the Xbox One.
Although hey, maybe someday the Star Wars license will get ripped out of the cold, soulless hands of EA, and Disney will stop being fucking lazy morons, and they’ll actually give it to someone who gives a shit, and they’ll chose to resurrect this game? Although with how poorly the big-budget gaming industry is doing nowadays, with everyone seemingly incapable of releasing a AAA game without somehow shoving unnecessary MTX or lootboxes into it, maybe this game is better off dead.