A Look at the Latest: République (PS4)

République is a testament to how much good world-building and setting depth can really make a game more than just a gameplay experience. Set in an underground totalitarian surveillance state, the game mixes its sci-fi setting with real-world concerns about the internet, data, and how much the government is watching you.

Set in a place called Metamorphosis, you take on the role of… yourself! At least, the game seems to imply that the real you is meant to be literally helping the game’s true central character, Hope, a young lady who simply wants to leave this oppressive environment and see the world on the outside. You interact with Hope by way of exploiting the facility’s extensive surveillance and computer networks, always able to keep an eye on Hope as you guide her towards freedom even though you never say a single word to her. Along the way you’ll meet a great supporting cast almost indirectly by way of pick-ups you can find or scans you can do with the cameras. A guy on the security force named Cooper will help you find your footing in the early game by explaining mechanics and giving tips, and you will find tapes left behind by a revolutionary named Zager that really sell that even though there are clear bad guys in this world, even the good guys aren’t squeaky clean and sinless. The scans and pick-ups are the primary way the game will tell you about its world and history, a voice clip usually attached to them to help develop characters while also establishing rules or giving you a closer look at how Metamorphosis functions. Admittedly, scanning these will pull over the game constantly, but you will do yourself a disservice if you don’t bother with them. The pick-up method may not be the best way to integrate world-building, but it manages to dig incredibly deep into making a fleshed out world while also being pretty interesting just in their own right. You can find tons of floppy disks with shout-outs to other video games that Cooper will gush about, and you can find banned books which the Overseer will give an incredibly critical review of since they go against the mindset of the totalitarian regime he established in his new nation state. Perhaps more interestingly than those even is that you get to look at so many characters that you realize that this isn’t some typical fictional “all characters march in step with the ideology save the enlightened rebels” sci-fi set-up. Almost everyone has complex opinions on the rules and mindset in Metamorphosis, and they stay in line not because of blind belief, but for various personal reasons. I should also note that the books, video games, and more all use real world products and brands, helping to avoid the game having some cheesy falseness to it. When a game actually has the officially trademarked Taser present rather than a copyright safe stun gun, that’s a step beyond that helps you stay immersed in the game rather than pulling you out of it with some off-brand fictional equivalent.

Really, I could go on and on about how well the game manages to do a great job at selling its setting. Characters have unique voices, there is some excellent writing for most of them (one character speaks in rhyme and it gets forced as hell before he finally stops), and besides the layout of the areas you explore, it really does seem a world that was fleshed out as a setting before a game world. Sadly, despite how much the game does to make all of that interesting, the central character of Hope ends up being one of the least interesting aspects of the game world. You rarely hear her opinions or motivations and the game does little to endear you to her. I found myself more attached to the supporting cast, with Hope being the means I interact with this interesting world rather than a character I’m invested in. It is also worth saying the story, despite being set in such a rich world, doesn’t really evolve beyond that core concept of escaping. It gets a little more complicated sure, and revelations and twist do occur, but for such a well-developed world, it’s a shame you are locked to the least interesting main character involved in it, whether you consider that character you or Hope.

It’s probably about time I stop gushing like Cooper over this game’s setting and tell you what you actually do in it. République is a stealth game, and I don’t mean a stealth game where you can just kill everyone if you are caught. From your position in the cameras and computers, you need to be Hope’s lookout and fiddle with electronic devices to help her on her path to getting out of Metamorphosis. Thankfully, you don’t just control yourself, as you are given command of Hope as well, even though that doesn’t make much sense from its attempt at including you as a meta character. Still, I’ll give them this, because playing just as the cameras would not be fun at all. Hope cannot fight back, and the Prizrak security force is always on the lookout for the little escapee. Your only real defenses are the tricks you can unlock with the cameras and some pick-ups you find like pepper spray and tasers, and even then those are more for bailing you out if you get caught rather than something to be used aggressively. You can use them offensively on pesky guards admittedly, but you never get enough of them to make it an option you can rely on consistently. If you get caught, Hope is thrown in a jail cell and you have to bust her out and get her back to where she needs to go. You’ll definitely need some appreciation for pure stealth gameplay to enjoy this game, and coupled with the many pick-ups with long voice clips attached, it is definitely a patient man’s game. It’s not action-packed or intense, but at the same time, a stealth game that really embraces the concept of stealth isn’t really bound to be.

For the most part, sneaking around works well, and it’s fun to try and close in and pickpocket the video games in guard’s pockets even with the risk of getting caught. The game is subdivided into 5 episodes since it was originally a mobile game (although it certainly doesn’t show it!) and each episode adds to the challenges and tries to give new little activities to do. Admittedly, Episode 4 mixes it up way too much (although only for that episode thankfully), making things much too cumbersome to enjoy at times. Speaking of cumbersome, the fact you need to rely on surveillance cameras to see your character can really drag down the gameplay. You’re expected to constantly hop between cameras to shift your perspective on things as you try and navigate Hope at the same time. The game does have a few mercies like always knowing where Hope is, and upgrades begin to let you see guards through the walls or have other tricks to help with your vision, but you’ll always be viewing things from a fixed perspective, making certain areas a chore to navigate. You can flit between cameras pretty easily and there are no absolute blind spots in the game, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always be in the camera you need to see the guard who is walking right towards you. Mercifully, as you move to certain areas, the game will move you over to a camera with vision on Hope, but this system does not work perfectly. When the camera shifts, there’s always going to be a brief period of confusion, especially when it’s the automatic shift and your controls change to accommodate that new perspective. I can be running down a hallway to escape a guard who saw me, and then suddenly the camera changes and now the perspective causes my input down to make me run backwards towards the guard. There are more than a few doors I ended up going into and out of repeatedly because of the forced camera shift. For the most part, it’s a godsend, but it hurts as much as it helps.

Other than the stealth gameplay, the game has a few puzzles to give you more of a goal than moving from one area to the next. They’re all over the board in quality and for the most part simply require all the pieces and information to complete, but they do break up the constant sneaking well enough. Being in an underground sci-fi facility though, most of it is focused on the data collection and hacking angle. It certainly helps the game keep its theme going, but the setting, despite being incredibly interesting lore-wise, isn’t always the most impressive visually. A lot of grey or blue hallways and office areas that you’ll be navigating slowly due to the stealth gameplay. It does throw in the occasional unique and interesting area, but for the most part the game isn’t visually stimulating. There’s a lot of visual static and such as well to sell your interaction with the story purely through technology. An outsider watching might even think the game is constantly glitching from how much fun République likes to have with distorting your view!

THE VERDICT: République is a hard sell. The stealth gameplay can be punishing and even when it isn’t, it requires waiting, backtracking, and a lot of fiddling with the cameras and Hope herself to get things to work right. It’s not that hard to get a hang of, but it certainly won’t click with some players for being a very slow gameplay style. The interruptions of the pick-ups plus the slow crawl of sneaking around won’t grab some players, and the story has a generally bleak angle with quite a few downers. A lot of reviews I’ve read from other players seem to rank the game with a heavy emphasis on how they emotionally reacted to the game because of those elements. If you can accept these aspects though, you’ll be given a ride through an interesting world that manages to feel realistic even though it’s got sci-fi elements.

And so, I give République for the Playstation 4…

A GOOD rating. The angle of controlling cameras and technology is more of a gameplay hindrance than an interesting mechanic, but it helps create this marvelous dystopian world that pulls you in and makes you want to learn more and more about it, and boy does it give you the opportunities to learn! The game doesn’t fully deliver on the interesting set-up, partly because it locks you to the perspectives of the least interesting core characters, but there are so many nice small touches to the game that it is intriguing simply on that level. Strip away the world-building and you probably don’t have something that great, and if you decide to skip all the pick-ups and lore entirely, you’ll certainly enjoy the game a lot less. Focusing on pure stealth does lend itself well to the story being told, and they do at least make the typical stealth game concession of limiting the guard’s vision to only a certain range in front of them to make it bearable. The guards also give up rather easily to make it palatable as well, but the waiting and slow navigation can grate on someone who isn’t prepared to deal with that level of gameplay. However, if you are willing to accept the game’s design, you’ll be rewarded with a detailed picture of Metamorphosis and the people who live there. It’s certainly a game more about immersing yourself in a world than one meant to give you a good gameplay challenge.

We’ve got vision on a very intriguing world here, but it’s up to you if you want to take a deeper look into the République.

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