by Ewan Wilson
reviewed on PC
République can be traced back to its Kickstarter pitch. Developer Camouflaj promised to deliver a “big” innovative action game “specifically designed for touch-based devices”. République Remastered is somewhat detached from that vision – it’s higher resolution, but it comes without the original touch interface. Despite this lack of novelty, the game still holds up pretty well.
République is an unusual, episodic stealth game where you control an anonymous hacker peering through the lens of cameras scattered across the underground facility “Metamorphosis”. The protagonist is Hope, a somewhat soppily named prisoner in a totalitarian state, who wears a onesie and kicks off events by pleading for help on a stolen phone. You answer.
The all-seeing eye
Your goal is to help Hope escape from Metamorphosis. You can freeze time by pressing the spacebar. This enables you to jump from one surveillance camera to the next. With the camera under your control, you can pan and tilt freely, scouting ahead, before resuming in real time. Clicking on the environment will send Hope creeping to that spot, double clicking will make her sprint noisily. It’s an indirect form of control; you never feel as though Hope is fully under your direction – it’s more that you’re guiding and watching over her.
With cameras as your eyes, you guide Hope past patrolling guards. Hope can pick up single-use pepper spray and tasers, but is otherwise vulnerable. When she’s caught you’re dragged back to a nearby cell in order to escape all over again. It’s an odd substitution for conventional respawning. The first couple of times Hope is returned to her cell, it makes sense and keeps things tidy and within the fiction. It becomes less believable the tenth time it happens. Post a guard outside or something!
Big Brother is watching
You’ll find things like computers to hack and posters to scan as you move between cameras. These are used to flesh out the universe as well as earn points to unlock abilities. Abilities allow you to do things like predict guard patrols or lock doors in order to cordon off certain areas and guards. Probably more important are the snippets of voiced narrative which are delivered each time you hack a terminal, read someone’s email, or scan the pages of a newspaper or poster.
Metamorphosis and the République are dystopian spaces with obvious Orwellian influence. There’s a Big Brother-like “Overseer” and a dead revolutionary (voiced by David Hayter) who has left behind a transgressive tome. History is constantly being re-written, propaganda posters are all in “Newspeak”, and books are banned and being burnt. The world also takes cues from Plato’s own republic, where truth is absolute and, infamously, artists have no place.
Whilst République’s totalitarian universe is interesting and its ideas far-ranging, a lot of the time the audio clip dialogue is overly enigmatic and drawn out. The corrupting power and overwhelming discipline and control that can come with all-pervasive surveillance systems and networks are topical, but are stated obviously here. République allows you to collect banned books – “Brave New World”, “Naked Lunch”, "Animal Farm” – and there’s a fragment of audio for each. There are also floppy discs of indie games like Gone Home and Bastion, but it all comes across as inauthentic. It’s name-dropping – République doesn’t really have an awful lot to say about the things it references.
Completely objective totalitarian conclusion
There are still two out of five episodes to be released (these will be patched into the Remastered edition). Although the narrative threads are yet to be tied up, I’m slightly unconvinced République has anything discerning, let alone clever, to say about surveillance or totalitarianism. It compiles a good list of influences and literary dystopias, but its own world is fairly uninspired. It would’ve been nice to have seen a fresh narrative perspective to go along with the interesting player viewpoint.
Probably the best thing about République is its evolution and the improvements made in the later episodes. Thin corridors and enclosed rooms really open up in the second chapter, with the three-dimensional map becoming a more important tool. There are also a few simple puzzles spread out amongst the stealth, hacking, and voyeurism. There’s real hope that things will continue to improve in the final two episodes, and there may even be a narrative twist or two to overturn the sinking feeling that this dystopian tale has been seen and read before.
Simple and engaging stealth mechanic, an interesting player perspective, a fleshed out world, the evolution from one episode to the next.
Familiar narrative, overly enigmatic dialogue, inauthentic in its attempts to be clever/profound.