Mobile developers are often guilty of biting off slightly more than they, and the people playing their games, can chew. For everything tablets are capable of these days, touch screens remain a cumbersome, imperfect way of controlling many games. The best iOS game of the year (in this reviewer’s opinion at least) was Device 6, a game that took the device in the player’s hands and wrung from it a gameplay style that you couldn’t possibly emulate on traditional consoles or computers. Very few tablet games actually attempt to do this – the focus has been on trying to shoehorn more traditional gameplay models onto the devices. République kind of tries to do both, framing itself through security cameras and phone cameras to match the device in your hands, but also tries and fails to replicate something approaching a Metal Gear Solid stealth experience.
The game is ambitious in its own way, offering up an episodic stealth adventure that plays upon our reoccurring Orwellian nightmares of surveillance and nanny states, thrusting you into a world where security cameras are both a symbol of oppression and the protagonist’s only hope of survival. The player controls an omnipotent piece of technology that is directing a young woman, Hope, out of the facility that a totalitarian regime is holding her capture in. It’s an interesting setting, albeit an overplayed one, and Hope is a likeable enough character the few times she speaks. You never have direct control over Hope, but can guide her to take cover and move with taps on the screen, and by switching between cameras around the facility you can get a better view of the path ahead.
République is coming to PCs as well, and from a visual perspective it would not look out of place on consoles, despite some murky textures. In fact, it would almost certainly be better if it had been built with other devices in mind. Concessions need to be made for these sorts of designs on touch screens, and the more ambitious a game, the more these concessions can add up.
République is a stealth game with pathetic stealth mechanics. The soldiers who skulk around the facility follow pre-determined, extremely simple routes, their ability to detect you based entirely on their small cones of vision. You can walk straight behind them, or even to the side of them in most cases, and they’ll have no idea. This is an obvious concession made for how damn cumbersome it is to direct Hope with the touch screen – nine times out of ten she’ll go where you tell her, but that tenth time always happens to be when a guard is walking past. The punishment for being spotted is poorly thought out too – if you’ve found pepper spray she’ll use it, letting you pass on your merry way without issue, otherwise she’ll be caught and taken to a holding cell. This means you need to watch the guard slowly escort her to an area that you can escape from immediately, often finding yourself closer to where you were heading in the first place. It completely removes any tension the game tries to evoke from the encounters.
This means that, despite the interesting setting and story that starts to emerge within this first episode, République is a stupendously dull, utterly uninvolving slog for most of its running time. The controls work well enough for what they are, but often frustration sets in when you’re desperately trying to move the camera and get Hope into cover at the same time while she stands, slack-jawed, starring at the guard who is making a beeline for her. This is how the majority of the first episode plays out, beyond one lame attempt at a puzzle. If you’ve never read or seen a good sci-fi text, then perhaps the central concept will keep you amused enough throughout the runtime, but otherwise there’s just not enough here.
The first episode of République is available for $5.49, while an in-game season pass, covering the other four episodes that will eventually be released, is available for $15.99. This first instalment is over in two hours, unless you try to hunt down all the hidden objects. It’s cute finding game cartridges for recent indie hits and posters for other Kickstarter success stories, but the general cumbersome nature of the game means that you’re not particularly likely to commit to a 100% run. The game shows conceptual promise – you unlock some mild security manipulation powers that will hopefully be pushed further in future episodes – but conceptual promise isn’t worth much until it has been delivered upon.