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Big Brother’s still watching

When République’s Kickstarter launched back in 2012, I was instantly intrigued. Admittedly, a premise touting a dystopian future and corrupt government that you have to fight back against through stealth and sabotage is an easy way to perk my ears up. Then it was revealed to be episodic in nature, with the first episode coming December of 2013. As interested as I was, I knew I’d want to binge-play all the episodes in quick succession, so I decided I’d wait for them all to be released.

So I waited. And waited. And then I forgot about République. This was because for a while there it looked like the end might never come with huge gaps between episodes. Finally, though, here I am, sitting down to write a review I thought would’ve come much, much sooner. And with the long-awaited arrival of the fifth and final episode on mobile and PC came a PS4 edition collecting the entire adventure together for easier consumption, which is exactly how I wanted to experience it to begin with.

In the PS4 version of République, players take on a unique dual-role. Half the time you’ll assume control of Hope, a beaten-down young girl who has already been “recalibrated” several times, yet still her spark for rebellion keeps emerging. For the other half you’ll be a nameless friend from the outside who must help Hope finally escape by hacking the video cameras and electronics in the totalitarian République, turning the Orwellian dictatorship’s paranoia-inducing surveillance tactics against itself. Along the way, you’ll learn about the République’s faceless Overseer, escape his head of security—a masochistic man named Derringer—and his “Prizrak” soldiers, and peel back the layers of conspiracy to learn the truth.

République’s greatest strength comes in its storytelling. Although the beginning of the series may drag a bit as it establishes the universe you’ll be exploring, the pace soon hits its stride, giving you a perfect mix of drama, suspense, action, and just enough breadcrumbs to make you keep wanting to fall down the rabbit hole. Of course, the more you put into exploring République’s small, interconnected Metroidvania-like world—one that opens up some as your security clearance increases—the more you’ll learn about everything that led to the creation of the République in the near-future of 2020, and about the rigid structure you’re tasked with rebelling against.

A major element that gets République’s backstory across is the beautiful design of the world, which firmly plants one foot in modern reality and another in this possible future. Some areas feature the cold, gray technology you’d expect from a futuristic civilization, with supercomputers, biolabs, and advanced surveillance tech dotting the many hallways. Meanwhile, rainy graveyards, an intricate library with books approved by the state, and a museum that pays homage to revolutionary leaders—including a wing dedicated to the Overseer—show how society reached this point in only a few years.

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There’s also an interesting mesh of technology seen in the collectibles, highlighting the backwards, fascist thinking of the game’s antagonists. Rarely do collectibles add so much to a game’s ability to immerse you in a world (oftentimes it’s the exact opposite). Even though you are surrounded by all this future tech, it’s the discovery of cassette tape messages from fellow rebels, saving books marked for burning like Orwell’s Animal Farm, Nabokov’s Lolita, or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, or indie-darling video games like Bastion, Flow, and This War of Mine on floppy discs that help paint a picture of subjugation and isolation critical to the atmosphere the game tries to convey.

The characters themselves also go a long way to selling the plot. Hope’s plain white jumpsuit and pink control collar immediately scream oppression, whereas the Overseer dons a pristine white military uniform seen favored by modern dictators, trying to convey a sense of pureness and cleanliness despite his tyrannical ways. It also must be mentioned that tremendous voice acting across the board only heightens the tension of every confrontation between all the major characters.

The only negative about the story comes from the fact that if you want to replay any episode on the PS4 version of the game, you have to start an entirely new game. You can’t just jump into an episode at any time to go back and hunt for collectibles or change the couple of branching decisions the story gives you. At that point, why even bother rolling credits after each episode? Just cut that out and make it one long game.

As great as République looks and sounds, and as much as I may love the story, there’s still the matter of gameplay. République, at its core, is a stealth game. Memorizing guard patterns, sneaking around, and using the environment to your advantage to hide in plain sight is the only way Hope will survive the night and escape. The PS4 version of République is the third different control scheme the game has been given, though.

On mobile, where the game started out, tapping the touch screen was used to move Hope around and change cameras. The PC/Mac version was then given point-and-click controls to simulate the touch-screen experience. The PS4 version needed an entirely new system, however, to be playable. It works in some regards, though in others there has clearly been something lost in translation, detracting from the stealth required to make it through the game unscathed.

Whereas before you would simply use the cameras to see where Hope is going and then tap to start her moving, the PS4 version has you bouncing back and forth between Hope and the cameras, controlling only one at a time. The benefit of this is the duality I mentioned earlier, helping you feel like a separate character in the universe and not some omnipotent force controlling an avatar. When Hope is caught by the Prizrak, your options as the camera are also limited, and that feeling of helplessness—if Hope isn’t carrying a one-use item that lets her escape, like pepper-spray, Tasers, or sleeping gas bombs, that is—grounds you even more in the idea of being a friend on the outside.

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Having more direct control over Hope in this version of the game, though, leads to some frustrating moments. Since Hope only moves when controlling her and you can’t set her off a path like a Lemming, if you get too far away from a particular camera, the viewpoint may automatically shift to a closer one at a different angle. But in my playthrough there were moments where one camera would be farther away, but offer a better angle when sneaking up on a guard. When the camera suddenly shifted, so did my controls, and I’d bump into the guard or instantly start walking in the opposite direction I’d intended.

Speaking of guards, the Prizrak may be the dumbest enemies I’ve seen in a long time. Prizrak mooks have about as much peripheral vision as a VR headset, meaning if you aren’t directly in front of a Prizrak’s eyes, they won’t notice you. While their patterns are complex enough that you can’t predict them all the time, there’s a larger margin for error than you see in many other stealth games and often Hope can be standing right next to one without them noticing her.

You can also weirdly freeze time when controlling cameras, painting the world in a film-negative tone. While this allows you to scout areas up ahead, better plan paths around guard patrols, and hack computers without worrying about said patrols, it’s an immersion-shattering element. The last thing we need is another game with some sort of “radar sense” or “detective mode,” and I think keeping everything in real-time would’ve much better served the narrative the rest of the game supports.

Not every aspect of the gameplay is a mess, though. The few puzzles that players will have to help Hope overcome are fun and inventive. And some hacking mini-games, like twisting the state-run newspaper into incriminating high-ranking Prizrak, or deleting criminal records to free people from the Overseer’s grasp, offer enough variety to keep you on your toes and make things a little more interesting.

République’s attempt at creating an Orwellian-nightmare is largely successful, giving us a deep conspiracy-laden plot driven by compelling characters, stellar world design, and good writing. It only really falls flat in some gameplay aspects, but it works well enough on the whole that if the story digs its hooks into you, you’ll be able to look past the shortcomings and hopefully guide Hope through to the end.

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Developer: Camouflaj, Logan Games • Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.22.16
8.0
République’s transition from mobile to console is a mostly smooth one, but does feature some control hiccups along the way. The star of the show is the modern Orwellian tale crafted here, though, allowing you to look past a fair amount of technical issues.
The Good Classic conspiracy-driven Orwellian tale will suck you in and leave you wanting more.
The Bad Camera controls are difficult to get used to and often switch angles at the worst times.
The Ugly You’re being watched now for reading this review.
République is available on PS4, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by GungHo Online Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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