République Remastered Review (PC)
I own Episode 1 of the original République on iOS, which was originally published at the end of 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I was looking forward to comparing this remastered version to the original until I tried to leave the first jail cell and the game crashed. Not wishing to be held down by The Man, I rebooted my (five-month old) PC and tried again two more times, finding new appreciation for the addition of a “fast-forward” button. The game crashed at the exact same moment. Fortunately, République Remastered allows you to skip to the start of any Episode you have available and I already knew what happened in the first part. I happily played through the entirety of Episode 2 and the first half of Episode 3, whereupon the game found another “crash point” that refused to let me pass. So full disclosure: I suppose I am only really reviewing three-sixths of this.
République Remastered asks about the increasing presence of government surveillance in our lives. The dystopia of Metamorphosis doesn’t so much trade freedom for security as trade for a totalitarian dictatorship with overpaid security guards who let a young protagonist sneak around the place willy-nilly. While the oppressive security allows for the authorities to indoctrinate their young, murder dissenters, censor artists and eliminate personal privacy, the fact you are using the same systems to help someone really underlines how the ethics of security only extend as far as those of the person holding the keys. Yet like 1984 and Brave New World, both of which are discussed in Episode 2, République makes its agenda clear in both art direction and exposition. Consider that Metamorphosis is never painted as anything but a sterile and oppressive place to be, that (almost) everyone the main character meets is to be avoided, feared or criticised. This is not necessarily a bad thing: sometimes a piece is focused upon a single point. Yet the presence of the player, whose benevolence turns the tools of a despised security state into a force for good, is a voiceless inconvenience to the argument.
The main character is 390-H, a frightened young woman referred to as “the girl” by your main ally. For no other reason than your own compassion, you must help “the girl” escape from Metamorphosis by hacking into security systems, unlocking doors and helping her avoid guards. A click on the screen selects a spot for “the girl” to move to, with strategic spots to hide and spacious vents to crawl through. “The girl” is smart enough to inch around corners by herself if she spots a guard getting near, and her pickpocketing ability serves well for pitching collectables. Yet the detection remains as finicky as it did on the iOS version, and you will often need a perfect camera angle to avoid “the girl” taking cover on the wrong side of a wall. An extra annoyance has been added by the PC version: after calling up the pause menu, I was horrified to discover that clicking the “Resume Game” button counted as a move command to “the girl”, whereupon she charged out of cover right into a passing guard. In the ensuing and avoidable struggle she used a taser on him, one of numerous automatic defence items that seem less necessary when you realise that capture doubles as a free escort to the nearest checkpoint. Sometimes your contraband is taken, but the game lets you steal it back.
One lovely advantage of the PC conversion is the use of WASD for camera controls, a natural fit that makes the act of bouncing between cameras a lot more fun. Figuring out the path across a room by hopping between the cameras is the best part of the game, and excels on a platform that provides greater control and detail than a tiny phone screen. The guards were still hard to see at times (by design, I imagine) but I appreciated the additional detail and mood lighting. The graphics betray their humble mobile origins at times, and for some reason they left the smartphone “incoming call” openings intact. But only some stilted body language was flawed enough to register as bothersome. It is a competent upscaling, but my heart feels some of the charm is lost in the transition. This is a game whose story and design is built for a smartphone, to the point of having those “incoming call” messages accompanied by the telltale clicky-clack of a wireless signal. “The girl” carries a smartphone to communicate directly with you, and playing on my iOS phone felt like looking through a window into another world. I could believe the fantasy of a mysterious phone call connecting me to a lost soul somewhere out in the world. The PC version is brighter, more detailed and easier to control, but a little bit of the magic has been scratched away.
(Full disclosure on the topic of immersion: when I last replayed the iOS version, it had become absolutely relentless in hard-selling me the Season Pass. Every ten minutes, the action would stop so my mysterious contact could thank me for buying Episode 1 (insincerely, I began to suspect after the fourth iteration) and then move onto his sales pitch. Nothing quite breaks immersion like the “Also By This Author” list being printed in the middle of Chapter 5.)
République is a game made with clear direction and passion, and is largely competent in matters of gameplay. Remastered is a good upscale that adds clarity and control, but loses something of what made the original sparkle. To me, the iOS version holds a slight edge because the concept works better in that context, but (what I was able to play of) Remastered is just fine for anyone without the ability or inclination to play on a smartphone. There are a good number of collectables and optional challenges to provide re-playability as well. The best thing I can say is I would like to see what happens to “the girl” next.
SCORE REDACTED FOR THE GREATER GOOD (but probably 3.5 out of 5.)