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Get Firefox! - Star Wars: Republic Commando Review sells games!Star Wars: Republic Commando
MSRP: $49.99
Number of Players: 1-2 (Multiplayer available on XBox Live)
Developer: Lucasarts
Publisher: Lucasarts
Reviewer: Andrew Broas

Here we go again. Another Star Wars game. You're probably already thinking of light side vs dark side, light sabers, somersaults, X-wing battles and so on. Well, forget about all that crap. This is not that kind of Star Wars game. Hell, it may as well not even be a Star Wars game since this is really quite a departure from the usual Star Wars game. It is, in fact, much much better than most of them. Had it not been for the fact that Wookiees and battle droids make appearances and the unmistakable Star Wars soundtrack, I would not have associated this game with Star Wars. It could easily be something completely unrelated. It really is a side of Star Wars that I don't think we have really seen in any game so far. That, along with your brothers in arms, is what makes this game special.

Fresh from the clone farm, you are quickly introduced to the men you will be responsible for: Sev, Fixer, and Scorch. Or more formally known as, 07, 40, and 62. Your number is 38. Right after you meet them, you are split up into different drop-ships and thrown right into the fray of the biggest war the galaxy has known. Your drop-ship zooms by a landscape of destruction and mayhem before slowing to a hover just long enough for you to rappel down to the ground. But before you can even get on the cable, a winged enemy swoops in and flies off with your fellow soldier in its clutches. It's around this time that you realize that Republic Commando is grittier, darker, and more action-oriented than you probably expected it to be.

Non-stop action and engaging story-telling are the tip of the iceberg here. The foundation of the game lies in the management of your squad-mates as you tackle a diverse lineup of hectic missions. It is this managing that makes the game entertaining and such a different experience from just about every other game out there. Don't get the impression that Republic Commando is about methodically planning your squad's next move though. The pace of the game is much too breakneck for that.

To play Republic Commando, you have to get comfortable with ordering squad-mates on the fly. For example, you will often encounter scenarios where there are multiple points at which a comrade could set up camp. What they do from that point could be any number of things depending on what the cover is best suited for. (Sniping, grenading, heavy weapons, setting traps, etc.) While you are still taking in all the possible positions to set up shop, enemies will usually snap you back to attention with tactics of their own. So you need to find cover for yourself, return fire to the enemy, and direct your squad where you want them. It sounds complicated, but a perfectly executed interface makes everything second nature. You can't help but feel completely bad-ass after taking down multiple enemies as you bark orders to your team and witness their perfect execution of them.

Giving those commands is as easy as dragging your aiming reticule over the piece of cover, watching a specific command become highlighted, and then pressing the "A" button to have it carried out. A holographic silhouette of a soldier even appears to make the available job even more accessible. So if you see a barrel and you want your sniper to stand behind it and do his thing, the hologram that pops up will be of a commando with a sniper rifle in his hands. A grenadier has a shot of a commando with his arm cocked back, and all the other jobs have the respective hologram so you can get used to using the holograms as a way of seeing what jobs are available in any given situation without having to look to the top of screen to read about it.

Once you get used to the game's controls -- which doesn't take long -- you can really start to appreciate what the game is really all about: kicking ass, protecting your brothers, and sitting on the edge of your seat the entire way through. Republic Commando is one hell of a ride. A big contribution to the experience has to do with how great the game looks and sounds. Character models all look lifelike due to their superb animation. Watching your team breach a door is surprisingly similar to how you'd imagine it would look in real life. Members of your team even limp convincingly when they have taken a beating and need medical attention. Not only is it convincing, but its amusing and fun to watch. You'll see injured squad-mates hold their punctured lung as they limp over to the bacta station (bacta is the game's medkit) and then stand up straight again with a sigh of relief as their wound is healed. Organic enemies will have their knees buckle when you jam your wristblade into their skulls, and battle droids will shoot mindlessly in a circle when their heads are blown off. Little details to the character animations and behaviors are what drive the experience home. Not to mention that the graphics putting it all together are some of the best on the Xbox. Having a great graphics engine is one thing, but actually taking advantage of it with small touches of personality is something truly special. Republic Commando does very well in this respect.

Further immersing you in the action is the stellar soundtrack. This may be my favorite soundtrack for a first-person-shooter. The feel of the classic Star Wars themes are captured in brand new songs that give Republic Commando the atmosphere of something more than just a licensed game with access to the movie equivalent's soundtrack. There's nothing else out there in this genre that delivers the feelings of tension, panic, triumph and urgency all at the same time. When your speakers are overflowing with sounds of explosions, lasers, and chatter, the music is always in the background setting the mood. So when you encounter that unstoppable monster of an enemy, the music flares at just the right moment to give you a sense of dread and awe. It also cues up perfectly when you finally blow that enemy into pieces and hear your squad-mates cheering in victory.

Speaking of those squad-mates, they say the damnedest things. It is mostly scripted chatter, which is entertaining nonetheless, but just like in Halo they have the ability to completely catch you off guard and delight you. I once tossed a grenade into a pack of droids, only to realize that teammate "40" was in the middle of that pack, getting hammered on. When the grenade blew him up, 07 spoke up and said, "Somebody contact headquarters and tell them we need a replacement for 38". Another memorable moment occurred when I went down in a very one-sided battle. 62 came up to revive me and said, "Could you die later, sir? Now just isn't a good time!". The game is loaded with stuff like this. The result is a very memorable cast of characters that you can easily get attached to. They make playing through Republic Commando a 2nd time a no-brainer. Personally, I think there is a good chance I'll play through this game more times than I can count and its all because I just want to run around with the squad and enjoy kicking ass as a unit all over again.

It's not just the clever dialog that makes the squad so likable though. They are actually quite brilliant on the battlefield. Some great examples of their intelligence can be seen just watching them move around when they are not acting out any orders. I never have to worry about them standing around and getting shot. They move from cover to cover on their own. That is more than I can say for AI in most games of this genre. If I assign a commando to a gun-turret, he'll drop what he is doing and head over there without question. But let's say an enemy sees him up there and tosses a grenade at him. He doesn't just sit there and get blown up. He actually scatters and then comes back when the smoke clears. If medical treatment is needed and it's within reach, a lot of the time they will take care of themselves before I have to tell them to do it. If a team member is down, they will examine the situation before blindly rushing out to revive him. If there are lasers flying over his corpse and explosions wreaking havoc, the squad will clear a path to the wounded ally before helping him. More first-person-shooters should do this. I can't count the number of times in other games that I have watched my idiot teammates do something stupid and get themselves killed. Sure, the commandos are not perfect either. Once in a while I would be sniping and one of them would step right into my line of fire. Really though, I could be accused of doing it right back to them. So no, they are not perfect, but they are pretty damn smart and you will definitely notice what a step up the AI is from similar games.

Multiplayer is included but, honestly, it didn't need to be. Anyone who buys this game for the multiplayer is buying it for the wrong reason. The single-player campaign is where the heart and soul of the game are found. For those who insist on checking out the multiplayer, you will find that it completely abandons the principles of the single-player game. Everything moves faster and an unbalanced weapon roster makes each match an arms race with the victor crushing the loser repeatedly. Useless weapons like the Wookie Bowcaster and Array gun are almost like being unarmed. It's definitely a competent attempt at classic gametypes like deathmatch and capture the flag, but its really just a shadow of the single-player game since all the tactics you learned go right out the window. With superior multiplayer offerings from Halo 2 and the like in an already overcrowded market, Republic Commando would have benefited from going a different route entirely and implementing a co-op mode where 4 players could play a role in the squad and charge through the single-player campaign. Perhaps this is something we will see in the recently announced sequel, Imperial Commando.

It's kind of interesting to think about what Republic Commando would be like if you were a one-man army like every other FPS. I think a lot of the game's charm would be lost. The environments are not particularly outstanding, the enemies are fun but mostly forgettable, and the weapons in the game are mostly standard genre fare. However, because of the brilliant sounds, animations, and most importantly your interaction with your squad, Republic Commando is a winner.

Graphics 9.0 Everything looks great with lots of attention to detail, smooth animations, and lifelike behavior from all the characters. Settings look just like the movie counterparts.
Sound & Music 10 Nothing beats the audio assault that pours through your speakers from teammates screaming to each other, weapons blasting rapidly, and explosions rocking the foundation of the room. Included with the game is an interesting behind the scenes look at how all of it came together. Who knew a halved-pineapple would nail the sound of a Trandoshian's footsteps?
Control 9.0 Multi-tasking made easy. One-touch commands make directing your squad a breeze and there are many adjustable settings for your personal control preferences. Once you get by the short learning curve, you'll be leading your squad like a champ.   
Replay Value 6.0 I will personally play this game's single-player mode many times over. I don't think I will ever bother with the rest of it again though and that is what drags down the score so much. I realize not everyone will play the campaign mode more than once or twice. For them, the multiplayer will not change this. Single-player is an awesome ride though and it warrants revisiting.
Fun Factor 8.0 If you like shooting things and blowing stuff up, this game is for you. It doesn't stray too much from that formula and for a lot of players, that is fine.
Overall 9.0 Overall, a very unique experience. Bits of strategy, action, and shooter all come together nicely and make Republic Commando refreshing in an overcrowded genre. If you like first-person shooters, you will like this game and probably be proud to have it in your collection. If you are a Star Wars fan, this is really a no-brainer. It is almost like a lost-episode of sorts. I guarantee you will eat it right up.  

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