Republique: Exordium review: connected

Game Info
Platform iOS
Publisher Camouflaj
Developer Camouflaj
Release Date 2013-12-19

Republique is a stealth game for — and about — the 21st century.

Set in a fascinating dystopia that reflects and comments on real-world surveillance concerns, the first installment of Republique is a successful twist on the stealth genre. Its heady themes are reinforced by innovative touch-based gameplay, stumbling only when its AI can't live up to the rest of its lofty ideals.

This first episode, titled Exordium, focuses on the story of Cooper and Hope. Cooper is a sort of double agent working within a sinister police organization, and Hope is a young prisoner slated to be "erased" by her oppressors. You need to utilize Cooper's help and hacking know-how to influence the environment and guide Hope out of her current situation without alerting guards to her presence.

You never have direct control over Hope. Instead, you send her context-sensitive commands, such as tapping on a wall to have her to crawl along it, or on a door to have her open it. You do have control over cameras, computers, and other hackable objects. All of these can provide information, allow you to track guard movements and give you the knowledge necessary to suss out the best path for Hope.


Library_screenshot

Republique is set in a fascinating dystopia that reflects and comments on real-world surveillance

Lockers_poster

This translates to satisfying moment-to-moment gameplay that flows from room to room like a series of stealth puzzles. In one area, I had to evade two guards, pick one of their pockets and successfully find my way to a crawl space. In another, I hacked into and activated a loud alarm to occupy a guard, then scanned photos of a fingerprint needed to open a secured door. Each challenge felt appropriately tuned for my abilities. Tense moments of waiting and watching were followed by a huge rush when I made it through undetected. Successfully passing each section made me feel like a strategic badass.

Interrogation

This exciting structure is built around a slick touch-based interface. You tap on objects that you want to hack — cameras, computers and so on — and tap on areas in the environment to send Hope scurrying forward. Everything is context-sensitive; if you point Hope toward a locker, she'll either climb in and hide or search it for goodies, depending on the available icon you select. For the most part, Exordium controls well and feeds directly into the theme of subverting surveillance technology. But it occasionally falls prey to dopey AI behavior.

Nine times out of ten, Hope behaved as I wanted her to, stealthily sidling by walls, picking guards' pockets without alerting them and snatching up the correct items. But sometimes, she inexplicably ran out in plain view, ruining an attempt at a given area and sending me into a cursing fit. This doesn't happen so often that it destroys the game, and a certain amount of trial and error is to be expected in a stealth title, but it did leave me wishing for more direct control.

I'm willing to allow for some concessions in a game that so intelligently marries its fiction and its gameplay, though. The idea of hacking cameras to see the action, for example, speaks to just how well the mechanics fit into this world. Swiping the screen to pan the camera, hacking from one visible object to another — every action reinforces the idea that you are using this oppressive state's technology against it. It feels coherent and smart, and supports the more explicit storytelling elements.

Hope_window

As the first episode in a planned five-part game, Exordium deftly sets up the world of Republique, with its oppressive, Soviet-esque atmosphere and intriguing characters. And it poses plenty of mind-boggling questions, ending on a juicy cliffhanger just as I thought I was going to find out what was really going on. Environmental storytelling is handled well — bits and pieces of Republique propaganda line the halls and offices of the facility, and hackable emails and newspapers offer story clues that feel more or less organic to the world. I found myself wanting to know more about this strange environment, about the core characters and about the events that led to the creation of this terrible place.

I also appreciated the real-world commentary that drips from Exordium. Developer Camouflaj exhibits a dim view of the real-life surveillance state — the term given to much of the security apparatus of 21st century governments and the chilling effect it can have on civil liberties. In one particularly hard-hitting — if slightly obvious — dig, the game directly comments on the privacy and health concerns surrounding full-body scanners, an issue that flared up around American airports around 2011.

collector

Exordium has an unexpected, quirky sense of humor. This is most obviously displayed in Cooper, who talks (using text-to-speech and elaborate emoticons) about being a reclusive nerd that gets picked on for having an extensive video game collection. Throughout the game, you can collect Cooper's "game cartridges" — all of which are real-life iOS titles — that come along with a brief explanation of Cooper's infatuation with them. It's a funny, weird and kind of clever bit of character building, and cartridge even comes with a link to the app store if you'd like to download the game. The fourth wall shattered further when Cooper started talking about how episodic gaming is the best — and when I discovered a collection of popular Kickstarter campaign posters in his office.

Wrap Up:

Republique's first episode is an intriguing, coherent success

Aside from some brief moments where I was frustrated by Hope's fuzzy AI, I was completely drawn into Republique's world. The stealth gameplay feels slick and works near-perfectly with the touch interface. Your means of interacting with the game blend with the theme and writing in clever ways. Camouflaj's vision for Republique is dark, intelligent and engrossing — and if future episodes keep up the pace, it will be a must-play experience in 2014.

Republique was reviewed using downloadable code provided by Camouflaj. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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