This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Republique.
It seems that episodic games are just something we're gonna have to learn to live with now, like climate change and the unskippable advert odds are good you had to endure. I've resolved to try and stop reviewing new ones based on their first episode just 'cause I'm unwilling to wait for months on end before belittling them. I mean, who knows where King's Quest is at this point? Maybe it's moved on to ripping off all kinds of new films other than The Princess Bride.
And much as I'd like to discuss the first episode of Hitman and the fun to be had trying to furtively drag a naked pool-boy into the toilet stall before a guard can show up and completely spoil the romance, I'm the kind of guy who likes to immerse myself in a game for 20 hours until either it breaks or my catheter does. So giving my impressions at this stage would be like filling out my massage therapist's customer satisfaction survey before I've even had my happy ending.
So let's belittle an episodic game that actually finished recently: Republique. And having gone through the whole saga that took months if not years of build-up to reach a conclusion, I can authoritatively declare it a resounding "Eeeehhhhhhhhhhhh." But then what can one expect of a game that can't even spell "republic" properly?
In Republeurgh, we play as ourselves, using our aging gaming computers to hack into the network of a sinister facility which view exclusively through closed circuit surveillance and phone cameras; an immersive and innovative narrative device that brings back happy memories of Night Trap on the Sega CD. And just to continue the comparison, your job is to spy on girls to make sure they don't get grabbed by creepy dudes in black. Well, a girl named Hope, as in "I Hope I don't get molested by creepy dudes in black today."
Hope contacts us with her face a little unsettlingly-close to the phone camera so that we get a really close look at how many corners were cut in the Eyelid Animation Department, and begs us to help her escape from an oppressive regime where she is due to be mindwiped for reading some state-censored dirty books or something. As we guide Hope through what everyone keeps referring to as a totalitarian nation but which looks to me more like a single facility with about thirty rooms, we piece together the full story of the place, the individuals involved, and their sinister plan to imprison teenage girls and spy on them reading dirty books, which is not as self-explanatory as it sounds.
It's an all-star voice cast; David Hayter, Jennifer Hale, Dwight Schultz plays the villain, there's no one quite like Dwight Schultz for playing characters who seem like they could sorely use a good hard cock up their arse. Characterization's really rather strong; even the monsters have a touch of humanity about them. In many ways, the most human are the most monstrous of them all. There was a point in Re-Pie-Blunk when I realized I was into it, and that was the ending of the third episode. Hope realizes she unknowingly betrayed her friend as she receives her first glimpse of the outside world and there's a powerful mix of emotions that overwhelms her, and that got me. I was in then. Sadly I was out again by the time I got to the very end. Out then in then out and nary a chance to shake it all about.
See, before the third episode, the gameplay had been getting tiresome. The "stealth action" part of the promised "stealth action adventure" involves clicking on a bit of wall to make Hope go to it then clicking it a few more times 'til she realizes she's supposed to use it for cover, the silly moo. Then you use the cameras to scout ahead and make sure her path is clear of guard patrols.
I've spoken to people who said they don't like stealth gameplay because it's boring. It's sitting in a hole with a thumb up your butt waiting for a guard to turn around, where's the big cock action to distract me from contemplating my empty existence? Obviously I burn them to death, but dash it if Re-Pube-Like didn't remind me of that argument, 'cause the guards amble along their predictable patrols like a slug trying to decide what videos to rent out (dated simile). Then you can buy some special powers to make their routes even more predictable and the slugging even more sluggish. There are tazers and pepper sprays lying around everywhere on the off-chance they spot you, and even if they run out, they just take you to a cell in the next room and leave the door unlocked. Bending over backwards to not leave the crap-outs behind is like a wrestler having to pretend to lose to a cancer kid for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
But then Episode 3 had that ending and a puzzle involving gathering dirt on guards to get them away from a door that I thought was kind of neat, even if the same result could have been gotten by just pulling a fire alarm but that's adventure games for ya. Alright, color me intrigued, Re-Pob-Lark, what's next? "I'm glad you asked, here's a fourth episode where... basically nothing happens and a final one in which about nineteen different things get tied up in a very small space." Oh dear, color me out-trigued again, and then color yourself with a puke-green tint of failure!
Honestly I didn't get what was going on by the end and it seemed like events were coming out of nowhere. That's probably because a full understanding of the plot hinges on patiently listening to the approximately nine hundred billion hours of audio logs, a lot of which can be missed. One particular set of audio logs is on cassette tapes that you can't listen to unless you find a stereo. It's like your dad making you find a stick he's gonna beat you with. I'm not gonna stop playing for half an hour to awkwardly stand behind the stereo like a giraffe on an ice rink feeding it tape after tape! I've got a lot of small walls I need to crouch behind. Call me an overstimulated millennial, but I prefer an audio log that you can have running over gameplay. If we're sitting waiting for patrols with thumb up butt, it gives us something to listen to. There is a possibility that they'll get drowned out when something interesting happens, with any luck.
One rather mystifying collectable side-quest involved collecting floppy disks bearing the logos of popular indie darlings like Shovel Knight and Gunpoint, and the inevitable attached audio logs consisted of a character gushing about them. Seems a bit counter-productive to pause your game to tell the audience all about another game they could probably be having a better time with right now, but perhaps there's more behind this. Gaze at the Steam store page for Re-Pong-Clonk and you'll find it makes a special point of mentioning that it was made by industry veterans who worked on AAA titles, like Metal Gear Solid and Halo.
Now if you decided, as a sensible person would, that the AAA industry is about due to suffocate on its own farts and that it was time to flee a sinking ship/farting bottom and seek refuge in the more rewarding sphere of core indie games, perhaps you'd see the value in trying to ingratiate yourselves with your new chosen clique. In practice however, it invokes the one desperate dweeb at high school that hangs around the cool kids. "Hey, kid, jerk us all off." "Can do! Does this mean we're friends?" "Not until you eat this ladybug!"
So I guess my advice is play as far as the third episode and then lower your expectations into a shallow grave in the woods.
- Loves the smell of pepper spray in the morning: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe I'm just jealous 'cos there wasn't a collectible floppy disk of any of MY games
- This is what happens when your security guards unionize