Don’t you hate it when you’re thrust into a totalitarian world of unrelenting fascist horror? For example, when you go outside? Ho ho! Just a bit of topical humour there. Sorry, we’ll never do it again. Look, the point is, République — the game whose Nintendo Life review you are currently reading — is about escaping from such a dystopia.
Back in the day République was a phone game, the trappings of which made perfect sense for its type of input. You took control of a rogue element of indeterminate nature who essentially closes the gap between player and controller; a little like the excellent In Other Waters; here, you’re in control of the various cameras, computers and other systems in the enormous complex where the female lead character finds herself captured. You’re helping this girl escape, not escaping yourself. It made you feel just the right amount of helpless, just the right lack of agency. You had a lot of power, but you were still ultimately just an observer. It, dare we say it, made it easier to care, easier to get invested in this character when she had autonomy outside of your own personal whims.
It’s weird, then, that République is celebrating its anniversary with a version of the game in which you control that character directly, removing one of the things that made the game unique in favour of a system that now leans on frustrating ambiguity. Hitting ZR brings up the list of available commands and of nearby security cameras; you switch between them in order to see where you need to go next. It’s a clever system, superior to direct camera control considering what the developers are trying to achieve.
Only here, it’s lost. You’ll switch to another camera angle automatically, akin to Resident Evil. Except sometimes… you just won’t. So you’ll be stumbling around off-screen in a sort of weird, ambiguous void of existence that almost seems like an intentional trap, so difficult is it to navigate. Then you’ll get caught by guards and realise there are no real stakes, as being discovered and apprehended just sees you thrown in a prison cell, which are essentially the game’s “checkpoints” as you’re frogmarched to the nearest one. This makes things low in tension and somewhat frustratingly based on trial and error.
We criticise, but République is — honestly! — a genuinely engaging stealth title with an interesting story and compelling gimmick, that’s nonetheless fundamentally compromised by virtue of adding more nuanced player control. It’s an incredibly unusual position to be in, and thoroughly difficult to either enthusiastically recommend or outwardly condemn.
It’s a tentative “yes”, then, to this fascinating and flawed stealth game with an impressive sense of place; some will bounce off it harder than our Switch bounced off the wall when we got caught by yet another guard, but many will find it atmospheric, challenging and compelling. Definitely worth your attention, even if it’s just to find out you don’t like it.