Sneaking its way on to the PS4, major reviewers seem to have missed République.
Kenichiro Treglazov is the enigmatic and charismatic leader of République, a small authoritarian nation known only to a select group of important people. Treglazov maintains control of his nation by establishing relationships with key people in the United States government, and trades favors for cooperation and silence.
The only place for education in République is the academy known as Metamorphosis, which is policed by the Prizrak, often-masked police that enforce Treglazov’s laws throughout République. It’s there that the player, an unknown hacker from an undisclosed location, is able to communicate with 390-H, who has recently begun to refer to herself as Hope. After finding a copy of Treglazov’s manifesto–required reading for all Pre-Cals(students)–which had been tainted by a radical Prizrak guard, questioning Treglazov’s ideology and calling for freedom, Hope wants to escape Manifesto and République. To do so, the player will have to use Hope and the hacker to decide who is worth trusting and what they’re willing to do in order to get free.
Thanks in large part to the success of Telltale, adventure games have moved from the realm of PC exclusivity to other platforms. This is a great thing because that’s usually a niche genre which allows for more experimental concepts to reach players. République could not have come from a AAA developer. In fact, it’s the result of a Kickstarter campaign from three years ago. It only now managed to release it’s fifth episode, which is a perhaps telling of the limited resources Camouflaj had to work with. But now the whole thing is out on PS4, and after having finished it I find that I’m still captivated by what it had to offer. A rare thing in this current gaming environment.
Visuals are lacking. There’s simply no way around that fact. République is built on the Unity 5 engine, which is great for tablets where the game first originated. But compared to other titles on the PS4, it’s certainly lacking. Still, Camouflaj managed to make Metamorphosis a beautifully rendered mansion in Edwardian style, complete with statues and paintings, and Episode 5 definitely taxes what this engine can do with environments and interactive art that I didn’t expect. Cutscenes and characters, however, might be too rough for even the most forgiving.
Aside from a layered narrative that relies on both the hacker and Hope to travel in tandem to discover, something that can’t be discussed without laying out threads that will spoil the end game, there is a lot of found data that shapes this game’s world and character unlike any other I can recall. While there are the more typical recorded conversations and hidden letters, what stands out are novels and books that Hope can find. What’s special here is that finding these books triggers a message Treglazov has left for Metamorphosis’ librarian, Señor Octavo. To highlight his authoritarian leanings, Treglazov gives small reviews of books like 1984, Candide, A Clockwork Orange, Atlas Shrugged, the Bible, Torah and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Irrespective of the work and the message it has to give, Treglazov has a contempt for thinking, which stands out in his messages that highlight a clearly educated individual whose relying on his superiority to undercut these works of literature in ways that display his intimacy with the works and their authors. He has a reason for demeaning their works and burning them, rather than let the children of Metamorphosis come into contact with such poisonous materials.
There’s also a lot of video game easter eggs. Players can find floppy disk versions of AAA games like Destiny, throwbacks like Shovel Knight, and indie gems like Gone Home. Aside from hearing some interesting thoughts on these games, their floppy manifestations stands as a commentary on the disconnect in time, from where the game takes place and the archaic present the player sits in.
As you play you’ll get a better understanding for who Treglazov is as a person, how he can manipulate presidents (there’s a great Obama impersonator in the game), and get as far into his plan as he has. It makes sense why his face is pixelated to the player, who can only see through cameras, and why that holds so much power over the decisions the player makes and their opinion of him.
République takes place in the very near future. Because of that, tech presented isn’t too extravagant which allows the player to feel grounded and acquainted with the mechanics instantly. With Omni software, which works a lot like CtOS from Watch_Dogs, players can surf through cameras to identify enemies, lock and unlock doors, access data, and perform special functions before returning back to the stolen smartphone Hope is lugging everywhere. They’ll even be able to surf beyond the borders of République in a method of data collection ripped straight from news coverage of the NSA’s not-soon-forgotten data mining process.
There are at six versions of the software, but the last two tiers are locked until the player goes in for the second playthrough. But in the meantime they can sell sensitive data to another hacker they communicate with through terminals, and that money can be used to buy programs that allow the player to distract guards, block their progress, see them through walls, and even set off mines.
There is some mild fighting in the game, and that’s all done by Hope, who the player controls with the left analog stick. For the PS4 release, there’s free DLC that gives Hope different outfits that have perks. Dressing as a Prizrak guard gives her an unlimited taser; a running outfit that allows her to run silently; an outfit to promote Gravity Rush; and a student uniform that turns République into a classic horror-style game with manual save checkpoints and permadeath. Otherwise, Hope is stuck in her white uniform, and she’ll have to pick up tasers, pepper spray and sleep mines as she moves along. All are one-time use and she can only carry so many before her pockets are full. There are three types of enemies: vanilla Prizraks who are vulnerable to all attacks, armored Prizraks who are immune to tasers, helmeted Prizraks who can withstand peppery spray, and Prizraks who are immune to both. Every Prizrak is susceptible to sleep mines.
Though too few for my tastes, République has a few choices the player can make for Hope through the hacker, or they can allow her to decide for herself. This factors heavily to the limited violence in the game. If the player chooses the more pacifist options, to shield Hope from the ugliness of the world, it fosters a naive personality that may not serve her well as she moves along. If the player hardens her in an attempt to ready her for the dangers ahead, it might put her in a position of danger she can’t contend with.
République is a kind of game I could see only being the result of crowdfunding. The narrative has a very scathing critique of the domestic data collection practices of the US, the philosophy of world leaders and the shifting position of scientific ethics as we move into the future. What sticks with the player the most is that, even though it’s dense with all it’s commentary, it isn’t didactic. It has no solutions for these problems, and that may lead some to resent the ending of the game. But when taken in as a whole, it’s clear that we’ve got a title on our hands that probably shouldn’t even exist, not just because a developer would be afraid to touch these topics, but because they’d be afraid there wouldn’t be an audience for it.
If anyone has had an interest in the loss of journalism independent from establishments of power, the abuse of citizens at the hands of police, the mechanisms world leaders employ to keep power, the abuse of technology that was intended for benign purposes, and the agency of an individual in the face of all this, République is a game made for them.