These days, there’s really no such thing as a big-budget pure stealth adventure. The likes of Metal Gear Solid and Hitman certainly encourage you to be stealthy and they continue to reward tact, strategy and patience, but you also have the freedom to be intensely aggressive. We’re even seeing scripted segments where you have to be aggressive. And while Camouflaj’s intriguing Republique does have some action, it’s more of a throwback to the days when stealth gameplay and central narratives were the key focus. The first episode for the game in question initially launched for the iOS platform in December 2013, and then subsequent episodes landed on Android and PC. Now, publisher GungHo is prepared to bring the entire series to PlayStation 4.
When Republique releases for PS4 in March, it will feature the entire story (five total episodes), and it will be available in either digital or physical format in North America and Europe. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of the episodic delivery style (even though I loved Life Is Strange) and I’m generally going to wait until all episodes are available so I can play the entire game at once…you know, like the way games were always meant to be played. But what’s interesting about Camouflaj’s project is that I’m hearing the same thing from critics: The episodes actually progress; they expand and improve on previous efforts, and they even introduce fresh gameplay sequences. On top of which, the narrative is of a high enough quality that players actually want to find out what happens next.
See, that’s critical for an experience that’s spread out over the course of many months. If you’re really not interested in the protagonist or her activities, why bother returning? The good news is that Hope is apparently a very complex and interesting character, one who must go through a series of trials and tribulations if she wishes to succeed. It’s sort of a layered presentation as well, as we assume the role of Hope’s mysterious protector; we’re trying to help her escape from the oppressive society in which she struggles, but escape won’t be easy. Legions of patrolling guards stand between her and freedom and Hope doesn’t have the physical moxie to stand up to all of them in a big ol’ firefight. But she does have access to some very useful tools, and more tools become available in each episode.
For example, she’ll nab sleep mines in the third episode, which knock out any guard that happens to stumble across them. That’s just one of many tools at our disposal and yes, trial and error will be a central focus, as is the case with most stealth adventures. Each room presents the player with a fresh challenge; we might see more guards, new security measures, more constricted spaces, etc. It goes beyond the standard “find faceless guard and knock him out” framework, though, as Hope will delve into the personal lives of guards to gain the advantage. That’s right, in addition to pickpocketing her foes, she’ll tap into their personal histories and craft propaganda news reports that actually frame high-ranking guards. Once you’ve got the dirt, you choose an incriminating photo and a piece of recorded stolen audio, and set ‘em up. Pretty cool.
Throughout it all is a palpable mystery: Where exactly are we? What is this strange fictional world? The developers say the setting is just modern day but obviously, it’s an alternate reality that might remind one of Watch Dogs. The gameplay also reminds me a little of Dishonored, in that we’re forced to operate within a dark, dangerous regime with only our wits and a series of slick tools. Yeah, we had some otherworldly abilities in the latter title but you know what I mean; Camouflaj does seem to have produced a story-driven, stealth-centric game that feels more like a puzzle than an action/adventure experience. And when all is said and done, we should be quite satisfied with the outcome. Speaking of which, nobody knows what that outcome will be, as the last two episodes won’t be available for any platform until the PS4 version arrives.
Republique is one of those games that could suck you into a tense, riveting atmosphere. When you’re not the aggressor, when you have to rely on your wits, ingenuity, and tool set (both mental and physical) to steer you from harm, the adventure takes on an entirely different dynamic. That’s why I think this could be one of the very best episodic experiences of the generation, and why I’m very much looking forward to trying it out when it comes to PS4 on March 22.
1/26/2016 Ben Dutka