With a team comprising former Metal Gear Solid developers, it's perhaps no surprise that République is a stealth game. In fact, it's evident right from the outset that Metal Gear Solid was an influence on proceedings, although the narrative and characters of République stand alone, unique within the often homogeneous backdrop of modern action games. Featuring clever metafictional elements, République incorporates you into its world. The protagonist may be Hope, but you don't play as her; you merely guide her throughout the labyrinth of Metamorphosis – a totalitarian big brother state ever under the watchful eye of the powers that be. In this case, that power is yourself, as you hack into the city's systems, take over its surveillance equipment, and help the protagonist find her way to freedom.
Originally released in episodic format, the game perfectly illustrates the benefits of such an approach by consistently introducing new and improved elements onto its spine with each passing episode. While essentially remaining the same at its core, gameplay mechanics are mixed up and played around with at regular intervals which keep things continuously fresh through the game's five episodes. Indeed, even minor introductions – such as new kinds of guards – makes a flexible approach an ongoing requirement. Small changes here and there keep things consistently fresh, and the balance is excellent, requiring quick tact and adjustments from any established gameplay paradigm that you may habitually slip into. Even within the confines of its exposition, République maintains an original and consistently altering environment while preserving the stealth core that developer Camouflaj seems to have mastered.
That's not to say that the game is perfect, though. Similar to the original Metal Gear Solid, some doors are locked until you upgrade Hope's software enough to unlock higher level doors. As such, there's plenty of backtracking to be done in République once said doors become accessible, which artificially extends its playtime. Also, since the entirety of the game is seen through the surveillance cameras riddled throughout Metamorphosis, you only ever see proceedings from a fixed angle. It makes sense given the game's narrative, but its limitations rear their ugly head just as they have in many games in the past – frustrating camera switches being a particular nuisance. Couple this with some rather annoying, and seemingly unnecessary, loading delays as one camera switches to the other and it exacerbates the issue ever further.
As you direct Hope through the environment, your perspective through the surveillance camera will automatically switch to whichever one the game thinks is best for that moment – often picking the wrong one. It never ceases to frustrate when you're directing Hope to sneak up to pickpocket a guard from behind, when the camera suddenly switches, leaving you in limbo as you try and find where on the screen Hope has disappeared to. It doesn't help that what once directed Hope to the left suddenly moves her to the right once the camera perspective changes. What ought to be a wonderfully smooth moment of gratification instead turns into an embarrassment as you swerve all over the place like an indecisive child who can't pick which parent deserves its attentions. It's a real shame that this issue crops up in a game based entirely on stealth and economy of movement where every second counts, and every move matters.
That said, its problems never ruin the overall experience, and serve only to frustrate sporadically – and often hilariously. Thankfully République's gameplay, setting, and narrative are strong enough to offset its issues. Story is a particular focus of the game, and yet it's possible to play through it by missing much of its narrative core. Outside of the opening and ending sequences to each episode, the chief form of storytelling is through audio logs that Hope picks up. These can, of course, be ignored or skipped through, and there's still plenty of enjoyment to be had from the game's exacting and patient gameplay scenarios. But to ignore these optional yet narratively essential elements would be to deny yourself the wonderful fiction of this dystopian world. David Hayter's gravelly dialogue in the role of deceased revolutionary Zager is a particular highlight, so audio logs are always interesting – even if the content in them is not always essential.
By taking control of Metamorphosis' surveillance system and actively directing Hope through the environment, you become an integral part of the game. You're not just playing it: you're a part of what's happening. This gives the game a particular meta aspect which further emphasizes the big brother state that Hope's trapped in. You want to break her out, and the sense of a much larger narrative beyond the one that you're a part of is always present. As such, the confines of the game's limitation on perspective perhaps makes sense – there's far more happening outside of the camera's limited view.
This is a game which raises important questions about control, power, surveillance, and censorship, and this is all tied up nicely within the game's narrative and gameplay mechanics. In a world where news outlets fervently explicate such important questions, République is more than just relevant – it's a necessary exploration of some of the most important issues and debates in contemporary society.
République is a smart, engrossing, and often frustrating game, but one which really captures the imagination once its hooks take hold. You really have to work for what you get, though, and even the bulk of the narrative is formed through optional side collections. A couple of gameplay hiccups and a slightly drooping fourth episode aside, this is a strong stealth game which requires a slow, steady, and methodical approach. Big Brother may be watching, but he's never interfered in proceedings quite like this.