Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes
Republic Heroes is very much a game of two not entirely equal halves: you have the Jedi levels which should be satisfying but aren't, and the Clone Trooper levels which are entertaining but are too few in number and too short in length
- It has its moments and younger fans of the animated series may overlook the game's glaring faults
- A quality animated show with such a devoted following deserves better
After putting out those awful prequel movies, Lucas is finally back to form with some fantastic Star Wars related material. Its current cash cow is the highly underrated Clone Wars animated series, a cleverly written and directed show that caters to a younger audience but has enough for adults as well. That's why it's such a shame that the video game spin-off, Republic Heroes, doesn't live up to the high bar set by the terrific show.
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The Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV show has proven to be a huge hit since it debuted last year. Despite the erratic level of quality when it came to the individual episodes in season one, it has been a massive ratings success, particularly for boys aged six to eleven. There was little doubt that they'd attempt to cash-in on the popularity of the franchise but it's disappointing to see how little effort was put into making Republic Heroes actually enjoyable.
Narratively, Republic Heroes is designed to plug the otherwise indiscernible gap between seasons one and two, which kicked off with the arcing storyline, "Rise of the Bounty Hunters." Fans will recall that Cad Bane, the popular bounty-hunter who exhibits a kind of swagger that rivals that of Harrison Ford's Han Solo while looking an awful lot like Oddworld Inhabitant's oft-overlooked Stranger, had proved himself an effective terrorist by bargaining the Chancellor's life against that of the Hutt crimelord Ziro.
Last time we saw him he was disappearing into the distance with his band of vaguely recognizable cohorts in a 50s-style hover car while comically pulling the tattooed Hutt slug behind him on a flatbed trailer. While season two picked up on this theme and ran with it, Republic Heroes meanders off in a completely different direction and spends a good couple of hours inexplicably introducing an entirely new bad guy before even acknowledging Bane's existence. For all the talk of it fleshing out the story, its initial revelations are far more concerned with communicating a Jedi's ability to jump around on bits of scenery than answering the question of "what the hell is going on?"
Much like Ubisoft's simplified Prince of Persia reboot, Republic Heroes draws heavily from the "not much skill required" school of environment navigation; at least, that seems to be its intent. Much like the Prince, the Jedi in Republic Heroes only have to jump in the approximate direction of a rocky outcropping before they're sucked onto it like they have magnets in their boots--except, of course, when they don't. Even after playing the game all the way through, there seemed to be no discernible or communicable logic that dictated when a Jedi could land a jump versus when he (or she) couldn't. As an adult it's thoroughly infuriating, but for my six year-old, who I'm assuming is an important target demographic for LucasArts given the success of the show with kids of his age, it was an insurmountably absurd challenge.
Similarly, the concept of not being able to fall off a ledge is introduced at the very beginning of the game before being randomly snatched away with no obvious explanation. There were even levels that required unforgivable blind leaps of faith--players can't control the camera at any point in the game so some "puzzles" would require my Jedi to fall to his death before a solution revealed itself. Rather than address these fundamental problems, the game has a "no fail" layer added to it that feels very much like a last-minute addition. Every 20 steps or so, a glowing light appears and serves as a continue point. While it's effective for keeping the flow of the game moving forward, it's a clumsy solution to a problem that the LEGO Star Wars games solved so elegantly with those explosions of collected studs.
I should note at this point that Republic Heroes is very much a game of two not entirely equal halves: you have the Jedi levels which should be satisfying but aren't, and the Clone Trooper levels which are entertaining but are too few in number and too short in length. Jedi's are charged with the more "puzzle" oriented navigation tasks that require platform gaming skills and melee combat. They push things with the Force, they carve stuff up with lightsabers, and they can "droid jack" bad guys by leaping onto their heads, plunging their blades into their mechanical skulls and temporarily commandeering them like a psychotic puppeteer. It's a mechanic that's strangely prevalent in game design at the moment, and has a lot in common with segments of Batman: Arkham Asylum and the upcoming Left 4 Dead 2. At times, these Jedi segments can be empowering and magical, particularly if the flow of combat is uninterrupted, but often the greatest foe is the game itself. The camera is sometimes so terribly placed that when the characters move from one scene to another (charmingly communicated with an old-school Star Wars style wipe) you occasionally have absolutely no idea where they are.
Thankfully, the Clone Trooper levels offer some respite. Similarly imperfect, they at least offer some consistency. Gone are the platforming aspirations, replaced instead by sequences of twin-stick shooter mayhem punctuated with occasional "unlock the door by doing the concentric-circle R2-D2 lock thing" puzzles. It falls more into the category of big, dumb fun, but as I noted, there seemed far fewer of these levels than the frustrating Jedi scenes. Technology and design is again an issue, particularly when playing co-op with another player which, let's face it, is how the game is really meant to be played: If player two dares to take the lead and romps off into the distance, leading the charge against the droid hordes, the game will occasionally refuse to acknowledge that progress is actually being made and the clumsily placed "triggers" won't activate. So, rather than moving things forward and switching to the next scene, players will disappear into the far distance and then get stuck behind parts of the scenery that you can't actually see. The only way I found to solve the problem was for the ambitious second player to "drop out," sacrifice any points or collectibles and then rejoin the game anew. Yuck.
Honestly, when LucasArts first revealed the concept for Republic Heroes, it struck me as an idea that couldn't fail. The show was riding high, the art was stylised enough that it could look good on any platform, and the gameplay looked like it was mostly lifted straight out of LEGO Star Wars. It seemed impossible to mess up but sadly, that's exactly what they did. There are still glimmers of hope in there, but the underlying mechanics fail on a fundamental level.
One thing I will say, though, is that my six year-old remains undeterred by the fact that his love of Star Wars: The Clone Wars has been abused so wholeheartedly by the design of this game. He still wants to keep playing and gets excited whenever a new Jedi joins the story; he still wants to play through every level and unlock every bonus. I'm sure he's not alone in his passion for The Clone Wars storyline, and that kind of unconditional love should command more respect than this effort shows.
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