Camoflaj’s Republique is breathtaking. The knockout visuals and distinctive gameplay raise every expectation we’ve come to hold for tablet gaming. The story is promising, the characters are engaging, and its well-detailed style makes the neo-Gothic universe a joy to navigate.
But that’s not to say I’ll be picking up Episode 2 after it gets released.
Republique was funded on Kickstarter, and the team had a hell of a time keeping up their funding levels throughout development. Were it not for an eleventh-hour rally by the gaming community, the game likely wouldn’t have reached completion.
To be clear, the game delivers on almost every level. Since its release, it’s received deservedly high praise from lots of gaming sites, from the mainstream to the touchscreen-focused, and even Fox News, which talked it up as “a unique title with an involving story.” It’s that last part I take issue with, however, and it’s enough to be a deal breaker.
Jumping in with both feet
The story pulls no punches. From the first minute, you’re thrown into a compelling yet dystopian police state in which every activity is monitored and regulated. Hope, the game’s protagonist, has been cornered by Mireille, her “mentor” in their Orwellian society. Apparently, she caught Hope with some contraband―some anti-establishment book that’s being secretly distributed among the residents.
The discovery gets Mireille a little worked up. Through a heated exchange between her and Derringer, another security operative, you learn that their Republique is on the eve of some big Arrival, and they’re worried about disruptions arising from further dissent. (As the dialogue escalates, you also learn that Zager, the man behind the propaganda book, has already been killed, but his rebellion continues to draw in disciples.)
Hope is put into a containment cell, where she waits in silence to meet her demise. Except, she meets you instead.
With a setup like this, it’s hard to imagine how the game could fall short, but unfortunately, the designers introduced several elements that hamper République’s very strengths, starting with the gameplay.
Pickpocketing for ads?
One of the more exciting aspects of the game is pickpocketing. To advance through the world, you have to steal items from various characters as you go. You pick up pepper spray, more clues about the rebellion and other contraband, but not everything you pick up is useful. As a bit of a joke, some of the most common items you pilfer are video game cartridges that represent games you can find on the App Store.
But every time you pick up a cartridge, you have to sit through an awkwardly emphatic endorsement of the game. Underneath the item icon, there’s even a direct link to App Store pages so you can stop what you’re doing and go shopping.
Why was this necessary, especially in a game that already costs $5? Was this done out of some kind of need for even more revenue? It’s a bizarre and unwelcome break in the storyline every time you come across a game.
But while this is merely an annoying distraction, by far the single biggest immersion buzzkill in the game are the special features.
Distracting special features
The developers put a lot of time and effort into providing behind-the-scenes content for players who pitched in for the all-access season pass. The extra content would be most welcome if they were provided in the typical manner, but instead of tapping an icon by the opening menu or splash page, you access these extras in the game itself.
Everywhere you tilt a camera, you bump into another bonus feature ad; they’re simply unavoidable. And again, it’s nice that the designers went the extra mile to give fans so many sneak peeks, but sitting through a spiel about room design destroys any sense of suspense the setting could hope to build. It’s the video game equivalent to director commentary, only you can’t turn it off your first run though.
How can players stay interested when this suspenseful survival game is inundated with ads?
Good on paper, not in practice
As a commercial venture and social experiment, Republique is a complete success. Relying almost exclusively on community support, Camoflaj has managed to create a beautiful dystopian world full of compelling characters and intriguing controls that play to the strengths of mobile platforms. Critics have been quick to label it “a must-play experience,” a game that’s “special, new and necessary.”
As an interactive story, however, Republique falls short of providing an immersive experience. Between the Kickstarter plugs, the App Store ads and the interactive billboards, it’s impossible to devote yourself to the story. A game simply cannot maintain any level of suspense when there are in-app purchases literally around every corner. Camoflaj deserves all the accolades it’s received for this colossal effort, but unfortunately the game is bogged down with too many unnecessary gameplay disruptions to be fully enjoyed. The team has an ample supply of talent, but their delivery falls short on tact.