Republique Episode 4 Review - Beautiful and Confusing

Phil Hornshaw | 3 Feb 2016 19:00
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Meanwhile, you're led through the next section by phone calls from a rhyming hacker who has been selling you upgrades up to this point. Why are they helping? Who knows, whatever. It's time to wander around a giant hedge maze for a bit.

Where Episodes 1-3 concerned Metamorphosis' school-like trappings, dealing with characters like the kindly, whoops-how'd-I-end-up-with-fascists librarian, the strict but possibly good dean of students, and the definitely not good head of security and others, Episode 4 suggests the facility has an altogether different shady purpose from apparently educating (or "re-educating") students. There's something going on here with data encoding on DNA and experiments on people who are referred to as "mirrors." Collectible audio files throughout the episode are constantly discussing "broken mirrors," which are pretty clearly tragic deaths, probably of children.

Anyway, Hope's sneaky adventure takes her throughout several new areas on the surface, including a bee-and-flower genetics lab, a graveyard, and a hedge maze. Episode 4 ditches the many prizrak enemies for one dual personality-sporting giant gardener, who'll break Hope's neck if he finds her and who is constantly showing up like Resident Evil 3's Nemesis. Hope also loses all her defensive weapons like tasers and pepper spray, and you're also stripped of your hacking bells and whistles for some reason.

Episode 4 looks to shake up Republique after three episodes of progressively harder to incapacitate but generally still dumb enemies, but it's a lackluster attempt. Sure, you're stripped to pure stealth for an episode, but Mammoth, the giant angry gardener guy, is just as bad at finding you as previous enemies. Little changes like bees that can attack Hope if she wanders too close to their flowers, or birds that react and scare her when she walks nearby, add new elements to avoid, but they're minor challenges that create surface-level differences in the gameplay.

The biggest change is the episode's single enemy, who is much more dangerous than previous baddies and who will occasionally just duck through a hedge wall and pop out somewhere else in the area at random. Trying to play keep-away with Mammoth, especially when you can accidentally send Hope bumbling into him, is more harrowing than in previous episodes, but it's never especially challenging.

As usual, the focus is clearly on story and presentation, and that's where Republique shines - but after four episodes of going "...huh," the entire enterprise is wearing a bit thin. Yet again, all of the plot and storytelling in Episode 4 is questions without answers, especially what's going on with Hope. She's basically a different character for some reason at this point, with all of "God's Acre" coming off as setup for a twist. At this point, it feels like Episode 5 is going to be two hours of exposition to explain all this stuff, and little else.

Of course, it's hard to judge what hasn't happened yet when Republique is very clearly doing the legwork for setting up its big conclusion. But in the meantime, Episode 4 is more confusing than it is satisfying. There's a lot to like in Republique, and it's clear its world and characters have been built with care. But with so much emphasis on building up to a payoff, the journey through the maze has been a bit of a slog, and one worries that what's on the other side will never live up to the game's own expectations.

Bottom Line: Republique is a relatively simple stealth game with a lot of love dumped into its presentation and its world, but Episode 4's attempt to shake things up in both gameplay and plot is weak.

Recommendation: There's a cool world here and the story has promise. Stealth fans might find the gameplay a bit dull, but Republique is at least good at keeping you engaged.

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