The last year has seen a lot of “remastered” games hit store shelves, but for the most part these just amount to bare-bones ports of last-gen titles with increased resolutions and – occasionally – enhanced graphical effects. Aside from a few really notable exceptions (Resident Evil HD and Grand Theft Auto V spring to mind), there isn’t much difference between these ports and their original incarnations. To even call them “remasters” is frankly disingenuous, but that’s a topic for another day. Today I have the pleasure of reviewing one of the few HD upgrades that really gets it right. République Remastered does so much with its new hardware that you’ll scarcely believe it’s the same game that hit iPad a year ago.
When Camouflaj + Logan launched their Kickstarter campaign for République, they set out to bring AAA production values and design sensibilities to tablets. By all accounts, they succeeded, marrying sharp, relevant dystopian fiction to clever second-person stealth mechanics purpose-built for touch screens. The premise is brilliant in its simplicity: one day, out of the blue, you get a video call from a girl named Hope, who has been arrested by the rulers a totalitarian surveillance state known only as the République. In order to save her from “recalibration,” you need to hack into the state’s surveillance network and guide her to freedom.
That same great game has made the leap to PC fully intact, with the only major mechanical difference being the controls. Instead of navigating the world through intuitive multi-touch inputs, you’ll use a mouse and keyboard. For the most part the controls work really well, and I especially appreciate having hotkeys for swapping items, but I do wish there were options for controlling the cameras beyond WASD. If you could click and drag to move around then the game could be played with just the mouse. Still, the controls work well, and while you can tell that République was designed for mobile platforms, it never becomes the glaring problem that it is in the vast majority of similar ports. What problems there are come from the core game – occasionally, Hope will move without being instructed and get herself caught. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often, and when it does it only costs you a canister of pepper spray.
Of course, République Remastered’s big selling point isn’t the controls, it’s the graphics. Camouflaj has spent months rebuilding République’s assets to take full advantage of the Unity 5 engine, and the results really speak for themselves. The in-game models haven’t been altered, but their textures have been greatly improved, with normal and specular maps giving everything in the world more depth. Character models in particular, which previously looked a little flat and lifeless, benefit immensely from improved shading and lighting, with skin that now actually looks like skin. There are a few odd problems that still need to be ironed out – the textured on “shines” in characters’ eyes now look bizarre on top of reflections of in-game lights, for instance – but the difference is staggering. To the untrained eye it’s hard to believe you’re looking at the same models. As great as the characters look, though, it’s République’s world that gets the most from these enhancements.
Metamorphosis, with its ornately cozy living quarters littered with security cameras and juxtaposed against the cold, gunmetal framework of its service corridors, is as striking and iconic a setting as Bioshock’s Rapture. The improved graphics do wonders for the facility, giving it harsher, more sterile lighting and filling it with new atmospheric details, like the shadows of raindrops on the Library’s skylight, or shafts of light shining down on the ostentatious Atrium. Dynamic lighting and shadows allow characters and props to fit into the world more seamlessly, while little details like lens flairs help to sell the idea that you’re looking at the world through cameras. République was already a very immersive game, but the PC version is on a whole other level. My only gripe – and it’s a small one – is that the team didn’t bother to update UI of the “phone” calls that open each episode. An instant message window would make a lot more sense given the new platform, but again, that’s a minor break in an otherwise seamless world.
This port gives me an interesting opportunity to examine République’s first three episodes as a whole, and the story does benefit from being played back to back. Many loose threads are now tied together, and it’s much easier to understand the game’s characters. The overseer, Kenichiro Treglazov, is as imposing as villains come, a megalomaniac obsessed with information control and surveillance. The people who work under him are just as interesting: Quinn Derringer, the egotistical leader of his security force, Mattie Sade, a conniving journalist who serves as the mouthpiece of his propaganda, and Mireille Prideaux, a hard-nosed authoritarian in charge of raising the children of Metamorphosis. Their scheming and infighting does a lot to move the plot forward, though three episodes in there’s still a lot we don’t know much about them.
On the other side we have Hope, of course, who proves herself to be a surprisingly capable and strong-willed protagonist. A friendly guard named Cooper helps you in guiding her through the facility, though he’s mostly here to make references to indie games. When I first played the game on iPad I found his constant fourth-wall-breaking to be distracting, but he’s really grown on me the second time around. A slightly deranged (and supposedly dead) revolutionary named Daniel Zager has left cassettes lying around Metamorphosis that shed light on the conspiracy behind it. It’s his “poisoned” editions of the République manifesto that get Hope into trouble in the first place. A boy named Weep (who is in love with Hope) has followed in Zager’s footsteps, though at present his fate is unknown.
With all these characters pursuing different agendas and bouncing off each other, there’s a lot of places République’s story could go. République is still one of the strongest examples to date of episodic gaming done right, but taken together, the twists and turns of each episode are more effective than they were individually. The library chapter is still the high point of the game thus far, but as part of a larger game it enhances the other two episodes instead of making them feel comparatively underwhelming. I kind of wish Camouflaj + Logan had waited for the original game to be finished before releasing République Remastered, because it’s looking like the whole will ultimately be greater than the sum of its parts.
This is how you remaster a game. République Remastered improves upon its tablet predecessor to the point that it’s barely recognizable, and a lot of games that were built for the PC specifically look ugly by comparison. The second-person stealth concept is still ingenious and brilliantly-executed, and the episodic narrative only improves when taken in all at once. If you’ve never played République before, this is the best way to experience it. If you have, I’d say the graphical improvements alone make it worth a second look.