A long time ago...well, in 2005, LucasArts took a bit of a risk and threw us all a curveball with a Star Wars offering that eschewed Jedis and lightsabers, the Force, epic dogfights and much of the fantastical heroics that fans expect from the series, in favour of a dark and gritty tactical take on everyone's favourite space opera. Star Wars: Republic Commando was, quite rightly, very well received upon release and still regularly finds itself ranked in the top ten Star Wars games of all time to this day. But, some sixteen(!) years down the line, does it still hold up? Is it worth jumping into all over again in this Switch port?
Well, surprisingly enough, the answer is a pretty resounding yes. We had our doubts as we booted this one up — most first person shooters from the 2000s don't usually tend to age particularly well (unless they're Half Life 2) and can often be a bit of a pain to return to — but what's here is still a very good time indeed. Blasting your way across Geonosis in order to assassinate separatist leader Sun Fac, investigating the darkened corridors of the derelict Prosecutor assault ship and mounting a Wookie rescue mission in the forests of Kashyyk feel almost as good today as it did back when we first got to grips with this one, and this is mostly down to the game's wonderfully well-implemented squad system and a sleek HUD that really wouldn't seem out of place in a modern shooter.
Directing your three AI teammates around in Star Wars: Republic Commando is just such a supremely simple and satisfying thing to do. Whether you're ordering them to take up a sniping position to get a tactical advantage over incoming enemies, rig traps on explosive barrels, breach doors, disarm mines, slice consoles, revive downed comrades — including yourself — or get themselves healed up at a Bacta dispenser, Scorch, Fixer and Sev are never anything less than a joy to work with. By simply aiming your reticule at an icon representing any one of these commands as they appear throughout the game's world, your team will hurriedly get to work, smartly and capably dealing with threats as they do so. You can also hold in the 'A' button for a further layer of tactical choice, enabling you to call your team to form up around you, search and destroy, secure areas and focus fire on selected enemies.
For a game that takes place, for the most part, in tightly confined corridors, this wealth of options in how you direct your small unit around gives the whole endeavour a thrilling sense of actual teamwork. You really do get to feel as though you're in charge of a badass, genetically-enhanced commando squad, infiltrating dangerous enemy territory and laying the absolute laser smack down. This sense of camaraderie, of working together and directing your men, is then further enhanced by constant radio chatter that manages to imbue this group of super soldiers with actual personalities.
There's smart use of sound effects and music from the movies too, as well as some top-notch original compositions by the game's composer, Jesse Harlin. This is atmospheric stuff that knows exactly when to deploy its signature Star Wars noises and makes good use of the best parts of the prequel trilogy. The wonderfully well-designed battle droids from those movies make for entertaining cannon-fodder, making all the right death sounds and falling apart in a satisfying manner as you drill them with your weapons. Your HUD, designed to imitate the inside of a Clone Trooper's helmet, also adds much to the atmosphere here, keeping all your vital info front-and-centre without it getting in the way. It also enables you to switch to a tactical mode that highlights individual teammate's locations and a low-light night vision mode that gives the action a weirdly realistic and gritty look as you mow down enemy units in the darkness.
In terms of weapons, your default commando gun smartly morphs into several different forms, with a handful of attachments that let you switch between assault rifle, sniper and grenade launching modes. Dead enemies also drop some sweet boomsticks that you can pick up and use at your leisure, with the shotgun here a particularly satisfying addition to your armoury that's great for blasting great big green holes in slavers and is nicely complemented by a concussion rifle that makes short work of mechanical menaces.
Besides guns, you also have a bunch of different grenade types to cycle through, each of which is best used to control and corral certain types of enemies. You'll need pulse grenades to take out the larger types of battle droids, for example, sending them into electro-convulsions and lowering their shields in order to get some shots in, whereas thermal detonators are best chucked into busy corridors full of fleshy foes.
Of course this is still a sixteen-year-old game and there's no doubt that what's on offer here, even with the benefits of that smart squad system, does feel rather long-in-the-tooth in some regards. There's no getting away from the rather dated visuals, which definitely look cleaner here but can still be rather hard on the eyes in places, and the layout of the short levels is resolutely linear, corridor upon samey corridor of rather repetitive enemies to relentlessly pound your way through. The story is serviceable enough while it lasts, though it ends abruptly and without any fanfare whatsoever after just seven or so hours. This is a pretty basic port too, there's no gyro support — although it isn't particularly necessary here — and beyond a bit of a resolution boost, a barely perceivable lick of paint, modernised controls and HD Rumble, what you've got is pretty much identical to the game as it was back in 2005, sans that version's excellent multiplayer mode.
However, these niggles aside, Star Wars: Republic Commando is still one of our absolute favourite Star Wars games and something of a must-play for fans of the franchise who missed out first time around. This is a surprisingly dark and gritty tactical take on everyone's favourite space saga that's aged far better than it really had any right too, serves up a good few hours of top-notch pew-pew action and is a massively welcome addition to the Switch's currently rather paltry selection of Star Wars offerings.
Note. We’ve seen reports since reviews went live of performance issues with the Switch port of Republic Commando. In the course of reviewing the game, PJ experienced nothing particularly noteworthy in terms of performance dips in either handheld or docked mode, although video producer Alex encountered distracting frame rate issues while assembling his video review. We’re investigating potential technical reasons for this and we’ll update with any findings.
Star Wars: Republic Commando has aged surprisingly well and proves to be a ton of fun to revisit in this admittedly rather basic Switch port. The squad system here is still supremely satisfying to get to grips with, the HUD elements are slick, and there's plenty of atmospheric fun to be had as you blast your way through the three campaign stories on offer. Yes, there's no doubt the level design is archaic, there's no great variety in enemies, the visuals have had only the most basic of touch-ups and it's a real shame the multiplayer has been completely excised. Overall, though, this is still a welcome return for one of the very best Star Wars video game offerings.