When the first episode of Republique debuted on the iPad way back in 2013, the first thing that struck me was how perfect it felt for mobile. Since the debut of the iPhone, game developers have been trying to shoehorn console-style experiences on to smartphones, and even in 2015 they rarely seem to get it right. But Republique was different: everything from the structure of the story to the slick, intuitive touch controls felt mobile-native, while still keeping the epic look and scope of a console game.
So I was curious how the game would translate to Windows and Mac with its recent re-release. It’s not the first mobile game to make the jump, but few others have benefited so much from the shift. It turns out one of my favorite touchscreen games is even better with a mouse and keyboard.
At its core, the game is the same on iOS. It stars a young woman named Hope, who finds herself imprisoned in a huge, sprawling compound within a surveillance state ripped out of a George Orwell novel. You play as an unnamed observer, using cameras and computer systems to aid Hope in her escape. You'll be able to hack doors so she can sneak past and read emails for clues, and it provides a nice twist on the typical stealth gameplay: it's really cool being able to scout out the room ahead before telling Hope it's safe to move. It’s also a great example of having narrative and gameplay work together. It’s a game about living under the constant eye of government cameras, and you use those same cameras to fight back.
Left: the original mobile version; Right: the new Republique Remastered
On mobile, this was all controlled with a simple one-touch scheme, where you tapped on a camera to take control of it. But on PC you get a much finer level of control. You still just need to click on a camera to change your viewpoint, but being able to zoom in and out using the trackpad, for instance, just makes things feel much better, as does having hotkeys assigned to various tasks. Republique also looks a lot better on PC: the whole game has been rebuilt using the new Unity 5 engine, and the change is obvious. The complex you'll be exploring — which feels sort of like a high-tech version of the Resident Evil mansion — is rendered in much greater detail, and the characters in particular look much more lifelike this time around. It's sort of like going from a PlayStation 2 game to something released on a modern console.
According to Paul Alexander, a designer at Republique developer Camouflaj, the controls in particular were a big challenge — the original touch controls took about two years of iteration to get just right. "We were warned by industry colleagues about how sensitive PC players are to mobile-to-PC ports, so we went overboard in committing time and resources into making sure the game controlled exactly how a PC player would expect it to," he explains. "It was time well spent though, as the initial response from PC players has been extremely positive."
The new remastered version isn't the complete game, however. Despite the fact that the first episode of Republique debuted in 2013, only the three of the planned five episodes have been completed so far. Compared to other episodic game developers — most notably Telltale, the studio behind The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, which releases new episodes every month or two — it's a very slow pace. "When I step back and look at the three episodes we’ve created, I can’t help but feel a little guilty that we’ve been getting away with our bizarre approach to episodic distribution," says Alexander. "Under most circumstances, there’s no way a publisher would be OK with our approach to episodic gaming."
The game started out as a Kickstarter project, raising just over $500,000 in 2012, and counts Ryan Payton, who formerly worked on blockbuster games like Halo 4 and Metal Gear Solid IV, among its designers. And while things have moved slowly, with the desktop version out of the way, the end of of Republique is finally nearing: the final two episodes are being developed concurrently, Lord of the Rings style, which should speed things up. The first three episodes were released over the span of 10 months, with episode three launching last October.
"I’m starting to realize that we’re getting close to the end," says Alexander, "which means we’ll have to step away at some point. And I’m not sure I’m prepared to do that."