The former Soviet state of Novistrana has fallen on some hard times. Instead of holding free elections, President Vasiili Karasov has proclaimed himself President for Life, and is embarking on a ruthless campaign of terror to squash any remaining dissenters. When Karasov’s thugs round up your family, that’s the last straw, and it’s time for Novistrana to come under new management. That’s where you come in, and that’s where we pick up 2003’s Republic: The Revolution, by Eidos and Elixir Studios.
While the premise of Republic is fairly easy to describe concisely, the gameplay is a bit more robust, to say the least. The game’s key concept is the triumvirate of ideologies, Force, Influence, and Wealth, and how they interact. Force intimidates Influence, Influence persuades Wealth, and Wealth buys Force. When you first start the game, and after you name your character and your future faction, you’ll be asked a series of multiple choice questions about your character’s past and personality, similar to an RPG where you’re asked abstract questions to determine your character class. After you finish, you’re shown your results in the form of your ideology, helpfully demonstrated on the left-right political spectrum, and your starting stats in four out of five character attributes: Status, Control, Charisma, and Presence, which also ties into your ideology.
From there, you’ll go to the first town, Ekaterine. Each city you’ll operate in is broken into districts, all of which support a particular ideology. Poor and industrial districts tend to be more responsive to Force, and more affluent areas are swayed by Wealth, as you would imagine. Your basic goal is to win as much popular support as possible in the various districts by performing actions. For example, Force characters can win over the people by laying graffiti tags down featuring your faction’s logo, and Influence characters can canvass the different neighborhoods to drum up political support for you. You start with a set amount of action points for each ideology, and while the various actions cost points, each district you have control in will pay you tribute in the different categories, depending on size and their political leanings, as well as certain districts having important buildings, like newspaper offices or government facilities, that provide bonuses to a faction that controls it.
The catch is, you’re not the only faction looking to take control, and your rivals won’t hesitate to launch their own campaigns. You can only win over undecided citizens, so when a district has 100% of its mind made up, you have to lower the opposition support, which is where the real dirty work begins. Vandalism, public criticism, leafleting, having respected public figures condemning a rival’s dirty tricks, even inciting riots and crime waves, all can be at your disposal to shake the public’s confidence in your enemies and turn them back into mindless sheep you can cajole into your flock (MWAHAHA!).
Along the way, you’ll also have to interact with other major NPC’s, such as government officials or potential recruits to join your faction, which is where you’ll encounter one of the most interesting quirks of Republic, the conversation system. This works as a card battle game of sorts. First, you assign points to four cards from a pool of points assigned to you based on your attributes and experience level. After you divvy up your points, there are four rounds, each assigned a various value, higher card wins, with ties going to the defender. After the first four rounds, both you and the NPC can see each other’s cards, leading to some tense moments where you decide to try to pick up all the low-scoring rounds, or try to tank up one card and guarantee winning the big money rounds. It’s a bit frustrating at times, and it did lead to a couple of situations where it took a couple of attempts to win characters over, but it’s not a bad way to simulate a tough negotiation session.
This leads us to the fifth character attribute, Resolve, basically a measure of how down a character is for their cause. Characters with high Resolve tend to be more effective with their actions, while characters with low Resolve are less effective, and may decide to leave a faction entirely. Certain actions, like performing favors or conducting a “blood brother” ritual boost Resolve and temporarily boost other stats. You can also launch actions against other factions’ members to weaken their convictions and maybe convince them to abandon their cause. That pesky newspaper editor that’s writing hit pieces about your faction? A sound beating in a back alley or some nasty blackmail might just convince him to put down the pen. Late in the game, you can even hire hitmen or convince your allies in the government to haul enemies off to prison to take them out of the game permanently. Seriously, if you’re so inclined, you can get into some pretty nefarious shit in this game.
Again, though, other factions are just as willing to play in the same dirty pool you do. Actions leave behind evidence, which can be turned against you; keep vandalizing storefronts and your enemies will be more than happy to finger you as the culprit to the press and chip away at your support. To that end, you need to occasionally send your teammates out on information gathering missions to ensure you know what’s going on in your backyard, as well as disinformation campaigns in enemy districts to keep them guessing. Rivals are also capable of poaching your associates to their control, so it pays to move your members’ homes to more secretive locations, not to mention moving your headquarters to a more secure spot that can hold more characters.
It’s all easier said than done, though; there’s a serious learning curve to overcome before you can confidently plant the seeds of revolt. The interface is smooth enough, but you’ll most likely have to start the game over a couple of times before you entirely understand why Action X causes Result Y. There is a tutorial feature that helps explain things as you play, but a lot of times, there’s a “to learn more about blank, check page blank in the manual” disclaimers. The game also has a nasty habit of occasionally leaving out important information, for example, a low-ranking character cannot boost or lower the morale of higher-level characters, but the game is more than willing to allow you to try knowing full well the action is going to fail. There’s also an underlying feeling that you have to keep your actions on the down low to avoid police and government reprisals, when in practice, you only have to worry about revenge from your rival factions.
Besides the learning curve, the biggest gripe I have about Republic is that no matter which of the three ideologies you decide to embrace, the game plays essentially the same way. A few of your objectives change depending on what part of the triumvirate you fall on, but they generally still break down to “raise support in this district”, “meet with this NPC”, and so on, and when you get right down to it, there’s just not that much difference between graffiti tagging a wall and putting up posters. Another disappointment comes with the presentation. All three cities you visit look great, mixing classic Eastern European architecture with Soviet-era brutalism, but quite honestly, you’re not going to spend all that much time getting to look at it, as you’ll be spending most of the game in the map view with the time compression on, waiting for your next action to unfold. Republic does sound fantastic, though, with some excellent background music (even the loading screens have good themes), and citizens do speak, although I suspect Novistranan is gibberish, but it sounds passable enough to masquerade as an Eastern Bloc language.
Nitpicks aside, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Republic: The Revolution. As I said, it did take me a couple of false starts to really understand everything that was going on, but then again, I had the same issue with Fallout and I ended up really digging it. The concept is definitely unique, the interface is fairly streamlined once you figure out what exactly does what, and the concept of the ideology system adds a layer of strategy and non-linearity. I highly recommend Republic to anyone interested in a sort of no-holds-barred political strategy title, or just a new way to approach real-time strategy, just remember, he who controls the media controls the masses.
Very unique concept, lots to do, the three ideologies provide for a measure of replayability and different approaches.
Don’t even think about playing this without consulting a manual, you’re going to spend more time looking at a map screen than you’d like to.