After a successful Kickstarter campaign two years ago, Camouflaj finally released République‘s first episode last week, titled “Exordium,” for iOS. The $500,000 campaign has yielded an episodic title that features all aspects of a dystopian society, from banned literature to the surveillance of every corner, room, and hallway. It’s a unique title for the most unlikely platform, but the team at Camouflaj somehow manages to pull it off.
Players follow lead character Hope as she attempts to escape from Metamorphosis, a society that is heavily monitored, regulated, and censored to meet the standards of its leader, the Overseer. Metamorphosis feels like a huge house, retrofitted to give the feeling of a self-sustaining environment. It’s utopia of sorts, away from outside influences. Its mahogany walls, red carpet, and large statues give the feeling of a safe and inviting place, but everything is not what it seems as evidenced by the episode’s first scenes. It’s obvious that there are bigger forces at play throughout the game, but it only dwells on this at the beginning and end of the episode, and only gives tiny details of the story, unless you go out of your way to find more information.
The player acts as Hope’s guide through a cellphone, utilizing the environment’s many cameras to guide her past guards, to collect information, and ultimately find a way to escape Metamorphosis. Bits of information can be collected along the way that reveals more information about Metamorphosis.
The player’s position of using cameras is very interesting, especially on an iPhone or iPad. Dragging a finger left, right, up, or down moves the camera and gives you the advantage of seeing past Hope. This is useful when planning a route past guards or checking rooms for information. Tapping on a location tells Hope to move there while double-tapping at the same place makes her sprint, but might also attract the attention of sentries. As she moves from area to area, the player’s camera changes, allowing them to clearly see where she is at all times. She can be directed to hide in lockers or behind corners. All of this is done with a single tap. Operating cameras gives the player that Big Brother view of everything, but it is essential to guiding Hope to safety. It’s a simple, yet appropriate way to display the game, especially on mobile devices to add another level of immersion.
There is another layer to the camera view, called OMNI View. It allows players to activate door switches, switch cameras, and gather information. It’s very similar to Batman’s Detective Mode in the Arkham series and gives the unique perspective of a hacker. However, it does have its limits, it can only go so far from Hope depending on the signal range from the phone she’s holding in her hand. Activating locks on the doors also requires battery power, but there was rarely a moment when I was in danger of the battery dying. Information through computers and voicemails can also be accessed through OMNI View, but only a limited number of these can be viewed at the beginning. Unlocking additional gathering resources can be bought with already-gathered information through Data Broker terminals throughout the area, so there is going to be a lot of backtracking if you want every little item. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in OMNI View as it is the game’s most powerful tool.
Hope is not without her own tools as well. Initially she is only able to pickpocket guards for collectible items, but she will eventually find pepper spray and a Taser to add to her tools. Both items have limited ammunition, but it is possible to go through the entire episode without using any weapons. However, if Hope is caught, she can use the weapons to escape her captors, giving her a chance to flee or hide. In a stealth-oriented game like République, the weapons are really a measure of last resort, but they do provide a sense of security especially when Hope is in a jam.
One of République‘s disadvantages to its uniqueness is that some of its flaws can’t be compared to any other game, but it also carries issues that plague most games today. The game has crashed a few times, bringing me back to my last save point, which can be frustrating especially when a lot of progress was made. At some points, the frame rate drops significantly when loading a new area or switching to OMNI View. It’s an inconvenience that has led to many instances of tapping and then waiting for my command to go through. You also may want to reconsider answering a text message or reading an email while playing the game. Doing so will put you at your last save point when the game starts so make sure that the game is saving at a convenient location before checking messages or emails.
République couldn’t have come at a better time. With current events surrounding the issue of privacy and surveillance, it provides a view of what could to happen to society. The idea is in place, but there is definitely room for improvement in the following episodes. Still, I can’t helped but be impressed at the quality of the first game that comes from a small starting studio like Camouflaj. “Exordium” is only a small piece of République, but it’s big enough to show where mobile gaming can go.
The game was received by the reviewer as a reward for being a backer of the Kickstarter campaign.