Thursday, 6 June 2013

The World Needs A Republic Commando

There's been a lot of talk of late over the direction in which Star Wars titles have been going in recent years. Even before the closure of LucasArts there had been more than a few discussions between certain groups about problems within the titles. Not simply their quality but the plots they were following and how the universe seemed to feel less special. Less vast or powerful than before, even when the games themselves seemed to be getting bigger and make the characters seem more powerful.

The blame for this problem has been laid upon a few things. Some on the prequels, some on the quality of the titles themselves (looking at you Star Wars Kinect) and even some on the strength of the writing itself. Not just the bad stuff but some of the big name writers like Bioware, criticising the way in which the protagonist was buffed up and the way in which the stories were continually focused. Oddly enough, in at least a few respects, some of these criticisms might have a point.

The most commonly cited issues were how the player character was usually buffed up to near god-like levels. We've seen this more than a few times between Revan and Sheppard, making the puppet the player uses to interact with the universe seem like some huge icon or power within the universe. While this might open up certain doors, and seemed like something completely new due to Bioware's careful handling, it often made the universe feel smaller as more time went by.

For example in Mass Effect by the time of the third game was released, the Reapers did not feel like so massive a threat as when Sovereign was first introduced. Rather than just being a foot-soldier in the face of them, one of a multitude of unknown grunts you were someone who had gotten their attention. A personal enemy of theirs who they had picked out from among everyone else and were determined to specifically kill you. A detail which made the galaxy threatening menace feel somewhat oddly smaller, almost pettier at times, in that they seemed to regard a single human as so massive a threat. The way in which you so casually dealt with major powers was something similar, with you constantly speaking directly to them with little in the way of red tape or even bureaucracy. You were some extremely special, near idolised figure in the universe.

Knights of the Old Republic had a similar problem but managed to just about sidestep it in a few ways. The game's famous twist being among them but it also built you up. Prior to becoming a Jedi you were some grunt, a guy running around with a blaster rifle trying to just hold things together. The Sith didn't know who you were, even the street gangs didn't recognise your face. It built you up much more gradually and even when you did become some space traversing badass, you never dealt directly with the faces of the Republic or Sith. Often just representatives, minions or people who didn't even understand you were a Jedi.
Its problem tended to exist in repeat playthroughs where you were being buffed up and turned into some ultimate badass without quite knowing it, keeping it to the background. Something which resulted in a fanbase who seemed to think the player character was utterly invincible and could not be beaten. With absolutely everyone playing that character and similarly idolising them.

The problem comes with everyone having played this supremely influential, hyper competent figure who has unknowable powers and their own version of it. Even encountering others of the same nature, having received the same praise and even the same seemingly supernatural powers to a degree. The Old Republic is an obvious example of this, but here i'm speaking more of the Jedi overall.

Now, please don't misread this. This is neither an attack against the Jedi claiming they have no place in the universe nor some massive argument against them, simply how they have become used of late. Think back for a while of how fans used to see the Jedi in the original trilogy or even older games. They and the Sith were both figures of near legend, beings of great power and skill who were as much sages as they were justicars and dark lords. Only a handful were ever seen and the few times they were truly shown fighting their foes, conflicts were either brief or extremely one sided. Not so much that they never emerged without trial or wounds but could take on people many times their number. The few examples we were given were either wise, powerful or imposing and their elders seemed like figures of legend.

The best remembered titles and many beloved ones used their presence sparingly. It gave you some insight into what trained Force sensitive beings were capable of and only allowed you to really use them later on or encounter them briefly. If they were present at all. Dark Forces and Jedi Outcast were both classic examples of this, reserving their roles for fights or key figures. Many flight simulation titles featured few if any Force sensitive characters and ones like Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (horribly underrated as it is) featured a strong Force user only as a final boss. Hell, the Star Wars: Battlefront games only used them as heroes with one Jedi (if they even had a lightsaber) appearing among two or three hundred ordinary soldiers.

The truth is that titles and media as we have them now are fairly oversaturated with Jedi and Sith. Along with large numbers being present in games the plots are extremely centrally focused upon them, not the universe they are set in. They might be a core part of said universe, but many details which they are not involved in seems to have been forgotten. As a result they feel less special, less impressive or important, and the aspects which made playing as them so interesting to begin with diminish. To make the Jedi seem like a major part of the universe again video games need to move away from them.
Games need to start featuring protagonists without connection to the Force again, building them up and distancing any involvement from Force users, to make them seem impressive once more. To give the universe a much wider scope and look into details audiences have not seen in a long time. To make figures with only blasters, equipment and their wits seem extremely capable and interesting in their own right before looking into the Jedi once more.

The reason for this title is a reference to the last game which truly displayed people doing this, Republic Commando. Ignoring the horribly written novels, territory we have trodden on this blog more than once, the game made the point of sticking purely with blaster wielding elites. Those above standard troopers and felt like a skilled unit but were far more human than Jedi and far more in common average grunts.

Rather than commanders, knights errant or heroes leading a band of rag tag scoundrels, bounty hunters and wookiees they were military personnel. People taking orders, going into combat situations with briefing as a much bigger part of a war and ultimately behaved in different ways. They were certainly like the clone troopers you saw fighting in various arenas, but were still visibly a cut above them and much more of an elite unit. Giving players more than enough to differentiate them from others and understand why they were the best of them. Between their different attitudes, procedures and equipment they stood out from the Jedi and felt like a breath of fresh air. The only one we'd really get in a single title for a good few years unless you count The Old Republic, which still had many of the problems outlined above.

This might be the reason so many people kept looking forwards to 1313. It would have similarly been a break in a universe oversaturated by one specific faction, as well as exploring more grey areas of the galaxy such as its criminal underbelly. No big lightsaber battles, no huge war against the Sith, no emphasis upon the Force; instead a direct examination of the criminal world usually underused or overlooked.

This is obviously just by two cents but I would be genuinely interested to hear what people think of this. Do you also think that Star Wars games need to take a new direction, or are they they fine as they are? Do you think the Jedi and Sith need to be limited to become more impressive, or that returning to titles with no supernatural abilities would be a step backwards?
Please feel free to make your thoughts known in the comments section below.

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