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Most virtual reality goes, regardless of genre, are played through the first-person perspective. And why wouldn’t they be? The whole point of virtual reality is to transport you to a completely different place so you can experience the “presence” of new worlds, locations, and characters. But every so often, a game breaks the mold—as in the case of Republique VR, which is technically played in first-person but with third-person gameplay.
We’ve seen this before in games like Moss (our review), but Republique VR has a neat in-world reason as to why it’s played in this way. Unfortunately, gimmicks like this don’t always result in a game that’s fun or enjoyable.
Disclaimer: My copy of Republique VR was provided by Camouflaj. However, my opinions in this review are solely my own and have not been influenced by Camouflaj in any way.
In Republique VR, you play the role of an anonymous hacker. The premise is that a young girl named Hope, who’s trapped somewhere far away in a secluded underground cult-like community, is in trouble and you’re trying to help her escape. As a hacker, you can access security cameras all around the compound, and that’s where the third-person viewpoint comes into play: you shift viewpoints by jumping from camera to camera, and you direct Hope’s actions using a point-and-click mechanic.
There are patrolling guards (called Prizraks) all around the place, and your job is to direct Hope in a way that she avoids detection. Yes, Republique VR is a stealth game, and you’ll be ducking around pillars and hiding behind bushes as you tip-toe down hallways, using the numerous cameras stationed around the compound to make sure the coast is clear before you tell her to round corners.
The most striking thing about Republique VR is how well it establishes its setting, atmosphere, and premise. It certainly feels dystopian right from the get-go, and the more you explore the claustrophobic environments, the more dreary Hope’s situation appears to be. Her grim circumstances are contrasted with the compound’s lush decor and ruthless guards.
Over the course of play, Republique VR unveils more and more of its lore via in-world interactable objects: newspapers, emails, voicemails, etc. A lot of these details are optional—in fact, some of them can’t even be interacted with until you unlock certain abilities—but you’ll still get the overall gist of the plot even if you bumrush your way through most of it.
I think my favorite part of Republique VR is the music and atmosphere. Even if you aren’t taken in by the story itself, the level designs and music and sound effects are immersive enough on their own. It’s surprising how wrapped up you can get with the support of the soundtrack, which is rather subdued but still effective at raising the suspense and tension.
First things first, naming your main character “Hope” in a story about dystopian oppression is just too on-the-nose for me. I mean, come on! If that doesn’t induce a pulled muscle from how hard it makes you roll your eyes, consider me envious of your immense good will and tolerance.
The stealth gameplay isn’t necessarily bad—quite reminiscent of the stealth gameplay found in the original Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation—but it grows old rather quickly. Whereas a game like Metal Gear Solid has plenty of other things to do to keep you on the hook, like shooting guns, Republique VR is hampered by its point-to-click foundation.
Any time you make too much noise or accidentally run into a guard, the overall threat level goes up and things get harder. This discourages you from making aggressive moves, forcing you to play passive and stealthy. Sounds fine on paper, but then you end up spending way too much time sitting around doing nothing as you wait for guards to patrol out of the way so you can sneak by them.
Indeed, Republique VR’s worst sin is its poor pacing—not just in terms of the waiting around for stealth gameplay, but the narrative itself. The story is cut into five distinct episodes, with each episode between 1-2 hours in length. But not much plot actually happens per episode, and eventually I found myself bored with all the sneaking around because it wasn’t amounting to much. The full 9 hours of gameplay would’ve been infinitely more compelling if it were condensed into a 2-hour feature film.
Because, to be quite frank, there isn’t much “game” in Republique VR. Point and click, point and click, point and click. There’s an inventory system that feels utterly tacked on—I made it to the end without ever using it once—and the controls are just super clunky. The ingame smartphone interface was a nice idea poorly executed, and there were far too many times when Hope did something totally off from when I wanted her to do.
Sometimes a lack of gameplay and clunky controls can be endured for the sake of story, but even if we overlook the narrative pacing issues, the story in Republique VR just isn’t very interesting. The mystery elements and worldbuilding are excellent in the first episode, but each successive episode is less interesting than the last, and while there are twists here and there, the final payoff doesn’t live up to the promising start. You’ll need to collect a lot of in-world bits of lore to piece together enough of it to be satisfyingly complete.
I’m happy to see that Republique VR is priced at $15. You can rush through in about 6-8 hours, or take your time to be a completionist in about 12-15 hours. If you don’t mind playing a game that isn’t really a game, and if you’re a fan of stories about mysterious dystopian societies, then you can definitely get your money’s worth here. But I do think that Republique VR has a narrow audience of those who’d find it satisfying, so buy with caution.