Republique, Episode 2: Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis feels greatly concerned with providing players different ways to play in the same spaces. This is explored through a fundamental change in navigation and better communicated puzzles, along variations to both enemy opposition and player mechanics. Not all of Metamorphosis’ disparity necessarily works in Republique’s favor, but it’s at least emblematic of Camouflaj’s focus on simultaneously managing progress and refinement.

When Exordium ended, Hope found herself the benefactor of a surprising shift from a perilous circumstance. Metamorphosis picks up exactly where it left off, with Mireille absently unconscious and Hope equal parts terrified and anxious. Mireille’s impact this time around is largely absent; with the enigmatic Overseer and his veritable attack dog Derringer taking up antagonistic roles. The Overseer’s permanently mosaicked artifice and Derringer’s nefarious charm and uncompromising demeanor provide a nice contrast to Mireille’s cerebral load-out, and while Metamorphosis doesn’t indulge in their respective relationships, it manages a bit of odd dissent in their hierarchy.

The bulk of Metamorphosis plays the same, albeit spread out a bit differently. You’re still an active character in its ambiguous world, switching your point-of-view between various security cameras while keeping Hope out of harm’s way. The difference is while Exordium felt like a linear progression across set points, Metamorphosis challenges Hope with a unified but expansive area. The sweeping structure of its library isn’t up to Metroid or Castlevania’s labyrinthine enclosures, but it does a fairly nice job of incentivizing exploration alongside normal progression.

Prizrak, the guards that patrol Metamorphosis, have received a meaningful tweak. ARC Prizrak are equipped with armor that repels any of Hope’s meager offensive capabilities, and they’re not subject to defined patrol patterns. The library’s connected floors and rooms are open territory, adding a nice bit of unpredictability to Republique’s systems. The practical application of this was minimal, only twice did I find myself panicking by the unwelcomed presence of an additional Prizrak, but the potential threat of it happening was enough to keep me on my toes.

Of course, a few new tools are also available to help Hope out. One is the ability to see guards through walls, and another is to summon a line that traces their patrol route. Both have to be purchased from the Data Broker, and both bleed a bar off your OMNI’s battery meter. Beyond trying them out to inform myself of their function, I never used them in-game. Republique’s brand of stealth isn’t the most challenging, and patience tends to be the solution for most problems.

If anything, Metamorphosis puts a spotlight on the limitations of its opposition. I get that Hope is intended to be silent and crafty, but it’s weird to see her hustle into a locker at the precise moment a guard does an about-face. Likewise, during a segment where I found a hidden room playing music from a gramophone, no one seemed to take notice that there was a giant hole in a bookcase blasting music. It makes sense mechanically, but it feels out of place in a micro-society obsessed with surveillance and suppression.

Some new puzzles range from smartly integrated to oddly detached. In Exordium I liked how bits of narrative we interlaced with puzzle-solving. It didn’t directly contribute to Hope’s story, but it was smartly employed to flesh out the world she inhabits. Metamorphosis continues this idea with its first major puzzle, throws it out the window with its second, and disconnects completely with its third. They’re all pretty good ideas, but the last two feel isolated from Republique’s bigger picture. I didn’t feel like they had anything to do with Hope or Metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis’ defining moment actually arrives when it intimately explores the relationship between Hope and the player. I felt that providing the player with an actual role in Republique’s narrative was one of its more inventive and forward-thinking ideas. Being personally responsible for Hope used to just extend to keeping her safe and essentially making navigation decisions. Without spoiling anything, a sequence in Metamorphosis pushes your relationship to another level, and it does so by directly incorporating themes running through its story. It’s a brilliant moment, and one that I’d hope to see embraced and accelerated through in future episodes.

Other than that, Metamorphosis carried through like a more efficient version of Exordium. A familiarity with and better proficiency in its mechanics will do that, obviously, but it was easier to feel the game’s groove and fall right in line with what it was asking. Episodic gaming always presents the opportunity for radical change through a myriad of venues, which is both a blessing and a curse. Does Camouflaj stay the course or adjust their perspective? Republique certainly isn’t in need of an overhaul, but there’s enough room for a shift in its thesis.

Eric Layman is available to resolve all perceived conflicts by 1v1'ing in Virtual On through the Sega Saturn's state-of-the-art NetLink modem.