Republique, Episode 3: Ones and Zeroes

Republique’s third episode continues its exemplary exhibition of touchscreen gaming. Its thoughtful implementation of touch mechanics, properly measured dichotomy between risk and reward, best-in-show presentation, and overload in Orwellian influence are now known quantities. By episode three, this is what you expect – and it’s what’s been delivered. Republique’s defining moments, however, now rely on the relationship between its protagonist and its player.

The second-person point of view can easily be viewed as a concession to Republique’s medium. It’s probably the only way a game of its style can achieve any sort of playability on a touch device, but the team at Camouflaj isn’t content to leave it as a simple point of perspective. The player’s ambiguous role as guide and benefactor is essential to Republique’s story, eliminating the transient attachment to narrative by making the player complicit in its outcome.

Ones and Zeroes pins its hopes on Mattie Sade, an often-mentioned but previously unseen journalist for Metamorphosis. Through a series of deliberate flashbacks and optional information, Mattie and her newspaper The Morning Bell are revealed to essentially be a propaganda arm for the Headmaster and Metamorphosis’ nefarious operations. Mattie’s also apparently had it at this point, as Hope finds her face-down on his desk with a bottle of liquor. Mattie subsequently pushes Hope to complete a series of operations, the ultimate reward being an expletive-laden (and probably dangerous) dismissal for Maddie and ultimate escape for Hope.

Mattie’s end-game is kind of murky, but Hope isn’t exactly in a position to deny any sort of assistance. If you’ve ever tapped on a Prizrak guard and looked at their profile, you’ve probably noticed each and every one possesses some sort of delinquent crime or affliction. Mattie proposes a smear campaign for a handful of guards, and tasks Hope with digging up the dirt. Mechanically, this plays out quite well with Hope tapping into security cameras in remote parts of the world. It’s the player, however, who has to organize that information into a proper news article and promptly ruin the Prizrak’s life.

Creating a news story is a simple but cool mechanic, and its role as a puzzle ties neatly into the narrative. Unlike Republique’s second episode, its challenges don’t feel divorced from its rolling plotline. Hope’s actions feel purpose-driven with a renewed and constant sense of consequence. Ones and Zeroes also exhibits some uncomfortable morality choices, humanizing the Prizrak and forcing the player into some morally ambiguous situations. If it’s all for Hope’s well-being, it has to be the correct choice. Right?

As far as actually playing the Republique, Ones and Zeroes doesn’t stray too far off the path. It splits the difference between Exordium’s mission-driven directives and Metamorphosis’ structured playground, dropping Hope into a twisting hub of concordant layers. Terminus, as it’s called, has a clinical feel – it’s a purely functional hub of Metamorphosis, practically designed and not suitable for its otherwise residential obligations. This translates to two remote server farms, which Hope must properly get her way in and out of to accomplish her goals.

As expected, a couple of new challenges and a new mechanic are injected into Ones and Zeroes’ bloodstream. Hope can buy sleep mines from the Data Broker, adding a bit of pre-planned strategy to knocking out a Prizrak guard. On the other side, Prizrak’s now have access to some sort of sleep gas, which has the double benefit of skipping the long (though still able to be skipped) walk back to a containment area. Similar to my thoughts on Republique’s second episode, I appreciated the new ideas, but I didn’t find much of a practical use for (or against them). They act as an accessory or potential modifier, and little else.

Ones and Zeroes is where I finally branched out and took it upon myself to complete extraneous objectives. I pickpocketed every Prizrak, stumbled upon a puzzle which I’m nearly positive was optional, somehow found my way back into an area from Exordium, and further unraveled the cassette-based mysteries of Zager. Republique is surprisingly backed to the gills with optional, accessible content – and it doesn’t exactly exert a harsh penalty in attempts to find it. There’s a bit of tedium associated with getting busted and finding Hope temporarily locked in a cell, but its easily dismissed with a proper understanding of Prizrak behavior.

Republique’s dedication to its totalitarian atmosphere still exists without the slightest hint of subtlety. One particular instance had me digging up dirt on a guilty Prizrak. Within that was an aside where his wife appeared to be cheating on him with his friend, but a clever suggestion was subsequently reiterated over and over until it was plainly obvious. This works in tandem with constantly finding banned books consistent with Republique’s themes, further emphasizing its obvious allusions. I don’t see how Republique, at this point, could lose confidence in its players, but I get what’s happening and I’m disappointed whenever the game overreaches in its attempts to explain its themes.

Ones and Zeroes runs a fairly dramatic conclusion that leaves both Hope and the player at a startling impasse. In other episodic releases, the third episode often defaults to a series spinning its wheels in lieu of a grand conclusion. Ones and Zeroes sidesteps this stigma and plays for keeps, but kind of conceals its intentions in the process. I have no idea where Republique goes from here  and maybe that’s part of the plan.

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.