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Star Wars Republic Commando

This new first-person shooter set in the Star Wars universe will contain hints and links to the Episode 3 movie, despite what we were told earlier this year. Still, it's impossible to divine whether this change of approach is due to a passionate drive in the developers' hearts, or just because LucasFilms want as much hype as possible. But it does lend credibility to what initially appeared to be a very loose canon.

Set between the (non)events of Episodes 2 and 3, Republic shows little intention of telling an epic story. All the focus is on the action. And from what we've seen so far, it's quite some action. The tutorial level alone was an extraordinary fray in the canyons of Episode 2, with foes attacking from all angles, explosions, scenery damage, and a pyrotechnic shazam that shows how much Lucas have upped the already impressive Unreal engine.

Our worry has always been the game's squad-based approach. Such an approach can often cause detachment from the player character, and hinder your progress thanks to the idiot AI of the computer controlled troopers. But such fears can do little but melt away once you've seen one of your three squad-mates duck beneath your line of fire, or take cover when they notice you are - for no sensible reason - shooting at the explosive barrels.

There are almost no similarities between Republic and the stalwarts of the genre, the Rainbow Six games. Your squad is controlled by the simplest means - if something can be interacted with, a hologram of a team member appears, and you click. That's it. And if that's too much to be bothered with, they've the brains to just get on with it themselves. This all contributes to the ultimate goal of RC - to have you recognise that your team of elite-of-the-elite clone soldiers is your greatest weapon, and that alone you're just one quarter of a man. In fact, you can only lose when all four members of the team die - should anyone go down, including yourself, they can be revived by another, either during or after a battle.

That may seem a little sanitised but you'll be glad the chaps stay around as the AI is first class. As well as the common sense employed by your crew, the enemies appear to have room for a lot of sensible improvisation. When a grenade was thrown at one baddie, he bent down, picked it up, and threw it back. So obvious, and yet such a shock. These guys actually fight back.

The final level promises to pit you against the minions of Episode 3's arch villain, whoever that may be. Excellent spinny droids will also feature, reminiscent of the ninjas in Half-Life but far more competent. Republic Commando could do a lot to excite the followers of the films. As for those with an iota of decency, it looks like quite the promising reinvention of the squad-based shooter, too.

Star Wars Republic Commando will be feeling the force in February 2005

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