We'll be honest; Republic Commando has always been a bit of an unknown quantity.
It's always threatened to show a grittier, greyer side to the black-and-white morality of the Star Wars universe, but given the overall quality of games set in Mr. Lucas' money-making universe (low, simply because there's so many of them and the few good ones have been swamped by a deluge of mediocrity and tat) we've naturally had our suspicions about it.
Not entirely a fair way to approach the game, frankly, but having been stung by so many sub-par Star Wars games in the past it seems only natural.
So imagine our surprise when this turned out to be the second decent Star Wars game in as many months (the other, of course, being the problematic but still extremely marvellous Knights Of The Old Republic II). Eyebrows were raised high. Disbelief was writ impressively large over furrowed foreheads.
In short, we weren't expecting this at all. Of course, this isn't 'proper' Star Wars, being prequel-based, but it does at least have the good sense to let you play as a clone trooper, fashioned from the genetic stock of a certain Mr. Jango Fett. And not just any clone trooper, either, but a nail-hard, black-ops, behind-enemy-lines commando.
One of Republic Commando's greatest triumphs is that it actually manages to make you feel like what you're supposed to be - a bad-ass. Partly it's to do with your squad (more of which in a moment) and partly it's because this jettisons a lot of the routine Star Wars tics you might feasibly expect. All in all, a good thing.
It's a long way from flawless, mind you, settling for simply throwing round after round of tough robots and monsters at you rather than offering subtler alternatives, but this is often hugely entertaining stuff that offers a trigger-finger-spasming alternative to KOTOR II's rather more considered, but undeniably slower, roleplaying.
But back to your squad, which is the key to Republic Commando's appeal. You're in charge of a team of three clones, and you're able to order them around in two different ways.
Firstly, by holding down a you can bring up a menu of four different commands, all bound to the D-pad. Secondly, there are various context-specific points in any given area that you can send your team-mates to interact with, all relating to their various skills. Fixer is a hacker; Sev a sniper; and Scorch a demolitions expert.
So if you need to slice into a computer console you can either do it yourself or direct Fixer to do it while you give him covering fire; likewise, if a blast door needs blowing down, you can either attach the demo charge yourself (an act that takes valauble and often precious seconds) or get Scorch to play with his beloved explosives.
And any time that there's a bit of cover, Sev can get behind it and provide a bit of ass-saving sniper action.
At first all of this seems like a bit of a gimmick, the squad's skills in particular seeming to be a case of simply finding what needs to be done and getting your troops to do it.
Likewise, in the early stages of the game the more abstract D-pad commands (Secure Area, Search and Destroy, Form Up and Cancel Manoeuvre) don't seem to have much of a tangible effect, making the whole squad idea a wasted opportunity.
Things get better as you progress, though, with later missions offering more varied choices of what to do and lending proper context to command choices.
In the heat of combat, for example, you'll find that getting your team to form up and fall back will save them from incapacitation, while asking them to Search and Destroy can provide concerted and concentrated firepower on tough enemies.
It's a system that works and that eventually proves to be more than just the fluff we were expecting, and it's usefulness is further buttressed by your ability to heal fallen teammates, and consequently their ability to heal you.