République arrives on mobile VR platforms with the same mission it made for itself on smartphones five years ago now. Camouflaj’s stealth adventure wants to answer the call for ‘full’ games on a platform where there are relatively few. The episodic series has always been eager to impress with near console-quality visuals (for the time) and a rare focus on story for a mobile game but, for all its flair, the relatively pedestrian gameplay kept it from earning the same praise as the games that inspired it. A fresh coat of VR paint doesn’t do too much to change that.
There are definitely stronger elements to this version of the adventure, which arrives in VR as the complete five-episode package. There’s a better sense of connection between you and protagonist Hope, for example, when you transition the security camera-style perspective from the flat screen to a virtual world. The way the world pops out in front of you gives the action more immediacy, like what you’re watching is really unfolding in front of you rather than occurring miles away as you watch from the safety of a CCTV camera. It’s just a shame that more isn’t done to strengthen that connection; Hope rarely looks up to cameras to acknowledge your presence, for example.
That’s especially true of the game’s cutscenes, which are largely told through a virtual smartphone screen. Despite admirable efforts on Camouflaj’s part, there’s definitely a sense that République was unavoidably shoehorned into VR. It’s a shame considering the theme of hacking using bleeding-edge technology suits the platform quite well and could be better explored in a native experience.
Still, the core concept behind République remains just as engaging as it did on any other screen. The Metal Gear-inspired sneaking is straight-forward but involving, often asking the player to make snap decisions about where to hide Hope and how best to avoid detection. One nice touch is to encourage players to take risks by grabbing items off of patrolling guards as they look the other way, though it’s usually just for bonus easter eggs rather than genuinely helpful items. With so much on both Go and Gear appealing to a more casual audience, it’s nice to sit back and lose yourself in a console-level gaming experience for a change. You won’t find many other experiences on Go or Gear offering eight hours of story-driven content.
With these transitions, though, comes some inconvenience. Playing the game with a motion controller, for example, has some intuitive charm, but quickly becomes finicky in tight spots. Pointing to exact spots for Hope to walk to can often be a struggle and most of the times I was detected by an enemy it was the controller that was to blame.
Fortunately, you can also pair a bluetooth gamepad with your Go headset for a much smoother experience. This gives you direct control of Hope and adds a much-needed sense of agency to the sneaking. It doesn’t solve every issue, like losing your bearings when the camera suddenly switches from one scene to another, but it’s definitely the preferred way to play the game if you have that option.
Outside of VR, République experiences the same highs and lows as it did on other platforms. The game’s first three chapters are relatively straightforward, asking you to sneak through a facility that’s forcing children to get in line with the wider world’s totalitarian agenda. You can upgrade your abilities by gathering and selling info, making the already-light challenge even easier. Episode 4 admirably tries to mix things up with the introduction of a persistent enemy, but he doesn’t do much to raise the overall threat level. The game’s more interested in sharing its story with you, with its stealth mechanics more of an entertaining means to an end. Had those priorities been switched, you can’t help but feel République would have been a little more memorable.
Though VR doesn’t do too much to augment the experience, République remains the same engaging stealth adventure with the same highs and lows it’s always had. This is simple, brain-teasing sneaking that encourages the player to experiment and take risks, though rarely takes its own advice on board to create something truly memorable. Despite its ambitions it’s by no means a revolution, but gamers that just picked up a Go will definitely appreciate having a full, story-driven experience to dive into.
République VR is available now on Gear VR and Oculus go for $9.99. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.