How soon we forget. All LucasArts has to do is waltz through door with a smile on its face, a Monkey Island revamp and a decent Star Wars MMO under its arm, and the keys to a digital distribution service jangling in its pocket, and all of a sudden the past five years are forgotten. For years, absolutely nothing - and then suddenly she's back on the doorstep with a cheeky wink and a quip about selling me some fine leather jackets. Out of nowhere, we're rolling around in hay together and daring to dream of a new Day of the Tentacle, and more. As if the life that I wasted lying horizontal on the sofa and staring at the wallpaper hadn't been frittered away.
Well actually I haven't forgotten, you bitch. You left me. You grew tired of the things we cherished: pointing at verbs and combining objects, flying TIE fighters through asteroid fields and singing 'Lucas Arrrrrts!' in daft voices whenever we saw your logo. You walked out of that door and started chasing anything with a wallet or a nascent interest in pod-racing. And now, after so long searching for the fleeting affections of people who could never love you like I do, you've come crawling back to me. Good, old, dependable me.
I knew you'd come back though. I could, for want of a better phrase, feel the good in you. I thought for a while it was through basking in the reflected BioWare glory of Knights of the Old Republic - but no. I knew that your increasingly cold heart was still beating because of Republic Commando; the game that somehow and some way took comedy battle droids and gravel-voiced Kiwi clone troopers and rendered them vibrant, gritty and cool. Sure, it wasn't perfect, with its repeated action bursts and environments, its fixation with corridors and hangars and a paucity of enemy types - but it was effused with a spirit that couldn't be denied. And its music was brill too.
For those who bravely resisted anything associated with the front of lunchboxes between the years 1999 and 2005, Republic Commando takes place between the close of Attack of the Clones and the beginning of Revenge of the Sith. It's a squad-based first-person shooter in which you and three fellow clone commandos plough through the Clone Wars' first act on Geonosis, watch the back of General Grevious running through various Wookiee doors on Kashyyk, and in-between times deal with a group of adolescent Trandoshans who've found a Star Destroyer with the keys in the ignition and taken it for a joyride across half the known galaxy. Each of your commando chums meanwhile - Sev, Fixer and Scorch - has a personality that belies their shared genetic heritage and different traits, although, truth be told, said traits generally revolve around killing stuff.
The squad dynamics of Republic Commando remain exemplary - they're clear, obvious, fluid and easy to use. Most importantly though, in Republic Commando your squad is a necessity rather than a gang of liabilities trailing around after you reminding you to reload. The AI (perhaps aided by the game's limited corridor confines) rarely falters, while the ploy of providing many and varied sniping positions and grenade spots to bind your charges to while working your way round vast sci-fi hangars provides a tangible tactical edge.
Played through again now, the game is eerily reminiscent of Left 4 Dead - so neat are some of its squad mechanics, and so desperate for a co-op mode are affairs in general. Take the similar ways in which members of your squad become incapacitated, for example, and squad members having to get them back on their feet while the battle still rages. Or the ambient battle chatter, the mix of hugely imposing enemies with blaster-fodder or the scenes in which waves of Star Wars villainy must be held off... The whole game is simply a brilliant action package that subscribes to the Halo mantra of delivering that same exhilarating burst of action again and again - all to orchestral music that blends the chants of excitable holy men with the familiar strains of John Williams.
Even today it remains a more than competent action game, but there are other reasons that Republic Commando feels like it has what approaches the soul of a true LucasArts game, when so many others from the prequel period do not. It primarily comes from your squad, whether through the remarkable variations in animated bug/droid/lizard takedowns on show or simply in banter that, as mentioned before, rivals the best Left 4 Dead has to offer. Some of the lines are just priceless: "A well-built sniper rifle is a beautiful thing. Ours has two zoom modes, 'Up close and personal' and 'Hello, you're dead.'", "Are you trying to baffle the enemy into submission, sir?", "I think we may have to blast our way through that... And I'm not just saying that because I love to blow stuff up." Any game, any game at all, in which squad members chastise you for being a sadist when revoking an order to charge up on health has got to be a winner.
Whereas other recent Star Wars action games have little other than surface gloss, Republic Commando somehow goes deeper. Where a less confident game like Force Unleashed has to open with a big sell, like you playing as Vader, Republic Commando simply contents itself with a long build-up to a final cameo from Yoda saying a 'jolly well done' in his mangled sentence structure. Because of this it feels like a separate and tighter package from the same canon, not necessarily part of the established prequel money machine. What other part of the nu-Star Wars splurge went as far as making jokes about its own limitations? One priceless moment in the final third of the game has a squad member complain, just when you're getting a little tired of going through the motions in facsimile environs, "What? Another hangar?" and another cattily reply, "Well, I guess the Wookiees just like Hangars..." They sure do.
For LucasArts itself Republic Commando came at a difficult time. It was known during its development that two thirds of its developers would be laid off after it wrapped, and it's hardly surprising that after its less-than-stellar sales the mooted sequel Imperial Commando would never see the light of day. Yet even with this in mind, in what were really rather desperate times for the folk in the Lucas games division, a game with real heart and soul was produced. It gave me hope that one day being a LucasArts fanboy would mean something again.
Are we teetering on the edge of something truly meaningful? I can't say. I'm damaged goods, with some stratospheric trust issues. But it feels right. I'm glad I didn't burn all her clothes after all, or stab her eyes out of all the photos that showed us together in happier times. Not out of all of them at least. Welcome back LucasArts. All is forgiven.