Politics abhors a vacuum, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, there were plenty of strong men willing to step up and lead newly independent republics--like Novistrana. In this fictional state, the democratic process lasts but a single election. President Karasov shows his true colors within weeks, declaring himself president for life, instigating mass arrests, and outlawing all opposing political parties. Most wouldn't dare stand up against such a figure, but that's exactly the job you're charged with in Elixir's Republic: The Revolution. It's prime territory to move beyond the kosher politics of stately fundraisers and television issue ads and get your hands dirty with propaganda campaigns, slanderous attacks, and targeted violence. It's just too bad that overly linear missions and noninteractive 3D action get in the way of the deep political strategizing of Republic's later levels.
The fictional republic of Novistrana has been taken over by a dictator. Will you depose him?
The core game is quite free-form and consists of winning grassroots support, gaining political capital, and undermining opposing factions, but there's no getting around having to do missions to advance the story and, eventually, decide the fate of Novistrana. A new game kicks off with a questionnaire to determine your character's base stats and political leanings and then drops you in the small provincial city of Ekaterine, where your budding faction has some clout in a single district. There isn't a dedicated tutorial section to explain basic concepts like how the district colors (red, blue, and yellow) match up with their political leanings (force, influence, and wealth) or how gaining control over these districts earns you the game's three corresponding resources. You'll have to read the manual for that. But, accompanied by some static in-game screens to explain the interface, the early missions do guide a new player through some of the steps necessary to grow from these very humble beginnings to become a dominant force in the city.
Republic doesn't adopt standard game conventions, so it can take some work to learn the game's interface and figure out what's involved in playing it. There are two main views: A 3D view of the large clockwork cities lets you zoom in on any of the buildings, cars, or inhabitants, while the 2D overhead view makes it easier to schedule and track actions throughout a city. Even though the 3D close-ups are clearly more visually appealing, the vast majority of the game is actually played in the overhead view, which provides essential information, such as the support levels each party enjoys in a given city district, the locations of operatives, and much more.
The overhead screen is also the only practical way to use "actions," the selection of abilities that each faction member possesses. Actions are the very core of the game. Many come with intriguing or forceful names like "honeytrap," "easy life," "intimidate," "riot," and "crime syndicate," but the majority feature bread-and-butter political activities like leafleting, organizing rallies, or instigating passive protests. In later parts of the game, you can have up to six agents simultaneously engaged in various activities all over a city, and to keep things manageable, executing actions is a pretty hands-off process. All actions are scheduled ahead of time, in the daily planner interface that pops up at the bottom of the screen, with each day divided into three time segments (morning, afternoon, and night). As long as you have the resources, you can queue up as many actions as you'd like, but the need to react to the changing political atmosphere can undercut long-range plans.
At normal speed, each eight-hour phase lasts about four real-time minutes, so there's plenty of time to drop into the close-up view and take a look around the city. It's easy enough to jump right to the locations of your agents--or even to members of opposing factions that you've identified--and watch them execute assigned actions. Most of the time there isn't much to do, and only exceptional events are animated in an entertaining way. Some actions do provide a slider at the bottom of the screen that lets you tweak, say, the sort of rhetoric used at a rally. But this option appears for such a brief time that it's easy to miss if there's anything else going on, and, in any case, the benefits aren't terribly apparent. Fortunately, if there's not much going on in a given phase, it's possible to speed the game time up considerably. Sometimes we still wished for an end-turn button.
The 3D scenes are mostly noninteractive, but the conversation game lets you influence the course of recruiting debates.
The one and only critical activity to monitor in 3D is what Elixir calls the "conversation game," a minigame that plays out like a card-game duel. This duel determines the success or failure of many recruitment actions as well as a number of story-critical efforts that otherwise involve convincing someone to help the cause. The point of it all is to reach a certain threshold--which is determined by the relative abilities and levels of the political resolve, or loyalty, of dueling characters--and there's some basic strategy involved in figuring out how to divide up the points and play them most effectively. It's not hard to figure out the patterns the computer usually uses, but there's enough variety to keep things somewhat interesting. But it is too bad that the 3D characters speaking the game's made-up Russian-like language don't react at all to what's going on in the minigame.
For as much challenge as the free-form side of the game can offer, it can take more time to get through the linear missions than it does to hit upon a winning strategy and gain the support in most of a city. The story unfolds with a few scripted sequences that act out the president's rise to power and his despotic acts, and there's a series of newspaper clippings and memos to explain what's really going on. But the memos from your mentor and lieutenants are not just there for some context--mostly they throw up hoops to jump through. As major plot points, some missions sound pretty cool--there are jail breaks, raids on rivals, rigged elections, reluctant benefactors, and plenty more. In practice, however, they just involve using the ordinary range of actions for very narrowly defined goals. To add some extra challenge, a memo doesn't always quite say what the mission is about, but fortunately there's a summary screen to spell things out more clearly.