A little time outside may confuse you.
Full disclosure: I backed the Kickstarter for République at the game-plus-soundtrack level.
For three episodes now, we’ve been trying to get Hope out of Metamorphosis, and at the end of the third episode, Ones and Zeroes, we finally succeed. Of course, this success came with a major failure, utterly screwing a fairly major character in Hope’s story and leaving him to an ambiguous fate. With her despair-filled ascension on the elevator to freedom, her tears were met with rain, blurring them together and leaving many questions. Now, with a long-awaited fourth entry, God’s Acre, Camouflaj chose to leave the player asking more questions throwing “Wait, what?” into audio logs and the very gameplay itself.
On the surface, you and Hope are alone. Without Cooper to monitor the minutiae of your activities, there’s an unsettling quiet as you meander down organic pathways of stone and trees, looking for an out. Eventually, you find a key and a gate, but upon your attempt to put the two unquestionably together, you meet Mammoth. He lives up to his name in both size and threat, but among the curious folds of this episode, he replaces all the Prizrak Hope is generally tasked with evading. Patrolling the eventually labyrinthine gardens alone, his massive hands aim to kill. To think, jail was a luxury underground, a pit-stop really.
The initial void on the other side of the phone is soon filled after your first encounter with Mammoth, someone chiming in an attempt to guide you and give you some goals. But by the end of the episode, you are left no wiser about who they are or what they want. Gaining more information about your world is more complex than listening to phones, reading emails, and finding various items to click on. Instead, your anonymous helper asks you to photograph objects around the environments, which also strangely reveal audio logs.
Perhaps I exaggerated earlier because you do learn something of an answer to what all of this— Metamorphosis, the Pre-Cals (hauntingly referred to as Mirrors above-ground), and the curious research—is for. But fittingly, the end-game to all of it is still left shrouded in mystery. What is apparent is that those outside Metamorphosis’ walls view the world inside it entirely differently and with an unexpected regard. The audio logs you find, some contained in translated petri dishes (trust me), focus on two sets of relationships: a romantic one between two characters you know and a terse one between two scientists, one Israeli and one Palestinian. That there is tension among the latter two people makes me question just when is République.
Although I remain unsure of how their research ties into the rest of the narrative, the scientists are responsible for a new gameplay element: BEES! After a mandatory episode in a laboratory, all rose bushes, both in the garden and in various buildings, randomly get swarmed with aggressive bees, forcing Hope to watch where she walks and takes cover. It seems that in order to make up for Mammoth’s slow movement and inherent inability to patrol everywhere, these bees were intended to make up for the other missing Prizrak or patrols.
I found them to be mostly a nuisance, especially since they can just appear by a rose bush from thin air with no clear pattern. They don’t ruin enjoyment of the game, but they don’t work either. Both they and some snooty pigeons you find are intended to make Hope yelp, alerting Mammoth to her location, but given how simple they are to avoid, their threat feels silly. You’re dodging animals after all.
Another contentious alteration to the gameplay is that your phone is basically useless. Forget your OMNI version because it’s fucked. You can’t unlock doors or hack objects at all. Of course, the episode gets by without needing such functionality, but it is funny that you’ve upgraded this software progressively only to have it be of no use for an entire episode. I didn’t mind, but it was definitely a strange choice. You do play with audio logs for one puzzles, and that’s really it.
With no other characters besides Mammoth to interact with, Hope feels like a tool to get the player from beginning to end rather than the other way around. Also, I’m not sure what happened, but her personality for this episode is like that of a child. Her remarks about the environment around her make her sound disconnected from the events she’s recently gone through, and she regards various objects with a naïve curiosity that has no precedent in the previous three episodes. Using out-of-place television sets strewn about the garden as checkpoints, should you reload at one due to death or beginning a play session, you’ll find her laying in front of it as a child does watching her favorite program. I don’t know if the shock of her last trial in Ones and Zeroes caused this, but I was honestly completely confused about it.
Regardless, I still had the same amount of fun playing this episode as I did the others, though I’d say some of the switch-ups left less to discover for better or worse. Like any other episode, you can coast through this and learn absolutely nothing, but it would be a waste of a fascinatingly rich narrative not to pursue the audio logs and television sets. I’m also in utter angst about what will happen in the final episode, Terminus. Not to ruin anything, but the ending of God’s Acre will leave you in absolute shock. No, more than the last one. I’m just going to be racked with anxiety until I play it.