The moment you boot up Republic Commando is the moment your realize this isn't your usual Star Wars games.
Presented in a darker, militaristic tone, you're placed in the shoes of Boss, a freshly manufactured clone, whose the leader of a commando squad of four. The opening epitomizes the message of the game, that you're a soldier and you have to rely on your squad-mates- as a side-note, look up during the short scene on Kimino, that's the attention to detail this game has. The art-style is harsher and the droids have an threating growl to their voices (♥♥♥♥ those whiny voices Lucas went with). It certainly feels unique since it uses its own soundtrack instead of constantly using John Williams pieces as a crutch. Stylistically, the game is beautiful, with a absolutely rocking soundtrack that knows when to throw in those vocals and drum-beats. Graphically, it's a 2005 game and console port, at 60 fps and proper lighting it's better than the original xbox version for sure. However, I believe it's the art-style instead of the textures that carries the visual direction.
The actual gameplay harkens back to Rainbow Six with how you use your AI partners to clear levels and focus fire. Some of my favorite aspects of the game are the fact that you can 'prep' for battle. You can order a sniper to sit back or have one of your guys bombard the enemy from grenadier nest. Now you can only do this through context sensitive actions, but it's more a feature of the level design that rewards player thought than a "you can only proceed after using a laser-designated airstrike on these helpless sand people".
The AI is very compentent too. They will require revival, but that's only on the hardest sections of the game. I never felt like they were idiotic, and actually they keep up with you extremely well. It's no F.E.A.R, but for a squad-based shooter, the AI never failed me on the several play-throughs I've had both past and present.
Augmenting this squad is your own weaponry. The standard blaster is honestly a peashooter to me, but you get a mother♥♥♥♥ing shotgun in a Star-wars game, and it is god-damn awesome. The standard blaster can be switched to both a sniper rifle and an anti-tank grenade launcher, allowing to have a total of four weapons (one weapon you can pick up from an enemy soldier) with three types of grenades. You also have a blade-fist, and like Halo, your melee attack is brutal and effective in close-combat. In total, you have a solution for every problem and ammo is given often enough to use all your tools while given sparingly enough to not go willy-nilly with sniper and rpg shots.
This game has become one of my favorite Star Wars games mostly because of the characters and story. Your three squad-mates have plenty of memorable quips and though they were stereotypical in their personalities, they give that Star Wars flair that prevents the game from being a super grim-dark slog. I'd never consider them annoying and by the end of the game you really detect how the characters have become more brothers than comrades-at-arms. Story-wise you get some background information on some of the Clone-war plot-lines from the Prequels. However you never have a moment where it overly masturbates over the prequels' storylines or characters, it plays it straight and the only time you ever see a truly ironic character from Star Wars is once. RC is it's own game and story inside the Star Wars universe and I really admire that. It doesn't need Han Solo or Luke Skywalker to be a Star Wars game. And the aforementioned moment actually comes as a real reward to an honestly disappointing ending. A pat on the back for working through the difficult sections of RC.
However I have my misgivings with RC. For one it's short. Not any shorter than an average FPS campaign of today, but at the time it was a very short game. There are only a handful of worlds to go to. Although the finales end with a bang (the Republic Ghostship's final mission has the most badass ending setpiece I've ever seen in a Star Wars game), they aren't extremely varied. You're going to be inside military compounds with only a few examples having open level design (these often have squad-points where you can assign snipers and grenadiers). There will be a few stretches where you have to go down a narrow corridor. Fighting waves of enemies. Ho-humming your way along. It'd be an injustice if I didn't emphasis a 'few' though. Most often the game gives you options and some cool set-piece battles to command through.
The game can also be back-breakingly hard at points. I like this, but sometimes you'll get super-bullet spongy enemies (the reason why the main blaster feels ♥♥♥♥ty) back to back. The super-battle droids are the worst offenders. We're talking fighting up to six of those ♥♥♥♥ers at once, in a bare-knuckled shoot-out. On harder difficulties, this can make the game undeniably frustrating. Which turns those glorious finales into a sweat-inducing curse-ridden rant.
Also no sequel. When you finish this game, you will agree that it ends at the worst moment. It doesn't feel unfinished due to just how badass the ending finale is. I mean there's a stretch that basically deconstructs the entire premise of the game and makes you realize just how important your squad is. But story-wise, you'll have to read a book to ever see the end of the Republic Commando series. And honestly, the book was 'meh' like most video game books.
The squad gameplay can be a bit disappointing at times. It's more arcadey than realistic, and sometimes the squadmates are there to just hide how bullet-spongy the enemies are. I'd have liked to be able to always have a guy with his sniper-rifle out rather than them having to setup. I'd also have liked to have the squad mates use grenades more often or engage in melee instead of using those aforementioned blasters. Asking them to switch to shotguns would've been the best damn thing too.
But every complaint I have with the game ends with a 'however'. The squad gameplay can be meh, however the way the game uses the squad adds extreme weight to the narrative and tone. The story is abrupt, however it has so many moments in the game that have struck with me for a damn decade. The levels aren't varied, however they really give that "behind enemy lines blowing up their ♥♥♥♥" feeling.
For $10.00, you get a game that I would mention in the same breath as KotOR 1&2 and Jedi Outcast. It's not just a great Star Wars game, it's a game I would recommend to people that know nothing about the universe. It's a game I would play even if I wasn't in the mood for a Star Wars fix. This was a work of passion for the devs, who used Star Wars as a vehicle to tell a story of cooperation and brotherhood more through the gameplay than cutscenes.
EDIT: Some things I forgot to mentioned or worded poorly. For one the AI of the squadmates is competent, but the enemy droids are as dumb as they are in the Prequels. Only the Super Battle Droid or Droideka pose any threat due to their bullet-spongey nature and their constantly attacking AI pattern. An enemy force you encounter later mixes things up, but their use of cover is only so effective and they do have a habit of mixing effective tactics with standing in the open.
As a whole though, the enemy variety is noteworthy. Each major faction in the Clone Wars (as were present up to episode III) is represented and has units that are both cannon fodder and those that require squad focus fire. The enemy forces are gradually changed out and each world introducing a new faction that is better than the one before. Better armored, armed, and tactical. You'll never meet a force that can truly match your Commandos, but the array or melee and ranged enemies is remarkable for such a short game.
Also, there is multiplayer in RC. Do I play it? Well, once or twice. It's a deathmatch arena game in the style of older shooters. Make of that what you will.