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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Review
|ON OTHER PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox|
PIII 1000, 128MB RAM, 32MB video card, 4 GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 18, 03 (released)
|» All About Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on ActionTrip|
"This game is like having sex in a pool of chocolate with like forty different girls." - News guy Smapdey
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic made its initial appearance on the Xbox, and it received well-deserved praise from critics along with extremely positive feedback from console gamers worldwide. Many of you are no doubt aware of Bioware's standing when it comes to creating top-notch computer role-playing games. Our most recent taste of their talent was the latest build of the highly anticipated expansion pack, Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark. It's obvious that with Neverwinter Nights, Bioware has set some serious standards in the RPG world. That said, we can safely confirm Lucas Arts made the right decision to employ an experienced development team such as Bioware. Finally, PC gamers can enjoy the very first single-player RPG set in the legendary Star Wars universe.
Content wise, Bioware and Lucas Arts made it certain that the PC port will hold true to the Xbox version, offering gamers just about the same experience with a few different touches here and there. The story, of course, also stays equal to the console version; this means that the game follows a specific period in the Star Wars timeline, set 4,000 years before Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope. It's the Golden Age of the Republic and the great Sith War threatens the balance of the entire galaxy, as thousands of Sith and Jedi continue to fight in a long, drawn-out war. The Jedi order and the Republic are still recovering from the Mandalorian Wars and this Sith uprising isn't helping any as Jedi after Jedi fall dead or join the dark side. Two Sith masters, the deceased Darth Revan and his apprentice Darth Malak, who were once benevolent Jedi themselves, now seek to destroy the Republic and establish a galaxy under Sith dominance. The story starts 'in medias res', with a battle aboard a starship and you play a force-sensitive character shrouded in mystery. The narrative carries all the necessary ingredients that make a Star Wars game tick - a well-balanced plot full of unforeseen twists and turns, an epic scope present almost throughout the entire game, and an occasional dose of good old Lucas style hilarity.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is having the opportunity to play things your way. At any time, gamers may overstep their bounds, so to speak, responding to events and characters how they wish. Each character that happens to join your party contributes to the plot in one way or another. Besides helping you in combat, party members will often be in need of companionship. Conversing with your companions uncovers deep personal back-stories around each and every one of them, and your companions will often times converse amongst each other and develop their own ties. This will eventually help you realize their significance and the way they fit into the life and fate of the main character. Dialogues are understandably a very important part of the gameplay, especially when you chat with NPC's. In addition to revealing integral storyline tidbits, the course of a conversation greatly influences your tendencies towards the Light Side or Dark Side of the Force. You can respond with haste and anger or with a cool head and reason, the whole thing is really up to you.
Class choice is somewhat different in this game. There are only ever three options to start with fulfilling the very basic roles in an RPG. When you start the game you have the choice of Scoundrel (Stealth), Explorer (Scout/Sniper) or Soldier (Warrior/Fighter). Later in the game you get to make the choice of your Jedi class, which include Guardian (Lightsaber skills, few Force powers), Consular (Weak with the lightsaber, but a master in the force) or a Sentinel (A combination of both Lightsaber skills and Force Powers). These choices change gameplay dramatically, with the want to play through again as a different class somewhat overbearing.
In many ways, Knights of the Old Republic steers clear from conventional gaming. Also, many different aspects separate it from the traditional RPG lore. To begin with, it bears the great legacy of Star Wars which opens up an entirely new plane of miscellaneous innovative RPG elements such as unique skills, an incredible amount of useful items and weaponry, and, of course, the exploit of Force abilities. Completing quests, for example, is another interesting part of the whole experience. Certain tasks can bring you and your party to good fortune if they are accomplished diplomatically and without any unnecessary loss of life. If missions and side-quests are carried out in such manner, your characters will automatically gain Lights Side points. Contrary to this, players are always able to opt for the Dark path, solving problems via hatred, anger, aggression, intimidation, and other wicked approaches.
As one would assume, the Force is the key motif in the game, carefully incorporated in almost every component of the gameplay - the plotline, character leveling, combat, et cetera. Understandably, the clearest manifestation of the Force is demonstrated by the use of Force powers. Although they are not available until a ways into the game, they do play an extremely important role later on. The way in which players decide to handle quests, dialogue, and combat, determines which force powers and aptitudes they are best suited for. If you're a good guy, you are awarded with Light points and Light force powers will be easily accessible, whereas if your character leans toward evil, Dark force powers will be easier to gain, although this isn't to say that a light side Jedi can't smite his enemies with the occasional force lightning, it simply costs more. Without simply naming all these powers, it would be sufficient to mention that they can all be put to some use and could help you gain the upper hand in any battle situation. Earning force abilities and perfecting them is where the challenge lies. Of course, there's also different Jedi class types as well, depending what Jedi skills the player wants to focus on, either force usage or lightsaber skills.
Whichever way you look at it, Knights of the Old Republic delivers what it's supposed to and more (This game is better than sex - Smap). Actions and basic character movement are very easy to master. Everything is in real-time, but actions can be paused to allow for a more elaborate approach in battle tactics. There are three main things you find yourself using every step of the way: the intuitive camera, the clear-cut inventory, and the practical interface. Herein lays the first obvious distinction between the Xbox and PC versions. The entire system was effectively balanced and optimized to work better with the standard PC controls. Cycling through a wide variety of items and weapons can either be done via shortcut keys or by clicking on icons within the main GUI. When it comes to controls, the brilliant innovation is that players can complete the whole game by using the mouse without so much as touching the keyboard. Of course, players can also play the entire game without a mouse, although you can always combine the two together. In both cases, everything appears to be in order. The control system is very well designed and flows smoothly.
So, with all these advantages, what's the game all about? Well, basically, it's about collecting bounties, fighting in lightsaber duels, using force powers, becoming a Jedi or a Sith Lord, flying across the galaxy, trading and fiddling around with various items, and gaining a bunch of skills and feats while you're at it. At some point in the game, you'll even be able to assist the local authorities on Dantooine in solving a rather perplexing murder case, for the game is just full of side quests. Often times, side quests push the story along and flesh out the characters more than anything else and completing them is certainly worth it. For people who have their hearts set on Star Wars goodies, the game has it all. For starters, there is an extensive range of species from Twi'leks, Wookies, and Rodians to Mandalorians and Cathars complete with different languages and such. The expanded universe is implemented very well; Bioware really dug deep into all of the little tidbits, which should delight the Star Wars fans. In addition to that, you are able to travel to many distant parts of the universe, visiting various planets such as Dantooine, Tatooine, the city world of Taris, and the water world of Manaan, each of which has its own problems that you can choose to solve apart from the main quest. One of the most praiseworthy Star Wars moments is the addition of the space ship, named Ebon Hawk, which stands as a novel variation of the Millennium Falcon. This ship is probably the most useful thing you come across during your entire adventure. With solid storage capacity, the Ebon Hawk is an excellent HQ from which you can assemble a party and commence your quests. But, more importantly, you are able to enjoy the marvels of space travel, going from planet to planet. Knights of the Old Republic also allows you to visit a small space station that was incorporated as an extra for the PC version. It's not much, but it's still a nice touch. As you can see, there are numerous features in the game that will keep things exciting for Star Wars devotees. But, it's safe to say that RPG fans and average gamers will also find something in it for themselves. Bioware managed to establish a particularly catching concept for a sci-fi journey, balancing the gameplay between three genres: action, adventure, and RPG. Thanks to that, players will never experience boredom. Extending the experience beyond the boundaries of classic RPG's, the developers also found the time to fit in a few so-called mini-games, which turned out to be a pleasant gameplay variant. Your character can do it all, whether you become a champion Pazaak player, and/or a galaxy wide known swoop racer. You are even called upon to man a turret against attacking ships (a la The Millennium Falcon vs. Tie Fighters in "A New Hope").
The development team also did a bang up job on the enemy AI. Even the most insignificant opponent can put up quite a fight, particularly when acting in coordination with other enemies. For the most part, the friendly AI is cooperative and smart enough during most of the game, allowing your companions to fend for themselves in the toughest battle situation. Teammates will often use force powers without being told to do so, of course, you can always switch to them in combat to deliver special orders. Pausing is also available in combat so that you can develop tactics such as having one character stand back with a blaster or another Jedi continually heal the party. Things aren't so honky dory when you have to rely on their individual pathfinding patterns however. Also, things become a bit messed up when NPC's get in the way and your companions have a hard time finding the quickest route to re-join the rest of the party. Although infrequent, this occurrence did make combat a bit less enjoyable.
In comparison to the Xbox version, Knights of the Old Republic doesn't exactly boast any exceptional visual enhancements. Some backgrounds and objects do suffer from insufficient textures. Still, things quickly improve once you notice how effectively the developers managed to fit first-rate character art and backdrop paintings into a fully rendered 3D environment. Looking at the horizon of Dantooine, for instance, really leaves a sense of depth thanks to a brilliant combination of sunlight and background art. Character animation and lip-synch is another distinguishing aspect of the game's visual appeal. Impressive choreography during lightsaber duels and even basic character movement should be enough to amaze even the strongest skeptic. When you pause the battle (freeze frame is more like it) you could just have fun by panning the camera around the action, taking the time to admire dazzling lighting effects, particle effects, and a vast array of detailed character models. Some of these visual techniques in Star Wars: KotOR often reminded us of those we witnessed in Neverwinter Nights. Regrettably, the game doesn't work as smoothly as expected. The frame-rate tends to get a bit choppy once you set the game to run in high resolution (1600*1200 or 1280x960). Another thing that got on my nerves was when the game suddenly booted back to Desktop. Thankfully, this was a rare occurrence.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has absolutely no flaw in sound design. The dialogues, for one, are performed by a professional cast, and clearly demonstrate some of the most enjoyable voice-overs we've ever heard in a game. There isn't a single character out there that could ruin the experience due to lousy acting or low-fi audio. Bioware also succeeded in incorporating all those familiar Star Wars noises produced by weapons, creatures, and characters; everything from a Wookie growl, to a lightsaber swing sounds wonderful. The game's soundtrack shines as one of Jeremy Soul's greatest achievements yet. Walking through the fields of Dantooine just listening to the music is a rewarding experience on its own. Each tune is completely new and sounds absolutely brilliant, while others were masterfully combined with popular themes from the movie saga (man, those John Williams tunes... they always do the trick).
Sadly, there's no multiplayer at all. The ability to take your Jedi online and go through some of the quests with other people would be great, but it would also be incredibly hard to work out as the game's combat system revolves around working together as a unit, something that's a lot easier in a single player situation with the ability to pause. It would also require Bioware to make a completely new quest and story, and that's a lot more work, so it is understandable why they did not include it, even if it is disappointing.
This is not just another run of the mill PC game coughed up by Lucas Arts to profit on the famed Star Wars franchise. A profound storyline, in-depth characterization and dialogue, tons of RPG elements to experiment with, so many side quests that you'd be hard pressed to complete them all and the ability to choose your own destiny and affiliation with the force, makes Knights of the Old Republic an exemplary new chapter of the Star Wars saga, as well as a grand single-player experience that can stand very well on its own. There's plenty to do in the game, most of which is simply impossible to experience the first time around, so it is likely you'll feel the need to come back to the game once you're done, and see how things would turn out if you've made different decisions, or if you wish to simply replay as a different Jedi type as before.
Bioware has released another opus of epic proportions, and a clear contender for RPG of the year, if not more. This game is like love.
The ultimate Star Wars single-player RPG, high replayability... something in it for everyone (better than sex - Smap);
Steep hardware requirements, occasional crashes, some pathfinding issues, but nothing too serious, lack of multiplayer.
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