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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Bioware
Media: CD/4
Players: 1
Genre: RPG


Graphics & Sound:

Bioware's latest RPG, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, has made quite a splash this past year. First coming out for the Xbox and then recently for the PC, it has won any number of awards from various websites and magazines. It was nice to see at least one good Star Wars game this year, after the disappointing Jedi Academy and Star Wars Galaxies. While it has it's flaws, KOTOR is one of the best Star Wars games to come out in years.

While the graphics of KOTOR are anything but poor, they are probably this game's weakest department. With some beautiful scenery and fantastic battle animations, the environments and animation are KOTOR's strongest area. The game's biggest problems lie in its cutscenes and pre-rendered FMVs. The way some of the NPC's look and move during cutscenes is just grating. Also, while the content and animation of the FMVs is excellent, they play in an extremely low resolution, and it shows. I can only assume they run at a low resolution because they were first designed to play on a TV screen. It would have been nice to see them redone for a slightly higher resolution computer monitor.

As befits a true Star Wars game, the audio in KOTOR is top notch. All the trademark sound effects are in there; the blasters, the droid beeps, speeders, light sabers, you name it. Toss in the fact that every bit of dialogue in the game is spoken, and with some very excellent voice acting, and you have a game that just sounds incredible. I'm told most of the alien languages are also dead on, though I have a problem with the way most of the Twi'leks talk. It's just flat out irritating as hell.


Gameplay:

One of the most refreshing aspects of Knights of the Old Republic is that it doesn't take place in the same old time frame as 99 percent of Star Wars games. Rather than being in a period associated with the rise and fall of the Empire, or the New Republic, KOTOR takes place 4,000 years before the trials of our familiar Star Wars heroes. It is a few years after the Republic defeated the Mandolorains in the Mandolorian War. Weakened by the conflict, the Republic really wasn't prepared when the Jedi Revan and Malak returned from the war as Sith Lords, with a veritable armada of warships and troops. In KOTOR, you play the role of a young Republic soldier who finds himself thrust into the center of the conflict.

For those of you concerned about KOTOR being a port of a console game, you don't need to worry. Even though KOTOR was originally for the Xbox, the game's mechanics and gameplay are far more reminiscent of PC RPGs. This is hardly surprising as Bioware has really only made PC products so far, being the studio responsible for Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights.

KOTOR's gameplay is based on the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars D20 game system. If you aren't a hardcore tabletop RPG fan, I know I'm not, don't let that scare you. Bioware has worked hard to make sure the game is easily accessible for even the most casual of Star Wars fans or gamers. You acquire experience as you explore the world and engage in activities like fighting, adjudicating personal conflicts and hacking into computers and droids. As you raise your levels, you increase your skills in things such as stealth, droid repair, and security hacking. You will also acquire 'feats' which will increase your power in various aspects of combat. Jedi characters will also gain access to different force powers.

A very diverse group of people and droids will join you during the course of game, around ten companions in all. Only three of these will be actively controlled by you at any one time, but you can switch out party members in most areas of the game. Characters also acquire experience, even if they aren't in the active party, so you can focus on having the best folks for the job with you at all times. One of my personal favorites is the protocol droid who exhibits homicidal tendencies. Whenever he talks, it's just downright hilarious.


Difficulty:

I wouldn't call Knights of the Old Republic a very difficult game, but some of the battles can be pretty tricky. Figuring out where you need to go and who you need to talk to is rarely a serious problem in KOTOR. As long as you talk to people and listen carefully to what they say, your objectives should remain pretty clear. The addition of a quest journal that records your progress for various missions makes it a non-issue, except maybe for quests that center on trying to find things or people that are purposefully well hidden.

Combat, on the other hand, can be a very complicated, and frequently cumbersome, matter. Combat happens in 'real time,' though if you look under the hood, it's clearly a turn based system. You can pause combat at any time to issue various commands to any or all of your three party members. You usually won't need to do this; your characters generally fend for themselves pretty well. However, during battles with large groups of difficult enemies, you will be pausing and unpausing every few seconds or so. I generally find this process rather frustrating, especially when I clearly click on attack and the character insists on standing there for ten seconds for no clear reason.


Game Mechanics:

While the overall progression of the main storyline tends to be fairly linear, the method by which you travel this road is about as open-ended as you can get. Very few situations only have one solution, with many having up to three. Just about every one of your decisions will affect how a person reacts to you later, or how a situation plays out. As is the case with just about any modern Star Wars game that focuses on a Jedi character, you can fall from grace and succumb to the dark side of the force. With the multitude of force powers, swaying between dark and light sides of the force, and the fact that you are leveling up a non-Jedi class for quite awhile before becoming a Jedi, Knights of the Old Republic allows you to make the most unique Jedi characters seen in a Star Wars game to date; that includes Star Wars Galaxies.

Here's a rather interesting little bug/glitch/quirk unique to the PC version of KOTOR. Whenever you try to run within a few seconds of saving your game, you'll kinda warp forward a few hundred feet as if you were running really, really fast. Now maybe this is just a side effect of running the game on a slower processor, but it was odd to say the least. Another little issue, I had a tiny problem with was the fact that your own party members can box you into a corner. You can switch between your characters and move them out of the way, but it's still pretty annoying.

I don't think Bioware could have done much better than what they produced in Knights of the Old Republic. The transfer to PC also seems to have gone very well. This shouldn't be surprising as these guys have been creating top notch games for the PC for quite awhile now. I've heard that the game can have some performance issues, but I can't really say anything in this regard since my computer isn't quite up to specs. However, the game is perfectly playable on a system 300mhz below the minimum requirements, assuming you exceed some of the other specifications. Some of the battles get kinda choppy, but this is an RPG, so it's no big deal. Swoop bike racing is rather difficult though (sob).


-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

Minimum System Requirements:



DirectX 9.0b, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Intel PIII 1GHz or Athlon 1 GHz, 128 RAM for Win98, 256 RAM for Win(ME/2000/XP), 32 MB GeForceIII or better
 

Test System:



PIII 700MHz, 448 RAM, 32 MB GeForce4 MX 420

Sony PlayStation 2 King of Fighters 2000/2001 Sega Dreamcast NBA 2K1

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated