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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

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


Graphics & Sound:

Bioware has long been known for producing some of the best RPGs this side of the Pacific Ocean. So, it should come as no surprise that Lucasarts turned to them in order to produce the world's first single-player Star Wars RPG, a task in which they have exceeded all expectations. Combining open-ended gameplay, along with an excellent plot, and a cast of likeable characters, Knights of the Old Republic is not only one of the best games to be released this year, but already has GOTY contention written all over it.

Visually, KOTOR is like a trip to the Mos Eisely cantina. You'll see the good, the bad and the just plain ugly all in one place. Some aspects of the game are handled really well, such as the top-notch character animations and excellent reflections off metal and slimy skinned aliens. Many of the game's environments also look good and fit within the look of most other Star Wars environments. Tatoonie looks exactly how it's always been portrayed in the movies and the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk looks just as lush (and dangerous) as it has been described in the books. However, for every good there is something bad to balance it out. Player models are lacking at times and a number of NPC models share the same 5-6 head models. This is a small thing, but it's odd to see the same old guy five times in one area on three different planets. I also would have liked a little more diversity in terms of my player's look. Throughout the game, you'll find different pieces of armor for your character, which will alter his/her appearance (as well as the appearance of your party). Despite this, there really isn't enough variety between the pieces, especially when it comes to Jedi robes since they all seem to be palette-swapped versions of the same basic model. Allowing the player access to some of the cooler armors (such as the Republic Soldier and Dark Jedi hooded robes) would have been a nice addition. Thankfully, the game does support Downloadable Content, so new armor is only a month or two away. Framerate is probably the worst part of the entire game. Slowdown and skips are frequent, usually during combat when several objects are on the screen at once. Overall, the game looks great -- but when you consider the high production values present in the rest of the game, it's hard to not get aggravated by the little things.

When it comes to audio, KOTOR is pure Star Wars. The all too familiar snap-hiss of lightsabers and the unforgettable Star Wars theme music are all present, along with all the wookie grunts, astromech bleeps and laser fire your heart can handle. KOTOR also deserves credit for bringing a slew of new elements into the fold as well. Not only does KOTOR hold the distinction of being the first Star Wars game since Shadows of the Empire to feature brand new music, but it also introduces Ed Asner to the Star Wars universe. Voice acting is excellent and goes beyond the call of duty. Instead of pulling a cop-out and limiting character interaction to simple text, the sound department actually recorded dialog for every race in their own languages -- adding a real bit of flair to the game. The professional cast also adds a lot to the game's emotional pull. One piece of dialog was so convincing that it made me regret my actions and turn away from the dark side. This is a quality rare in a game. KOTOR also features the most voice work ever seen in a game, so much in fact that you may have to play the game 3-4 times just to hear it all. Something you just might do once you get your mind around the scope of the game.


Gameplay:

Knights of the Old Republic takes place four thousand years before the events in Episode I, during the darkest time in the Republic's history (at least before the birth of the Empire). The game's backstory builds in the aftermath of the Republic's war with the Mandalorians. During the wars, two Jedi -- Malak and Reven -- decided to defy the Council's wishes to stay neutral in the conflict and enter the war. After delivering a crushing defeat, the two Jedi disappeared with their Republic fleet only to return years later with an even bigger fleet and a dark desire to destroy the Republic and the Jedi. KOTOR injects you into the middle of this conflict as you fight to save the Republic, or rule it yourself.

Where you go from here is totally up to you.

As it is with most Bioware RPGs, KOTOR manages to combine the deep intricacies of a Final Fantasy storyline with the open-ended feel of Morrowind. The sheer number of choices and paths the game offers are enough to keep you playing the game for quite some time. You begin by choosing one of three classes -- Soldier, Scoundrel or Scout -- and from there build your character to meet your particular playing style. By choosing where you want to place your skill points and which ones you want to learn (stealth, repair, computer, persuasion, etc.) you can make nearly any character you want, from a dual-blaster wielding hotshot to a quick hacker. Based on your character's skills, or your playing style, you can find multiple ways to tackle problems.

Eventually you'll discover your character has an affinity for the Force and train as a Jedi, opening up new paths as you either resist the temptations of the dark side, or succumb to them. You'll even have the opportunity to choose which Force skills you want to learn, which will also have an effect on gameplay and your playing style (for example, leaning to Influence Minds can have a great impact on character interactions and can lead to greater rewards).

During your adventure you'll meet nine companions that will aid you on your quest. Every character has an interesting story behind them and feel like a part of the game. Each character has their own personalities and will endear themselves to different players. My personal favorite (and if forums are to be believed, the leading fan favorite) was HK-47, who can only be described as a homicidal C-3PO with more than a few loose screws. Each of your companions will also gain levels and skills, which you can either define yourself or allow the computer to auto-level. The power is in your hands.


Difficulty:

Knights of the Old Republic is what you make of it. Depending on how the game is played it can either be an incredibly challenging experience, or a cakewalk. For example, you can explore the alternatives to fighting or enter aggressive negotiations with everyone you meet. The trick to the game is remembering that everything you do will have consequences down the road. Killing someone earlier in the game may seem like a good solution, but it my bite you in the ass later on. The same goes for the way you treat people or how you choose to handle certain problems in the game. Using Bioware's own example, in one mission you have to get rid of a giant fish that is causing problems for a group mining for a key element in medpacs. You can choose to destroy the ore harvester, scaring away the fish but ending mining operations, or you can release a poison in the water and kill the fish, allowing operations to continue. However, if you choose to do this, the number of medpacs will decrease in both effectiveness and quantity due to ecological effects of the poison. All of the decisions you'll have to make in KOTOR are not as clear cut either, since sometimes the best of intentions can be the first step towards the worst results.

Game Mechanics:

Combat in Knights of the Old Republic is dynamic and, if the images on the screen are to be believed, amazingly complicated to pull off in the game. As you confront enemies in the game, you'll see characters fire away with blasters, throw grenades, dodge and duck all over the place and take part in finely choreographed sword duels. Characters will feint attacks, block blaster shots (if equipped with a lightsaber) and use Force powers like lighting and Force pushes. In reality, every swing of a lightsaber or shot from a blaster is nothing more than a series of behind-the-scenes dice roles and stat checks, such as in Bioware's Dungeons and Dragons inspired games. The mechanics behind it all are actually quite simple -- at least for people who have the word 'THACO' in their working vocabulary. You're character's 'to hit' rating is based on various stats, such as weapons, class and level. Combat is broken up into several rounds, but still kept in real-time (meaning you won't pause every move like in turn-based RPGS unless you choose to). Before each swing an imaginary 20 sided dice is rolled and then compared to your target's defense rating. If the role is greater than the defense rating, then damage is done. This method is used for determining the effectiveness of Force abilities, combat Feats (special moves your character can pull off) and the use of items.

Don't let all this talk of stat checking and dice rolling scare you away since all of this is handled behind the scenes. The combat interface is very easy to learn and can lead to some exciting battles. Before combat starts, the game pauses and allows you to choose your target by pressing the left and right trigger buttons. You then select your actions on a small grid on the left side of the screen. Pressing left and right on the D-pad enables you to scroll between various Feats, Force abilities, items and weapons (such as mines and grenades). Depending on how many of each you've learned, you can choose between sub-sets (such as a particular type of grenade or ability) by pressing up and down. Pressing the X button allows you to cue up to three actions. You can also do this for all of your party members as well. After selecting your actions, the game goes into combat mode and all those dice rolls. During combat you can choose to either pause everything to give out new orders, or you can give out orders in real-time. Though it may seem complicated and boring on paper, it's actually rather deep and exciting in practice.

Other than combat and dialog, which are the main thrust of the game, you'll also discover other activities in the game, depending on your character's skills. Characters will be able to hack into base main frames and cause all kinds of problems for its occupants (such as setting off alarms and security systems) as well as repairing droids to do your dirty work. Character interaction is also a major part of the game. Depending on how close you get to certain party members, side quests will unlock. You can also develop a close relationship with a certain party member (who the member is depends on your character's sex), which plays a role in the game's plot and opens up a different path.

Honestly, I could go on forever about the things you can do in the game - it's just that broad in scope. You know you have a good game if right after you complete it you want to play again. The number of possibilities presented in KOTOR will have you planning your next game before you're even halfway through your first time.

In the end, KOTOR provides a Star Wars adventure that not only lives up to the Star Wars name, but is able to do it better than any of the recent movies. Whether you're an RPG fan or not, and regardless of your feelings toward Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic is a must play game.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Microsoft Xbox (Star Wars) Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast Microsoft Xbox Ultimate Fighting Championship Tapout 2

 
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