The legendary movie saga Star Wars has had a legendary number of games attached to it; not all of them good? and some very bad. But every once in a while, a rare Star Wars game filled with originality, adventure, action, and an overall cinematic experience comes along. Before Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), the pickings for top quality Star Wars RPGs were well? slim to say the least. KOTOR brings to the Star Wars line-up of videogames an awesome and innovative RPG title. In KOTOR you play a Republic soldier who has lost his memory due to an attack on your spaceship, the Endar Spire. Throughout the game you have flashbacks to that fateful encounter; flashbacks that might even hold the key to your true identity. Along the way you will meet many characters that will aid you on your quest, from Jedi to Droids to Wookies. All in all the stage is set for an incredible Star Wars adventure.
The first level of isn’t that impressive graphically since you are basically inside a spaceship; but you get your obligatory, Star Wars beginning soon enough. Explosions galore welcome you warmly into the Lucas universe. All the bangs and lightsaber crashes look impressive, most impressive; and that’s what you always expect from Star Wars. However, don’t get too excited at first because there are no lightsabers for you yet. You start off with a common blaster or a sword – sigh. Don’t worry though, you’ll get your own lightsaber in due time?But I digress?
Once you get off the spaceship, the world of Taris is full of life: people walking in the streets, filling the area with bustles of activity. The sky glows with skyscrapers and spaceships. It is so very Star Wars but with some key differences (remember that you are in the Old Republic). The overall feel truly evokes the Old Republic comic book style, by mixing strangely archaic dress and architecture with smother sleeker technology.
The character design is equally impressive. Weapons and armor you and your party wear change each time you get new equipment. The variety of costumes, especially the armor, makes your avatar look different each time you play.
The creatures in every planet are well detailed and unique; and some of them simply amazing to look at (just wait until you see a Rancor). Not all them are terribly creative in terms of design but the graphics are up there with the best. NPC’s don’t look too impressive, but considering the amount of them you find in the game it’s understandable. When it comes to the environments, the game is much more varied. You get everything: from sewers, capital cities, lush landscapes, spaceships?everything Star Wars. All it’s missing is an ice world. The level of detail is so amazing that even the grass on the planets reacts to your passing. The water realm simply has to be seen to be believed.
All the explosions, particle effects and lighting, are as incredible as the environments. You can see things blow, and you’ll feel like ducking. When you fight with a lightsaber, the sparkles fly. Of course if you’d rather summon the spirit of the Emperor, the force lightning is simply stunning as well. This attention to detail adds to the cohesive feel of the game, and sets KOTOR apart from some of the more recent slipshod action RPGs.
Star Wars games (and the movies too) are known for their captivating sounds and scores. Blasters, swords, lightsabers and Force Powers? all of them buzz and whirr with an air of authenticity. Many of the sounds are loud. Explosions can make you jump in your seat. Although your main character is mute, the rest of the game is filled with witty, well-acted voice-overs. Even the alien creatures speak in their own language. Sometimes you will laugh when you hear them?but it is very Star Wars. Also, in a very star wars type of way, there are a surprising number of British accents, especially among the villains.
The music is sparse, but it does a good enough job of take you through the game. Like most quality game music, it doesn’t get in the way. The few instances where the score truly soars, (while not John Williams), are enough to stir emotions in even the most jaded sci-fi fans.
Of course no matter how pretty a game looks and sounds, in the end the true measure of a game is always in its play control. For all of you out there who hate the turn-based Final Fantasy type of fighting rejoice, because this time around the fights are mix of turn based and real time; and all of the fights are engaging and fun. Conversely, the turn based fans won’t be left throwing their controllers in frustration either. You control your avatar and your party during a fight. Before a fight starts, the game can be paused (not to the menu, though) and you get to pre-load up to four moves for each one in your party. There’s big strategy involved in this. Then the fight starts and you can sit back or you can interrupt as the situation warrants–although the pre-loaded moves disappear if you do this. At any time during the fight you can pause and pre-load some more moves to any character or all of them.
In addition to selecting moves, each character can equip a wide range of weapons and armor to help control combat situations. Each set of equipment has ratings in different categories, so you have to choose wisely: a mix of melee and ranged weapons are a must, not to mention the trademark thermal detonator for the harder fights. Armor gives you different resistances as well. You will have to constantly check your characters ratings and inventory; so a fight will not catch you off-guard. You can use health packs or any busters during the fight by pushing the icon of the health pack on the lower-right part of the screen, and it will be added to the pre-loaded actions (you can see it at the lower-center part of the screen).
The control scheme is very well done. Personally I always change the buttons to control the character in W, S, A, D (up, down, left, right) as opposed to the arrows. It is more intuitive, especially if you have played on consoles. There are buttons for every function; or you can choose to do some of them by clicking with the mouse arrow. For example: there’s a button to use a medpack or you can click the medpack icon with the mouse arrow. This mouse option proves to be indispensable in long pauses while queuing up for fights. The mouse arrow is als most of the interaction with your environment: talking, opening doors, picking fights.
Outside of battles KOTOR brings to Star Wars games the ability to choose with your actions, your tendency towards the Light or Dark Side of the Force. As you can imagine this gives you endless possibilities as to where your adventure will lead. You choose between three classes at the beginning; and your choice determines certain abilities; however, in practice choose the one you prefer as you can finish the game easily with any of the classes or Force Side tendency you choose to follow. There are countless character shaping decisions all the way to last part of the game, but there’s no wrong way of doing it. Be a hero or a villain, no problem. Let out some inner aggression torturing jedi, or save the universe in your free time. In KOTOR you will see where your true allegiances lie.
The ramifications of the intricate storyline – which has to be one of the best Star Wars stories ever (including the movies) – reveal themselves in dialogue. Whatever you say will take you to a different place in the story. Be careful what you choose, because you can certainly make your journey more difficult sometimes. There are more than enough twists and turns to keep your interest throughout the whole game; but I won’t spoil you with the juicy details. Just let yourself go with the flow and make your own choices.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a must for both Star Wars fans and fans of simply well-done games in general. There are loads of storylines, dialogue, and characterizations to appease the RPG lovers without sacrificing fun and action. You may just have to play this game over and over again; to see what happens when you follow a different course, and, believe me, you will not regret the repeat trips.
PC Stats: Windows XP, Pentium?4 2.60 GHz, 510 MB RAM, 128MB DDR ATI Radeon 9800(TM) video card with DirectX 9.0b, Creative SB Live!(TM) Series sound card, 80 Gb free disk space.