8/1/2003 1:48:18 AM
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Xbox Review.
By Frank Rakaczewski
The time has come for everyone who has ever parried and thrusted with a flashlight like it was a sword.
The time has come for everyone who has ever waved their hands in front of someone trying to sway them with amazing powers of suggestion.
The time has come for everyone who has ever had their imagination swept away and held captive by fantastic stories of good and evil, heroes and dark lords, bounty hunters and epic space battles.
Finally. The wait is over. Bioware and LucasArts have created the sort of wish fulfillment that everyone who has ever enjoyed the "Star Wars" universe has waited for since the first time Obi Wan drew a lightsaber. For, while "Star Wars" has spawned a countless array of video games, "Knights of the Old Republic" breaks ground for one main reason: for the first time you donít feel like you are watching a Jedi Knight, you feel like you ARE a Jedi Knight.
Widely known for its highly successful "Baldurís Gate" series, Canadian developer Bioware has given the Xbox a game it sorely needed with "Knights of the Old Republic." The Xbox is not normally recognized for its collection of quality RPGís, but with last yearís "Morrowind" and now "Knights of the Old Republic," the Xbox is finally becoming a major system for role-playing fans.
When you fire up "KOTOR" you step into the shoes of a would-be Jedi in the midst of a galactic crisis thousands of years before the events in Episode I. The gameís system of character creation is nothing new, but that isnít necessarily a bad thing as it will seem familiar to anyone who has played a D&D-style RPG, with just enough added variety to keep it interesting and fresh. You have a list of skills and feats your character can purchase with points received from gaining levels, some of which are passive, such as the Armor proficiencies, and some of which are more active and combat oriented, like the Flurry and Lightsaber Throw abilities. Once youíve created your character and chosen his profession--scout, scoundrel or soldier--youíre immediately thrown into the chaos of battle. The game begins with an attack on the ship youíre on by the legions of the Sith, and this opening scenario serves as the gameís tutorial.
Though the gameís control scheme takes a little getting used to, the longer you play the more you appreciate the gameís many strong points. The voice acting is fine and the sound effects are finer (the various alien species you meet actually speak in their native tongue). The turn-based battle system lets you pick your actions and then watch them unfold through fluid character animations, a system that focuses the fighting on strategy and the use of your characterís statistics rather than simple hand-eye coordination. The amount of interaction available between the main character and various party members is also a high point, as most NPCs who join your party can send you on side quests depending on how much you talk to them. If you keep striking up conversation with Bastila, the Jedi Knight you must protect in the beginning of the game, youíll discover parts of her past from before when she underwent Jedi training and youíll end up helping her search for her fatherís body. This in turn leads into several other quests, should you decide to help her get in the goods with her family. And almost every character has background quests you can delve into, making your party members feel like real people and not just pretty cardboard cut-outs.
Yet the gameís greatest accomplishment is that at no time do you feel that you are just a patient observer, a witness to some grand adventure. The degree of control and input you have over your character always makes you feel that the adventure is happening to you. Sure, you can choose the good path and try to deal peacefully with the Sand People on Tatooine, but you donít have to. Then again, if you go in with guns and lightsabers blazing, be prepared for a long and difficult fight. You can choose to fight with blasters, customize your own lightsaber, or use any number of different Star Wars weapons. With every decision you make, from the crucial (should you talk to the off-duty soldiers for the vital information, or just Force Choke them to death) to the most trivial (do you offer to help the local merchant being harassed by bounty hunters or tell him to jump in a Rancor pit), your position with the Force changes. If you always play the role of the knight in shining armor, you gradually move towards the Light side of the Force. If you play the merciless tough guy, you move towards the Dark. The further you go down either path depends on what Force abilities you will gain access to. Want to be able to shoot Force Lightning? Just act like a jerk to everyone you meet and make sure to kill everyone you can.
"KOTOR" also has a variety of mini-games to keep gameplay from stagnating. Bored with cutting enemy Sith to bits? Try your hand at cards. Tired of trying to find a specific character? Rev up a swoop bike and go for a race. The game even shifts into a first-person view for some shooter-style gameplay, courtesy of the gun turrets on your ship. While you wonít find too much depth in these side games, they do provide a fun distraction and help drag you deeper into the gameís mythos.
After playing "KOTOR," you gain an appreciation of how much work went into the game and how truly expansive it is. With so many "Star Wars" games out there, youíd think it would be hard to expand upon the universe anymore, but thatís exactly what it does. Thatís not to say the game is perfect, as there are times when youíll be watching the gameís graphics and say to yourself, "My five year old sister could have animated that Bantha better." Likewise most of the score is no more than what youíd expect from any and all the "Star Wars" games out. Still, overall this is an RPG thatís really in a class of its own. And the best part? You donít even have to be a fan of the movies to sink your teeth into it. Its open-ended style and bottomless depth will make any sci-fi or RPG fan feel at home. It might even make you dust off your flashlight.
Graphics: 8.5: Not the most beautiful graphics to ever grace a platform, but when see how fluid a battle between your character and groups of dark Jedi moves, you might be tempted to think differently.
Sound: 8.5: The score is traditional "Star Wars" fare, but thatís what helps mold the unique experience, and personally I will never tire of listening to the various Hutt characters speak in their native languages.
Gameplay: 10: Some of the best in the genre. Familiar but with a style all its own.
Story: 10: Intriguing and powerful--you get trapped in it from beginning to end.
Replayability: 10: With so many different side quests and two different paths to follow, this game wonít get boring for a long time to come.
Overall: 9.5: One of best Star Wars games, if not RPGís, to come by in a long time.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Xbox Review.