Review by Jihad
"Another lazy masterpiece"
For the mountains of glowing praise that have met Bioware's role playing game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it is a pretty crappy game. Now, notice the qualifier. KOTOR (KOH-tore), as millions of fans refer to it, is a good piece of softwareone of the most gripping in recent memorybut it is possesses neither the polish nor the sophistication nor the ambition of similar Game of the Year contenders.
The Star Wars license comes with much baggage, and there are both wonderful games that utilize George Lucas' creations in thrilling ways and mediocre games slapped with an obligatory, hollow Star Wars finish. KOTOR is a frothy mix of the former and the latter; many elements are painfully average, but Bioware has a knack for knowing which things need to be done just right in a Star Wars environment. The rest well, you'll just have to put up with the rest.
With the first five to ten hours serving as a comprehensive blow by blow of all the rest that KOTOR has to offer, there is a good slog until things pick up. So let's cue the rolling yellow text and get this over with!
The adventure opens 4000 years before the time of Luke Skywalker in the midst of a fierce Sith attack on the Endar Spire, a ship you happen to inhabit. After a brief escape from the Spire that serves as a tutorial, you end up on the planet Taris with hardened war veteran Carth Onasi. He gives you 411. The Sith, evil archrivals of the Jedi and the Republic, are after Bastila, a powerful Jedi aboard the Endar Spire. She crash-landed on Taris, probably in the dangerous Underworld, and you've got to find her before the Sith Lord Malak and his cronies do.
Carth's dialogue and voice acting are both top notch, in keeping with rest of KOTOR's motley crew, but he why is he so stiff and jagged? And why do his lips make absolutely no attempt to match what he's saying? And why are there disorienting jump cuts where Carth's head inexplicably shifts from the left to the right side of the screen? And why is Carth's armor glinting like mad? Bioware must have been very proud of a certain lighting effect that makes objects shimmer and shine, because they use it all the damn timecharacters in dank bars have foreheads that reflect light like a piece of metal in the desert sun. This is nothing heinously bad, but KOTOR clearly lacks the polish (unless you count those glowing foreheads) of most AAA titles.
With that info, and perhaps a sad weight upon your breast as you start realizing this game isn't what it was cracked up to be, it's time to roam the streets of Taris, track down Bastila, and get a better idea of what KOTOR is all about. Everything appears to be in working order. The various menu layouts are moderately streamlined but fairly ugly, sometimes a little difficult to wade through; most in-game actions are handled with a simple, functional menu in the bottom left corner; Taris is a series of bland silver walkways, an attempt at a sprawling metropolis that falls somewhat short; conversation takes place via multiple choice dialog boxes, whichoh no, there's a goon looking for a fight!
I equip a pistol and press the attack button, but nothing happens immediately. Then, two seconds later, I let loose with a single shot. Direct hit! Then another two-second pause, and the goon shoots. *Pause* Now Carth shoots. *Pause* Goon shoots. *Pause* I shoot. *Pause* Carth shoots, and the goon falls dead. With the weak character animation, generic thugs, and nondescript environments Taris has to offer, things can get boring pretty fast.
Despite the above description sounding very much like a turn based role-playing game, KOTOR claims and tries to be an action RPG. It's based on the dice mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons, so the effects of attacks and defensive measures are all predetermined by a character's stats and numbers on the invisible dice lurking somewhere behind the scenes, but the action unfolds in real time. Presumably this was to increase the feeling of action and cinematic flair in combat, but the execution is questionable.
Sadly, KOTOR often defeats itself as a supposed real time action RPG. The friendly AIyou'll mostly be adventuring with a party of three, but can only control one character at a time in combatis too dumb to handle intense battles. You will be in the midst of many a confrontation where you are doing fine, but your two buddies are fading at an alarming rate; and thus, you are forced to pause the game every few turns, queue up a few actions for the two numbskulls, and repeat as necessary. Sloppy action or clunky turn based strategy, take your pick.
Not atrocious by any means, just a flawed, middle-of-the-road game hardly deserving of masterpiece status. Things begin to look dire as you get generic wristbands and purple vests with names like Echani Dueling Shield and Davik's Mandalorian Battle Armor. Remember those mediocre games slapped with an obligatory, hollow Star Wars finish?
Taris is destroyed in a hail of Sith artillery. The CG scene chronicling its downfall isn't especially impressive, but this annihilation has wider implications. Suddenly, Knights of the Old Republic unleashes its sucker punch, the Star Wars trademark: The FORCE. Bioware may have skimped on many aspects of Star Wars, but they made sure to nail the coolest one. Suddenly, you're a Jedi, you have a spaceship, you have a lightsaber, and you have the Dark Side if you want it, that is.
Choose the Light Sidehelp the downtrodden, keep your word, and certainly never accept money as payment for your kind deeds.
Choose the Dark Sideslaughter the innocents, bend the minds of the weak to your will, forge an empire of iron and blood.
Although the dialog system makes casual conversation feel too much like a constant multiple choice test, it is perfect for the Light Side/Dark side conflict that permeates every aspect of KOTOR, impacting the fate of several planets and ultimately the very galaxy! The choice between good and evil was present on Taris, but it becomes much more interesting and fleshed out as the game unfurls. The numerous shades of gray involved make it truly engrossing: you can live the Dark Side as a haughty Sith Lord, a fearsome bruiser, or simply a conniving bastard.
With this new dynamic, the story perks up significantly, hurtling your quickly growing gang across the galaxy on missions of great importance and sidequests of great enjoyment. The voice performances and dialog are consistently excellent, increasing the immersion even further. There are even a few attractive environmentsthe sprawling deserts of Tatooine, the towering monoliths of Korriban's tombs, and the unspoiled beaches of a mysterious planet are a sight for eyes made sore by hours of gray corridors.
The new Force filled antics perk up the combat as well with a complete, completely awesome array of powers. The closest thing to a lightsaber in KOTOR up to this point was something called a vibroblade, but no more of that nonsense! Now you can have a full-fledged lightsaber. Or two! And make them purple while you're at it! And do it all while charging into battle with Emperor-style lightning streaming from your fingertips. Of course, you'll be able to conjure fiendish tricks more easily if you've embraced the Dark Side, just as there are analogous Light Side abilities.
After a tough initial stretch, Knights really comes into its own. It has makings of an unforgettable journey, but don't think that all the problems scuttle away. Rather, the flaws blend in with the cool new stuff in a messy, thrilling brew. The good and the bad are superimposed, interweaved, each a significant part of the KOTOR experience. The Star Wars galaxy becomes a place teeming with life and adventure. The Force, the lightsaber duels, the temptations of the Dark Sidethis is all pretty invigorating stuff.
Knights of the Old Republic may not be the sleekest, prettiest ship in the docking bay, but it is amazingly enjoyable and frighteningly addictive. I see shortcomings in KOTOR every minute I spend with it, but my game clock still reads close to 70 hours. The immersive, fluid story and the fabulous use of the Star Wars license ensure epic replayablity. The Light Side triumphs over the dark, murky elements of evil yet again, even if it's not as decisive a victory as it could have been.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/04
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