Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Review by Jen
If ever there was the perfect "bridge" game for the
adventure gamer wanting to cross over to RPGs, this is it. Star
Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has a high questing-to-combat
ratio, doesn't require much in the way of reflexology, and is
adaptable to all manner of playing styles.
The premise is nothing special, just your typical save-the-galaxy
fare. You start off with what amounts to the battle tutorial,
in which you must escape a Republic spacecraft that has been boarded
by the opposing Sith over the planet Taris. Bastila, a Jedi shipmate
whose Battle Meditation ability will determine the outcome of
the [cue music: da-dah da-da-da-daaah-da] Star Wars, is captured
by these Sith. After you learn the controls (easy, and you don't
have to be very nimble-fingered as long as you know where to find
the "pause" button), you crash-land on Taris and wake
up in a strange apartment with a strange man in your room, the
rakishly handsome yet disarmingly humble Republic soldier Carth,
who becomes your first of nine possible party members. You set
out to free Bastila, who has been captured and taken to a different
part of the city.
As you progress, you will visit several other planets in the
galaxy, er, Galaxy with a capital G, I meant to say. It is the
individual stories on each of these planets that really shine,
as well as the character development. Your party members, in particular,
and many of the NPCs are fully fleshed out, living, breathing,
human beings (or not). Each planet has its own political system,
its own environment (although all are strangely Earth-like), and
its own indigenous species (although all are strangely humanoid).
The overarching story, as well, despite its trite underpinnings,
will keep you moving right along, and it delivers a couple of
Battling is a combination of real-time and turn-based, which
is to say that the D&D-style dice-roll fights play out automaticallyyou
can pause between each turn to choose a particular attack or item
if you like, but if you don't take any action, the battle will
continue to its conclusion without your input. In the first two-thirds
of the game, the usual turn-based strategies do matter a little
(on the easy setting); in the final third (except for the end
game) it was practically impossible to get killed. I'd just put
down the controller, get a drink or a snack or go potty or what
have you, and pick it up again once the fight was over.
Combat comes in three levels of difficulty: easy, normal, and
hard. And you can change your selection anytime during the game.
I started off with the "normal" setting and was doing
just fine, but the battles were too long and too repetitive, so
I switched it to "easy." (I'm a lover, not a fighter,
tee hee ... although sometimes there is something supremely satisfying
about kicking video butt.)
For the most part, combat really is an ancillary component of
the game. The only reason for it, I think, is to serve as a vessel
for delivery of experience points and items, and like as not to
extend the play timewithout the fighting, the game would
be considerably shorter. There is not an overabundance of battling
and, except in the areas populated by hostile wild creatures,
enemies once killed stay dead.
If you find the prospect of the typical RPG stats management
daunting, no worriesKOTOR gives you the option of
auto-leveling or selecting the areas where you want to focus your
abilities. I don't dig the D&D, daddy-o, so I opted for the
auto-leveling throughout the whole game.
There are quite a number of conundrums. Unlike most RPGs (at
least the few that I've played), in KOTOR your tasks are
not all fetch-and-deliver. There are actual puzzlessome
unique and some familiar. Unique ones include the numerous times
you must "spike" a computer and disable this or that
in a "dungeon;" the familiar includes a Towers of Hanoi
game and some number sequences (although among these latter were
a couple of sequences I'd not seen before).
It is obvious Knights of the Old Republic is a big-budget
game, and this munificence was extended to the hiring of voice
actors. Included in the closing credits were Ed Asner and Charity
James, although I must confess I did not recognize either of their
voices whilst I was playing. Music, too, is top-drawer, including
snatches of the original Star Wars movie music.
You can play either a male or female character, and you can play
evil or angelic or any degree in between. You get light points
or dark points depending on the moral choices you make in certain
situations. On the whole, the game plays out much the same no
matter what direction you take. There are different endings depending
on whether you embrace the dark or the light, and there are some
different weapons and armor usable only by one or the other. I
played as light; after a while I started wishing I had chosen
dark instead. Sometimes it's good to be bad. Besides, the dark
side gets better stuff.
I played the Xbox version. I've heard tell the PC version includes
some additional material. Although the game played nearly flawlessly,
I did hit one pretty big bug that entailed replaying an hour or
so of the game, after doing something slightly different near
the beginning of one of the dungeons (again, I use the word loosely;
there are no actual dungeons in KOTOR).
Party members include three other Jedi, one of them being that
snot Bastila (ooh, how I wished I could've reached into my TV
and fattened her lip once or twice); a couple of robots, er, droids,
I mean; a mercenary; that damned goody two-shoes Republic soldier
Carth; and a big ol' hairy Wookie and his interspecies gal pal,
a perky Twi'lek named Mission ("Twi'lek" means "Two
Blue Snake Butts Growing out of Your Blue Head," I think).
Most of them are weak. I wound up choosing the same two for almost
every outing, that bitch Bastila and my favorite bad-ass humanoid
droid, the stylishly metallic HK-47. Sometimes I was forced to
do a mission by myself, and sometimes I could not choose these
two characters (your party has a three-character maximum) for
whatever reason and had to use a lesser character. Like that damned
Carth. Actually, that damned Carth was a halfway decent buttkicker.
I just did not like him much. No sirree Bob, not much at all.
All characters level up at the same rate, so even if you leave
some behind on nearly every mission, when you do need them, their
stats are there for you. The weak ones are still weak, though,
so I guess all things are relative. I think part of the problem
was that I put all of my weapon and armor upgrades into the characters
that I used the most and then had nothing left over for the rest
of 'em. I suppose I could've taken stuff back from the strong
guys and given it to the weak guys to make them the new strong
guys, but hey, I am always one to take the easy (read: lazy) choice.
It comes with the Fat Chick territory.
Now for the bad stuff: the turret. The turret is the only negative
thing I can come up with. Several times, you must man the despicable
turret and shoot at enemy spacecraft. Even this would not be such
a bad thing if it were not for the reverse controls. Whoever thunk
up reverse controls ought to be strapped to a chair and forced
to actually play something with said reverse controls. For those
of you who have never been blessed with this curse, "reverse
controls" means simply that you move the joystick up and
your gun or what have you moves down. It doesn't sound very hard,
and it probably isn't for most people, but that is one dichotomy
my brain simply cannot accept. Anyway, while I did survive all
of the turret-manning (the time limits are exceedingly generous),
it was the one part of KOTOR that was not fun for me. I
loathed the turret with every fiber of my being.
There are two or three other minigames in addition to the turret,
but the rest of them are optional. In fact, I don't think you
ever have to play the card game, Pazaak. You do have to play a
racing game one time, but that first time there is a huge advantage
built into the game and you'd be hard put to lose. There is also
a boxing-ring type game near the beginning. You can win or lose
money by playing any of these minigames, or you can skip them
altogether, like me.
Knights of the Old Republic is fast-paced, linear, and
consistently entertaining, and the goals are always clear. There
are not very many side quests. I did almost all of them and the
whole game still took me only around 50 hours, short by RPG standards.
That suits me just fine, though, since that's about the longest
I can maintain an interest in any one game.
I haven't played a game this long that was this much solid fun
all the way through since Anachronox,
and KOTOR is a helluva lot less buggy. I was sorry
to finish Knights of the Old Republic, and I am pleased
to give it our Gold Star with no reservations whatsoever. This
was a nearly perfect gaming experience, at least by my standards.
Release Date: November 2003 (PC); July 2003 (Xbox)
Four Fat Chicks Links
100% DirectX 9.0b compatible computer
Intel PIII 1 GHz or AMD Athlon 1 GHz (1.6 GHz recommended)
128 MB RAM (Win98), 256 MB RAM (WinME/2000/XP) (512 MB recommended)
32 MB OpenGL 1.4 compatible PCI or AGP 3D hardware accelerator
with hardware transform and lighting (T&L) capability (ATI
Radeon 9200 or better, NVidia GeForce4 Ti or better recommended)
100% DirectX 9.0b compatible audio device
4X CD-ROM drive
Keyboard and mouse
DirectX 9.0b (included)
4 GB free hard drive space
Where to Find It
PC 39.90; Xbox 46.90
Prices/links current as of 02/03/04
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