August 28, 2004

Gaming Spotlight: Knights of the Old Republic

A cool new combat system, well done voiceovers, and more force powers than you can shake a lightsaber at are what you will find in last year’s stand-out Starwars game, Knights of the Old Republic. This game is different from any other Starwars game you’ve ever played for a few reasons, not the least of which is this game is very good.

Knights starts you off by making you customize your own character from three classes, two genders, and about a dozen face types, so the game looks very different if you choose to play through a second time, which is recommended because the open ended story and many side quests guarantee that you won’t see all this awesome game has to offer the first time around.
To begin we have the classes; scoundrel, soldier, and scout. Scoundrels are great at picking locks and reprogramming droids to help them in fights, while the soldier would rather hack through the door and do his own fighting. Scouts are a decent balance of the two extremes, strength and wit. Also whether you play as a male or female changes certain aspects of the game as people tend to react slightly different to your gender. The real fun of this game though is the open story. At literally dozens of times in the game you can do (or not do) things that change your force orientation, light or dark. For instance; early on you see a man being hassled by the local crime lord’s ‘tax collectors’. Do you fight them off, ignore them, or pay the man’s debt? Not only are there multiple choices, but the light choice is not always clear. At times you may want to replay an area or redo a conversation looking for the right, or depending on your desired ending, wrong result.
The story is pretty average for an RPG. There’s a big bad dude (Darth Malek) who is trying to take over the galaxy with his army of troops and dark Jedi (Sith) and a group of resistance fighters (The Republic) are trying to prevent this. The difference being that your choices in the game decide who ultimately wins

There are six planets to explore and with the exception of the first and last they can be played through in any order which means if you are having trouble winning a fight you can come back later after beating some easier opponents. The different planet types are impressive; they range from the double sun blasted deserts on Tatooine, to the lush forest floors of Kashyyyk, to the huge sky-scrapered city of Taris.
While this is an RPG by all standards, it is very different from any other game you have played before. For instance is the fact that while the combat is turn based, you can move around freely while fighting and control any character at any time during the fight, or let the computer handle all the characters. The fighting also looks good, with blaster fire ringing from side to side whilst melee-weapon wielding characters seem to feint and dodge as they try to batter through their opponents defenses. This however brings me to the game’s few shortcomings…

The game tends to have a frame-rate problem in big battles and any other time when there are a lot of people on screen, such as city crowds. Now I hear you say, “His hardware is old! He’s probably running an 850 processor with a 16Mb video card.”
Ah yes, I readily admit my computer is not top notch. However I would think that 756Mb of DDR Ram, a 2.4Ghz AMD processor, and a 64Mb GeForce 4 video card should be sufficient to run it in the lowest graphical settings. That’s not to say its unplayable. Since it is an RPG, the times when it does slow down don’t really matter. And the game itself is pretty to look at, especially if you knock the detail settings up into high-gear. Only a few minor graphical problems mar an otherwise good-looking game, such as about 79 people in the game all have the same face, or the very ugly, pixely faces on a few NPCs.

There are three mini-games when you want a break from the story, all of them can be quite enjoyable depending on your preferences. Personally I liked the card game Pazaak and the swoop-racing segments much better than the turret manning. But the turret can be fun, and it’s always a challenge. After all, how many games kill you if you lose a mini-game? Pazaak is pretty much Blackjack except you can play cards from a four-card hand to increase or decrease your total. The races are your typical run-over-as-many-accelerator-pads-as-possible fare, but are surprisingly fun considering their repetitiveness. Also interesting are the mini-stories that develop as you talk to your party members, (if you choose to do so) and even possible romances depending on your character’s gender and style of play.

Overall, if you are a fan of Starwars or RPGs you may want to pick this one up. And if you like both, stop reading this now and run to your nearest computer-gaming store and buy it. No, really, go! Why are you still here? GO!


FINAL RANKINGS

Graphics get a B+. I would rank it higher but the slow frame rate (really my only complaint) takes it down a notch.

Sound gets an A. While your main character never speaks, voice-overs for all of the other main characters are well done, and most NPCs have at least one or two spoken lines. The mix of new songs with classic John Williams fare is a well done backdrop.

Control gets an A-. While you don’t have action game type controls, you still dictate ‘what happens when’ most of the time. And since the camera is attached to the mouse, visibility is never a problem. Also nice is the ability to pause the game at any time to issue orders without fear of missing something in the flurry.

Gameplay gets an A. While not normal by any standards, this game is simply fun to play. Unless of course you happen to hate RPGs and Starwars…in which case you probably aren’t reading this review.

Value gets an A+. While this isn’t Final Fantasy for length and depth, it will still take you a good 35-45 hours to finish. And since it has two distinct endings, it is quite possible you will want to play it through multiple times.

Overall rank is a very solid A. While it’s not the best game ever, it probably is the best Lucasarts has ever published, and one Star Wars fans can be proud of.

See more 2003's Game of the Year at the Knights of the Old Republic Official Site.

(Special thanks to my buddy Josiah for writing this review!)

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