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SummaryBioware – you can only admire those clever wizards!
The GoodThe people at Bioware have to be true masters in the philosophical art, that is game-design. "Knights of the old Republic" is the most powerful proof therefore, the design of that game is so clever, so smart, it's hard to believe sometimes. One of the most impressing things about this Bioware-baby is actually, how versatile it is, how intelligent it serves the needs of many completely different types of game-consumers...
"Knights of the old Republic" certainly has more mainstream-appeal than all previous Bioware-releases. Remember only "Baldur's Gate". You had to know the quite complicated AD&D-rules-system to have a chance in that game, otherwise you would have been lost without hope. Even then, combat was everything but easy, challenging you to the max. That sure was fun for experienced RPG-players, but frustrating for others.
"Knights of the old Republic" is much more flexible, offering the player three different grades of difficulty. Furthermore, the experienced RPGer can manually determine for each character of the party, which of the numerous attributes, skills, feats and force powers should be further developed – while others simply let an automatic routine do the work. Same goes for inventory-management: the newbies can simply click on a button to dress up the best way possible, while others have room to experiment.
To be honest, the tactical depth of the fights is on neither of the three difficulty-grades as high, as it was in "Baldur's Gate". But more important is, that you always feel, the designers are in control of the difficulty: there is a noticeable learning curve and the game feels always well balanced – this is certainly not a matter of course in roleplaying these days! And I haven't even mentioned, how great those battles are presented. "Knights of the old Republic" uses the well proven "Infinity Engine", which means real-time-combat, that can be paused at any time, to give orders to your party. And watching those combat-scenes sure is a blast, as they manage to resemble the well known movie-scenes in quiet an astonishing way.
But combat is in my opinion not the only thing that makes role-playing interesting. The game also features a really interesting RPG-system with quite numerous possibilities to shape your main-character the way you want. Apart from violent skills you can also learn, for example, to hack into computers for shutting down the security-systems of enemy-bases. Or you can reach your goals by persuading people, instead of killing them. The best thing about the RPG-system is actually, that it reflects the moral choices, you make during the game. Followers of the dark side will develop entirely different force powers as servants of the light. Last but not least, the opportunity to upgrade your equipment is executed brilliantly and allows nice experimenting.
"Knights of the old Republic“ is one of the very rare games, that I truly hold in high regard and that at the same time sold really well. Of course it is likely, that the name "Star Wars" on the box has contributed a lot to the games commercial success – but I don't believe that to be the only reason. Equally important is in my eyes, that people with less time or will to dive deep into the material, are this time not excluded from the joy. And the game manages to stay interesting for the hardcore-fraction as well – I consider myself an experienced RPGer and I can tell you, I had a lot of fun!
Let's go further and reflect about the things, the presentation of a game is important for. I would say, the presentation of a game should create and by all means adhere to a specific illusion. In this case though, the presentation rather recreates a specific illusion – the illusion of the Star Wars movies. And "Knights of the old Republic" does even more: it enriches this illusion quite significant.
A good example is the soundtrack. We hear a lot of familiar themes while playing, as the brilliant score by John Williams is used to a great effect. But there's also a huge amount of original music featured, that hits the typical Star Wars style perfectly – like the beautiful theme, we get to hear on Dantooine. Sound effects also do a lot to enhance the atmosphere: from the buzzing of the lightsabers to the bleeping of the droids, everything is there.
The graphics are beautiful. The game uses a better version of the graphics-engine already seen in "Neverwinter Nights", which means 3D-environments instead of an isometric view. I remember being on Tatooine, that desert planet you know from a couple of movies, and I really had the feeling of entering the world of Star Wars. Landing on Tatooine, you actually arrive in a mining colony first. Building stands next to building, there is a feeling of narrowness somehow. But that's used to a great effect, when you finally leave the colony and enter the vastness of the desert, giving you a fantastic view. And there is an image, that will evoke familiar feelings in the minds of all Star Wars fans: a giant, heavily damaged sandcrawler, just like we witnessed it through the eyes of Luke Skywalker in the very first movie. That giant object in that flat, beautiful landscape serves not only as quite an impressing image, it also recreates the atmosphere of the movies by discreetly referring to them.
So, the images, the game creates, truly breathe the atmosphere of Star Wars. But it does more than only citing the movies. We also visit planets never seen in any cinema, the most impressing one probably being Rakatan. I really felt like walking through a piece of art, instead of just standing in front of it. (I only wished, the Neverwinter Nights engine would allow me more freedom of view, while exploring this wonderful landscapes...)
Of course, the game world is not only depicted through images. You can speak to many interesting characters, you can complete an enormous amount of non-obligatory side-quests, you can always stop and enjoy the many amazing details. The movies simply had no time to show their world in such detail, as they had only about two hours to tell their heroes-save-the-galaxy-tale.
"Knights of the old Republic“ truly outshines the movies when it comes to attention for details. Let's take the games characters for example. Bioware was always great, when it came to characterization – and this time they really outdid themselves. As the game takes place 4000 years before the events of the movies, you won't meet any characters you already know. And trust me: you won't miss them at all, as they will appear flat in comparison to the ones you get to know in this game.
Darth Malak is a great example for a very well conceived main villain. He's not just someone you kill in the end, he's a distinct and almost tragic personality. A character, that can remind you of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" sometimes, as he is indeed a very intelligent person, who became terribly misguided and now spreads tyranny over his world.
The most convincing characters are of course those, that follow you on your journey. They all come with their own background-stories and they talk a lot to you. I was really surprised, when Carth Onassi, a soldier for the Republic, suddenly suspected me of being a traitor. It really gave me the impression of dealing with a living, self-thinking individual – something I rarely felt within the boundaries of a video game.
Adding to that is an absolutely convincing cast of voice-actors, that truly suit their particular roles. Mimics and gestures were also stunningly naturalistic – gotta give credits to the animators. But the most important thing are the dialogues, which are written with perfect style. I found it a pleasant surprise that some great humorous attempts found their way into this overall quite serious game as well. Love that crazy droid HK-47! And really funny are the conversations with the Jawas on Tatooine: those little guys had very amusing ways of expressing themselves...
I still haven't lost one word about the main-story, yet. I haven't forgotten about that. I just wished to spare the best part for the very end of this section.
Well, you could certainly summarize, that you once again have to stop the evil plans of some evil guys. But that is not, what the story is really about. The real theme of the story is quite actually ethics. That theme is at the bottom of every little quest, it hides in nearly every dialogue and is the centre of every single of the countless little stories, the game tells within its big one.
I recommend, you also read the review by JazzOleg, as it is most interesting, what he wrote about the ethical conflict and the behind-standing philosophies, comparing the Jedi to Chinese monks. However, my own thoughts went into completely other directions, as I found it most surprising, that even your worst enemies, the Sith, follow their own moral code – something, the movies never told us.
You actually not only fight the Sith, you get to talk to them, as well. And in doing so, you will discover, that they are still human, that they have still feelings, after all. They are misguided. "Knights of the old Republic" strongly emphasizes on the fact, that everyone can fall to the dark side, every person has that potential. The Sith are often portrayed as extremely selfish, they are actually quite focused on their career. A lot of their thoughts circulate around intrigues, around ways to climb up the ladder in their hierarchy. It fits to their Darwin-like philosophy of a natural selection, where only the strongest survive. That philosophy – the fact, that there's always danger from the lower ranks – makes sure, that only the strongest stay in leading positions. And when only the strongest are in leading positions, it strengthens the Sith as a whole.
It is actually quite easy, to see some parallels to reality here. We live in an achievement-oriented society, that works in many ways quite similar. And I believe, our society also tends to teach young people, to care for themselves mainly. So, were the movies basically just a science-fiction-fairy-tale, you can easily establish a more down-to-earth-like view on "Knights of the old Republic" and actually see "the dark side" more or less as a metaphor for self-centered real-life-behaviour.
What I was often asking myself, while playing, is the following: is it possible, that a game with such a strong emphasis on moral decisions can also lead to reflections about your behaviour in real life? And when that is true, can such a game actually teach people something valuable – especially the younger ones? I'm not sure about that. But nevertheless – call me crazy, if you want – I really see some deeper value in "Knights of the old Republic". Even if it's just a Star Wars game, it definitely goes beyond pure entertainment.
The BadThere really isn't much to say in this section, at least nothing really important. But for the sake of completeness...
The role-playing-system is quite interesting and well executed, but not to be called perfect. There is a number of talents, that proofed to be rather useless. Why invest points into "security" (nothing but lock-picking), when you could easily bash everything open by using your weapons? Putting points into some passive force powers like "Force Immunity“ or "Force Energy Resistance“ was close to waste them, either.
I already mentioned, that the engine doesn't feed you with as much freedom in view, as I would have liked it. Also, the exploration of the planets was often restrained by rather ridiculous limitations. There you stand sometimes, having gained the maximum level in your "Force Jump“-ability, and a tiny little rock has the means of blocking your way. Very strange...
The Bottom LineYou might have already realized, that I'm extremely enthusiastic about this game. Normally, I don't use superlatives in such an inflationary way. But it just seems appropriate to me, when it comes to "Knights of the old Republic" - I simply call it a triumph for the video game industry.
You should really check this out, even if you don't like Star Wars. Even if you're completely new to the genre, this is no hindrance, as the game really takes not-so-experienced players by the hand. The only thing you should be sure of is, that you really have the time for this game, because it really is absorbing and once you're into it, it can be hard to find back into the real world.