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SummaryExcellent, if not juvenile
The GoodClearly SW:KOTOR is one of the best Star Wars games that have been recently released. One had to wonder whether LucasArts had lost their edge, respect, and credibility in game design…that is, until KOTOR hit. They were wise in privileging BioWare as the developers: BioWare is a highly talented design studio who (along with Black Isle) crafted the excellent Baldur's Gate, which this game seems to be heavily drawn from.
The best aspect of this game is the depth of the RPG system, seamlessly presented in an understandable, easy-to-pick-up format. Couple the game with its graphics that can be nothing short of amazing, and one can easily find the value in this title. Subquests are also varied (at one point, I was the lawyer and chief investigator in a murder case) and the minigames refreshing; minigame resembling pod-drag racing and futuristic intergalactic Blackjack fused with a bit of Magic: The Gathering.
Knights of the Old Republic also possesses a strong story that, while clichéd, is compelling and addictive; it will draw you in just as it had with me, complete with several good twists that will have you saying "why didn't I realize this before?". I especially like how thoroughly the designers worked in your actions with the game; I experienced the consequences of my choices hours down the line in several instances. Character interaction is another strong point: not only is every single line of text in the game voice-acted (something surprising for an RPG), but the acting is well done and quite convincing. I especially love Carth's voice; his performance is convincing and emotional and the diction alone lends a unique aura to who you perceive him to be. Equally cool are the alien languages, which are not spoken in accented English but rather their native alien tongues with subtitled text.
Speaking of sound, KOTOR's sound is excellent. The music is original yet retains the Star-Wars theme without sounding too clichéd. Any game I seriously consider hacking into just for extracting the music is surely worthy of a complement. The sounds themselves are pulled straight from the Official Star Wars soundbanks, so everything is realistic.
Another fine point are the character animations. You can tell everything was motion-captured and then refined, as the animations are varied, realistic, and wholly believable to watch. Sabreplay, a critical element of the game, is truly breathtaking to observe in it's full fluidity.
The BadThat said, KOTOR has it fair share of flaws. Unfortunately, as good as Bioware is at storytelling, and as good, compelling, and solid as the game design is, it is also riddled with cliché dialog and half-baked plot events. The term "Battle Meditation" is used frequently--referring to one character and her unique ability, and you are given no clear indication as to what it specifically does, even to the game's ending.
The game is clearly tailored for the younger teenage audience. Most mature subjects are quickly skirted over, if not completely skipped altogether. While this isn’t such a bad thing, it takes away from the gamer’s experience and feeling of immersion as the superficiality of the virtual world becomes evident. As expected, there's no blood (is there any in Star Wars at all?). The game feels very family-friendly, which I suppose is an asset to many, but as I mentioned before, I see it as a downfall. Also present in are a couple of unnecessary political statements being made: the consequences of following the "right" way seem to be blown out of proportion a little too harsh. At one point, I was permanently banned from one of the game's cities for not acting as the EPA and PETA would have wanted me to act: I chose to play a morally neutral individual, and saw the quickest means to an end in deploying a sort of pesticide to rid the game of an objective-blocking nuisance. This in turn destroyed an entire planet's worth of important material and got me banned for life.
Part of the problem was compounded by the game designers’ city-centric method of designing the game’s location. The entire planet is a barren, useless wasteland, with the exception of the one inhabited city. Even though I was engaging in interstellar travel, I didn’t feel like the planets were truly worthy of their size; as in the above case, I was wondering, “Did I just wipe out the entire planet’s supply of _______? Yeesh!”.
I also have a few complaints with the interface, that of which could have been further refined for the PC audience. All interface screens seem to be designed for low-resolutions--a necessity paying homage to the game's Xbox roots. The text inside this interface is extremely large, and on a 1024x768 game resolution I could read no more than two sentences' worth of descriptor text when looking at my inventory. The target size of 640x480 is apparent.
Sound wise, some of the alien voices become redundant. There are only so many suitable clips for each type of dialog, that in some cases, they become audibly redundant and mildly annoying. Also, (and this is just a really minor qualm) the crossbows sound like blasters. They had their own unique sound in every other Star Wars game I can remember, and I think I even spotted the crossbow sound bite being used for another weapon. That said, gunplay sounds are extremely generic: the same blaster sound is used for almost every gun. It just sounds...odd.
Finally, the game should have spent a little more time for debugging, as there were a number of problems I experienced. My system runs dual monitors--something unusual but not as different as you might think--and the game crashed on me constantly. The mouse cursor would not lock onto the monitor the game was running on, so frequently I would click on something on the other monitor without realizing it, and the game would minimize to the desktop. The fix is simple enough; open the game again and everything is fine.... usually. Sometimes, the game would become unbearably slow or just flat out crashed. I also noticed crashes whenever I went to unexplored planets in the first half of the game.
The Bottom LineKnights of the Old Republic is to Baldur's Gate what Anachronox is to Final Fantasy. Both are Sci-fi RPGs, and both use a gameplay style that is both inherited and simplified from their ancestors. Both are excellent games marred with a few minor flaws.
Once you get past the game's minor quirks, you have a highly enjoyable Star Wars gaming experience. My save file registered almost 38 hours of gameplay from start to finish, and I still want to go through the game again, just explore the possibilities of playing the dark side. I think it falls just a few marks short of “Game of the Year”, but then again most of my complaints are either nit-picking or based on a unique playing style: all problems that are easy to overlook.
High in both fun factor, length, and replay value, KOTOR is a title not to be missed.