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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox) artwork

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox) review

"For the mountains of glowing praise that have met Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it is a pretty crappy game. Not a crappy game sttraight-up, but I think it will go down in history as one of the more pathetic "Game of the Year" contenders. "

For the mountains of glowing praise that have met Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it is a pretty crappy game. Not a crappy game sttraight-up, but I think it will go down in history as one of the more pathetic "Game of the Year" contenders.

So, how is it straight-up? It's a good, gripping piece of software that possesses neither the polish nor the sophistication nor the ambition of a superior videogame.

KOTOR is a frothy mix of the countless miserable Star Wars titles that slap a lightsaber or two on a generic framework and call it done and the few Star Wars titles that have placed great care in bringing George Lucas' dense, epic universe to life. Bioware nails most things that needed to be done just right. The rest…well, you’ll just have to put up with the rest.

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. The Sith are practically extinct in the days of the Star Wars films, but in the Old Republic they number in the thousands. So do the Jedi, and you'll get plenty of chances to polish your lightsaber skills. Unfortunately, you've got about 10 hours of Force-less drudgery on a very lame, very nondescript planet where you'll become acquainted with the cumbersome menus and insufferable load times.

The dialogue and voice acting are both top notch throughout, and they are an invaluable part of KOTOR's great story, but in no other way can you call this game cinematic. Characters are stiff, jagged, and their lips rarely match their words. Textures are either muddy, or, in the case of aliens' foreheads, ridiculously shiny, and there is an annoying preponderance of grey hallways and brown corridors. I daresay Knights looks downright bad; the only polish you'll find is on those shimmering foreheads.

The combat is similarly murky. Real-time in appearance but turn-based in actuality, it's a clunky hybird in many ways combines the worst of both systems: the strategy and complexity of a good turn-based RPG isn't here, and neither is any sort of fluid action.

Nothing atrocious by any means, just pretty darn flawed. 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?

But, lo! Once you get off the first planet and arrive at the Jedi haven on Dantooine, things pick up considerably. Suddenly, you’re a Jedi, you have a spaceship, you have a lightsaber, and you have the full spectrum of the Force at your disposal. You can choose the Light Side—help the downtrodden, keep your word, and certainly never accept money as payment for your kind deeds--or you can choose the Dark Side—slaughter innocents, bend weak minds 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. The numerous shades of gray involved make it completely engrossing: you can live the Dark Side as a haughty Sith Lord, a fearsome bruiser, or a shameless, conniving bastard.

Hurtling across the galaxy and untangling dense moralistic webs and approaching each conflict with a thrilling sense of freedom made it easy to stomach Knights' more unsavory qualities. There are even a few attractive environments—the 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. 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 Palpatine-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 is a dense, full-bodied journey, teeming with both bad and good.

Knights of the Old Republic may not be the sleekest, prettiest ship in the docking bay, but it is enjoyable and frighteningly addictive. I see shortcomings in KOTOR every minute I spend with it, but my game clock still reads close to 60 hours. The immersive story and the whipsmart use of the Star Wars license ensure 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.

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Community review by careless_whisper (May 05, 2005)

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