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

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

"A lesson in morality. Plus lightsabers."

This is the tale of two Jedi.

Both awake on the Republican battleship, The Endar Spire, while under heavy bombardment from Sith forces. One forms a quick bond with his roommate, allowing them to work as a cohesive unit, mowing down vile invaders with flashing blades in the name of self defence and the prosperity of the Republic way of life! The other holds less noble goals; he strong-arms the same roommate into service as a meat-shield and uses him to deflect enemy attacks while he slinks around the outskirts of battles, lighting singed corridors with a plethora of laser fire. Honour be damned when there's a body-count to rack up and still-sizzling corpses to loot!

The fate of their travelling companion is quickly sealed when a Dark Jedi crashes the party. The first begs his friend to take flight towards an escape pod instead of throwing his life away in a futile battle, and is quick to morn the loss of a comrade when his words go unheeded. The other gleefully shoves the fool towards certain death and makes with the escape, dodging the need to fight a doomed battle against a much stronger foe than he can currently handle. Both eventually arrive at the same destination; they flee the flaming battleship for the relative safety of Taris, helped by the Spire's captain, Carth. Our noble chum finds Carth to be an honourable man, a war hero and a trusted ally; the other finds Carth to be a whining bitch, and wonders if he can club him unconscious and steal his shoes.

Both arrive at the same destination, only the actions taken to get there differ. Knights of the Old Republic cleverly flaunts its openness by hiding the linearity it does possess behind a curtain of morality. Both of the aforementioned Jedis arrive at the forgotten planet Taris, a world that has fallen from prosperity and is buckling under the inherent bigotry and specism that runs rife on its streets. Whereas one strides through these streets with his companions proudly beside him, a champion of the people and an upholder of all that is right, the other is free to bludgeon anyone who looks at him funny and take anything valuable they might be carrying.

A chance to let their individual traits shine comes when a downtrodden alien is accosted by rowdy children shouting racist slurs and pelting the unfortunate creature with stones. The scaly victim pleads for aid as the Jedi pass, and can receive it in differing ways. Through selectable dialogue choices, one could chastises the children and send them on their way, offering medical help to the blighted off-worlder. Or instead, one could threaten the kids with the thrashing of a lifetime before pistol-whipping the moaning extraterrestrial and pinching all his possessions. Good deeds are rewarded with Light side points, which in time envelops justice-driven Jedi in a holy aura that signifies a connection with the force. Or more dastardly actions could garner Dark Side points; eventually blighting skin with twisted taints and altering once-pure eyes into malevolent catlike pupils peering from an ashen face.

But still these paths lead to the same places. With the help of Carth, the uptight Jedi, Bastila, the odd pairing of a nimble T'welk thief and a hulking Wookie berserker, plus the inclusion of a blood-thirsty Mandalorian mercenary, Taris will be left behind and other worlds will be yours to explore. On one such planet, you will find the sand people of Tatanooie will need to be either be appeased or slaughtered. Clad yourself in their robes, and, with the help of a language-savvy driod, barter safe passage through the dune sea and earn the respect of the tribe. Or don't. Arm the same driod with a blaster rifle and wade though their ranks, slaughtering every last one of the scavengers with sadistic glee and glowing red dual lightsabers. Both paths lead to the safe travel of the endless desert, but both are undeniably different ways of going about things -- that is the base of Knight's much flaunted openness. Even the obligatory light/dark endings the game offers have nothing to do with your position between halos and demons.

The combat will also remain indifferent to your choices. Cinematic in their approach, your avatar is open to simple orders such as who to target and what weapon or Jedi skill to use, then they run off under their own steam to wage war. Lightsabers swirl energetically to deflect blaster bolts or clash together in a pleasing visual treat. This all looks great when, instead of the whole wait-your-turn-and-attack-a-static-target, a rain of blows can be deflect, blocked and counterattacked. This system allows you to change the tide of a real-time battle with a well-placed grenade, a cunning bit of force trickery or on the flip side to be suddenly caught off-guard as your foe does something unexpected like drop his laser pistol and pick up a stun baton instead. But what it ultimately does is make these fights feel a bit empty and underwhelming. When you look at it closely, each fight is exactly the same as the last; point Jedi and chums towards target and unleash fury! Add the odd smatterings of differing skills for desired overkill. As long as you level your team acceptably, challenging fights will be found sparsely.

But even though you stroll through these battles and even though you never truly alter your path, it all feels different, each action you decide on feels like it matters. Resist the urge to sneak a peek beneath the veneer of open play, and lose yourself in a world of possibilities. A beautifully and cunningly created world that you can almost shape with your morality. Or lack thereof.

Your quest can end in the freeing of a galaxy, in the slaying of an evil empire -- unless your interest lays not in saving the universe but in bringing it to its knees. A Jedi can be loved by the people he fights for or feared by those he enslaves. Maybe the paths you can walk are more similar than they are made out to be, but the differing scenery encountered along the way makes these walks more than worthwhile.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 30, 2006)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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