Monday, April 22, 2013

A Review of Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox

Though it is unfortunately too recent a game to be considered a classic, Knights of the Old Republic from BioWare is destined to become an example of what video games should be for future developers the world over.

Graphics and Sound
The Fall of Taris
While obviously somewhat lacking by today’s standards, for the time Knights of the Old Republic included a highly advanced graphics engine that took full advantage of the abilities of the Xbox game system. Characters were not only highly detailed, but equipment was as well. Changing your character’s equipment actually altered their appearance in the game and the cut scenes as well, which were animated in the same style as the game and took the present appearance of your character for use in the cut scene, contributing to continuity considerably. The environments were of course fairly expansive and just as richly detailed as the characters and equipment offering vistas such as the wastes of Tatooine or the oceans of Manaan. Though it was somewhat more limited space battles were also fairly detailed, though as you were only a gunner and not a pilot for those scenes, they were a little restrictive in regard to how much you could really do. There were of course those cut scenes that didn’t include your party in them (like the orbital bombardment of a planet) that are richly detailed beyond even the other cut scenes and make for impactful events throughout the story.

More impressively is that Knights of the Old Republic, rather than recycle the old tired music from the Star Wars films as had almost all the Star Wars games up to that point actually opted to have an entirely original soundtrack created for the game. This gave the game a far more rich and unique feel as each area brought on new music that you’d never heard and more importantly had yet to associate with any particular events in Star Wars lore, allowing you to leave old memories lay and forge completely new ones free of the taint of past experience. Naturally the sound quality was very impressive using HD audio files which a savvy gamer with too much time on their hands could use to make a soundtrack for the game from (yes I am talking about something I did, back when I had too much time on my hands).

The interface for Knights of the Old Republic follows the standard practices of the time. You have a button for selecting, one for interacting, a couple for special abilities, and of course your standard start menu inventory and character sheet system. For anyone who’s played an RPG game from that time the controls will seem fairly intuitive if at times a little cumbersome. Still even for those that had never played an RPG there were many good things to be said for Knights of the Old Republic and the interface was typically easy enough to pick up.

The most impressive innovation for the interface was the rich level of dialog options available to users. This was one of the first games to include such a massively branching conversation tree and this decision on the part of the developers actually created significant replay value for the game. Suddenly a player wasn’t limited to just being the good guy in the game, but instead you had the option to be very good, or very bad, or somewhere in between. Your responses to other characters could be kind, polite, insightful, straightforward, rude, demeaning, or sometimes even downright violent and what resulted from each conversational choice would be different than if you’d gone with other choices. I personally played through the game three times, one right after the other with a unique experience each time and I’m reasonably certain that I still haven’t seen all that the game has to offer.

Story (Warning Spoilers)
Despite how well done the rest of the game was, the real jewel to be found in Knights of the Old Republic is its story. You start off as one of three different classes, either a soldier, scoundrel, or scout traveling aboard a ship that’s carrying a Jedi to her destination. You wake up in your quarters with alarms blaring and the ship vibrating violently under foot as it’s attacked by outside forces. A single soldier rushes in to explain things and get you started before you rush off in an attempt to get to the bridge and find out what’s going on. The story sees you stranded on the planet Taris being hunted by sith troops and trying to survive the perils of the lower levels of the massive city. In your journey you discover that you’re capable of becoming a Jedi and eventually do, before setting off on a quest to track down the Sith Lord Darth Malak by following in the footsteps of him and his now defeated master Darth Revan

In the greatest plot twist of video game history, you discover that your character is actually Darth Revan who was captured by the Jedi having your memories altered so that you believed you were someone else. When that was first revealed I literally sat stunned for half an hour trying to come to grips with the shocking revelation. The whole first play through I had been good, helping everyone I could and following the light side. I can’t even begin to tell you how tempting it was to drop the heroism and embrace my dark destiny right then and there. However I finished the play through as I had started it and then immediately began a new one exploring the evil alignment options and having fun wreaking havoc on all who would dare cross the path of such a powerful Sith Lord as Darth Revan. It was this plot twist that really captured my attention and has given me cause to carefully follow the games coming out of BioWare ever since.

Though a bit older, Knights of the Old Republic is absolutely still worth playing. If you’ve never had the pleasure I strongly recommend heading down to your local game store and picking up a used copy to add as a permanent addition to your N3rd C0rn3r.