Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic - X-Box Review
September 5th, 2003
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic does not deserve the perfect and near perfect scores that it has been garnering. I really didn't want to start this review out on such a negative note, but I feel it's a necessary reaction to all the over-positive fawning this game has received. Yes, this game is fantastic. It's the best RPG I've played in years. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this is the best role playing game the Xbox will see this year. It's a very thick and solid limb. But this game ain't perfect.
Let's start with all the good stuff. First of all, it's Star Wars! That doesn't always mean quality, but... it's Star Wars!
The graphics run the gamut from merely average to quite nice. The character models for all the main characters obviously received the most attention and look the nicest. The fact that any and all changes in equipment and armaments are reflected graphically is a very nice touch that all RPG's should include. However a lot of the NPC's look very similar. In fact, there are a few areas in the game where you will talk to or otherwise interact with identical twins, triplets, quints and quads. Which is disconcerting. And maybe I'm just racist (?), but all the aliens look the same to me. I'm not saying I can't tell the difference between a Hutt and a Wookie, because I can. I mean I can't tell the differentiate between one green faced tail head and another. Seriously, I think each alien race got about two different models at most. Which is just weak. Especially considering the supposed power of the XBox and the fairly long development period of this game. All the characters' mouths and lips (if they have either) match the words they say during cut scenes. Which is where most of the animation attention went, because a lot of the rest of the character movement is stiff and odd looking. You can tell this game was coded by a bunch of Canadians: the dancing animations in this game are laughable. Obviously this is a galaxy far, far away from Ulala's. The combat animation is just dandy, full of nifty looking moves and showers of sparks and such. There could be more moves, but there could always be more moves.
The environs, much like the character models and animation vary in quality. The game starts off on a starship. It looks like a starship from the Star Wars universe (which is, oddly enough, another complaint I have about this game, but more about that later) . There's a battle going on in and around the ship. Explosions going off all over and the space battle is visible from any window you might pass. Nice way to start the experience. But the planet you spend the next several hours on is not impressive at all. It's basically Coruscant, but not Coruscant. A big sprawling city filled with sky scrapers and such. But it doesn't feel that big, and the graphics are pretty plain. A lot of grey and/or blue corridors. Then you go underground and encounter a lot of brown and grey. There are a couple nice effects spread throughout this section of the game, but nothing mind blowing. This is by far the worst looking planet of the game, though. Every other game has a "hook" of some kind. Dantooine has really nice looking grass fields, Kashyk has an Endorian kind of vibe, the water planet has nice water, the Sith planet has nice rocks and canyons, and so on... There were a couple times were I just had to stop and admire the scenery. Which is when I noticed that the frame rate chugs when you start swinging the camera around. The scenery looked nice, sure, but not so nice as to cause slow down.
The sound does not suffer from wild fluctuations. It is excellent across the board. Every line of dialogue is spoken and all of the voice actors play their roles perfectly. Even the aliens who speak in their native tongues have voices. Sure, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that their languages don't have a lot of words, and those words repeat a lot, but who cares. The music is mainly original compositions, but they all fit. They all sound Star Wars-y. The sound effects are likewise authentic.
Having not seen episode 3, nor Having read a leaked copy of its script, I can still safely say that Knights of the Old Republic has the best writing of any Star Wars product that will be released this decade. There is no mention of midichlorians, nor does anyone shout "Yipee!". Rather, all of your team members have their own interesting storylines for you to get involved in. They all have their own interesting stories to tell you, if you let them. They all have distinctive voices. My favourite (and I don't seem to be alone in this) is the homicidal droid. I dig him the most. The crotchety old former Jedi is pretty high up on my list as well. But you don't have to help them, or even listen to them if you don't want to. You can play this game in any almost any way your want. A paragon of virtue or a dastardly backstabber or somewhere in between. You're almost always given at least three choices of varying good/evil-ness whenever responding to a question. My girlfriend remarked that being given only three choices seemed a little "shallow". I told her that's about two more choices than you get in most other console RPGs. Some of the choices are pretty funny to boot. My first time through I played as a good guy. Seeing all the choices I could make as an evil bastard made me want to play through the game again as soon as I had beaten it. The writing is so good, in other words, that it adds to the replayability of this game.
The play control might take a little bit of getting used to. Veterans of pen and paper games should be able to jump right in, but the game does a good job of explaining everything to the NOOBS too. When generating your character, and every time any one goes up a level, you have complete control over what stats you want to increase. You have a lot of control over your characters, but it's never overwhelming. Combat is odd. By default it runs in real time. You issue commands to all members of your team, queuing them up, switching between all members to co-ordinate attacks and strategies. You can also assign basic AI patterns to your team mates if you only want to worry about your main character. There's also the choice to make the game turn based, where the action stops after each round of action plays out. I found this the best option, as it gives you the most control over the battles, letting you keep track of everything while still being able to enjoy watching the fighting. If the battles are still too tough, you can adjust the game's difficulty on the fly. While I enjoyed the turn based play the best, I still found some problems. Sometimes I would issue commands to a character but he (or she) would just stand there and do nothing. I would try clearing out the queue of moves, but it never helped. So I'd die. Which was frustrating. This happened more than once. Also, there are a few attacks that are based on your character's proximity to the enemy. You can force leap into the fray or toss your lightsabre, as long as they're not all up in you're area. The problem is that sometimes, even though you instruct them to whip out their cool distance attacks, you character instead runs up to the enemy. This happens fairly often. Which is also annoying. Not as annoying as switching between tenses or dying because the computer refuses to let me fight, but annoying none the less. Also annoying are the somewhat frequent loading times. This becomes especially noticeable when you have to retry swoop races over and over and over. There's no reason for such simple courses to take so long to load. There's also no reason why there is no quick retry option.
Also annoying are the games many other bugs. The game sometimes freezes when loading new areas. Which can really suck if you haven't saved in a while. This is yet another bad thing that happened to me more than once. Check out gamefaqs.com for all the details. You may get lucky and never encounter a single bug or glitch. But still, this game shipped with many noted, and fairly major, problems.
I also briefly mentioned earlier another slight problem I have with this game. KOTOR is set 4,000 years before the events of the films. 4,000 years. That's twice as long as the span between that Christ guy's death and today. Yet the differences between the worlds and technologies of KOTOR and those depicted in the movies are not that big. Your character's ship is even a precursor to the Millennium Falcon. 4,000 years is a long god damn time. The decision to set the game in this time period seems arbitrary and somewhat ill-advised. 1, 000 years would make a lot more sense, from an evolutionary stand point. What all this adds up to is a game that is far from perfect. It is still far and away one of the best games for the XBox and I would and do recommend this game. But it ain't perfect.