Friday, 24 January 2014

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Review

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR)
Bioware - LucasArts
PC / XBOX (Original) / iPad - RPG

Hello there boys and girls! Hope you're all doing well!!!

Right let me introduce this game in pretty much the only way I can. KotOR came out 10 years ago on the XBOX and I have played this game at least once or twice a year since then. It is pretty much one of the all time best games ever made. Ever.

I'm not going to sugar-coat it, or make out that it's more than it isn't - I'm going to tell you exactly how great this game is and why. Before I do, I'm going to tell you that you can buy KotOR any time of day, any day of the week for just £6.99 on Steam to download directly into your Steam Library, or if you want to play it on the bus or train, download it for your iPad for the same price. It WILL be the best £6.99 you'll spend on yourself.

Right I digress. KotOR has everything going for it, it's story is pure Star Wars, and when this was originally released when a lot of people had a lot of resentment for Star Wars - the prequel trilogy not living up to expectations for many. To be honest LucasArts needed something to remind them that they still cared about the fans, and that they still cared about the Star Wars Universe.

KotOR is set a little bit before the films, even the prequel films. The Star Wars Universe (SWU) has a timeline, it's all based around the Battle of Yavin from Episode IV, where the first Death Star was destroyed. So you have years in BBY and ABY - Before and After the Battle of Yavin.

So where Return of the Jedi is set in 4 ABY, The Phantom Menace is set in 32 BBY. Yoda was born in 896 BBY. KotOR is set in 3956 BBY.

No Luke and Leia. No Darth Vader. No Han and Chewie. None of it. It's a reminder that the SWU is enormous. It's absolutely gigantic, it's far more than the 6 movies and Clone Wars cartoons. KotOR is set almost 4000 years prior to the Star Wars you're bound to know and might well love.

When I first heard this, I was sceptical. But when you dive in, it's all purest Star Wars from start to finish. There's action, romance, drama, plot twists, the Jedi, the Sith, the Republic, droids, lightsabers and force powers.

Awww yeah.

Right, enough of an introduction, I've barely touched upon the game itself apart from to say that it's set 4000 years before the movies.

The gameplay is really good, it's a turn-based RPG, but doesn't play like you'd expect. There are parts where it's like, you shoot or swing your lightsaber...they shoot or swing their shoot or swing your get the idea, but it doesn't take away anything from the game, you can pause in combat in order to organise moves that you are going to use or to use items like stamina or strength boosts, or medpacs or to turn on your shields.

But in honesty, the combat is not where the game is great, although to be honest the chance to swing a lightsaber (or 2) or a double-bladed lightsaber, and choke your enemies before flinging them across the room and blasting them with a storm of force lightening is fucking-A. It's the quests that help make the game what it is, the mini-quests, the random little conversations, the back-story and the overall storyline that suck you in and keep you playing. From helping an alien who is being bullied by kids to finding out a dark secret about a wookiee to searching the galaxy for an ancient secret that is fuelling the Sith War Machine. There's even a side mission where it's not so subtly implied that a woman is sexually abusing her C-3PO-esque droid it "fill the gap" left by her dead husband. Creepy. But it's all so good, it make you wanna slap yo mamma.


Anyway, graphically it's good - for 2003 it was REALLY good, and playing on a PC, it stands up nicely even 10 years on. Some parts of the game are really nice, you can tell it's a Bioware game and you can tell it's quintessentially Star Wars.

You can tell that some of the background scenery could have been a slight inspiration for the multitudes of random planets you can explore in Mass Effect - another BioWare masterpiece.

There are several planets to visit during the game, including Tatooine - the desert planet that Luke grew up on and home to the Sand People; Manaan - a water world holding the galaxies only natural source of the healing agent: kolto; Kashyyk - the wookiee homeworld; Taris - a sprawling city planet in the outer-rim; Korriban - the Sith homeworld; Dantooine - a farm world that housed a Jedi enclave as well as a couple more locations, including a DLC that housed a small merchant orbiting Yavin (the planet that was the scene for the ending of Episode IV: A New Hope). There are also some truly memorable and dare I say, iconic characters in this game.

I'll start with the main antagonist - Darth Malak. He's an evil basard with hopes of using his vast Sith forces to overthrow the Republic and to install himself as the ruler of the Galaxy, and to destroy the Jedi Order in the process. His methods were more traditional than the way in which Emporer Palpatine succeeded in infiltrating his way to power. Yep, Malak went out of his way to just decimate everyone and everything in his path on a war that would kill millions. There is a slight nod towards Darth Vader in this guy though, in the back-story, his jaw was lopped off by his former Master - Darth Revan, and as such has a cybernetic jaw instead, along with a gravelly slightly robotic voice.

But now, as a lead character, and obviously as a total dude, you can't go it alone. You need a team of characters able to fight the Sith and complete the story, included in your team is Carth Onasi - a battle hardened Republic pilot, who's seen more battle than your average soldier and has his own motives for defeating the evil Sith; Bastila - a young head-strong Jedi who has the rare Force power of Battle Meditation, with the ability to turn the tide of any battle just through her will; Mission Vao - a street wise Twi'Lek (like Jabba's advisor in Return of the Jedi, with the wormy things coming out of their head); Zaalbaar - a wookiee with a dark secret; Juhani - a once fallen Jedi who might accompany you depending on how you handle your first encounter with her; Canderous Ordo - a Mandalorian (like Boba Fett) warrior turned bounty hunter; Jolee Bindo - an ex-Jedi recluse voiced by the immense Kevin Michael Richardson, who you might know as Principal Lewis from American Dad); T3-M4 - a utility droid much like R2-D2 who communicates in beeps and whistles and HK-47 - basically, C-3PO...if C-3PO was a wise cracking assassin droid who reveals in describing all organics as "Meatbags" and thinks any and every problem can be solved by him either beating it mercilessly or blasting it into dust.

The 2 best characters for their actual character are Jolee Bindo and HK-47, their little insights during the game are brilliant, and finding out more about them is brilliant and not pure Star Wars - but pure BioWare.

Anyway, the basic story of the game is thus (without trying to give too much away): You are a soldier/smuggler/scout who was on the Republic starship the Endar Spire when it came under attack from the Sith, you manage to barely escape with Carth Onasi and try to find Bastila, (the Jedi mentioned previously) who also escaped the Endar Spire, on the planet below - Taris. After which you have leave for the Jedi Enclave on Dantooine with some new chums in Mission Vao, Zaalbaar, Canderous Ordo and T3-M4. There you discover an ancient secret that points you to the planets Kashyyk, Manaan, Tatooine and Korriban. During your travels you meet Jolee Bindo, possibly purchase HK-47 and potentially recruit Juhani. During your travels as well you discover a deep secret about yourself, that you yourself didn't even know - and do battle with Darth Malak before discovering the reason for his seemingly never-ending resources.

I don't want to ruin any of it, because although it's been out for 10 years, there are still those out there who wont have played it or know the story of it. Ah well.

Moving onto the music and sound of the game, again, BioWare comes up trumps. The music is an original score, apart from the initial title scrawl, you know...

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

That one. Even though it's an original score, it sounds perfectly in place for a Star Wars game, being original, and not using music from the movies, really sets it apart as well. It's all big orchestral music, and there's even some cheesy sounding bar music cut from the same cloth as the music you hear in Episode IV, when Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han and Chewie... this one:

Now that that tune is gleefully in your brain, I'll carry on. The music sets the right tone in every scene, and every playable area. It's beautifully composed, and it's perfectly set. I cannot sing it's praises enough.

The sound effects for the game are also brilliant, from swinging a lightsaber to hearing the crackling of the Force Lightening power, to shooting a blaster and listening to the background noises on Kashyyk or Tatooine, everything again, sets the tone and pace of the game perfectly.

Lastly the voice acting, some amazing performances from veterans in the business, like Raphael Sbarge - who also performs as Carth Onasi, who also appears in the Mass Effect trilogy as Kaidan Alenko, and Jennifer Hale - who plays Bastila, again you'll recognise her as the voice of FemShep in Mass Effect as well as also appearing in other games and TV shows including many Star Wars and Star Trek incarnations, X-Men, Spider-Man and even kids shows and films from Johnny Bravo and the Powerpuff Girls to Disney's Sophia the First, new Cinderella movies and Wreck it Ralf. Anyway enough about them, the voice acting is superior to most other games you'll end up playing - unless those other games are BioWare - they have a brilliant writing staff, and during these blinding days included the brilliant writer and author Drew Karpyshyn among them. 

The voice acting is top-notch, and the wording of everything could have come from George Lucas's original screenplays. It's amazing, and stays true to classic Star Wars form.

Do you know what? I'm going to end it there. 2003's undoubted GOTY, doesn't need me selling it anymore. Just go on Steam or the iStore and get it. Do it now.

I cannot recommend this game enough. This is a pure diamond of a game, and for as long as I can, I'm sure I'll be making my annual trips back to the Endar Spire where it all begins.

No question. 10/10.