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 PLATFORM: XBOX
GIVE IN TO THE DARK SIDE

hrough such series as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights; developer BioWare has racked up an impressive list of hits – many of which are regarded as some of the most compelling and sophisticated PC role-playing games to date. Traditionally, console RPGs favor simplicity and ease of use over the complexity and wealth of options that BioWare chooses to implement into each of its games. Thankfully, the brilliant minds at this famed development house had no intention of bowing down to the industry standards for its first foray into the Star Wars universe.

In Knights of the Old Republic, BioWare’s daunting development philosophy is in full effect, and it’s used to bring console gamers closer to Star Wars than they’ve ever been before. Knights’ story takes place 4,000 years before the Galactic Empire came into power, in a time where Jedi and Sith number in thousands and are locked in war. Rather than stepping into the shoes of a prefabricated character, players are invited to create their own personality. You can start out as a scoundrel, scout, or soldier. As the game unfolds, you’ll run headlong into two interesting developments. On the one hand, you’ll find out that the Force may in fact flow through your veins. Two, the actions that you make are judged, determining whether your character will align with the light or dark side of the Force. Even the most irrelevant confrontation could lead you down one path or the other, as every conversation in the game allows you to interact with responses that are fashioned as good, neutral, or evil. Good is usually something along the lines of, "Yes, I will help you save your daughter." Neutral is, "I haven’t the time to help you." While evil might be, "I will slit your throat shortly after I gut your daughter."

Many of the choices will alter the complexity of the quest – giving reason for players to complete the game twice. BioWare has even fashioned two distinctly different endings, one for each allegiance to the Force.

The structure of the game is linear, like most console RPGs. However, through lengthy side quests and minigames that range from competing in swoop races to mounting a turret for space combat to losing all of your Credits in an addictive card game called Pazaak, Knights feels entirely open-ended and gives players freedom to veer off of the path frequently.

In true BioWare form, almost everything in the game can be tinkered with, customized, or upgraded. You can reinforce armor with new alloys; add a hair trigger and sight to your blaster; install neuro implants; hack into computers; repair droids; and even build your very own lightsabers. The options that are at your disposal can be a little daunting at times, but thankfully the user interface is easy to pick up and comprehend.

In a similar vein to BioWare’s crop of PC titles, battles are turn-based and use a rule set similar to many d20 pencil and paper games. The action that unfolds can be viewed in real-time or through a slick pause interface that allows players to issue commands to their party members and form complex strategies at a comfortable pace. You can also assign combat scripts to individual party members to streamline the process in advance. How complex the battles are is not necessarily determined by the game, but rather how much the player puts into them. It’s a brilliant system and something that will keep you entertained for hours.

From a graphical standpoint, the size of the environments, vibrancy of the lighting effects, and the fact that every item you don is shown cosmetically on your character are definitely impressive. At the same time, however, characters’ facial expressions are a little stiff, and the real-time cinematics are usually quite cheesy. In comparison to other Xbox titles, Knights’ visuals are middle of the road.

I was actually more taken aback by the sound. All of the dialogue in the game (of which there’s a ton) is, in fact spoken. Of course, all of the alien species speak in their authentic tongue. BioWare also made the wise decision to not recycle John Williams’ scores. Composer Jeremy Soule was brought in to record 90 minutes of amazing new music for the game.

The quest can be completed in around 40 to 60 hours, and the story that unfolds is worthy of film. However, at the end of the day, this game is all about building the ultimate Star Wars badass. Believe me when I say that there’s nothing cooler than a wookiee wielding two swords or a droid with a flamethrower that pops out of its head.

Deserving of the highest of accolades, Knights of the Old Republic is a dream come true for Star Wars fans, and the most noteworthy Xbox release since Halo.  -REINER

KRISTIAN   9.5

The braintrust at BioWare has constructed an absolute diamond in Knights, and Xbox owners should be foaming at the mouth to lay their hands on it. In a fashion typical of this esteemed company, KOTOR takes on a life of its own as you guide your character through the galaxy and mold him or her to your tastes. Become an apprentice of the dark side or strive for good – it is completely up to you. The only gripes I have with the game are relatively minor (camera issues, frequently recurring NPC models), but I can’t say enough about the unbelievable depth woven into the fabric of this title. Similarly, the skill architecture and rule bindings lend the title a kind of pencil-and-paper timelessness that is nearly impossible to resist. This is by far the best RPG ever released on Xbox, and is probably in the top five to be released on any current console. Buy this game immediately.

9.5
CONCEPT:
An incredibly deep Star Wars RPG set over 4,000 years before the formation of the Galactic Empire
GRAPHICS:
Impressive lighting (especially on the sabers), decent battle animations, and beautiful environment details
SOUND:
Over 90 minutes of newly orchestrated music by composer Jeremy Soule and tons of spoken dialogue
PLAYABILITY:
Combat and character customization couldn’t be better. The teammate AI scripting is a tad temperamental at times
ENTERTAINMENT:
Bursting with longevity and reasons to play it over and over again
REPLAY:
High
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