Blink, and you’ll miss them. To the left and right of your frontal gaze are minute moments of happenstance; seismic shifts in the electroencephalographical field of vision; subtextual disturbances in the narrative ‘force’ that is Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic.
Gamestyle missed them – at first. But a dogged persistence to join the ranks of the Genoharadan saw us persistently backtracking, replaying entire scenarios (and losing hours in the process), while talking our way around the political hotbed – that teeters upon the seabed – of Manaan. You see, the Genoharadan is a secret society, a guild of Overseers who claim to be working above and beyond the sanctions of the Old Republic. But in order to satisfy ‘elitist’ urges, one must bow to the Dark side. Perform a number of ritual tasks before Hulas (its representative on Manaan) will give you the ‘key’ to their invisible door. Hence the backtracking; hence the servile and unsavoury fall from subtextual grace.
Because Gamestyle hitherto had been trodding a virtuous path through the Light side of existential endeavour. Such inner turmoil isn’t exactly alien to the Star Wars universe, so Gamestyle ‘rationalised’ its unseemly urges by trading Dark side points against Light (ie, for every misdeed a good deed). And that’s when we noticed the paradigmatic shifts in focus; the antithesis of intelligent game design.
In the northernmost tip of Ahto West (Manaan), in the Mercenary enclave, Gamestyle was approached by Shaelas, a grieving Selkath. His daughter (Shasa) and others were missing, and he was looking to “off-worlders” for clues. Gamestyle shrugged, it wasn’t a priority. Nevertheless, in the back of our minds we knew there was a reason we hadn’t been able to breach the training annex in the Sith base. The door was locked, and our droids weren’t able to override the code. By slicing the security monitors (one of the earliest skills acquired in KOTOR), we could “see” the Dark Jedi Master within. We knew he portended purpose. But it was only after several (failed) attempts to join the Genoharadan that we found ourselves at loggerheads inside the Sith base – while carrying a surfeit of computer spikes. With nothing but our wills to guide us, we frivolously spiked the security system (again!) and unlocked an intrusive-looking barrier. We continued forth, we soon fought a Selkath “apprentice”, and within minute moments (of happenstance) we had solved the mystery of the Missing Selkath. Shaelas was elated, and Gamestyle received the rather nice bonus of Light side redemption.
But keeping your head above (troubled) water isn’t always easy, with the fate of the Old Republic ultimately resting upon your embattled shoulders. Character building (in every sense) forms the basis of your quest, with every allowance and paradigmatic shift in attribute made available through hefty sub-menus and stat-checking – although in truth Gamestyle managed just as comfortably with Auto levelling enabled. It’s a preferential decision, as is the manner in which you’ll likely tackle the forward thrust of your journey (though certain plot strands become compromised should you make foolhardy decisions).
Events routinely place you on the distant world of Taris, but your ‘destiny’ soon unfurls on Dantooine, home of the Jedi Council, where existential nudging places a lightsaber in your hands, and a dark penitence in your heart. For much of its KOTOR marathon, Gamestyle took vicarious pleasure in identifying with its ‘feminine’ self. And certainly, some time had elapsed before we fully awoke to the latent possibilities engendered(!) by realtime camera adjustment (ie, firstperson) – albeit leveraged from the pint-sized portal of our companion droid, T3-M4. Call it an “unseemly urge”, but when fashion-plating the Krath Holy Battle Suit on Korriban, our Jedi gaze became unsteadied by a rather prominent polygon seam – in places we’d sooner not care to stoop (well, at least publicly).
Elsewhere, the camera and control regime are near-flawless, but with two glaring exceptions: in condensed areas, there is a propensity for party members to hem you in – thus you must manually move them aside. Secondly, in the latter stages of the game progress is almost brought to a standstill, with the lumbering addition of a “tile” puzzle (so flimsy in fact it would even make Ms Croft wince). But the overarching exuberance of BioWare’s ambition positively removes any negative stumbling blocks from your path. And since every contextual passage in the game is voiced (minus your own), you’d be hard-pressed to find a more amenable or cogitative universe to get perplexed in. Your first wayward encounter with the Rakatan for instance (Subquest: Unfinished Business) sees you matching wits with a hapless joker – playing your hand to predictable outcomes. Nevertheless, as another of those “minute moments” which colourise your journey, it was especially nice to have.
Some have derided KOTOR for its lack of applicable lightsaber “physics”, in that you can’t actually carve a swathe through impermeable matter; to those obsessive-savants we’d simply refer them to Master Jedi Defense – dual-wielded lightsabers which pyrotechnically deflect incoming attacks (while further carving a swathe through metaphorical darkness). Everyone’s a critic it would seem, but you’ll not find Gamestyle slating the creators for ‘missing’ pieces; the world of Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic is as vibrant as you’d expect, and puts just about every Star Wars-inspired videogame to shame. It’s a luminous use of an indelible vehicle, and it deserves to be held aloft; suitably accorded the very best nomenclature in Gamestyle’s vocabulary. A Ten, then.