Back in the days before Oblivion and Mass Effect, there was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
KOTOR was the true progenitor of the now crazily popular console RPG, developed specifically for the original Xbox after a flash of inspiration from Microsoft.
It even had the gall to feature Baldur's Gate-styled turn-based combat, yet it still shifted over a million units. That was a rather remarkable feat on the so-called 'shooterbox'... but then this was a truly remarkable game; one that delivered water-cooler moments years before anyone even knew what those were: Did you massacre those Wookiees on Kashyyyk? What happened with Yuthura on Korriban? What kind of crystals are you rocking in your lightsaber? And the best bit about KOTOR? This was Star Wars.
You know the Vanguard class in Mass Effect? That'd be an unashamed rip-off of KOTOR's amazing Jedi/Sith Force powers. The Normandy is a beautiful ship, but she's no Ebon Hawk. Legion - Mass Effect 2's token droid - pales next to the immortal HK-47.
Then there was the Star Wars theme, those John Williams-inspired strains sending shivers down the spine. We're not decrying Mass Effect 2 - far from it, it's obviously brilliant - but we are arguing that it's already been done even better (by the same devs no less) in a galaxy far, far away.
TAKE THE SITH
As for narrative, KOTOR regales the most gripping tale in the Star Wars canon, period. You're an amnesiac wanderer caught up in the middle of an epic struggle between Jedi and Sith, during a fragmented age set 4,000 years before the flicks, when Luke Skywalker was but a twinkle in Vader's eye.
Über villain Darth Malak, former apprentice of the even more nefarious Darth Revan, has unleashed an armada of evil against the battered Republic. While fortuitously taking refuge at the Jedi Academy on Dantooine, our hero (or villain: this is a Bioware RPG after all) learns how to handle a lightsaber, gathers a motley crew and heads off to Malak's Star Forge for a cosmic showdown.
Pretty formulaic sci-fi fare so far, eh? But what about the MEGA TWIST upon the Leviathan that blows everybody's mind a full fifteen hours into the adventure? What's that? Saw it coming a light year off did you? Liar.
This was the videogaming equivalent of The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense and The Crying Game rolled into one, and it blew our Yoda-themed socks off.
And when you threw in the most fully realised and inspired use of good/evil mechanics in role playing history (who better to tread that fine line between heroism and villainy than a tormented Jedi?) and some brilliant dialogue, the concoction was heady and irresistible.
It was just all so... so Star Wars. It took everything memorable about the franchise - the fairytale morality, the characters, the dazzling array of planets, the ultra cool spacecraft - and delivered exactly what you begged it to, when you wanted it.
Finally, a shout out to KOTOR companions too: from sexy Sith-wannabe Bastila and wisecracking Twi'lek Mission to the Chewie-beating Zaalbar and gruff Mandalorian war vet Canderous. Star of the show, though, was undoubtedly the aforementioned HK-47. Who wouldn't warm to a war droid with such a (micro?) chip on his shoulder that he refers to humans as 'meat bags' and likes nothing more than to wax lyrical about the merits of murder?
KOTOR's a fugly beast nowadays, but its core role-playing flame still burns as brightly as the afterburners on an X-Wing. Grab your lightsaber and get involved right now.
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