XBOX REVIEW: STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC 2: THE SITH LORDS

Prepare yourself for more anti-social behavior as you eschew human contact for untold weeks while engaged in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. It picks up where the original left off.

KOTOR 2 (as it will be referred to) is every bit as good as the original and then some. It may not have the same impact that the original did in terms of the outcome but an all new storyline with new powers and missions takes us further into a galaxy that's already far away. I can spare you the details of reading the rest of this review. If you liked the original just go and buy this game. It's that simple. If you haven't played it and you dabble in RPGs, then go and buy it also. This is one of the best RPG series in history.

What makes this series so popular is not entirely due to the Star Wars connection. That's still one hell of a bonus but it's the personality of the game and the way in which it's structured to offer you complete freedom of choice. There is so much detail and depth, yet it's brilliantly disguised so as to appear natural. There are other games that do this well including, Fable, but once you mix in the mysterious storyline with the incredible Star Wars franchise you have a title that is powerful enough to knock a Jedi on his ass.

Events take place a few years after the original with the title character gaining consciousness in a sick bay. Unlike most games that start with this hackneyed premise, your character does not have amnesia but he's been stripped of his Jedi powers. Compelled to regain his powers and his former life, he hops aboard a spaceship and sets out to explore the galaxy in search of answers.

Adventure abounds as you explore the various planets of the galaxy. NPCs will offer you missions in which you may gain important information, currency or other interesting items. The Sith are in constant pursuit of you as they believe that you are the last living Jedi - their sworn enemies. Expect much combat.

During every interaction you are given a choice of responses which will ultimately affect your character. You can choose the side of Light or you can join the Dark side. Each side has its own unique powers. You will lean toward one or the other. You may find yourself in a situation where some poor soul has been robbed of nearly all his money. You can try to track down the thief or you can relieve the victim of what little money he has left. The choice is always yours. Fortunately the menus and interfaces don't jar you out of your fantasy with an overabundance of selection options at every juncture.

Many of the missions are fetch quests which are not particularly unique or even of much interest but you have to get some currency, information and experience points to level-up your stats. Combat is the same as it was in the original game. It's a combination of real-time and turn-based which works exceptionally well bringing you the best of both features.

It can take a long, long time before you acquire your Lightsaber but it's worth it once you have control of it. There are lots of moves to learn which will make combat less of a hack-and-slash affair and more of a strategic discipline in the vein of martial arts. There are some 60 new moves and powers to experience but they're not all available to your character. Many are exclusive to the Dark or Light side. You can also choose to play as a female in which you will also have different powers available to you. Choosing different paths of good or evil will open different areas and situations. If you want to discover all this game has to offer the replay value is off the scale.

You can have as many as 10 characters in your party, including drones. There is always some underlying tension as your party members cannot always be trusted. Some of them have a reason to be suspicious of you while others have their own agenda. To keep control you have to learn to manipulate them. This is the power of "influence" which plays a very significant role throughout the game. Choosing answers that others want to hear, while getting what you want from them, will eventually give you more power over them. It's a simple psychological phenomenon that is realty based. It's not magic. Swaying others to your predilection is done very convincingly. The fact that influence becomes an important tool in the game cannot be overlooked.

This is a smart game. It digs deep to examine the motives and philosophies of the Star Wars characters and their relationships. It raises questions that the movies could only hint at in the shallowest of manner. There are good reasons to be both good and evil depending on your perspective. What's more is that the game makes it fun to be evil.

Regardless of which path you choose you will be faced with various inherent weaknesses which you must overcome. Leveling-up is the standard way to increase your abilities but there are other subtleties which can help you as long as you're paying attention to all the information that you acquire. It can be a slow grind to get your character leveled-up but he'll be kicking ass and taking names near the end of the game. It's a good payoff for all the time invested to become so powerful but you'll still have to deal with the bosses.

As you can probably guess, the music, sound effects and voiceacting is superb. The music is amazing. There is more than one hour of music created specifically for this game. It's sounds so perfect you would swear that John Williams created it himself. The sound effects are pure Star Wars, right from the vault of LucasArts. Where else can you hear such an electronic bubbling droid and the perilous hum of a Lightsaber? Not only is the voiceacting great but they all have something interesting to say. Not all of it relates to the story but it's consistent within the Star War's realm.

Sadly there is a dark side. The framerate suffers badly and the load times are so damn long. While the graphics are incredible characters sometime move around in a jittery fashion. The environments are huge and nicely detailed. It's not difficult to imagine that you're actually landing on alien planet.

The original was considered by many as game of the year for 2003. It looks as though the series is about to go two for two. Countless hours of adventure await ye who acquire the disk.

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System: XBOX
Dev: Obsidian / Bioware
Pub: LucasArts
Released: Dec 2004
Players: 1
Review by Fenix
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.5
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
5.0
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
5.0