There's something you need to know about me. I'm a good guy. I'm a generally decent person. I have my many faults, and certainly my large share of means to be irritating, rude, and bothersome. But ultimately, it's fair to say I'm a kind, reasonable individual. I'm not the sort of person who, for instance, would usually be found mocking victims of bullying, endorsing racism, or murdering victims of sexual assault. [I can vouch for this. John Walker is a man of whom I once wrote, "his heart is so big it is possible he has no other organs". - Ed]
When I play a BioWare role-playing game, my characters tend to not only lean toward the nicer side, but almost immediately start twinkling with the magical pixie dust of purity. It's embarrassing, but I just make the decisions I believe I'd really make, and end up that way.
The task I set myself was to play the original Knights of the Old Republic, making the worst, cruellest, most spiteful, murderous and downright evil choices available at every choice. I've played the game before - in fact, it's one of my all-time favourites - but I was the most angelic creature in the galaxy. This wasn't going to be easy. This is the story of mysterious Republic Scoundrel, Simon Evil, and his adventures on the planet Taris.
Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR from now on) was originally released in 2003. By this time the Star Wars franchise had already far out-stayed its welcome at LucasArts. The twelve months around KOTOR alone churned out Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds - Saga, Star Wars: Galaxies - An Empire Divided, Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Jedi Academy, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III - Rebel Strike, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. You can see the problem. And don't forget this was the year between Episode II's Attack of the Clones and Episode III's Revenge of the Sith. By this point, Star Wars could piss right off.
KOTOR did something very clever. It set itself 4,000 before Lucas's rapidly unravelling stories, releasing itself from the hideousness that the once-so-loved universe had become, able to pick out the best parts of the mythology (Jedis, Sith, droids, the Force, Wookiees and spaceships). BioWare was given a splendid amount of freedom to create its own stories, far enough away to not mess up the canon of the ongoing films, and not necessarily as simplistic as the kid-friendly tosh of the day.
Shortly after a terrible war between the Sith and the Republic, times are still not peaceful. The great big bad Darth Revan is gone, presumed dead, and his prodigy, Darth Malak, is determined to wipe out the remaining Jedi in the galaxy. Together with your motley collection of Star Wars familiars, you travel to various planets, attempting to piece together an ancient Star Map that will lead you to Malak's dastardly Star Forge, and stop his evil antics. But before any of that happens, there's the planet Taris to escape.
I picked a Scoundrel because that seemed the most immediately naughty choice. I think an argument could be made for Soldier if I wanted to get all Billy Bragg about it, but Scoundrel it was. Simon Evil, I named him, because it's always funny when you make an RPG have characters call you something silly. I pick the evilest-looking head on offer, bald with a goatee - a clear sign of evilness. And I roll him to show strengths in subterfuge and manipulation, because all the best evil people use these methods. Pointy beards and sinister remarks are the targets aimed for by the stylish baddies. Punching quite hard and being good with weapons, oddly enough, seem far more the domain of the hero. Oh, and he's a man. Because I usually play girls. Men are always more evil.
The story begins on a Republic ship, being attacked by Malak's Sith forces, as I desperately raced to get to an escape pod by having a equipment menu tutorial. Few opportunities for malevolence here, beyond refusing to let him explain things to me when I didn't remember how they worked. Which was more stubborn stupidity than anything harmful to others. However, there was soon a chance to be a dick, as the pressing importance of rescuing the Jedi Bastila was explained to me, letting me reply that I couldn't care less, and I wasn't risking my life for her.
Of course, KOTOR isn't going to let you get away with that. For all the remarkable freedom of behaviour it offers you, it's going to drag you kicking and screaming through the main plot no matter how much you petulantly protest. Being an enthusiastic participant disguises this nicely, but rebel against the core plot and it becomes a little awkward as it tells you that you're going to have to do it anyway, so shut up and follow me. However, you do get the pleasure of hearing the shocked reaction of those around you that you'd say such things. "Sounds like Malak and Revan have the right idea," I muttered to my horrified tutorial guide.
Crash-landing on Taris, I was quickly teamed up with Carth Onasi, a Republic pilot and all-round do-gooding mummy's boy. I remembered him well, the whiny-faced snorefest - being mean to him was going to prove no problem at all. He was very insistent that we get to work finding Bastila, while I persisted that finding a way off the Sith-controlled planet was much more important.
Taris, an enormously populated planet, presented its primary troubles as the Sith occupation, who were preventing ships from leaving or arriving, making life hard for tradespeople, and those who wished to buy from them. As well, of course, as making things much tougher for the rogues and villains who wanted to continue their illegal activities. But Taris' real problems went far deeper. Literally. Divided into a three-tiered class system, the Upper levels were primarily for Humans, with aliens working in menial jobs, caretaking in apartments and so on, a few with almost-decent roles working in shops. The Lower levels, beneath the surface city, were a network of crime-infested tunnels, cheap, dangerous accommodation, and seedy bars. Then below this, an almost rural underground world of the underclass, the extreme poor living with rampant disease, regularly attacked by monstrous creatures. Just the sorts of people for Simon Evil to prey upon.
Of course, RPGs are always going to have you do things most would consider wrong. Finding a dead body on the ground, who thinks twice before rifling through their pockets to see if they had anything useful? Or an open cupboard in a public area, that no one complains when you open it? That's free stuff, right? But here the opportunities for wrongdoing made these acts feel perfectly mundane.
The first terrible thing I did hurt these poorest people the most. On the surface was a doctor's office. He was a kindly man, assisted by a rather unpleasant and slimy individual, and offered me free treatment. Talking to him like complete dirt, I made it clear that he'd better treat me for free, and then began poking around his office. Any locked door was an open invitation to Simon Evil, and I immediately busted it open, to the doctor's horror. He was secretly treating the very poorest citizens, for free, against the wishes of the crimelord Davik and the Sith occupiers. The conversation options presented me with wonderful choices, where I could help him in his endeavours, support this altruism and heap praise upon him. I told him that if he didn't give me all the money and health packs he had, I'd report him to the authorities. He handed it all over in a panic. But this wasn't the terrible thing I did.
It hurt to do it. Seriously, I physically winced. People who run illegal clinics in terrifying dictatorships around the world are some of Earth's greatest and bravest heroes. Blackmailing this wonderful man was a horrifying choice to make. But worse was my reaction upon learning that there was a serum that cured the disease that was killing the poor in their thousands. With a sample of this serum, currently controlled by the Sith, he would be able to synthesise enough to give it away and eradicate the disease completely. I had to find that serum, and I had to make sure it never got to that doctor.
Fortunately his dreadful assistant offered support with this. He worked for crime boss Davik, and told me if I got the serum to a Hutt in the Lower levels, I could get a huge number of Credits for it, and he'd take a decent finder's fee. Perfect. I could ensure the continued gruesome deaths of the city's most impoverished people, and put the cure in the hands of a man who would charge ridiculous prices to make sure only the rich would benefit.
So after breaking into a few apartments and stealing the paltry property of their terrified occupants who feebly begged for their lives, I stumbled upon a Twi'lek who was auditioning for a prodigious dancing job. She was without a partner, and in desperate need. Simon Evil to the rescue! Sure, I'd help her audition. First round I danced just ever so slightly too close to her, upstaging her, which didn't please her greatly. Second round of the three I decided I would help improve her routine by running in idiotic circles around her. I think the audition was pretty much blown by that point, so round three's deliberate pratfall was possibly overkill. She went back to her miserable life stuck on Taris. I went on to find out about bounty hunting.
Moments like that were light relief in the horror-fest I was conducting. That it had an option for running in mad circles was just fantastic. What was not fantastic, in any way, was the bounty on the head of Dia. The Hutt responsible for coordinating the hits gave me a few different people I could take out. Carth said he could see a moral justification for taking out violent criminals who were hurting others, but made it very clear that Dia was not someone I was allowed to go after. Dia it was then.
Dia had attacked her boss with a spear, leaving him with a scar, and the boss wanted her dead. The Hutt hinted that perhaps Dia wasn't quite so guilty as the story made out, and the extent of this became abundantly clear when I found her boss in a strip club. He confessed that while drunk he had attempted to force himself upon her, and she had struck out to prevent him. It was an attempted rape. The conversation options were there - I could take him out right now. I could destroy this horrendous man, who was having a woman he'd tried to sexually assault murdered, because she had beaten him.
The feeling when selecting the option saying I agreed with him, and she was getting what she deserved, was just revulsion. Sure, this is a game. Sure, no one was really getting hurt. But bloody hell, there are some things it's just never okay to do. I put off finding Dia for as long as possible.
In the underbelly of the city, where the locals were being killed off by the Rakghouls - a grotesque, pale creature that infects victims turning them into Rakghouls too - I stood by and watched as a man, trapped on the other side of a gate I could have opened, was killed and transformed in front of his loved ones. God, I was such a bastard. Down there I found the serum sample I needed, and would not use to save these poor, wretched people, as well as the fourteen year old Twi'lek, Mission.
Mission is possibly the most notorious character from KOTOR, famously loved or loathed, simply because BioWare did such a splendid job of writing a fourteen-year-old girl. Apologies to any of our fourteen-year-old girl readers, but you're probably a bit annoying, aren't you? So's Mission. She's pitch perfect, both over-enthusiastic and endearing while a whining, complaining mess, and horribly over-dependent. I loved Mission the first time I played, she was my favourite companion, and I selected her for nearly every mission. She was funny and annoying in equal measure, and handy with a Vibroblade. I'd had no problems being horrid to wet sock Carth, but being mean to Mission! No!
KOTOR, much like all BioWare's RPGs, gives you opportunities to talk to the party members you gather as you play. Learning their histories, you develop a far greater understanding of the larger story, as well as forming meaningful relationships. Caring about them, and demonstrating you care, has a lovely effect on how they talk. Mission especially, who has never known any approval or support. So when I told her that I couldn't believe how boring her stupid stories were, I wanted to punch myself in the mouth. Poor Mission. And to make sure she was miserable, I never took her anywhere with her Wookiee best friend I'd fought so hard against having to rescue.
With the Rakghoul serum sold to the appropriate Hutt (on whom I used my super-evil persuasion abilities to get extra money), and the racist on the Upper levels shouting for Human supremacy endorsed and encouraged, I knew I had to do one more thing before my attempts to break into the Sith headquarters to steal the flight codes. I had to score the bounty on Dia.
Here's how I did it. I used the fact that her voice is so stupendously annoying. KOTOR's voice cast is just superb. The main gang, especially the Dark droid HK-47 (who doesn't join the gang until later), are all perfect. (Well, Jennifer Hale's Bastila is perhaps just a touch too snooty, but only a touch, and she's forgiven for being the voice of Samus in the Metroid Prime games.) And the 'additional voices' crowd are nearly all superb, especially the man who does one of the male Twi'lek voices, who's "abingy bongy boo" makes me laugh like an idiot every time. But there's this one female voice that cuts into my soul like a rusty tin can. It's just so wrong, each character she voices sounding like someone's mum, bored out of their mind, trying to read tiny text off a faraway page. I get thrown out of the game. She was the voice of Dia. Oh, okay, I don't mind chopping up the cartoon figure with my cartoon sword then.
What ridiculous rationalising. I killed an attempted rape victim for money I didn't need, since I'd stolen so much from the desperately needy already. Because I didn't like her voice. What had I become? I looted her corpse.
Breaking into the Sith base with the sole intention of killing everyone I found became easy. Codes gathered, double-crossing Davik was going to be just something I did. Killing the other innocent guests, and threatening to tell his abused slaves that they had displeased me - whatever.
The Ebon Hawk stolen, Taris escaped, was I now numb to my actions? Well, no. I was still squirming in my seat with every slightly snarky remark, desperately wanting to click on the lovely options available, the ones that would make my patient companions smile. I wanted to praise Mission, comfort Carth, allow Bastila to think she was super-important. I was covering my face through most of what's described above. Sitting back in my chair and gasping at what I was about to click. It was actually miserable. But my ridiculous task meant I had to keep putting them down, encouraging them to fight amongst themselves, and being the biggest arsehole in the galaxy. And I'd only been to one planet.
John Walker will return.