Knights of the Old Republic is one of those games. The ones that won't go away, the ones that sunk their claws into the right audience at the right time and left a mark that isn't easily erased.
Ten years old this year, KOTOR is a game that still comes up whenever rumours of a new Star Wars game are in the air. It's still guaranteed to appear in the comments under the announcement of any secret new BioWare project. People love Knights of the Old Republic, and with good reason: it's a great game that makes excellent use of a much loved, and much abused, license. If you need a recipe for win, it doesn't get much clearer than that.
Remember, this was a game that came out right when disappointment in the Star Wars prequels was reaching fever pitch. Attack of the Clones had come out the previous year, intensifying the schisms in Star Wars fandom that were split open by The Phantom Menace. Attack of the Clones was self-consciously dark and contained many clumsy indulgences for fans who were hoping for a new Empire Strikes Back. It was a movie that tripped over itself to win over those who felt betrayed by Episode I's stodgy storytelling and cartoon tone, while doubling down on the terrible romance between Anakin and Padme.
Message boards across the internet blazed with flame wars between fans and haters, and it felt like the whole world must surely be sick to death of that galaxy far, far away. Spin-off games like The Clone Wars and Bounty Hunter met with indifference and retreated, unmourned, to the bargain bin with due haste.
At a time when it seemed like everyone was trying to recapture the Star Wars magic, BioWare struck gold by marrying the feel of the original trilogy with a streamlined RPG shell and a setting that wisely kept the events of Anakin and company several millennia removed. This was a Star Wars playground where we could make our own fun without tripping over the toys George Lucas had left lying around.
BioWare understood what fans wanted to do, and negotiating trade blockades wasn't high on the list. Owning a Millenium Falcon-esque spaceship? Hanging out with wookiees? Having a C-3P0 sidekick who was sarcastic and lethal rather than fey and prissy? Yes, yes and yes. If you're going to indulge the fans, you've got to do it right.
This was a Star Wars playground where we could make our own fun without tripping over the toys George Lucas had left lying around
The characters, too, helped to put the stiffness of the prequel movies into perspective. OK, so Carth was the first in a long line of BioWare's insufferably whiny male sidekicks, but characters like the irascible Jedi hermit Jolee Bindo and assassin droid HK-47 - equal parts Terminator, Marvin the Paranoid Android and Futurama's Bender - are still as much fun to be around as they ever were. Certainly, they feel more like genuinely worthwhile additions to the overall Star Wars canon than anything to have farted out of the mostly wretched Expanded Universe novels and comics.
Knights of the Old Republic effortlessly balances a free-roaming adventure that lets you inhabit the Star Wars universe and make meaningful choices, visiting iconic locations with a fresh perspective, all while unfolding a multi-layered narrative that culminates in one of the best gaming plot twists of all time. The overriding structure - linear intro, followed by three interchangeable main questlines, followed by a big endgame - was slightly dulled by repetition in Jade Empire and Mass Effect, but there's no denying it works, offering enough room to find your own way along with the reassuring guide rail of an ongoing story.
It's simply a great game, one of the first to really shake up the story-driven action RPG and see what it could do. And now it's on the iPad, an incredibly exciting fact made all the more thrilling for the simplicity of its release. No long teases, no "TBC Q4" nonsense. It was announced and then it was out, one of the most irresistible impulse purchases on the App Store.
Thankfully, unlike some retro hits which have been dusted off and shoved into the tablet spotlight, this really is a mostly seamless port, with the game's turn-based combat well suited to the demands of a touchscreen and the guts of Apple's tablet more than up to the task of rendering the decade-old visuals faithfully. Presumably built from the PC version rather than the Xbox original, virtually every aspect has switched from mouse to touchscreen without hiccup.
Dialogue choices appear at the bottom of the screen but must be selected by tapping a corresponding number icon on the right hand side. We're so conditioned to simply tap what we want to interact with that this diversion never feels natural. Strange, but hardly a game-breaker. It's only movement that really lets the side down. Exploring the environment involves a drag-and-steer system that, while intuitive enough, does leave your characters swaying and veering all over the place like Jack Sparrow. Thankfully, there are few moments in the game where precision movement is required, and useful objects are highlighted from a distance, so it remains a minor - if persistent - distraction.
That these are the only stumbles in an otherwise superb conversion mean that Knights of the Old Republic on the iPad is ridiculously easy to recommend. It's a true classic, not only one of the best games ever to carry the Star Wars brand but one of the best RPGs of all time. The ability to carry this classic with you and play it wherever and whenever you choose is proof that we are, indeed, living in amazing times.
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