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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

"The vast majority of this game is as tremendous as it has always been."

Let's get one thing out of the way right now. Knights of the Old Republic is regarded as one of the best games that Bioware has ever made for a reason. The writing is superb. The turn-based combat builds off of the Infinity Engine style of being able to pause, issue orders, and then watch it all unfold. There are multiple branching dialogue trees. It's all there in the iOS version, and it's all still excellent.

As a classic of the genre, I don't see much value in me rehashing what makes Knights of the Old Republic great. Instead, I'm going to focus on what makes it great (and less than great) on the iPad itself. If you've never played this one before, you can read other reviews right here at RPGFan — or I guess elsewhere. But why would you go anywhere else?

The most obvious port to compare Knights of the Old Republic to on iPad is another Bioware classic that got a rerelease on iPad: Baldur's Gate. Two different studios were responsible for each of these ports. Aspyr, who has made their living for a long time porting games to Mac platforms, was responsible for this one.

The first thing you'll notice that Aspyr got right was the handling of the dialogue trees. One of the more frustrating things about the Baldur's Gate port to iPad is trying to select the exact right pixel when going through responses. Aspyr's solution to this is so elegant and simple you can't believe everybody doesn't do it: there is a much larger button for each response added to the right side of the screen for any and all dialogue options. If there are so many you need to scroll down to see them all (a common occurrence in KOTOR, especially when slicing computer terminals), the buttons slide with it. It makes it so much easier to select the dialogue option you actually want, and there is no more frustrating reloading due to picking the "YOU'RE ALL GOING TO DIE" option by mistake instead of the "Let's talk this out" option.

Another thing that Aspyr gets absolutely right is the giant pause/play button for handling combat. It is located within easy touch range of your left thumb when holding the iPad. This handles the most important aspect of the combat system is made easy for the port, as your left thumb will be starting and stopping combat repeatedly, and the button is hard to miss and conveniently located. This was one of my biggest complaints about the Overhaul Games port of Baldur's Gate: the original interface was left almost entirely intact at the expense of usability on the tablet.

Big buttons are also available for selecting combat options or issuing orders to your troops. Sometimes it is a little tricky to get the right enemy selected if you want to hit somebody other than the one chosen automatically, but with the ease of reaching the pause button, you can make adjustments as soon as you realize something is wrong. One gripe I do have is that after the first action is queued up, sometimes the buttons move on you just a little bit, which means that attempting to queue up several of the same move sometimes results instead in pulling up another dialogue box to choose a different power. Considering how carefully some of the other tweaks were added, I find this to be a surprising usability oversight, but I guess nothing is perfect.

Moving around is accomplished by sliding a finger left or right anywhere on the screen to turn, and swiping up or down and holding a finger there for moving back and forth. Normally, I hate this kind of freeform controls and prefer some kind of fake "gamepad", but it really works here. Only once in a while did I find myself running out of screen real estate when trying to get my guy running as fast as possible.

Which brings us to a few of the things the port doesn't get totally right. By far my biggest complaint about the port is the brightness in certain areas. There were parts of this game I literally could not see on my screen — I was moving around guided solely by the mini map in the upper left-hand corner. I instinctively looked for some kind of gamma slider, but to my great surprise, there was none to be found. This is a really surprising omission, since the original versions of the game have one. Why it was taken out here, I can't say. If Aspyr releases a patch for anything in the game, I'd like to see it be this, because there are caves in this game in which I literally didn't see anything more than a few pixels as I stumbled around blindly.

The mini games also don't really work for me in this port due to the controls. I think Bioware does a lot of things well, but mini games are not one of them, so this wasn't a strong part of the game to begin with, in this reviewer's opinion. But with the new touch screen controls, I found the swoop racing portions to be close to unplayably difficult. It isn't a huge deal in terms of the overall game, since these missions are generally optional, but no matter how many times I tried, I was so far off the target time on some of them that eventually I just threw in the towel. Swiping left and right on the screen does not give you the level of precision control you need to hit the speed bursts on the swoop track, and having your finger on the screen makes it difficult to even SEE the obstacles and speed bursts. The times when you have to shoot down Imperial fighters onboard the Ebon Hawk suffer from a similar problem, as the require you to swipe wildly all over the place while at the same time trying to fire blasters, which requires you to lift your finger off the screen and tap again — it's a mess. I'd rather simply have the option to skip the Ebon Hawk shooting sequences in a future patch, because the whole thing is a chore.

That said, the drawbacks I've described here make up a very small percentage of the overall experience. The vast majority of this game is as tremendous as it has always been, and Aspyr are to be commended for setting a new bar for classic ports. I was astounded at how easy it was to get back into the wonderful universe of Knights of the Old Republic and get lost in the experience, and when the touch screen controls aren't getting in the way of it, you know the studio has done something right. This remains a game that everyone who loves RPGs should play, and I'm pleased to say that the iPad version is as good a platform as any to experience it.


© 2013 LucasArts, Bioware, Aspyr. All rights reserved.




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