Let The Hate Flow Through You
So I’ve been on a bit of a Star Wars gaming binge lately thanks to the big Star Wars package recently offered on Steam. I’ve played through Knights of the Old Republic, some of the Jedi Knight series, and have even been giving Star Wars Galaxies a try. I’m definitely starting to feel more than a little burned out though, not on Star Wars mind you, rather I’m getting tired of lackluster games and frustrating bugs. I’ll say it right now, the ports for some of these games, especially for the Jedi Knight games, have been pretty abysmal.
But let’s start with the good: KotOR. This game well deserves its sterling reputation, it is just an enjoyable experience through and through. Oh sure, it’s not perfect, but it does a great job of capturing that Star Wars feel that so many other games have failed at. This was not my first playthrough of this classic RPG, though it was the first time I went full on Dark Side. I have tried to go through KotOR as a Dark Jedi many times in the past but I always ran into a host of technical issues that impeded my progress, fortunately I was able to get through the entire game this time though my experience was hardly bug free.
Now, many people complain about good and evil systems in games today with the chief complaint being that you just don’t feel evil at all, you feel more like a complete sociopathic asshole as opposed to some terrifying villain. I will say this for KotOR’s alignment system though, it’s damn fun being bad. More than once I found myself letting out an evil cackle as events found themselves transpiring against those around me. It really makes me interested in seeing how Bioware handles alignment in their upcoming MMO.
For my evil playthrough I decided to be a single saber Scoundrel/Consular and oh boy was that fun. I had no idea when I made this character that Force Choking enemies would leave them vulnerable to automatic sneak attacks so despite crippling myself in the damage department by choosing not to dual wield I still found myself inflicting grievous hurt upon my foes. It does, however, cut down on the drama of the moment somewhat when you can cut down the ultimate Dark Lord of the Sith in the space of ten seconds however.
But as I said earlier, all was not perfect. The GUI in KotOR can be a fickle thing and as I played I often found myself wishing for something more along the lines of what you’d find in an MMO like World of Warcraft (or The Old Republic, presumably). Game crashes and events not triggering when they should were par for the course as well (thankfully I kept many backup saves as more than one save of mine got corrupted by the frequent crashing). Most infuriating of all the problems I encountered was the ally pathfinding. I can’t begin to count how many times I would trek across a map only to be met with the good ‘ol “Gather your party before venturing forth” bit, forcing me to wander halfway across the same map to gather up my group who got themselves stuck on a corner (or found themselves stuttering in place!).
Still, despite all that playing through KotOR was an enjoyable experience. The same can’t be said for the other games I’ve played so far however. Let me get one thing straight out of the way though: Dark Forces kicks ass and the port for Steam didn’t give me any real troubles worth mentioning to boot; I love this game! Jedi Knight and its expansion however, not so much. The ports for these games are absolutely god awful! Now, I’m playing them on Windows Vista 32-bit but judging from the forum posts everyone is having the same problems.
First of all, no music! There is no music during each level! They didn’t include the goddamn music files with these installations and there was no way I was going to suffer through the painful fixes people were proposing online either. I actually ended up playing these games with Star Wars music playing on iTunes in the background and thats just a sad state of affairs. Ontop of that there is a setting in display options that is set to enabled by default which, if on, will cause the game to crash if you switch back to the game from the menu. I don’t need to tell you why that’s ridiculous.
If that weren’t enough, 3D Acceleration wouldn’t work properly so whenever I came across transparencies during the game it would slooooooooow down to the point of being almost unplayable. Needless to say water sections were the bane of my existence. The effort put into these ports was practically non-existent. It seems the people who did this just took a bunch of slap dash fixes used by the modding community to get things running rather than making things work properly for paying customers. An example of this is the cutscenes/menu windowing where accessing them takes you out of full screen to look at a tiny window in the corner of your screen, only to dump you back into the game full screen again once you’re done! Shoddy, shoddy work.
Which brings me to the games themselves. I don’t really understand the praise heaped upon these titles to be honest, and no, it’s not because I can’t get past the graphics, remember, I loved Dark Forces and those visuals are even more dated than these. These games just felt like run of the mill shooters when they were good and felt like work when they weren’t. The level design is nothing impressive, certainly not when compared to games like Deus Ex (still my favourite level designs of any game) and the controls felt really loose and disorganized.
The lightsaber combat was what really got to me though. This just wasn’t any fun at all. Lightsaber duels looked ridiculous and spastic, constantly strafing around one another waiting for an opening then swinging away like mad. It feels nothing like you’d imagine lightsaber combat to be and just feels totally out of place, just like the Force powers themselves. Most of them are completely useless (plus you are given no indication as to their use in-game) and those that aren’t just seem like they exist to enable the god awful platforming in these games.
And the stories? Both of them are terrible. Sure, the live action FMVs in the first Jedi Knight were amusing, especially any scenes with the main villain, Jerec, though that was just because he was such a terrible villain played by a terrible actor. But the story itself was just silly, and completely glossed over Kyle Katarn’s ascent to Jedi Master. One minute he’s a smart talking mercenary the next he’s challenging Sith Lords in duels to the death, stupid. Still, that was better then MotS’s story where there is absolutely zero explanation for what is going on at all and it consists of three completely disjointed plot threads that neither begin nor end satisfactorily. Just a terrible effort on the developer’s part there.
But all that hate doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy myself (well, with the first one anyways, I can’t stand MotS) and so I find myself trudging on with Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast hoping this one will turn out better (and if not there’s always Jedi Academy, fingers crossed). Things are looking up already though the shooting feels a bit weird for some reason. I’m just curious to see if any improvements have been made to the saber combat.
And finally we come to Star Wars Galaxies… I gotta tell ya, I just don’t care anymore. I’ve put in almost 50 hours with this game and it’s just boring me to tears. I’ve tried a Smuggler, a Trader, and yes, even a Jedi, but nothing is grabbing me. Combat, on ground and in space, is still just boring to me and even crafting doesn’t excite me at all (seriously, why the hell can’t you queue up crafting tasks, that’s just silly). I still want to check out housing but I doubt I’ll do much more other than look into some existing houses because I just don’t want to waste any more time on this game. I have better things to do with my time, like giving Fallen Earth another go as just one example of many.
So yeah, Star Wars games, so far only KotOR impresses me, but I knew that long ago. It seems like Bioware is the only developer that knows how to do Star Wars right.