I’ve sunk about an hour and a half into Knights of the Old Republic for iPad this morning. After the game was unceremoniously dumped onto the App Store with no fanfare on a competitive release week, my expectations for it were very low. Like, on par with my expectations for Fast and Furious 6. This is a ten-year-old game, after all, one whose controls were pretty poor on the platform it was developed for, much less ported two generations into the future.
But my cynicism was unwarranted. Somewhere, Yoda is shaking his head at me and muttering: “Always with you what cannot be done.” KOTOR holds up, and the iPad port (at least so far) is first-rate.
Freed from the canonical constraints of the Star Wars movie timeline, KOTOR is a prequel that takes place 4,000 (!) years before Luke Skywalker fought his dad and kissed his sister. If you’re new to the game, parts of it may feel cliche to you, but that’s because of how influential the game has been on subsequent RPGs. The discretely delineated morality system awards you “light side points” for kind actions and “dark side points” for being a scoundrel, and your party members will react based on their own ethical alignments. Bad guys politely wait for your multi-threaded conversations with NPCs to end before trying to blast you to bits. If this sounds like Mass Effect, that’s because KOTOR is the seed that grew into that franchise.
The game was never a graphical powerhouse but the production values were very high indeed — that still shows here ten years later. The music is outstanding and the voice acting is pretty good, even by today’s higher standards. The 3D world and the animated backdrops create a wonderful sense of place, though that might be my own rose-tinted glasses.
Before we get any further, let’s talk hardware. I’m playing this on a third-gen iPad, and developers Asypr Media suggest that you need an iPad 2 or better to run this game. I haven’t experienced any slowdown or crashes, but the game eats battery like it’s cool. If you’re expecting KOTOR to keep you occupied on a New York-to-LA flight, I hope you’ve got one of those seats with the USB jacks in the armrests or else your iPad will wink off to sleep somewhere over Iowa. The game uses 2.3 gigabytes of space after installation.
KOTOR’s interface has been thoughtfully adapted for touchscreens. There’s big touch targets and I’ve yet to not hit what I was aiming for. Inventory management is just as terrible as I remember from 2003, but you can’t stick the iPad with that problem — awful inventory UIs are a Bioware calling card, as any Mass Effect or Dragon Age fan can tell you.
Moving about the world consists of swiping the sides of the screen to rotate the camera and then swiping up to walk forward. This isn’t ideal — the game was clearly made with a controller in mind and would benefit greatly from pulling the camera back some and presenting you with a wider field-of-view — but it works.
Combat is the gameplay element I was most worried about, due to KOTOR’s pseudo-real-time system. Our highest dogma here at The Church of Pocket Tactics is that action games on touchscreens are a Bad Thing because it’s less than ideal to be swiping your paws all over the screen that’s showing you what’s going on when time is of the essence. KOTOR’s combat is less hands-on than it might appear from screenshots — it’s really just an elegantly disguised turn-based system, and it works pretty well on the iPad because you’re meant to issue orders with the game paused. The pause button is thankfully one of the biggest elements on the screen when you’re in combat, conveniently stationed next to your left thumb.
Knights of the Old Republic works very well on the iPad — better than I’d hoped. If you’ve played it before, it’s worth revisiting. If you haven’t played it, then you should seek it out if only to experience one of the most talked-about video game twist endings of that decade.
Now if you’ll pardon me, I need to find HK-47.