A long time ago on a platform far, far removed from the iPad....
Developer BioWare commenced construction of a devastatingly brilliant RPG. Not only was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for PC (and Xbox) one of the best Star Wars games ever released, but it was also one of the best RPGs every released.
So you see, the game's arrival on Apple tablets might be ten years after the game's initial launch, but it still stands as A New Hope for iOS RPGs.
Okay, we'll stop with the cheesy Star Wars references now. Our word we give. Much remorse do we feel.Return of the Jedi
Good news - Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is as fantastic an RPG as it ever was. Sure, the decade-old 3D visuals are a little basic, the corridors that link its vast hub-like worlds are comparatively drab and featureless.
But it all looks and runs crisply on modern Apple hardware (we played on an iPad 3, but even iPad 2 owners can get in on the act). And the true genius here is the game's design, which has scarcely aged at all.
This is the kind of multi-layered Western-style RPG BioWare has built its reputation on. Even its newer games (like Mass Effect and Dragon Age) essentially follow the KOTOR template.
You wander around these familiar worlds (including Tatooine and Kashyyyk), chatting to locals, accepting side-quests, purchasing new gear, advancing the plot, and engaging in semi-automated battles that favour strategy over reactions.
It's just that here, this ever-solid template is given a big old injection of Lucas magic.Pre-Yoda
Set around a thousand years before whiny old Anakin arrived on the scene to pout the universe into submission, this is a time when the Sith are as large and organised a force as the Jedi - not just a shadowy partnership pulling the strings behind the scenes and engaging in the odd choppy-choppy lightsaber duel.
You stumble into this troubled period as a mysterious blank slate of a Republic conscript who - it's no spoiler to say - pretty quickly becomes a mysterious blank slate Jedi conscript.
We say pretty quickly, but it'll be several hours until you pick up a lightsaber in anger. KOTOR is huge.
But you'll rarely feel like you're wasting your time grinding through battles or pointless activities. The game keeps up the pace and variety of its tasks, and the rip-roaring, twist-filled plot also keeps you interested even through the odd tough patch.
Then there are the dozens of moral decisions you'll encounter throughout the game. You really can choose how you want to approach each conversation and situation, but there will always be ramifications for your actions.
Choosing whether you help, hinder, or even kill the people you meet throughout the game has immediate consequences in terms of rewards - whether that's experience points, valuable information, credits, or assistance - but there's no correct or incorrect way to play the game.
All of your actions - whether positive or negative - work to push your character further into the light or dark side of the Force, with the abilities available to you changing accordingly.Control, you must learn control!
The biggest concern over KOTOR on iPad is how it controls. This was a game designed with keyboard and mouse in mind, after all.
We won't pretend that this iOS version of the game plays better or even as well as the original version. It doesn't. But it plays well enough that you can concentrate on the game's many strengths, as listed elsewhere, without too much distraction.
Swiping up on the screen sends your character running forward, and turning is a simple matter of swiping in the appropriate direction. Camera control, too, can be initiated through a simple lateral swipe.
You can also shortcut this occasionally fiddly system by tapping directly on objects of interest, from item-filled boxes to doors and enemies. This will send your party trotting over to said element and engaging.
The multi-choice dialogue system has been bodged a little in order to get it working, but at least it's working. You now have separate numbered buttons along the right-hand side of the screen corresponding to each of the choices. It's an inelegant but functional workaround.
Menu navigation (a considerable part of KOTOR's gameplay), meanwhile, works pretty much perfectly. As you might expect on a 10-inch touchscreen device.
When it works - which is a good deal of the time - it's perfectly easy to play KOTOR on iPad. You can't ask for much more than that without a serious rewrite of the game.Galaxy of options
KOTOR's many sub-systems have more depth and nuance than most full iOS games.
Its battle system pauses the game automatically to let you issue orders, which can incorporate ranged and melee attacks. This ties in with a vast character customisation element that takes into account your class (Scout, Soldier, Scoundrel, etc.), your equipment loadout, and the unique abilities that you choose to unlock as you level-up.
Conversation, too, is a vital aspect of the game. You'll get multiple choices for every discussion you enter - and there are loads of them - and your character's developing skills may unlock further dialogue options to enable you to persuade or coerce the other party into an extra piece of information or an easier solution to a problem.
There's so much more we could talk about here, but we're rapidly running out of space. And really, there's no need.
Long-time fans of the game will just be happy to know that the game is the same, unadulterated masterpiece as before. For those of you who never played the original, meanwhile... well, we wouldn't want to spoil a single moment for you. It's going to be an epic voyage.