PC Games: Knights of the Old Republic II, The Sith Lords

Released about a year and a half ago, the first Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) was very successful, but wasn't all that revolutionary. As any hardcore PC gaming fan will tell you, KOTOR's emphasis on long conversations and meandering sub-quests is standard issue in computer role-playing games. However, KOTOR was different because it took this time-consuming experience and made it palatable, even engaging. KOTOR II keeps the tradition going by not fixing what ain't broke.

Story-wise, the Sith Lords is a step-up from the original, whose random ramblings covered up a remarkably standard plot. You are the last Jedi (the last not accounted for by the evil Sith, anyway) and as the game begins, you're trying to rediscover your Jedi skills while running from the long arm of the Sith. Characters from the first KOTOR make regular appearances, too (something sure to cause the veterans to exclaim, "Oh, c'mon, there's no way he became a Republic admiral!").

There are dozens of improvements from the original Knights, but they're mostly tiny little niceties you'll only notice if you're intimately familiar with the series. Fighting's a little less jerky, for example, and you can now convince your party to join the Dark (or Light) side through a new influence-based conversation system.

However, bigger issues - including choppy visuals in certain scenes and a battle system that is more complicated than it should be - remain unfixed in KOTOR II. This could annoy PC owners who expect radical improvements with every sequel.

Of course, cutting-edge design was never this game's primary thrust. Just like a cross-country road trip, it's all in the experience; and here Sith Lords keeps up the fine tradition Bioware began with the first KOTOR. Every planet you land on is chock full of interesting story tidbits, either spread before you from the get-go or doled out in smaller sub-quests. Nearly all are fun to trace through (even the rather non Jedi-like ones, including returning a slave dancer to her two-timing boyfriend) and the enjoyable voice acting means you won't be skipping through any of the countless conversations.

This story emphasis is the reason why Knights of the Old Republic (and, yes, its sequel) still seem so original. Too many Japanese RPGs include tons of fighting at the expense of a believable plot and characters. KOTOR II bucks the trend by making every battle a natural progression of an engaging story. Just like the first game, it's a story you will want to play twice, just to see how much insidious fun being a Dark Jedi can be. Even if you missed the first game, give this one a shot - it's a totally refreshing RPG experience. KOTOR II is also available on Xbox.

Visuals: Pleasing to the eye, some jerky visuals during cut-scenes that can be overlooked Audio: Voice acting is top notch and combines well with the atmospheric audio Gameplay: Similar to the first KOTOR, but with a few improvements Score: 4 1/2 out of 5 Publisher: LucasArts Developer: Obsidian Entertainment URL: www.lucasarts.com/games/swkotor_sithlords

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