Great moments in PC gaming: Being brainwashed in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

(Image credit: EA)

Year: 2011
Developer: BioWare

I get it. When you're on the character selection screen in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Imperial Agent doesn't sound as exciting as the Jedi Knight, or the Sith Inquisitor, or the Smuggler. Who wants to play someone who works for the people whose job is to get choked out by Darth Vader in the movies?

The Imperial Agent's storyline is something special, though. You're a spy codenamed Cipher Nine who spends more time trying to hold the fragile Empire together than take down the Republic. Turns out a cabal of cackling evil wizards with lightsabers is no basis for a system of government, and you have to subvert the Siths' mad orders to get anything done. They're trying to use you as a pawn in their squabbles, when you really want to track down the paranoid ex-agent called Watcher X in Shadow Town to ask for his help taking down a terrorist organization (and get some holographic disguise implants while you're at it).

When you do go up against the Republic it's as a double agent, given the codename 'Legate' and sent undercover to pretend you're a traitor. "I should warn you, this sort of work can be psychologically taxing," your boss says before the assignment. She's not kidding.

The Republic spies don't trust you 100%, even if you actually are a genuine traitor (a strong possibility if you're playing light side). They know something you don't. It's standard for the Empire to brainwash its own agents, including you, and the Republic spies have unearthed your codeword—a single trigger phrase that will guarantee your loyalty. There's a clever moment where they use it and all your dialogue options (even saying you have a bad feeling about this, in the time-honored Star Wars tradition) lead to the same obedient reply that's been conditioned into you.

(Image credit: EA)

What's great about this is what happens after. Mind control isn't good for your mind, especially not in combination with those implants you got back in Shadow Town. Having your head messed with leads to a full-on breakdown, a hallucinatory sequence of subliminal flickers, tiny flying people, voices in your head, and floating droids. In an MMO where the cutscenes have been pretty pedestrian until this point, it's jarring and wild. You've gone from Star Wars to an episode of The Prisoner, although admittedly you've always been playing a character with a number instead of a name.

After this psychotic break, freeing yourself of the conditioning becomes a priority—whether it's so you can defect to the Republic for real, or use it against your superiors, or just be free of all these manipulative jerks no matter what side they're on. The Old Republic is a textbook MMO in a lot of ways, but the Imperial Agent's storyline isn't like anything else in Star Wars. 

It almost makes up for them not making another singleplayer KotOR game.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.