Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Review by Mike Phillips
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ...
If that infamous phrase is unfamiliar, you are either a cave-dwelling
troglodyte, a yak herder in the nether regions of the Himalayas,
comatose for the past twenty-five years, or have no interest in
the Star Wars phenomenon. Read no further in this case, as none
of what follows will be remotely interesting.
Good, now that all the adults are gone, it's time for some fun!
One must wonder how many times LucasArts and LucasFilms Ltd. can
milk their cash cow before the bovine runs dry. Gaming-wise, LucasArts
has experienced a few pitfalls along the way. Force Commander
and Phantom Menace, anyone? To make matters worse, LucasArts
lost the impressive talents of Justin Chin, the lead designer of
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II and its expansion pack, Jedi
Knight: Mysteries of the Sith.
LucasArts decided to forego an in-house team for JK2 and
instead contracted a development house with an impressive list of
titles, Raven Software. With Soldier of Fortune and Star
Trek Voyager: Elite Force among Raven's accomplishments, it
was a brilliant move.
Jedi Outcast is proof positive that a sequel can improve
upon its predecessors in almost every way imaginable. To cut to
the chase at the earliest possible moment, I give the game a full-fledged,
no second thoughts about it, disagree with me and you will answer
to Helga, Four Fat Chicks .
Playing the first two games in the series is not a prerequisite;
the now-dated Dark Forces and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces
II stand on their own merits with classic status. The plot of
Jedi Outcast does pick up where Jedi Knight left off,
however. Your game persona is Kyle Katarn, a confused former Jedi
who was drawn to the Darkside and thus abandoned the Force after
avenging his father's death in the Valley of the Jedi. Along with
his best friend Jan Ors, Kyle now works as a mercenary for the New
Republic. It quickly becomes evident that he must do battle with
the Empire and in so doing learn to master the Force again.
JK2 certainly isn't the greatest thing conceived since electricity;
it did have a few moments where its play deserved less than the
stellar grade I bestowed upon it. Perhaps the biggest fault of the
game is that it begins in a rather bland fashion. Watch a brief
opening cutscene, begin first level, choose weapon, kill baddies,
and move on to level two. Perhaps it was the designers' intention
to start the game's pacing slowly, then unleash onto the unsuspecting
gamer the wild ride that JK2 becomes. If that was the case,
it worked in astounding fashion.
One glaring flaw that is now infesting action games, which has
been a consistent problem in adventure games for ages, is how to
integrate puzzles into a game without having that tacked-on feeling.
There is at least one such puzzle in JK2, and I will confess
that I enjoyed figuring it out. However, once I was past it, I realized
how inane it was, nothing more than a time-filler, and quite out
of place in the game world. Borrowing aspects from adventure games
was long overdue for action games, and the incorporation of cohesive
plots and germane puzzles is a welcome addition, but I hope that's
as far as it goes. If action games ever start using slider-tile
puzzles as door locks, someone please give me a gun, as I'd feel
the need to end it all.
Another gripe, one hundred saves is the maximum without doing some
file manipulation. Ten would probably be enough for the intrepid
shoot-it-if-it-moves types, but for mere mortals that often-seen
zero to ninety-nine flaw has to be fixed.
Aside from that, everything else JK2 sets out to accomplish
is done in a wondrous way. For those who are familiar with the Star
Wars universe, commenting on the score by John Williams is pointless.
It just doesn't get any better.
Likewise the graphicsthe Quake 3 Team Arena engine
has been tweaked, prodded, and pushed by Raven Software to new limits,
vertical limits. In several levels, those who suffer from acrophobia
may find the game a bit intimidating. Lip-sync and facial models
in the cutscenes are also very well done. The graphic artists and
programmers didn't miss much in this game.
Voice acting is on par with most games published or developed by
LucasArts, the best in the business. Unfortunately, Mark Hamill
didn't do the voice of a young Luke Skywalker in the game, but Billy
Dee Williams makes an appearance as Lando CalrissianI swear
his voice could melt butter.
I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention the sound effects in the game;
they are nothing short of superb. The clanking of an ATST,
that infuriating whine of Tie Fighters, or that magical, electrical
buzz of a lightsaber when drawn. The sound artists and engineers
that create this are geniuses.
The real stars of this show are the Force powers and the lightsaber,
however; forget the weapons that would be interesting in an average
game, as this is far from an average game. The varied stances and
attacks in lightsaber duels alone make this game worth the price
of admission. Locking sabers with an enemy, then flipping, turning,
and twisting all while trying to get that one deadly swipe gets
your mouse hand sweaty and quivering.
And the Force powers ... oh, those Force powers! Killing Stormtroopers
while having that much fun should be illegal. I can't recall how
many times I replayed confrontations simply to experiment with various
methods to bring an enemy to an untimely demise. Force Pushing a
Stormtrooper off a ledge is fun, but why not use Force Grip and
carry him to the ledge and let go? Or use the Jedi Mind Trick, rendering
him as harmless as a sheep, then a quick swipe with the lightsaber,
and watch body parts fly. Yes, for the truly psychotic, there are
options for dismemberment and slow-motion death sequences. And there's
the Lightsaber Throw, a wickedly thrilling way to take out several
enemies at one shot. The list goes on.
As for basic game mechanics, it can be played from either first
or third person, or a combination of both. The default setting for
first-person guns and third-person lightsaber seems to work well
for most people, but the option is there to change it. There is
a plethora of video settings, allowing the game to be played on
a wide range of systems; an über-computer isn't needed to enjoy
Four difficulty settings are available: Padawan, Jedi, Jedi Knight,
and Jedi Master. Jedi Master was thrown in for those who really
have some sort of fascination with dying every two seconds or think
the game-over screen is cool.
Enemy AI is quite good. Stormtroopers always try to run to your
flanks or get behind you while shooting, and they can be quite pesky
when fighting several of them.
Missions in the game are varied; some are simply run-and-gun. One
mission is a "sneaker" a la Thief. Kill someone
or be seen and you'll be reloading your last saved game. Many missions
require jumping, some puzzle-solvingRaven tried to pack everything
conceivable into the game, and they succeeded. You start off with
few weapons and no lightsaber or Force powers. Once you meet up
with Luke at the Jedi Academy, you gain minimal powers. They are
upgraded with experience as you complete levels.
Beyond that, multiplayer is included with Force Powers not available
in the single player game. For many, the Lightsaber Duel Challenge
is the main selling point for this game. There are mods (user-created
levels) available, and many more to come. And LucasArts recently
released a demo with a level not available in the retail version.
I'd make a wager that at least one expansion pack is in the works
as well. So think of this game as an investment rather than something
you can breeze through in a few hours.
A full list of cheat codes is also available for the action-impairedbasically
the game should have an appeal for everyone.
While Jedi Outcast is firmly entrenched in the action genre,
that shouldn't frighten away adventure gamers. If you've ever played
an action/adventure game and have an interest in Star Wars, it's
imperative to play this game. Unlike in most action/adventures,
there are no clunky controls; everything runs smoothly. And, of
course, all controls can be remapped to your liking. 2002 is still
young and undoubtedly there will be many more great games released;
but Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast will surely be one of the
front-runners for the game of the year titleit is that great!