Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

Review by Mike Phillips
May 2002

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 graphics—the 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 Calrissian—I 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 AT–ST, 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 the game.

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-solving—Raven 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-impaired—basically 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 title—it is that great! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: LucasArts
Release Date: April 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95 OSR2/98/ME/2000/XP
100% DirectX-compatible computer
Pentium II or Athlon class 350 MHz or faster CPU (Pentium II or Athlon class 400 MHz or faster recommended for multiplayer)
64 MB RAM (128 MB RAM required for Windows 2000 and XP)
16 MB OpenGL compatible PCI or AGP 3D hardware accelerator
16-bit DirectX 8.x compatible sound card
Quad-speed CD-ROM drive
Keyboard or mouse required; joystick supported
DirectX 8.0a
665 MB of free hard drive space
Supports up to 32 players via Local Area Network
Supports up to 16+ players via 56 Kbps or faster connection to the Internet
DSL/cable modem required for Internet hosting

 
   
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