Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
A Look At Some Very Early code and a chat with the team some months ago had already indicated that Jedi was going to be a very special game indeed. The engine that the team had developed was unlike anything we'd seen in a game of this type and could seemingly handle a high count of multipolygon characters, water, dynamic lighting and gravity effects with consummate ease. The aim was always to produce a 'living' environment that would deliver a damn good kicking to the likes of Quake, Unreal and anything that the 3DRealms bunch could muster, while at the same time making it as versatile as possible and easy for level designers to use.
"We wanted to be able to say to the level designers, this is your world, go and create the best levels you can," maintains project leader Justin Chin. "This engine can pretty much do anything we want it to. There's nothing else like it. We can create massive levels for the player to explore and build, with multiple levels, slopes and wide open spaces - it's just awesome. It's this technology that will keep LucasArts at the forefront of game design. This is the beginning of a new era for us."
Of course, such graphical lushness comes at a price, and although the levels we saw had all the elements in place, things were chugging along in only a half-screen window on a Pentium 120, although this was largely down to the sound cutting in and slowing everything down - a problem that LucasArts are confident they can easily fix when everything's finally been pulled together. This is very early code remember, and as such all the debugging shit is still in there, and it's slowing everything down massively. Once all the objects and textures have been sorted, they'll start working on the frame rate, and providing your machine can handle the rigours of Windows 95, your Jedi Knight won't limp along in jerko-vision in the standard-res modes. Depending on what view you're playing in, it will look as good as either Tomb Raider or Quake in default resolutions. And as you would expect, Jedi Knight is designed to take advantage of Direct3D and specific 3D accelerator cards, and extra frames of animation, translucent effects and an improved frame rate will transform it into something that's just as remarkable as Tomb Raider running under 3Dfx and Open GL Quake.
A Knight to remember
It almost goes without saying that some of the levels have to be seen to be believed. When you switch to the third-person view you really get a sense of the scale and enormity of some of the levels, especially when you venture outside. Picture the scene: you're being pursued by a horde of Stormtroopers and while dashing down a corridor, you spot a doorway leading outside. As you dodge laser blasts, you use your Jedi powers to make the long leap through the opening to safety. Outside the door you spot a speeder bike. Normally in a game of this type you'd run over to it, realise that it was part of the furniture, let off a few rounds to see if it had any effect, and then leg it But this is Jedi Knight. It's all about operating within a realistic environment that you can inter with. Remember that rogue laser blasts knock chunks out of walls. It's a speeder bike, you're being chased - what would Luke do? Exactly. You climb aboard the bike and make your getaway, leaving the Stormtroopers in a blaze of blaster fire. As you speed off into the distance, you find yourself under much stronger laser fire. Where the shit did that come from? Then you hear that noise. You feel the hairs on the back of your neck rise. You're being chased through a ravine at what seems like a zillion miles an hour by a TIE Fighter. Shit. Time to ditch the bike and take cover. You can expect this sort of intensity when you play Jedi Knight. It's that kind of game.
Not only does it boast a level of complexity that other developers have only ever dreamt about, but Jedi also sports characters that are so well animated, they make the Marine in Quake seem like a Lego man. The lead character Kyle, doesn't just walk, he slinks about the levels like a cat. Let go of the mouse and you can watch him breath and look around. You actually find yourself using the third-person ew just so you can watch him move, and when you come under fire, it might be more appropriate to switch to the more conventional first-person viewpoint. Just like Mario64, it's a game that's almost as good to watch as it is to play.
Thankfully, the control system doesn't disappoint either. Kyle has got plenty of moves and animations ready up his sleeve and the keyboard/mouse combo that LucasArts have developed works surprisingly well, especially if you're used to the W/A/S/D/Space-plus-mouse configuration favoured by so many Quake players. Making Kyle leap, thrust and parry soon becomes second nature and with a bit of practice players should be able to engage in some pretty intense melee sessions with other Jedi wielding mighty light sabres. Particularly dextrous players will even be able to use it to defend themselves from blaster shots, which is a very important consideration indeed, because the light sabre is supposed to be the most powerful weapon in the Jedi Knight universe. If it was overly difficult and cumbersome to use, the whole Force thing would evaporate into sheer nonsense. Chin is understandably pleased with this particular aspect: "We just went with what we felt worked best. We've all played Quake and the keyboard/mouse combination was obviously the way to go. Kyle's a complex character with lots of moves. We had to keep it simple and instinctive for the player, but at the same time make it versatile. If you can't get on with it, we are working on a joystick system which is pretty neat (motions holding a light sabre and then picks up a ThrustMaster flight stick that's sitting on his desk) which will hopefully work just as well."
There are a lot of 3D Quotre-athon games scheduled for release in the next few months, what with Hexen 2, Quake 2, Daikatana, Half Life and Unreal ad due out before Christmas. However, from what we've seen so far, Jedi will be up there battling it out with the best of them for the top spot. And with the all-conquering Star Wars licence stamped all over it, how can it possibly fail?
Download Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
LucasArts unveils a trio of games that should rise to the top of the PC game slush pile and excite Star Wars followers. In Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Kyle Katarn's Star Wars saga continues in true Jedi fashion with classic conflicts between good and evil, and the past and the future. In this first-person action/adventure game, you strive to become a worthy Jedi by foiling seven Dark Jedi who are trying to unleash the powers of a secret Jedi burial ground. And you can share the Force with friends; Dark Forces II is a multiplayer game.
This amazing sequel to the original Dark Forces features some truly innovative twists: The ability to harness and use the Force, the inclusion of Lightsabers as weapons, and networking with up to eight people for multiplayer gaming.
Playing again as Kyle Katarn, you must seek out and combat the Dark Jedi. a group of seven knights who are searching for the sacred Jedi burial ground.
From the preview tape we saw, this looks like an exciting and impressive foray into the SW universe. Jedi Knight will take gamers into new worlds, both visually and technologically.
I have to admit, 3D shooters have begun to bore me. Forgetting about MDK for the moment, these games seem to be in something of a rut -- substituting graphically sophisticated gore and tons of money for any real spark of imagination. This is why it's ironic that Jedi Knight, a product that is a small part of a gigantic merchandising empire, is easily the best 3D adventure game of the year. For better or worse, the lack of creative spark in Jedi is compensated for by high production values, some ingenuity, and good use of the groundwork laid almost twenty years ago.
The plot line centers around Kyle Katarn -- from Dark Forces -- whose father has been murdered by the evil Jarek. Kyle's goal in life is to find Jarek before he finds the fabled Valley of the Jedi (a place of enormous power), and kill him. Not exactly complex or intriguing on its own, but suitable enough to frame a video game around. Roughly the same goes for the movies that move the plot along between levels -- nothing you'd watch if it weren't a cut-scene in a video game.
Like Dark Forces, the controls seem infinitely customizable -- keyboard and joystick settings can be altered to your heart's content, as can a few game features like crosshairs and such. The former is especially valuable, because of the wide variety of control available.
As far as the movement and interaction with the environment goes, Jedi offers the standard 3D shooter fare, with a few small (and nifty) additions, such as:
There are twelve of these available, four fundamentals and four each on the dark and light sides of the Force. They're acquired during gameplay -- at the end of each level the player may or may not receive "Force stars," which he/she can allocate to different powers. The side you choose has a hand in determining the outcome of the game. It's not real role-playing, but it adds a nice dimension to the game.
The Lightsaber (Yesssssss!)
Now we're talking. Not making this weapon available in the original Dark Forces created something of a disappointment among avid Star Wars fans. LucasArts has made an attempt to rectify the problem by making it not only available but crucial to completing Jedi Knight. As the game plays out, seven Dark Jedi must be defeated individually, a task that is impossible without a lightsaber.
Some folks might find these duels a little bland -- it's basically you and your opponent slashing at one another. I found them both a refreshing break from normal shoot-'em-up gameplay, and they seemed to add a little more drama to the proceedings.
The 3D engine in Jedi is a step ahead of the pack (with the possible exception of id's upcoming Quake 2), with catwalks, conveyors, rooftops, awnings, and other miscellany being put to good use in terms of layout and gameplay. That alone might have been enough, but there are a few moments when the environment goes topsy-turvy, one of which is particularly cool; a "falling spacecraft" level in which you must evacuate the ship before you crash. Horizontal becomes vertical, visa versa, and so on. It's tough to tell if you've been a particular way before, because it looks so different upside-down.
One serious criticism: The game lists the minimum amount of RAM at 16 megs, but playing the low-res option is so tremendously disappointing that I could never recommend it. Unless you always play the low-end versions of everything and are used to graphics that never look like what's on the box, don't play this way.
The music is unbelievably good, having been composed by John Williams and drawn exclusively from 20 years' worth of commissioned work for the Star Wars trilogy. The result is a score that succeeds at covering the entire spectrum of a grand adventure story; it is a lush, suspenseful and heroic body of work. I suppose it should be pointed out that to some people, especially those who are roughly my age and have had this music burned into their gray matter since their formative years, it simply means adventure the same way a red light means Stop. In any case, and for whatever reason, the music in this game exceeds all others to date, period. On the other hand, the sound effects, while well-suited and designed, are generally not the focus of much attention.
The direct modem option for multiplayer is easily configured and has very little lag. There aren't as many levels as I might like, and the configuration isn't as free as it could be, but these are the usual design complaints -- all in all, I had a fair amount of fun playing. The most unusual caveat is this -- if you set the level to time out after a certain number of minutes, it disconnects the phone line. That's it. You're done. Go to bed. What a strange way to think people would want to play. It might not make a bad option, given the amount of multiplayer addicts there are out there, but still ... Even though they have a few quirks like this, the multiplayer options (including the Internet) ran incredibly well.
Minimum / Single Player: 100% Windows 95 DirectX-compatible computer required. Pentium 90 or faster required. 16 MB RAM required (32 MB recommended). 2X CD-ROM drive required (4X or faster recommended). PCI graphics card required. 100% Windows 95 compatible 16-bit sound card required. 100% Windows 95 compatible keyboard, mouse, or joystick required. Microsoft DirectX 5.0 is included with the game and must be installed to play Jedi Knight. Note: Your system may require the "latest" Windows 95 drivers for your particular hardware. Minimum Installation requires 33 MB free hard drive space (plus an additional 20 MB free hard drive space after the install for the swap file).
Multiplayer: Supports up to 8 players via IPX or TCP/IP Local Area Network. Pentium 133 or faster recommended for Internet play. Supports up to 4 players via 28.8Kbps or faster connection to the Internet. Supports 2 players via 14.4Kbps or faster modem. Supports 2 players via Null Modem Cable.
What Jedi Knight lacks in spark, it compensates for with the oodles of money that a giant like LucasArts can throw into the development process. Add to that good environments, great music, tons of options, solid gameplay, and smooooooth net connections and I can certainly say that fans of the genre won't be disappointed. All things considered, I'm giving Jedi an 85.