Star Wars Jedi Academy
"When 900 years-old you reach, look as good you will not", so said a terminally ill Master Yoda. As we now know, he was of course discussing the merits of the venerable Quake III engine, which is being dusted off once more for Raven's second Star Wars outing, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. And despite the years, the old Qlll workhorse (now rivalling Jacko for number of facelifts) is still looking surprisingly capable. Indeed, having played the game extensively, we think it might be the best Jedi game yet.
Despite the lack of numerical evidence in the title, Jedi Academy is the chronological sequel to last year's Jedi Outcast, one of the most frustrating action games I've had the pleasure to review. And it was a pleasure, in spite of the formulaic running and gunning that had to be completed in the early stages, and the botched design of the game's more tedious puzzle solving sections.
The game eventually revealed itself to be probably the most enjoyable in the Star Wars lineage in terms of saber-wielding action, and it is with some relief, then, that the new game focuses even more strongly on the electrifying clash of saber on saber.
Jedi Master Class
As mentioned last issue, some other major changes are obvious even before the adventure begins. Kyle Katarn, hero of the previous Dark Forces!Jedi Knight adventures is no longer heading the cast list, having been forced to take a wage cut and pass on his dubious talents as a teacher at Luke Skywalker's School of Jedism on Yavin 4. Instead, you play the game as his student, a young Padawan of undetermined heritage eager to learn the ways of the Force.
But before the first lesson begins, wannabe Jedi must first create their character, selecting from one of five races, (human, Rodian, Twi'lek, Zabrak and Kel Dor) and completing the look with a range of ready-made heads, torsos and legs.
Next comes the selection of the ultimate accessory, with the option to choose a blade colour and hilt design for your saber - a feature that has had a few obsessive Wars devotees frothing in their trousers. Seeing as the thing will be in your hands most of the time, it baffles me why anyone should care, but then what do I know - I only watch the films.
One aspect that is worth getting heated over is the new combat styles. Previous Jedi outings have concentrated solely on the traditional fighting methods favoured by Vader and son, but now you can choose to specialise as a dual saberwielding berserker, or ape the moves of the acrobatic Sith lord Darth Maul with his two gaffer-taped-together sabers. Follow the traditionalists and go for the single saber option and you can effect the full range of Force powers with relative ease, even in the thick of battle. Opt to specialise with dual sabers, however, and while you can go hammer and tongs like some demented majorette, Force powers will be harder to pull off. The Darth Maul style of combat is the more flamboyant of the three and allows for some impressive gymnastics and plenty of high kicks to knock the enemy off balance and, as before, the higher your Force level, the more special moves and attack combos you can pull off.
The control system itself is still being worked on, but it's clear Raven will be honing the Jedi Outcast system rather than making drastic changes, which is great news since the existing system was both simple and powerful enough to allow for some deft moves. The game now feels even closer to a beat 'em up, yet even with the keyboard/mouse combination it feels as intuitive as playing Street Fighter on an original arcade cab.
While Outcast's levels were generally Puzzle-based and largely frustrating due to their sprawling size and poor signposting, Academy's are focused, action-based affairs, with key-searching and button-pressing kept to a minimum. Battles are frequent and exciting, usually pitting you against multiple opponents, though you sometimes have the support of one or two Al teammates.
One particularly satisfying level sees you fighting alongside Chewbacca (although I accidentally singed his fur with my lightsaber and he chased me to death for doing so) and we can expect to see quite a few other old faces turning up to lend a hand as well, including Luke Skywalker and his little sister.
Scurrilous rumour has it that Ewoks are set to make an appearance, which is fine, so long as we get to poke their beady little eyes out in the multiplayer game. Although we like to whinge when developers use yesterday's technology for their games, it may be a very fortunate decision for us that Raven has decided to go with id Software's aging 3D code, past-masters that they are at turning successive id engines into high quality action games. For one thing it means the wait has been a short one, just over a year in fact - which when you consider we've already been forced to wait over six years for the Duke Nukem sequel - is quite an impressive turnaround.
For another, Quake Ill's aging architecture can still cut the mustard, as Elite Force II - another Raven production - has proved. Add in all the various enhancements Raven has made through the years: Ghoull II animation, ICARUS scripting, a new terrain engine, ragdoll physics and even vehicles - and it's clear that until Doom 3's code goes out, Quake Ill's will do very nicely.
Not Even A Jedi Wants To Have To Leg It Everywhere...
Jedi Academy features a new emphasis on drivable vehicles, with Tauntauns and AT-ST Scout Walkers to command. Unfortunately, only the stinky two-legged arctic camels were available to try out in our beta build. Hopping aboard is simply a case of pressing the action key when you get near one (or you could be a show-off and Force Jump onto their backs) and since no special keys are required, controlling them is simple - just rotate left and right and press forward when required.
They are hardly the most exciting beasts to control and the novelty of padding across the frozen wastes will, we fear, soon wear off. But they have a useful purpose in traversing maps quickly and they gurgle quite convincingly. You can't fight while mounted at this stage, but we're assured you will be able to once the game is complete. Instead, we tried out the Tauntaun's charge attack and bowled our way through an entire squad of Stormtroopers - which undoubtedly will be a most enjoyable way to rack up frags in the online game.
Download Star Wars Jedi Academy
You see, when Richie Shoemaker reviewed the last version, Jedi Outcast, for us he imparted the following pearls of wisdom (and I'm paraphrasing wildly here before any of you dig out your old issues and write in to complain). "Without your lightsaber to hand. Jedi Knight 2 is a bit knob. Thankfully when you finally get hold of it, it gets a bit good."
And as these immortal words were penned in ZONE it's fitting that Raven has listened and learned and announced JK3 is going to put more stock in the third-person lightsaber sequences. You'll still get to wield other weapons (including the Wookiee bowcaster, Imperial repeater and a Destructive Electro- Magnetic Pulse gun) but estimates at the moment are putting the action 70/30 in favour of the glow sticks.
And if that wasn't a big enough shock for diehard FPS fans, what about the revelation that JK3 is going to sport roleplaying elements? Instead of playing as Kyle Katam, you get to create your own character, selecting gender, race, facial features and clothing, as well as the type of saber you're going to swing. You then train to become a Jedi under the tutelage of Kyle Katarn and Luke Skywalker, running through missions unlocking new types of sabers and multiplayer modes.
Using a heavily modified version of the Quake III engine, we know the game's going to look the part but even at this stage we're pretty sure it's going to play like a dream. Moving away from the traditional FPS backdrop is a good move in our books and other features, such as being able to choose which mission you tackle next, rumours of a Max Payne-style Bullet-Time Force power (unconfirmed at the time of going to press) and the promise that levels are going to be twice as big as in the predecessor have got us rubbing our lightsabers in anticipation.
It's Barely a year since we last flexed our force powers in Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, but we're not far off getting another chance to worship hokey religions in Raven's newest saber-slinger, Jedi Academy.
And, we're pleased to report, it's a much more focussed affair that greets us this time around. As much as we enjoyed Jedi Outcast, it was something of a mixed bag of first-person shooting and third-person swordplay that didn't really take off until the saber-combat (eventually) kicked in. This time, the sabers are drawn from the off, with new saber moves, many more force powers and a fast and furious new combat system. The result is a more action-adventure weighted affair with more third-person action that's sure to have every aspiring Jedi in a sweat.
Charting your journey from wet-behind-the-ears Padawan to stick-in-the-mud Jedi Knight, the new game is set directly after Jedi Outcast, and casts you as student in Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. After a brief spell in training, you'll be sent out on a variety of missions to fight crime and defeat a troublesome new faction in the galaxy.
In a shock move, the game drops Kyle Katarn (the poncy bearded Jedi from previous outings) as star of the show, opting for a customisable character creation system instead. LucasArts' Lynn Taylor elaborates: "Kyle Katarn is now your mentor. So the first thing you'll do in the game is choose who you're going to be playing. You've got a choice of multiple species, such as Human, Zabrak, Twi'lek, and Rodian, as well as fully customisable appearance. A lot of people were downloading mods to customise their character in multiplayer, so we've put all that in the game."
Choose Your Weapon
You can also tailor your saber to your tastes with a choice of handle styles and blade colours, as well as choosing between a single blade, dual wielding or the Darth Maul-style double-ender. "A lot of people ask if the single saber is less powerful," cautions Lynn, "but it depends on your style. On the single, you can use force powers while fighting, as well as throwing it. On two swords, you can throw one and be fighting with the other one. With the double-saber, you can't throw it at all, but you can kick enemies."
This emphasis on choice also carries into the structure of the game itself. In an effort to provide a bit of that fabled 'nonlinear gameplay', each mission is made up of five separate levels. In each case you only have to complete four of them to progress, though you end up gaining more force powers if you complete all five.
Being a trainee Jedi also means plenty of mission variety. One of the levels we played at E3 required us to raid a criminal gang that had been capturing civilians and feeding them to Rancors. The primary aim was to free the civilians, but there was also the option to take on the Rancor itself - an impressive beast that gives testament to the enhancements made to the 3D engine (originally Quake 3).
Somewhat less impressive was a level set on Hoth, in which you ride Tauntauns through a familiar icy wasteland. While it's good to see the hairy brutes getting an outing in a game, it seems the jerky animation from the film has been reproduced a little too accurately. Other more promising modes of transport include an AT-ST (as in Jedi Outcast), an X-Wing and maybe even a land speeder. Classic characters such as Chewbacca are also set to appear.
However, the most promising enhancements appear to be in the area of combat. For starters, all the conventional weapons and force powers that existed only in multiplayer in Jedi Outcast are now in the single-player game, and some old favourites from earlier games are also set to reappear. Weapons now include the Concussion Rifle, Wookiee Bowcaster, Imperial Repeater and Han Solo's Heavy Blaster. Force Sight will make a return, as will, it seems, every other force power ever seen in the Jedi Knight series (though the final list is still under wraps).
Much more thought has also gone into the way force powers work. Not only can you combine your force powers like never before, you often have to use specific forces in combat to counter enemy attacks. If you get caught in a force grip, for example, the only way to counter is to use force push. To make it over a large gap, you may have to combine force jump with force speed. Similar examples abound.
Quicker, More Seductive...
While all this adds a measure of fun to the proceedings, Lynn is keen to stress that it's not a reinvention of the series. "It's not a radical departure from Outcast, it's very similar. If you know how to play Outcast you can pick this up really quickly."
Still, it definitely seems that the Jedi Knight series is giving up any pretensions of carrying on the first-person tradition of the classic Dark Forces, to focus instead on a more crowd-pleasing mixture of elements. This is all well and good, providing LucasArts has the wisdom to give us a proper, hardcore Star Wars shooter to sit alongside it. A true Dark Forces 3 with Source (Half-Life 2) tech? Now that would be something.
Star Wars Meets Team Fortress? Where Do I Sign?
While they never really took off online, the multiplayer modes for Jedi Outcast did contain some hugely enjoyable force-powered action. They were, however, pretty basic in scope, with vanilla deathmatch being the pick of the bunch and one-on-one saber duels the only real novelty. Jedi Academy, on the other hand, is a whole other story. Not only is there a new 2-on-1 handicap duelling mode for those that fancy themselves as Jedi masters, but there's also a brand new teamplay mode dubbed Siege. Based around multiple objectives and player classes in the vein of Wolfenstein or Team Fortress, the new game will let you play as a demolitionist, medic, infantry, Rebel trooper, or, of course, a Jedi. The exact nature of the gameplay is yet to be revealed, but the mere idea of a Star Wars version of Enemy Territory is enough to convince us.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is a third person action title that takes place following the original Star Wars trilogy. Determined to bring the Jedi Order back to their original glory, series protagonist Luke Skywalker invites the player to his prolific Jedi Academy. Playing as Jaden Korr, a young student, the player must battle through a series of exciting missions as a new Jedi recruit. Along with your trainer Kyle Katarn and your friend Rosh Penin, you'll explore new worlds and further your training as a true Jedi Knight.
Before you start the game in earnest, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy allows you to customize Jaden to fit your preferences. You can pick various facial presets, as well as costumes and color variants. In addition to personalizing Jaden's avatar, you can also craft your very own lightsaber! You get to choose not only the color of your saber, but the style of hilt as well. This upfront customization makes your experience with Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy feel more personalized. It's also awesome to see your personal Jedi in action, as your powers begin to grow.
Gameplay in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is mixture of third-person and first-person action, depending on which weapon you are wielding. After a brief tutorial mission that teaches you the ropes, you're free to choose from a list of assignments. As part of your Jedi training, you're required to travel to various planets and help those in need, which usually requires a hefty does of Jedi powers. In this way, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy gives the player a welcome choice in which mission they want to select first. The missions offer a good variety in objectives and settings, including recognizable planets from the film series. Before starting a mission, players are able to choose between a handful of blasters to equip, as well as a gadget of their choice. Each gun provides a unique playstyle, and the gadgets add a fun boost in utilty.
Missions are fun and exciting, mainly due to the quick-paced combat. As previously mentioned, the game switches between third-person and first-person action, which is an interesting feature rarely seen in the shooter genre. When you're wielding your custom lightsaber, you'll battle in third-person mode. Lightsabers can be upgraded, and additional fighting styles can be learned as well. Slashing down troops makes you feel super powerful, and engaging in one-on-one lightsaber duels are consistently entertaining. The first-person perspective comes up whenever you switch to a blaster or grenade, making aiming a bit easier. It's fun to experiment with the various weapons and gadgets, striking a balance between gunfire and lightsaber use. In addition to these tools of destruction, you can also employ the use of force powers. There are over 10 different force powers to unlock and use, and include both dark force and light force powers. For example, you can enter a buffed state using the dark Force Rage, or choose to heal yourself with the light Force Heal. The choice is entirely yours.
In addition to the main single player adventure, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy also has a nice suite of multiplayer options. There are a slew of modes and maps to battle on, and multiplayer can be enjoyed locally, on Xbox Live, or with computer-controlled bots. Multiplayer matches are fast and frantic, and tons of fun to experience.
Overall, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is an awesome action title that really puts the power of the force at your fingertips. The lack of a map or guidance system and occasionally confusing objectives only slightly mar the experience on an otherwise fantastic Star Wars romp. If you dream of becoming a true Jedi and undertaking the grueling training required, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy will let you live out that fantasy in full. It's a fun and quick-paced game that's excellent in short bursts or extended play, and will have you returning time and time again.
Trying to recapture the success of Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy picks up where Jedi Outcast left off with Kyle Katarn helping Luke establish a Jedi training facility. This time around however, you'll be controlling a new Jedi recruit and Kyle will be the Jedi Master training you. Unfortunately, there are far too many similarities between Jedi Academy and its predecessor. There have been improvements and tweaks made, but the gameplay and graphics in particular seem tired.
Although the gameplay in Jedi Academy doesn't have any major changes there are a number of small improvements that add some separation between the two titles. In Jedi Academy, you have the ability to build a character ranging across five species and two genders. Other options are available as well such as light saber handle and blade color. Unfortunately, this feature is small is scope compared to other games and is almost a waste of time. You can rarely see the handle of the light saber in any detail for instance during the game so selecting one is rather useless.
The biggest disappointment is the lack of significant changes to the gameplay and graphics. It plays almost identically to Jedi Outcast and looks similar as well. Had I not played Knights of the Old Republic, this might have been less of a factor but Jedi Academy feels like Jedi Outcast repackaged with a different story line. The other issue is that the story line isn't near as engrossing as Jedi Outcast which is also disappointing. That may sound bad, but Jedi Outcast was a great game with solid gameplay and graphics. Just don't expect anything revolutionary and be prepared for dated graphics.
Overall, Jedi Academy is a solid game that will appeal to those who wanted more from Jedi Outcast. It isn't going to blaze any new trails however so make sure you align your expectations before purchasing.