Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
There are several ways to become a Jedi Knight: You could knock on George Lucas’ door and demand a leading role in Star Wars: Episode 3. Alternatively you could go down the pub, sink ten pints of loudmouth soup and leap from table to table swinging a big stick around claiming to be Luke Skywalker. Failing that you could sit cross-legged in the middle of an RAF base and attempt to levitate Harrier Jump Jets using nothing but the power of your mind. However, by far the easiest is to wait a couple of months and play Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast.
Do Not Underestimate...
A mere year in development, JK2 has to be one of the quickest high-profile games ever made. On one hand this is great news: we’ll have a Star Wars first-person shooter utilising Quake III: Team Arena technology upon us before we can say: "Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?" On the other hand, there’s the distinct possibility that this project may have been just a little rushed.
The fact that the Q3 engine is powering this latest escapade is reassuring, and with Raven software at the helm signs are also good. With the bulk of the code already in place, technicalities aside, all Raven has to do is tweak the gameplay and create the Star Wars character models and scenery. And even then they’re saving time by re-using levels from previous Dark Forces and Jedi Knight games.
For more cynical gamers the words 'cheats’ and 'rip-off immediately spring to mind. Yet, cast your mind back to some of the stunning level design seen in Jedi Knight and Mysteries Of The Sith and it’s easy to understand why levels like the Vertical City have been brought back. Don’t be misled into thinking this is just a 21st-century remake though.
Admittedly JK2 has its fair share of hand-me-downs’, yet LucasArts has also delved deep into Star Wars mythology to deliver original designs with a familiar feel. Cloud City where Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought in The Empire Strikes Back is one of many locations fans will recognise from the films. But if that still isn’t reassuring enough for you, you can always design your own, on the JK2 level editor that will ship with the game.
Mr Trooper I Presume?
The plot of JK2 is loosely based upon Star Wars novels covering events proceeding Return Of The Jedi, and of course JK and Mysteries Of The Sith. So, without getting bogged down in history, let’s just say that ex-Jedi, Kyle Katarn is back and must relearn how to use The Force (how can you forget how to use something like that?) in order to eliminate one of the most menacing threats the galaxy has faced.
In other words it’s business as usual with hordes of stormtroopers and a whole cacophony of strange beasts to blast, annihilate, disseminate and destroy in as many ways as you can possibly think of during 20 levels of futuristic, FPS brutality.
Well mostly FPS. We say mostly because it’s possible to use any of the game’s 12 weapons in a third-person view. Generally speaking you’ll probably want to give that a miss; as always it’s the first-person viewpoint where the Q3 engine really excels.
The only exception is the lightsaber - and what a shimmering beam of beauty it is too. To truly appreciate the splendour of this devastating tool, the third-person view is a must. If you thought the feel of the lightsaber in the first game was special, wait until you get your sweaty hands around this little number. The showering display of sparks and amazing sound effects as lightsaber crashes upon lightsaber almost brings tears to your eyes. Equally impressive are the Jodis training at the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. You can watch them perform huge leaps, spring off walls, spin, roll and more, all of which you will eventually be able to do yourself - once you’ve mastered The Force.
As in JK, mastering your Force powers is imperative. There are 11 of them in total including mind trick, lightning, saber throw, heal and jump - all with three power-up levels. This is slightly different from the way Force worked in JK, as Graham Fuchs from Activision explains: "We’ve forgone the Light Side/Dark Side stars from the previous titles. Here, as you progress through the game, your Force powers increase naturally. Usually at the end of a level you are told which power has increased. What we’ve tried to do is have a distinct level for each of the powers. Rather than just adding another star so that you can run a little faster or jump a little higher, each power-up level does something different."
The Heal Force is a perfect example of this. You can only use first level heal while standing still; second level heal can be used whilst running and attacking though it heals over time; and third level heal acts instantly. It’s also possible to use combinations of two or more powers at once.
But once again, fans of the original JK will be worried that they have no influence whatsoever over the way their character develops. This was after all a popular feature of JK that added a very subtle, yet albeit distinct RPG slant to the game.
It’s not all bad news though. In the multiplayer game the availability of Force powers as pick-ups means you can still develop your character the way you want. And while we’re on the subject, expect the usual array of multiplayer treats encompassing a dozen maps and 32-player Capture The Flag, Deathmatch and Free-for-all game types. And as an extra bonus, LAN and Internet players even get to choose the colour of their lightsaber. OK, it may sound petty, but it’s something obsessive Star Wars fans have been crying out for. There is a practical use too; it provides online Jedis with a totally unique look.
But what other weapons will we be treated to? As previously mentioned there are 12 in total including your standard blaster, a stun baton, a rather tasty crossbow, trusty old thermal detonators, a wicked laser rifle featuring an liber-powerful zoom, and a lethal disintegrate gun that does exactly that. Standard model damage also applies, as in a single shot to the head proves infinitely more effective than a dozen or so blaster shots into a stormtrooper’s foot. You’ll also be delighted to learn that all enemies can be dismembered in some way with the lightsaber.
Controversy Will Reign Supreme
All these delights are played out over nine different environments ranging from space stations to vast outdoor levels. As you would expect, each one of these is painstakingly detailed and in homage to JK2s predecessor the sheer dramatic sense of size and space is utterly breathtaking. Couple that with John Williams’ dynamic soundtrack and the scene is set for one hell of a Star Wars experience.
Controversy and disagreement will not be far away though. Your lack of influence over the way Kyle develops will cause friction amongst the reviewing fraternity, and importing old levels from ancient games is another contentious issue. Still, with everything else that JK2 has up its sleeve, we can’t help feeling that good will triumph over evil, and that ultimately we’ll be treated to the kind of quality shooter a marriage between Star Wars and Qua/ce III should surely produce. Roll on April.
Download Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
A long time ago in an office far, far away... actually it wasn't that long ago - five years to be exact, neither are the old ZONE caverns particularly distant from the lofty perch we now occupy in the centre of London, but that’s how long it's been and how far we've come since the first Jedi Knight cast its forceful grip on us all. A lot has changed: Back then Duke Nukem Forever was just around the corner. Quake was the deathmatch game of choice and bad Star Wars games were as common as Sarlaac dung. We had a wookie for an editor. Mr Cursor was mounted on the wall freshly packed in carbonite and yours truly arrived a fresh-faced young padawan eager to learn the ways of the Force. Now stuck-up. half-witted and scruffy-looking. I find for my entertainment no match for a good blaster, which is as good a point as any to make the jump to light speed, start proper on this review and stop with half-baked Star Wars puns.
Thankfully not everything has changed so drastically, certainly not in the Jedi Knight universe: Kyle Katarn. the roguish hero of Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. still has a beard and now looks like a geography teacher, his Force-wielding days far behind him. His pilot Jan has stuck by him through thick and thin and, most importantly of all. even though Lord Vader and the Galactic Empire were defeated at the hands of a bunch of twittering furballs, there are still plenty of stormtroopers around that haven't heard the news that their side lost, which means you and your loyal sidekick still have a job to do. even if these days it usually involves hunting down pockets of fractured resistance and checking out abandoned Imperial outposts.
Your Powers Are Weak, Old Man
It is on one such assignment that the game begins, throwing you into action as soon as you turn the first corner. It's certainly different to the approach we are used to these days, where typically we are treated to a good ten minutes of tension building. But. despite the relentless attacks, it soon becomes apparent that JKII - initially at least - offers precious little in the way of innovation, apart from the obvious graphical makeover. The level of intelligence demonstrated by the stormtroopers and the various other Star Wars creatures you meet soon after is distinctly average: they either stand still or run towards you, and because the weapons for the most part are slow firing, it only takes a few minutes to realise that all you need to do to avoid losing valuable health is to employ the old circle-strafe tactic and duck behind a wall if the numbers are too great. Chancing across a couple of scout walkers does little to improve things - just jump on a laser cannon platform and blow them away.
Thankfully the graphics, sound and animation throughout the game itself are fantastic, perhaps not as impressive as Wolfenstein or Medal Of Honor, but damn fine all the same. The Imperial stormtroopers in particular look the part, convincing to the point that their armour even looks like it’s made out of plastic, just like in the films. Particularly noteworthy however are the animations, which are many and varied and on a par with Max Payne in many respects. Empty your load into a room full of stormtroopers and they’ll fling themselves about the place as if an entire army of invisible Bruce Lees have snuck in among them and started throwing punches.
...You Are Not A Jedi Yet
And then you realise the show has yet to really begin. From being only mildly entertained you are suddenly gripped. That Imperial Admiral with the crack-brained scheme you’ve been chasing for the last four hours isn't the main culprit, there are larger forces at work. The story isn’t so bad after all, the stormtroopers aren't dumb simply because some games designer couldn’t be bothered to make them more intelligent -stormtroopers are naturally stupid. Suddenly everything changes: You find your lack of faith disturbing. You search your feelings and where there was emptiness you gradually see your destiny unfold. Having given up the life of a Jedi Knight, you realise you must re-learn the ways of the Force and the second your lightsaber arrives in your hand is the exact point that Jedi Knight II is transformed from a mediocre first-person shooter to an immensely pleasurable action adventure.
The Force Is With You
The reason for the transformation is a simple one: without any Force powers or your lightsaber to hand, I follows pretty much the same tired template as any other first-person shooter, only it simply isn’t as good as any of the recent titles, despite the stirring soundtrack and the intoxicating sound of blaster fire rattling in your ears. Had the game continued in the same vein as it started it would have been mightily disappointing, yet once you get the lightsaber and string a couple of moves and Force powers together, the game is no longer a simple shooter, for by selecting the Jedi weapon of choice the game automatically switches to a third-person perspective. Nothing new there, the original had a manual option to do the same, but here it feels infinitely more polished and natural. Much more importantly it allows you to pull off a wide array of special gymnastic moves that when used in various combinations with the fire and movement buttons, add a beat ’em up aesthetic to the game, one that is far more prominent, fluid and less random than that of the original game.
Needless to say that while the game can be played without having to resort to hokey religions and ancient weapons, it isn’t nearly as much fun sticking to the standard arsenal. In fact, I would go so far as to say that having become used to the Force powers, lightsaber combat and special acrobatic moves, I made a point of not using any of the other weapons at all, mainly because apart from the trusty bryar blaster pistol, the Wookie bowcaster and the stormtrooper rifle, all the other weapons you later pick up - from the Repeater Rifle to the ridiculous blunderbuss-like EMP gun - all seem to dispel the illusion that you are playing a Star Wars game, I mean, I don’t recall anyone running around the Death Star with a rocket launcher, do you?
Scum And Villainy
The Al does of course improve later in the game, with stormtroopers moving to outflank you on occasion and running away once you’ve lopped the arms off the guy in charge. You also occasionally meet up with friendly guards and even team up with Lando Calrissian and Luke Skywalker for brief moments of intense action. There is one mission in particular that sticks in the mind, a small portion of which sees you escorting a droid across an open ramp raked by laser fire and pitted with trip mines. If the droid survives it will open the doors for you. meaning you either have to use your Force powers to pull it back from the mines, or rush forward and destroy the explosives while Rodian snipers take lethal potshots from afar. The way stealth has been handled is rather underwhelming, not that it is impossible to play the game in such a way, just that it never becomes necessary to do so unless you play the game on the hardest difficulty setting. When you acquire the Force power to heal yourself, you can just hunker down after a firefight and press the required key and wait for your health to max out and continue on your way.
We Had A Bad Feeling About This
As you can probably tell by now, we actually rather like Jedi Knight II. the first Star Wars game to be awarded a Classic since the original Jedi Knight in 1997 in fact. To our eternal shame we did have doubts, especially since from start to finish JKII has only been in development for about 18 months. In places it shows, the levels are sometimes too big and the way out from them too well hidden. At times you'll be literally bashing your head against the wall trying to jump across a chasm, only to chance across a hidden grate in another room. But even though the game is incredibly frustrating, it is also very rewarding: the dissatisfaction of the first few levels is definitely made up for when you get your lightsaber; as the puzzles get harder; as you meet more characters and then as the story opens up. Plus, to make up for the predictable and sometimes static Al, the game throws the enemy at you in even greater numbers and gives you more ingenious ways to kill them off. Following the simple principal that you must reward people for their efforts, Jedi Knight II pays out so very, very handsomely.
Far more so than its predecessor, the sequel manages to capture the essence of what makes Star Wars such an exciting and mindless matinee adventure. Not only has Raven done the original game justice, they have by some unseen force bettered it. It is simply a fantastic game that is great entertainment.
We now only pray our new hope for Star Wars gaming is not misplaced, and that the wait for another Jedi Knight adventure won’t be quite as long or as far, far away.
After a generation of disappointment, Star Wars fans were given a new hope with the emergence of the excellent Galactic Battlegrounds. And that trend seems set to continue with Raven’s stunning-looking shooter Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Having cast sour eyes over the game a couple of months back, we were already pretty inpressed by what we’d seen, and were further drawn into the ever Swelling fervour surrounding the title when we caught up with Raven’s Graham Fuchs (the game’s producer), and grilled him thoroughly on what we can expect come spring next year when the game will finally (and ifully) hit the UK shelves.
Of the 11 weapons on offer, Graham keenly informs us that the lightsabre excites him the most. "It’s now a fully functional Jedi weapon that you have great control over in terms of how it can be used, both in battle and out. There will be a host of attacks at your disposal, and the better you become with the lightsabre, the more elaborate moves you’ll see. However, the control has been kept simple. You will also be able to throw the sabre at enemies, then use the Force to pull it back, and use it to cut open gates, open passages, etc."
Sounds like a dumper truckload of thought has gone into the weapons, but what about the vehicles? "There’s going to be some interesting things that Kyle will be able to do that he hasn’t done in previous games, but you’re breaking up, I can’t hear you...’ Oh, OK. Bye then.
After cancelling Obi-Wan late last year, the chances of a sequel to Jedi Knight seemed thin. However, while at E3, we found Obi-Wan alive and well and happily living on Xbox. Meanwhile, on PC we saw Jedi Knight's true sequel for the first time, Jedi Outcast. So, rather than Ben Kenobi, we again get to control Kyle Katarn.
Powered by the Quake 3 Arena engine, Jedi Outcast is being co-developed by Raven software, maker of Soldier Of Fortune and Elite Force Voyager, and although having only been in development since February, from what we saw at E3, the game looks set to eclipse its four-year-old predecessor.
"At the moment it's still too early to go into too much detail," admits LucasArts associate producer Dan Pettit. "But we should have a few new weapons, as well as some old favourites from the original game, plus new and old force powers like the ability to wrench weapons from Stormtroopers' hands."
One new force effect on show was the Force Throw, where our hero can hurl his light saber at his enemies safe in the knowledge that it will come back, boomerang-style. Dan also demonstrated a sniper rifle weapon, zooming into a crowd of Stormtroopers and showing off amazing detail.
As was the case with Raven's Elite Force Voyager, the plan is to introduce intelligent allies who will fight alongside you against the Empire. Asked about the possibility of driveable vehicles Dan remained tight-lipped. "It's still too early to rule anything out," he said. Of course, with the latest Quake 3 Team Arena code powering the game, we can expect a wealth of hot and multiplayer options, from straight and team Deathmatch, to Capture The Flag. We asked that considering the popularity of Counter-Strike, whether there might be a Rebels vs. Stormtroopers equivalent, perhaps where one side must rescue or capture druids.
"I can't comment on that," Dan says with a smile, one that we hope reads: great idea, I'll tell George...
Choosing a good school is tough, especially when you desire classes like Lightsabers 101 and Intro to the Force. Jedi Academy covers these subjects and more, yet the material isn't always presented in the best manner possible. This latest game in the Jedi Knight series thrusts you into the role of a Padawan learner jetsetting across the galaxy to hone your skills. Luckily, your training offers tons of varied thrills across a multitude of missions--you'll rescue prisoners from a man-eating rancor monster, defuse bombs while evading Boba Fett, and even explore the murky depths of Darth Vader's castle. (Since when did Darth Vader have a castle?) Sounds like another can't-miss Star Wars game for Xbox, right? Well, not quite. Lightsaber battles now take precedence over first-person shooting, which in turn makes combat a rote, button-mashing experience. Also, cycling through Force powers via the directional pad while hackin' away at the enemy is a terrible hassle. Unfortunately, the graphics don't do much to help the cause. These visuals are mediocre at best and not up to par with today's Xbox standards. Thankfully, the hefty number of multiplayer options keeps me from calling Jedi Academy a glorified summer school, but it still isn't worth $50. Even the most die-hard fans are better off renting this one for the weekend.
It's got brutal Force powers, tauntauns and speeders to ride, guest appearances by Wars stars Luke, Chewie, and Boba Fett, and stellar mission variety (everything from luring Jedi away from the dark side to visiting Casa de Vader). But despite that hell of a syllabus, this Jedi Academy sometimes barely packs the excitement of a business-school mixer. Blame the lightsaber combat, which although flashy, is clunky and imprecise. A few missions (especially a snow-blind trek across Hoth and a crash-and-burn speederbike level) nearly push the game to the dark side. Fortunately, addictive online modes will keep you playing if you get sick of the single-player stuff.
You can always make a great game...on paper. But what happens when a bantha takes a big crap on that paper? You get Academy: all the right ideas, none of the execution. A Jedi-in-train-ing with upgradeable skills, an intriguing story based on the good trilogy, Force powers, lightsabers...what can go wrong? Let me tell you.... First off, Academy looks and plays like a first-person shooter from a long, long time ago with flat graphics and zero-IQ enemies. The controls are horrid--why let players mess with speeder bikes and dual lightsabers if the steering isn't worth a damn and all attacks have the same effectiveness? Multiplayer could've been terrific with its many modes, but button-mashing lightsaber duels and hard-to-aim guns ruin the fun. If you were looking forward to this, do yourself a favor and play Halo again--while humming the Star Wars theme.
(Jedi) Physical Education
What better way to interact with your Padawan classmates than in Jedi Academy's multiplayer modes. All the essential match types are here: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Duels, Capture the Flag, and Siege. The last option is team-based scenario-style play where one group intiltrates a location such as a base on the ice planet ot Hoth or a Sith temple, while the other team defends it by any means necessary. Siege is available only online, but is easily the most enjoyable match type if you have enough people (try for at least four).
If there's any reason that we should be grateful to the Star Wars prequels, it's for showing us exactly how crazy Jedi can be when they're backed by bazillion-dollar special-effects budgets.
As Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast makes evident, devotees of the Force have it even better in video games. And trust us, this is a good thing.
JKII puts you in the shoes of Kyle Katarn, a scruffy-looking smuggler-type who also happens to be a fairly formidable Force-wielder. In practical terms, this equates to a bunch of interesting twists on the Star Wars first-person-shooter gameplay you'd expect from a game like this. Though he's in a state of utter Force-withdrawal atJKII's outset, Kyle quickly gains access to an arsenal large and varied enough to put those weird-headed Episode I aliens to shame. Basically, everything you've seen Jedi do in the movies will be available to you in the game. Did you just get shot up real good? No problem -- your Force healing can stitch you right up. How about that gang of Stormtroopers? They cramping your style? All good--just Force shove them over the ledge and be on your way.
The minute you bust out your lightsaber, though, is when you'll realize what this Jedi game is all about. The view immediately switches to a third-person perspective, allowing you to better peep the action at hand. As you've probably noticed from watching the Star Wars flicks, lightsabers are so powerful it's stupid, and this is a fact that JKII communicates very well. Simply put, you'll be slicing through Stormtrooper armor like it was Velveeta. You can seamlessly cycle through three combat stances (quick, medium and strong) depending on how you want to swing it, and you can even reflect blaster bolts right back to their points of origin, be it a stationary turret, Imperial Walker or Stormtrooper. Don't expect any lightsaber dismemberments, though; LucasArts has decided to sanitize that twisted little graphical flourish from the PC game into non-existence for Jedi Outcast's console incarnations.
One thing that's a little baffling (not to mention disappointing) is Jedi Knight's lack of online support, given the proximity of its release to the Xbox Live launch. But don't worry, you still have a four-player split-screen option open to you, complete with computer-controlled bots. Besides, the original PC version of Jedi Knight II received critical acclaim for its single-player scenario, so it's all good.
Continuing the with the successful Jedi Knight series, Lucasarts has brought back Kyle Kartan as he once again fights through the remains of the Galactic Empire. Finding himself in the middle of a situation that could bring down the New Republic, Kyle will have to reclaim his Jedi heritage and walk the fine line of falling victim to the dark side. As Kyle's use of the Force improves and he fights off the new warriors created by the Remnant, a new enemy in planning his destruction as well as the New Republic's.
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is a first/third person shooter depending on your preference, offering a solid, well-developed story line that picks up where its predecessor left off. In addition, many other improvements have also been made including graphics that will please most fans of the series and bring in those that may not even be Star Wars fans. Other features like controls that are smooth and easy to master, and a number of weapons including a lightsaber, keeps the game fresh and enjoyable to play.
Overall, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is a rare game that pulls in a solid story line, great control system, and does a fantastic job using the Star Wars license. Although the game does start out on the slow side, don't give up too soon because when it starts to pick up, your biggest concern may become getting to bed at a decent time. If you're in between games or waiting for the fall onslaught of games to the market, Jedi Outcast may fill the void in addition to being money well spent even for those historically not interested in shooter games.