Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
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...
Download Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
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.