Summary: Instead of working on it internally, LucasArts took its Jedi Knight license to an outside contractor, Raven. Did the switch pay off? Or did we get stuck with another disappointing Star Wars game? Find out in our review!
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast official home page: http://www.lucasarts.com/products/outcast/
If there’s any game that has a lot to live up to, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is it. Not only is it a sequel to one of the most popular First-Person/Action games ever made, it’s also the third installment of one of the best Star Wars franchises (right up there with X-Wing and Tie-Fighter). Jedi Outcast even uses the Quake III Arena engine, so it needs to live up not only to Quake III, but all the games that have used the engine, like Alice and Medal of Honor.
Aside from the gamers, Jedi Outcast needs to meet the expectations of the non-gamers. Just the fact that there’s light saber fighting puts a lot of pressure on this game. With the success of Episode I, and the imminent release of Episode II, you’d have to be hiding in a cave in Afghanistan to not know about light sabers. The excellent fighting scenes in the Phantom Menace has everyone thinking that the light saber fighting in Jedi Outcast better be as cool as it was with Darth Maul. Is it even possible to live up to these expectations?
The Jedi Outcast
The first thing Jedi Outcast needs to live up to is the story. All of the Dark Forces games have taken place after the end of Return of the Jedi. This sets Jedi Outcast nine years after Dark Forces II. Kyle Katarn finds himself turned away from the force after nearly falling to the dark side at the end of Dark Forces II. He and his partner, Jan Ors, now run missions for the New Republic as simple mercenaries.
I won’t give away any of the plot details, other than Kyle does come around and starts using the force again. I enjoyed the storyline because it really makes you feel like you’re in the Star Wars universe. Gang wars are ever present, the remnants of the empire are still hanging around, and the New Republic is still trying to establish its government. You take direct orders from Luke Skywalker and Mon Mothma, and even run into Lando. Jedi Outcast does a good job at pulling you into its world.
400 MHz CPU
128MB of RAM
665MB Hard Disk space
16MB Video card
1 GHz+ CPU
512MB of RAM
GeForce3 or better
Cable/DSL for online play
Jedi Knight Arena
Jedi Outcast uses the Quake III Arena engine, ‘nuff said. Well, not really. You’ve seen the Quake III engine in its various incarnations; most recently Medal of Honor. Everything that’s good about the engine is here – great textures, curved surfaces, high framerate, and lots of hardware flexibility. It also has the feel of the Quake III engine, a boon for those of us that like it.
I really like animations in Jedi Outcast. You can tell most of them are motion capture since they look so real. Fighting with a light saber is very fluid, whether you’re watching your own character over the shoulder or looking at your attacker. The death animations are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Enemies die depending on where you strike the moral blow. Shoot them in the legs while they run and they’ll trip and fall. If you kill someone near an edge of a platform, they’ll topple off the platform, arms and legs flailing until they hit bottom.
If you’re playing single player Jedi Outcast, do yourself a favor and hit these commands in the console (to get the console hit shift and ~ at the same time):
This cranks the violence rating up, and allows you to hack off limbs with the light saber. Normally you can only chop off a hand once in a while, but with these settings you will always chop off a limb, a head, or separate a torso, just how you would expect a real light saber to act. This is the way Jedi Outcast should be played.
Comparing the music in Star Wars games to other games isn’t even close to being fair. The John Williams scores are easily the best classical movie scores ever written. Songs like “Star Wars (Main Title)”, “The Imperial March”, and recently, “Duel of the Fates” are engrained in everyone’s mind. Jedi Outcast, obviously, uses the music from the movies. Most of them are slightly altered arrangements (so they can be looped), but all of them are just as good as the original.
Jedi Outcast uses a technology LucasArts pioneered way back during X-Wing. As you’re playing, the music changes to fit the mood of the game. If you’re just walking around the music is tense, adding to the feeling that you don’t know what’s around the next corner. If an enemy appears the music changes – without skipping a beat – to faster, action oriented music. Since the music changes depending on your actions, it really adds a cinematic quality to the game. It’s like a soundtrack to your own personal movie.
The sound effects are also taken from the movies. Besides the familiar laser blaster sound effects, Jedi Outcast features a lot of everyone’s favorite light saber effects. From the electric crackling when two sabers meet, to the familiar “woosh” when a saber is waved; it’s all there. The sound effects also add to the feeling that you really are inside the Star Wars universe.
SIDEBAR: The collector’s edition comes with a few neat additions. Besides the obligatory metal box, you also get a copy of Dark Forces and Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (wait, wouldn’t that make this “Dark Forces III: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast” ?). There’s also a flashing blue light saber keychain.
No Jar Jar in sight
Single player games always boil down to one thing: level design. If the level design doesn’t work, nothing else really matters. In Jedi Outcast you’ll find a lot of the same level designs we’ve been seeing for years – most of the levels boil down to finding your way to a door and killing everything in between. It’s better than it sounds though; since you are in the Star Wars universe the enemies you fight and the environments you’re in are a lot better than your average FPS/Action game. Fighting around Tie-Fighters and having AT-STs waddle towards you is worth the price of admission alone.
You will find a handful of very annoying jumping and “find the air vent” puzzles. I was disappointed to find any of these types of puzzles in this game, since there is so much potential for good puzzles with the force powers. Every single one of the force powers could have been used for an original puzzle, but only a few of them were. I don’t understand why they decided to use the old, worn out puzzles from years ago. Luckily these puzzles don’t show up that often, and there’s plenty of fighting in between them.
It’s hard to judge the weapons in single player, because after I got my hands on the light saber I didn’t use any other weapons. Once in a while you need to snipe with the Tenloss Disruptor Rifle, but that’s only because you run into enemies that are too far away to kill with Force powers or your saber. Even the rocket launcher, a staple in any FPS game, takes a back seat to the light saber. You may think it’s bad that a game focuses so much around a single weapon, but quite the opposite happens here. The light saber is one of the most fun weapons in any game I can think of. Running into a room with a dozen Storm Troopers, deflecting all their shots as you chop them to bits really gets your adrenaline pumping.
Abuse the Force
Light saber dueling in single player is actually more fun than multiplayer. Why? Because there’s a lot more blocking in single player. When you’re dueling the computer will block your attacks a lot, so you can’t just hack away and expect to win. I like more blocking because it’s more like the movies where touching a light saber is deadly – the only time Vader scored a hit on Luke, Luke lost his hand. Because of all the blocking, single player dueling also feels faster than multiplayer.
You’ll either love or hate force powers in multiplayer. With them you can heal your team, jump several stories up, run twice as fast, and choke your enemies. It definitely gives a super-human quality to playing a regular game of CTF. You can do things you always wished you could do, like pull a flag carrier towards you as he’s trying to run away, or redirect a missile. A high Saber Defense allows you to deflect most projectiles. Choke allows you to pick up an enemy and throw him off a cliff.
On the other hand, the business end of being choked and thrown off a cliff isn’t so fun. I didn’t understand what bugged me about it so much at first, but after a lot of playing I figured it out. Pushing, pulling, and choke-throwing takes control out of your hands. You can counter choking, but Push and Pull is unblockable. I find it really annoying to be pushed to your death when you can’t do anything about it – you can be full health, full shields, full ammo and still die without putting up a fight. Being shot or sabered is a different circumstance since it’s based on how well you fight, while pushing someone off a cliff takes little skill. Push and Pull is a lot more balanced on the maps without bottomless pits, where they can only trip someone up.
Light saber fighting is another love hate relationship. There’s the obvious “cool” factor that you get to be Lando “Colt 45, works every time“ Calrissian and fight people with a light saber. Deflecting projectiles is a very handy tool since normally using a melee weapon leaves you very vulnerable to ranged attacks. To balance things out, you can’t block the most powerful shots, like the secondary “grenade” on the Imperial Heavy Repeater.
Light saber fighting isn’t perfect. For starters, I think it’s too slow. In the movies (especially Phantom Menace) the light saber fighting is incredibly fast – the way it should be since you’re using a sword with a weightless blade. In Jedi Outcast it feels more like you’re heaving around a 6’ claymore, even in the “Fast” style. Like I said earlier, I also think that there isn’t enough blocking. While you do block if you’re not swinging, they should have added a block into one of the commands, so you can chain a block into a sequence of attacks. It would mimic the fighting styles in the movies more this way. Finally, I don’t like the way that attacks are linked to a movement command. This leads to committing to a movement just because you want a certain attack. What if you don’t want to move left, but that’s the only attack that will land? You’re out of luck. They really should have separated the attacks from the movement.
Besides my gripes, multiplayer Jedi Outcast is still a lot of fun. It still features everything that makes multplayer CTF games great: The adrenaline rush from making a coast to coast flag run, dodging and/or killing an entire team along the way, the long standoffs when both teams have each other’s flags, and especially the teamwork it takes to win. The nuances of the weapons and force powers are new and interesting at the very least. I think multiplayer Jedi Outcast has the lasting power to nurture an online community of clans and leagues.
SIDEBAR: The light saber is a powerful weapon, but it’s not the only weapon in the game. The other weapons give you a huge range advantage over the light saber. If you have a group of enemies chasing you with light sabers, pull out a Flechette Gun or the Heavy Repeater and lay waste with the secondary attacks.
It’s Star Wars
Single player is easy:
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is a complete package. The single player game takes you directly into the Star Wars universe - the story is great, the settings are authentic, and the enemies are pulled right out of the movies. Just the fact that you get to fight with a light saber makes the cost of this game justifiable. There’s nothing better than running into a room of Storm Troopers, deflecting shots and striking them down like a real Jedi. Multiplayer is just as addictive as the original CTF mods, although it could still use a little tweaking. Dueling online is like a Star Wars powered Rocket Arena.
Who would I recommend this game to? Just about everyone. Star Wars fans will dig the authentic universe LucasArts has created. With all the other Star Wars games coming out Jedi Knight will stand apart as the leader of the pack with its light saber fighting. FPS fans will like the story and fast-paced action of the single player game. They’ll also like the multiplayer games since they bring back memories of Quake 1 CTF and Rocket Arena.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of Jedi Knight II? Sound off in our comments section!
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