Star Wars: Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast

Action, Star Wars mythos and corny storytelling.

16_1Though the bulk of Star Wars gaming will be featured here when the actual movie comes out, LucasArt’s pivotal Dark Forces / Jedi Knight series are to be covered in advanced. Jedi Outcast is the third Star Wars shooter down the line (or fourth if you count the Dark Forces II: Mysteries of the Sith expansion pack), being a direct sequel to 1997’s original Dark Forces II, then still made by LucasArts. In many ways it’s the same old enjoyable Star Wars shooter with an added visual overhaul, so if you’ve enjoyed that game it’s probably you’ll also have a blast with Jedi Outcast.

Jedi Knight is set some nine years after the events from the previous game and stars Kyle Katarn, a Han Solo-type character who gave up his role as a Jedi to pursue a more serene existence as a hired mercenary. Getting sent to a remote installation on behalf of the New Republic, Kyle faces off with a rogue Dark Jedi and quickly gets tangled up with the Empire as well, forcing him to renew his long dormant skills as a Jedi.

The story is the usual string of cliches that makes up Star Wars games (you weren’t expecting Asimov quality narratives, were you?), though here they’ve dropped live-action for engine-rendered cutscenes, which make the characters look somewhat robotic but still fun to watch. Great fun, in fact, when invaluable guest stars Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Luke Skywalker (not voiced by Mark Hamil) show up. Their inclusion feels forced (pun intended) in the greater scheme of things, but why argue with fan service?

Running Around In Circles

The uber-modified Quake 3 engine can yield some interesting smoke effects.

The uber-modified Quake 3 engine.

The areas you’ll visit are the usual blend of Empire strongholds awash with constantly hissing doors, huge ships and whatnot, but you’ll also make surprise visits to Cloud City and Nar Shaddaa. The level design in particular is very Raven-esque here, in that it’s linear to the extreme. You always have but one path that you must take complete the scripted levels, but recognizing said path (and in essence figuring out what the level designers want you to do) can be blatantly difficult. It’s not all that rare to exhaust every nook and cranny and be left wondering around looking for that one obscure switch or passage you’ve missed.

Besides occasionally bordering on blandness, the initial levels are also surprisingly tough on even the two lower difficulties, at least until Kyle gets his lightsaber and Force powers back. Unlike the previous game, you don’t get that much hands-on control over which Force powers Kyle can upgrade or even which side of the Force he can fight on. Traditional Dark and Light powers are instead thrown in the same well and are gradually unlocked as you progress, so you can death choke a stormtrooper one minute and heal yourself the next (two powers that were diametrically opposed in the prequel).

The Force is With You

The Force powers offer the best reason to pick up this game, even though it takes a considerable time to unlock all of them. You get a nice assortment of Jedi wizardy to complement an equally well balanced armory, like the iconic shooting-lightning-out-of-your-fingers trick or another one that slows down time around you Max Payne style, and of course you can just shove people around or haul them off cliffs as well. The lightsaber marks some of the most fun you can have (that legendary ‘woosh’ never gets old), though it’s occasionally hard to connect the swings with a moving target. Jedi on Jedi saber battles can be surprisingly amusing as well, and are also more common here than before.

In the end Jedi Outcast contains that right dose of pulp action, mythology and corny storytelling warped into a fairly cohesive whole. The maze-centric levels and somewhat difficult action (even on Normal) may obscure its greatness at times, but as a Star Wars fan one can find many things to enjoy.

System Requirements: P II 350 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 665 MB HDD, 16 MB Video, Win 2000

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