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Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast Review
developer: Raven Software
PII 300, 32MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 500MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Mar 26, 02 (released)
|» All About Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast on ActionTrip|
We're all Star Wars fans ... to a degree. All except our hardware editor Zveki, who says he only remembers that "big gorilla" from the movie -- he was referring to Chewbacca - pretty-much all of us at AT have fond memories of the original Star Wars trilogy. Being one of those kids who grew up on Star Wars, I must say I relished in playing Jedi Knight way back when Matrox had something to say in the video card industry. I distinctly remember Jedi Knight utilizing Matrox 3D acceleration, and that was I think the first time I ever played a 3D accelerated game.
Well, that was then...
Nowadays, Justin Chin's out of the picture and in comes Raven Software - best known for their work on Soldier of Fortune and Star Trek: Elite Force. The original Soldier of Fortune was powered by the Quake II engine but then Raven made a huge leap by switching to the more powerful Quake 3 engine, used in Elite Force. You could see it then that Raven had what it takes. Elite Force was short, but it managed to prove two very important things: You can have a great and addictive Star Trek game - the limitations of the universe are only evident by the limitations of the design team, and that Quake 3 engine is hands-down the best engine to tweak and enhance for an ultimate single-player / multiplayer one-two punch. Over the years, Raven seemed to have perfected and mastered their coding technique up to the point where you could call them, and rightfully so, the Jedi Masters of the single player Quake 3 engined shooters. Sure, there are games like Medal of Honor and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but I have had the pleasure of playing a beta of Soldier of Fortune 2, and now that I've played Jedi Knight 2, I'm convinced that Raven is the top company for 'single-player' FPS games in the business. It' no wonder then that id decided to hand over the development of Quake 4 to them, now is it?
The story of Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast leans only slightly on the events in the original, as there is still much concern and anxiety over the immense power of the Valley of the Jedi. Players are once again cast in the role of mercenary Kyle Katarn who has a very ambiguous, almost ambivalent attitude towards the Jedi and the power of the force. You might call him a 'down to Earth guy' so to speak, but in his heart, he's obviously a Master Jedi waiting to happen. One of the big things of the original game was the duality of the force. Destroying a few too many innocent NPC's might lead Kyle over to the dark side, and that would in turn mean that he'd get to use all the nasty dark side force powers. Raven decided to kind of work their way around this concept, as it obviously proved to be a bit too tricky to implement in such a complex single-player experience. Nonetheless, I feel deprived for not being able to show the darker side of my personality in this game. Sure enough, Kyle is put on a test in the game. He can let the dark side take over him and fuel his rage and urge for revenge (for the death of his 'girl' pilot Jan Ors), but that won't happen simply because that is not up to the player to choose. Still, in order to keep the consistency of the story, certain sacrifices had to be made. Even without the less linear approach from the original, the plot and the cinematic feel of Jedi Knight 2 will be sufficient to keep you going 'till the dark Jedi outcast is defeated.
The gripping storyline and the believable representation of the characters with guest appearances from Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian (voiced by Mark Hammill and Billy Dee Williams) will definitely keep you tied to the edge of your seats, as you rush through the opening levels to get to some lightsaber action. As some of you already know, Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast features two distinct modes of play. One is the classical first-person option, where you get to use various SW blaster and projectile weapons, and the other is of course the lightsaber mode. For more information on the gameplay mechanics, features, weapons, and force powers, I advise you to visit JediKnightii.net. For this review, I'll try to stick to my impressions of the actual gameplay and avoid naming all the features. I will say this though: the force powers play a major role in the sequel, just like they did in the original. It is the combination of force powers and some skillful lighsaber wielding that will make Kyle a very dangerous 'instant' Jedi.
It seems that the purpose of the single-player game is to lead the player through two rather different gaming experiences. You start off as mercenary and end up as Master Jedi. As a mercenary, I had a real nice time blasting away at storm troopers, and even dismantling some heavy Imperial machinery to boot. The game starts rather slow in terms of action. I must admit it was the hype that kept me going, as some of the jumping I had to perform to get to various important areas of the level was at times very frustrating. To make matters worse, the mission objectives are 'Laconic,' to say the least. There is just one short sentence telling you 'to get out of some place' and the way you go about doing that will mostly depend on reasoning, and for the most part, searching the maps for key areas that will get you through to the next level. Granted, this adds more playing time, especially if we take in consideration the secret areas, but I'm not sure that this is how players expected Raven to lengthen the single-player.
Adding to the slow pace of the early stages are the Imperial storm troopers. They aren't the smartest bunch of goons, and although I could see some traces of nifty AI routines, they had a major flaw of not using the cover effectively, nor were they ever willing to chase me; even when I was badly hurt. Still, they are just Imperial grunts so I shouldn't really complain, but they aren't exactly the highlight of this game.
Alas, I'm yet to see a flawless single-player shooter, so I shouldn't really complain about the hard to reach key areas or the slow early stages. These segments of the single-player game become inherent to the entire experience and when you look back upon it, you'll look at it in a more positive light -- just like you remember the moments from the classic adventures today. There was just this one stupid lever I forgot to pull... Damn!
The real fun in JK2 comes with the introduction of the lightsaber and force powers. I mean it's obvious they are the focal points of this game, as you get to spend an entire level just getting the 'blasted' thing(s)! And this is where Jedi Knight 2 takes off from a good Star Wars experience to something that can easily be characterized as the best Jedi trip I've ever had. Thank God for 'Matrix,' because lightsaber action in JK2 goes beyond what was seen in Star Wars movies. The programmers introduced even more acrobatics into the battles and of course, the slow motion moves which add a sort of Matrix / Kung fu flare to the action. Learning to master the simultaneous usage of the lightsaber and force powers will give you the needed edge, and it will make the playing experience far more fun. Even jumping isn't as frustrating when you're able to use the force jump. Furthermore, the Jedi's you encounter on your journey will prove worthy AI adversaries. They successfully use the force, saber throws, and all the other neat Jedi tricks making the saber action even more gratifying. And besides, it's just fun as hell to force-push a bunch of stormtroopers and then slice them up with your blue beam of high energy.
Visually, Raven software has done an amazing job of modifying the Quake 3 engine to fit the Star Wars universe. So much attention was given to the lightsaber, it's almost as if the programmers studied the very reason why this weapon became so popular. What is a lightsaber? It's a powerful beam of energy that is able to cut through stone and even metal, and that is exactly what you see in the game. When near a wall, the lightsaber will leave welding marks, and the sparks and sounds of the two sabers colliding in the battle are just amazing. The poly count of the game models is extremely high for today's standards, and there were even some sporadic examples of the swaying grass - something that should become the trademark of the Columbian mission in Soldier of Fortune 2. Most importantly though, the movement and the animation of the lead hero in third person is by far the best I've seen in a video game to date. That is understandable though, given the fact that Raven has worked so hard on their advanced skeletal animation system.
However, there was this rather minor detail that blemished the enjoyment of seeing the sheer poly-abundance of the female models: their teeth. I know it's just a minor aesthetic detail, but their teeth seemed unnatural for some reason, simply awkward looking.
The sound effects in this game, along with the voiceovers are top-notch, and although I had my doubts about Kyle's voice at first, I realized later that his personality kind of fits his tone. The musical score is taken mostly from the original soundtrack and it just adds even more of that Star Wars feel to the game.
Finally, I should say a thing or two about the multiplayer. I've played a bunch of FFA matches and lightsaber duels at the office, and well... the MP seems like a mixed bag of blessings. The FPS blaster action brings nothing new essentially, and the lightsaber duels can get real confusing at times. I don't know what it is, but it felt so right in the single-player game. Most of the time, me and my buddies just kept missing each other, and I never really new if I hurt someone or not. It ain't like you're paying attention to the health bar while dueling, and before you know it, your opponent delivers the fatal blow - you see yourself falling down in slo-mo. The less fanatical of our AT crew simply gave up on the multiplayer after a while, but those of us who kept going at each other got a hang of it after a while. You get to distribute a fixed amount of points and choose your force powers, but for some reason the force powers didn't seem as important as in the single-player. Practice makes perfect, so we'll just have to keep on playing to really start to enjoy the multiplayer lightsaber duels.
Bottom line though. Raven managed to pull off something a few game companies ever managed, and that is to take a classic to the next level. Whether it's the single-player or the multiplayer action, no self-respecting Star Wars fan should pass on the opportunity to play Jedi Knight 2.
Amazing Star Wars experience. Good story; lightsaber action;
Searching for hard-to-jump key areas on the map can be frustrating. Initially, the MP lightsaber duels seem very confusing - I honestly expected more from the multiplayer.
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