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Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Review

publisher: Activision
developer: Raven Software
genre: Shooters

PIII 450 , 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card
ESRB rating: T

release date: Sep 16, 03
» All About Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy on ActionTrip

Today's action-based Star Wars games are a few galaxies far, far away from their humble beginnings in the early nineties. They offer unprecedented levels of freedom during combat, where you can do almost anything you want with a simple blaster, the almighty lightsaber and a few neat force powers. All those stunts pulled off on the silver screen by top Jedi like Luke, Vader, Yoda, and Obi-Wan, can finally be performed in a PC game. Star Wars Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast was the first game that showed radical progress in terms of lightsaber combat. It was also a successful combination of first-person and third-person action, flavored with a rich storyline and compelling characterization. Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy successfully builds upon the gameplay in Jedi Outcast, offering a variety of new features, an involving and masterfully presented plotline, on top of many new planets to explore throughout the far regions of the galaxy.

Redesigning a few basics of the game, the developers have decided to go with a slightly different tale this time around. Reaching the rank of Jedi Master, Kyle Katarn, the main character from the previous installment, joined Luke Skywalker at the prestigious Jedi Academy to teach upstart force users how to harness their powers and become formidable Jedi Knights. As an eager young Padawan learner, you enlist into the Jedi Academy along with several other students, who are also willing to grasp their unique abilities and put them to use. Working under the tutorship of Jedi Masters Luke and Katarn all candidates must go through a few basic instructions before the initiation. After that each student is assigned to a number of missions. In order to advance in their training programs, all students are obligated to prove themselves as they face many deadly challenges - danger comes with the territory when you're a Jedi. As you'll discover through your journeys, the ways of the force can often be confusing, so it's going to be hard to distinguish the light side from the dark. How you conduct yourself during missions and in combat will determine your destiny... Draw your lightsabers, and let the training begin.

Before you set out on your first quest as a youthful Padawan, the game allows you to customize your character - a feature that wasn't previously available in Jedi Outcast. At the outset, you may select one out of the following races: Kel Dor, Rodian, Twi'lek, Zabrak, and Human. The all-new and much welcomed innovative customization system gives you a chance to change the character's appearance - adjusting everything from the character's torso and legs to his head and skin complexion. It's also possible to define the character's gender, choose the appropriate clothing, and lightsaber hilt and color. The impressive thing is that the game features over 2,000 distinct combinations of physical attributes, which allows players to add a dash of uniqueness to their character.

Once you begin the very first level in Jedi Academy, it will be easy to spot just what kind of improvements Raven has made to this pseudo sequel. The first couple of outdoor sections already demonstrate significant progress both in terms of visuals and gameplay. One of the most important changes is that you won't have to pass through one half of the entire game to get your hands on a lightsaber (an aspect that annoyed so many of us in the previous game). This time you can draw your lightsaber as soon as the game begins.

As before, the essence of the game is the art of lightsaber combat and using all of your force powers. Your force powers consist of the following: push, pull, grip, sense, absorb, mind trick, protect, drain, lightning, and dark rage. After each completed mission players are able to level-up their skills, eventually becoming expert force users. The crucial chance is that the force powers are no longer equal, so the more you use force grip, lighting, dark rage, and similar aggressive abilities, the more your character will start to incline towards the dark side. Since most of the gameplay is action oriented (a lot more than in Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast), you will be able to rely on a few cool new combat moves, such as bashes, kicks to name a few. Nothing exceptionally original, but it can turn the tables on your opponent in lightsaber duels (if used correctly, that is). In addition, your character has the aptitude to combine different cool moves like force flip, wall grab jump, wall run, roll from knockdown, jump from knockdown - these last two require quick reflexes, unless you want to be pierced through by a lightsaber thrust - a combo frequently used by the enemy AI. The game also brings on a vast range of innovative lightsaber combos, which apart from looking absolutely spectacular can also increase your chances of winning against stronger adversaries. This aspect confirms Raven's talent for handling the gameplay mechanics.

Many opponents have made a successful comeback such as Strormtroopers, Imperial workers, Tie pilots, bounty hunters and others. But you'll also come up against plenty of new foes, like the members of the Sith cult called the Disciples of Ragnos - they're a rather lethal and malevolent bunch, I'll give 'em that, but they were no match for Vadar's dual lightsaber skills. (Yes, I'm sure that's EXACTLY what people want to read about in this review. - 2Lions) All opponents were endowed with unique AI routines. This means that their reactions vary according to their own experiences and intelligence. Logically, Imperial Stormtroopers are slower and even dimwitted in comparison to Sith cultists and other lightsaber-wielding dark force users. The variety of AI routines creates an exciting atmosphere and makes the game rather challenging, both for newbies and hard-core Jedi Knight players.

Another improvement is that the levels are significantly larger than before, particularly the numerous outdoor settings. Players get to venture through quite a few planets such as Corellia, Tatooine, Bakura, Hoth, Blenjeel, and many others.

Visiting certain locales in Jedi Academy require you to travel great distances. Instead of panting your way through the these huge environments, you'll be able to use swift vessels, like speeders. As you blaze through canyons and valleys on your speeder, you will be able to swing the lightsaber at oncoming foes; a rather nice touch by the designers. One of the missions is going to take you straight to the icy Hoth system. To move around faster around the freezing and snowy wilderness of Hoth, you can mount those bad-smelling Tan Tans and cover great distances in no time at all. Unfortunately, Tan Tans can be vulnerable to enemy laser fire, so you must be cautious when you encounter Snowtroopers or, worse yet, those colossal AT-ST walkers.

As for weapons you will be able to use the usual items such as the blaster rifle, DL-44 Heavy Blaster, Telnoss DXR-6 Disruptor Rifle (with the zooming scope), thermal detonator, and more. At certain points throughout the game players can also get their mitts on the Stouker Concussion Rifle. This big bad sucker is extremely nasty and very destructive, so it's quite useful against larger opponents such as advanced Stormtroopers (heavily armored, but slow moving units - 2Lions) and AT-ST walkers.

Visual changes over Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast are pretty much self-evident from the very beginning. The design team did a bang-up job on most of the new levels, incorporating backgrounds that are richer in detail than before, which in turn makes them considerably more challenging to complete. Character models appear more natural, thanks to the improved animation and additional details on the skins. For what it's worth, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy features spectacular choreography during lightsaber fights. This, of course, stands as the pinnacle of the entire game and is something you really shouldn't miss out on, especially if you are a true-hearted Star Wars fan. Also, as one goes through the game, it's easy to notice that the explosions stand as the most obvious visual enhancement over the game's predecessor. The boys at Raven Software did all they could to modify and beef up the capabilities of the ageing JK II engine (Quake 3 ring a bell?). Even though most of the levels are very large and feature a decent level of detail, the frame rate was rock solid throughout most of the game. There were a few sections where the frame rate got very choppy, which came as a bit of a surprise, since we tested the game on a pretty strong rig - AMD Barton 2.5GHz with an ATi Radeon 9700 card. I stress that this was a rare occurrence and it didn't bother me much throughout the rest of the game.

If there's one thing I learned during my years as a gaming editor, is never to doubt LucasArts when it comes to sound design. Jedi Academy has everything you'd expect from a Star Wars action game: brilliant character voicing, rich sounds that stay true to the movie trilogy, and an extensive range of classic tunes done by composer John Williams.

Multiplayer enthusiasts can try out several new maps, all of which have been designed to correspond with the architecture of the single-player levels. There can be 16 players per match. New modes include Dark Jedi and Jedi Knight Legacy (you can learn more about various other multiplayer modes on the Jedi Knight official website. (Be sure to check out the new Siege mode with class-based, objective-based gameplay. - 2Lions) Players can adjust every possible aspect - the number of bots, force powers, available weapons, spawn time, etc. You are also able to set up the intelligence of bots, which ranges from Jedi Initiate to Jedi Master. As before, the multiplayer is actually a combination of Quake-style deathmatches and third-person lightsaber-wielding action. It's a cool mix, but it may not be fun and entertaining for everyone. Hard-core FPS gamers who are after classic multiplayer experiences, such as Unreal Tournament 2003 and Battlefield 1942, might want to rethink before heading off into the Jedi Academy MP mode. Personally, I found the multiplayer mode to be a little confusing and hectic - just like it was in Jedi Outcast. If this is your preferable style of playing, you can always moderate on the force stuff and you can even exclude lightsabers from the picture if you wish. So, it all depends on your preferences.

Lastly, I should also mention that the basic structure of the single-player mode in Jedi Academy is somewhat different than in Jedi Outcast. The single-player is divided into several chapters, each with a number of missions for the player to complete. The difference is that you can choose which missions you want to take and only the end missions of each of the chapters will be directly related to the main storyline. Although this does add a certain sense of non-linearity to the game, it can also slightly ruin the gameplay pace, as certain missions will be less fun than others. Don't get me wrong, the difficulty in Jedi Academy has been perfectly balanced - the missions will get increasingly challenging as you complete the chapters and gain more powerful force abilities. If anything difficulty balancing adds more addictive qualities to the gameplay. On a couple of occasions, however, I was put off by some of the more tedious missions that temporarily killed the game's momentum. There were a few confusing levels that made you run around looking for a door that you've missed in a maze of corridors, or some less than engaging combat sequences. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are inconsistencies in the level design; while most levels are brilliant, there are a few duds that might frustrate the more impatient gamers out there.

Overall, young and eager Jedi will surely have a blast with Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Lasers are blasting around everywhere, you wield the power of the force, and, of course, there's enough lightsaber action and Star Wars goodies in the game to keep you satisfied for a while. One thing though; since I am an expert force user and a Jedi with admirable talent (I'll pretend I didn't read this load of immature crap - 2Lions), it didn't take me too long to finish the entire game. But the rest of you rookies should spend a lot more time with the game. Seriously though (ah, an attempt at sarcasm - 2Lions), the game is lengthier than its predecessor and there are plenty of challenges along the way. Still, given the fact that Raven didn't have to work on the 3D code from scratch, I don't understand why they didn't make the single-player experience even lengthier. I guess that's usually how one feels when one realizes it's time to visit Earth again after an enticing stay in the galaxy far, far away...


8.7   Very Good

Another excellently presented Star Wars story, a variety of new combat moves allow for some impressive lightsaber combat, enhanced visuals; the ability to choose different paths (dark and light) and missions within a chapter, character customization;

Some examples of inconsistent mission design, experienced Jedi Knight players won't take too long to complete the entire game, more new weapons would've been nice.



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