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Graphics: Although lower-end systems will certainly have trouble running Jedi Outcast optimally at its maximum settings, players running anything resembling a modern system should be able to witness the game in all its fantastic graphical glory. Running on a heavily modified Quake III Team Arena engine, this latest installation in the Star Wars series goes out of its way to impress, boasting a wide number of visual tricks that help to bring Kyle Katarn up to speed and into the new millennium. High-quality and carefully detailed textures, dynamic lighting, subtle reflections and even George Lucas’ signature “screen wipes” all come together to create what is easily the most visually arresting vision of the Star Wars universe since the last Jedi Knight. Between the opulent contours of Cloud City, the dark, shadowy recesses and dizzying heights of Nar Shadaa, and the hazy, fog-licked swamps of Yavin IV, Jedi Outcast pieces together its environments with such believability and attention to detail that it’s almost impossible to not be drawn in. And of course, there’s no forgetting the lightsaber, which is a special effect all its own. Swinging away will leave the slightest trail, as though your eye isn’t quite fast enough to see it properly, while locking lightsabers with a Force-infused foe will result not only in an ear-splitting rattling roar, but also in a shower of sparks and flashiness that reminds you of the sheer, unbridled power that you hold in your hands. Finally, as so dramatically demonstrated within Episode 1, trailing your saber along various surfaces will scar them with slight but noticeable grooves, thus lending a slightly more realistic impression of the exact nature of your weapon.
Animations are no less appreciable, and partially draw upon systems employed within some of Raven’s previous titles. Although hit locations aren’t necessarily as obviously prominent as they were within, say, Soldier of Fortune, they’re still an important part of the game; blasting someone in the shoulder will often send them reeling, while nailing someone directly between the eyes will snap their head back before they crumple to the floor. The lightsaber often provides the most obvious examples of this as you lop off your enemies’ hands and arms in your Force-powered fury. Even regular animations are held up to a similarly excellent standard, and thankfully so; the almost overwhelming amount of acrobatics and Force-powered antics not only feel great but certainly look as though they were pulled directly from the movies, making you feel as though you’re part of one yourself.
What’s lamentable, however, is the loss of FMV cutscenes. These provided an exciting, dramatic quality to the original Jedi Knight, a quality that is all too frequently absent from the engine-rendered cutscenes used here. Regardless, the lip-syncing is fairly good, the dialogue is solid, and it moves the plot along with acceptable pacing. Quite honestly, the engine does a pretty good job, and there’s nothing technically wrong with it apart from the occasional lag in the subtitles. It’s just that it tends to lack that nameless cinematic quality provided in the original, although this could be due to the very nature of the plot itself, something that will be discussed later.
Interface: Considering the full range of weapons and abilities at your eventual disposal, it practically goes without saying that the ability to remap commands is not only appreciated, but also necessary. The sheer amount of resources that you’ll be pulling from your Jedi toolbox is almost staggering, and the default configuration is rather unwieldy, to say the least. However, with some creative re-arranging, it’s not difficult to work out a system that’s both intuitive and accessible. In a similar vein it’s worth noting that, although this is largely a FPS, you can switch to a 3rd-person view at the press of a button; activating one’s lightsaber does this automatically, though you may disable this option if you wish. Most will likely leave this particular setting as-is, as the 3rd-person view works extremely well for saber combat, allowing you to more easily observe and learn how to properly use this unique weapon.
Since you no longer have any control over the development of your Force powers, it’s certainly good to see that what’s available to Kyle is easily noted through a simple and comprehensive screen that also encompasses his inventory, arsenal and his present mission. Each element — be it the level and use of a particular Force power or the alternative fire mode of a given weapon — is thoroughly explained, saving you the trouble of reaching for your manual every time you’re curious about something. So handy and clear is this particular aspect of the interface that you can’t help but wonder why it’s not a standard feature in the realm of the first-person shooter.
Gameplay: With its whisperings of Jedi Armageddon, the death of your father, your ascent into the Force and the quest to decide the fate of Ultimate Power, the first Jedi Knight boasted a storyline that was suitably epic, and could easily have stood alongside its cinematic brethren in terms of plot. Although Jedi Outcast‘s story certainly does its best to provide you with a constant sense of urgency, its plot never quite manages to rise to the same level of galaxy-shattering greatness as its predecessor. It’s certainly a well-written and interesting tale that regularly provides you with incentives to move forward, but it rarely manages to achieve the same dramatic effect that was so passionately evoked in the original.
The developers make up for the plot’s admittedly minor shortcomings by infusing the gameplay with terrifically exciting moments. In fact, by introducing the Reborn, Raven is able to take what was easily the most riveting aspect of the first Jedi Knight lightsaber duels and spread it across the length of the entire game. Many instances like these are found throughout, with the ability to commandeer an AT-ST or to fight alongside Luke Skywalker, easily stand as broadly epic as having to find one’s way out of an exploding ship, or being forced to fight a pair of Kell Dragons using only your fists. Further complementing the experience is the incredibly rich atmosphere. Whereas the original worked largely from its own unique set of ideas, Jedi Outcast relies quite heavily on the mythos and environments from the original films to generate its atmosphere. Thankfully, Raven has stayed unswervingly true to its source material, weaving a tapestry so faithful to the spirit of the films that it’s easy to get swept off one’s feet and onto the streets of Cloud City.
Perhaps the most notable improvements brought by Jedi Outcast deal with the lightsaber and Force powers. The lightsaber is considerably more versatile and surprisingly nuanced this time around, as the various stances enable you to dynamically adjust your fighting style to the situation at hand. With the plethora of different swings, spins, as well as the acrobatic flips and jumps, saber combat takes on an entirely new dimension; rather than the herky-jerky, hit-and-miss affair that it tended to be in the first Jedi Knight, duels now resemble the tense, white-knuckled swashbuckling confrontations that featured so prominently in the movies. Slash, parry, thrust, counter-thrust, parry, overhead slash; it can literally go on for minutes at a time if you’re facing a sufficiently formidable opponent, and there are no shortage of those. Even the alternate attack, the saber throw, is a terrific addition that’s easily superior to the lackluster “double-swing” from the previous title, and can be a truly deadly offensive tool all its own. Throw in the “saber locks,” and you’ve got a near-perfect recipe for melee bliss. The only downside to this otherwise excellent system is the slight awkwardness of its control scheme. Though it’s perhaps the easiest way to incorporate such a colossal combination of moves, tying the various saber motions to character movement takes a great deal of getting used to. However, if you take the time to learn the intricacies of this fine weapon, you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly rich and rewarding experience.
As with the lightsaber, the Force powers are an integral part of the Jedi Outcast experience. Although it’s initially disappointing to be unable to develop your powers as you see fit, it becomes a non-issue as the game progresses, as you’re infused with additional skill in reasonable and balanced amounts. It’s a relief to see that you’re given Light and Dark powers in almost equal levels, as it allows you to benefit from the positive power of Heal and Speed while simultaneously being able to enjoy the less-than-ethical ability to bounce your enemies against the walls and to shove them off catwalks. The new additions to the Force family are extremely well-implemented, especially the deliciously evil Force Grip. There are few greater guilty pleasures in a FPS than to be able to use the Force to clutch one’s enemy by the throat, slam him against the wall, and then fling him off a narrow archway to his death a far more satisfying method of dispatching someone than simply holding him in place, as was the case in the previous Jedi Knight. In fact, the Force powers are much more fleshed-out this time around and allow for a considerable degree of creativity when it comes to dispatching your enemies. For instance, you might be tempted to use Force Grip to pin someone in place while you hurl your lightsaber at their defenseless chest, or perhaps you might prefer to take out a handful of Stormtroopers by jumping high above their heads and then Force Pulling them into the air, distancing them from their weapons while simultaneously causing them to take great falling damage. Even subtler touches such as the modifications to Force Jump can be the source of countless memorable moments: there’s nothing quite like leaping onto the shoulders of an enemy dozens of feet above you, and then slashing at his downed form as you land in order to deliver the killing blow. Not only is it a tremendous amount of fun, but it makes you truly feel like the Jedi that you are.
The new infusion of puzzles into the core gameplay of the Jedi Knight series is arguably a welcome one, as it not only helps to break up the action, but it also introduces a certain sense of adventure, giving the universe a more fully-realized and realistic feel. Additionally, now that the progression of your Force powers is a controlled phenomenon, the developers were able to insert puzzles related directly to their use, something that was distinctly missing from the previous title. It certainly makes you feel more of a Jedi, although it should be noted that some of these puzzles are a little on the inane and illogical side. The most blatantly obvious example stands about halfway through the game, in which you must use your acrobatic Jedi abilities to reach some otherwise inaccessible control rooms teetering above a cavernous abyss. At times like this, the illusion of being within the Star Wars universe is blurred somewhat, since you’re left to wonder how on earth Remnant troopers would ever manage to arrive in those rooms in order to guard them, much less how anyone would ever be able to operate and make practical use of these ridiculously inaccessible controls. Thankfully, most puzzles aren’t so obviously branded as such and are better integrated even if they rarely rise above basic button-punching and key-collecting often ensuring that the game’s environments are more than just a pretty place in which to bloodlessly slaughter Stormtroopers.
Multiplayer: With more options and tweaks than you could shake a lightsaber at, Jedi Outcast‘s multiplayer component offers a fairly healthy amount of gameplay for those who have already saved the galaxy in their single-player outing. Aspiring Jedi can duke it out through seven Force-flavored modes, which range from the standard Capture the Flag and Free For All, to the more inventive Capture the Ysalamiri, in which flag bearers are immune to and incapable of Force Powers. To emphasize Star Wars’ unique appeal, there are even modes like Jedi Master, where only the one who finds and bears the lightsaber may use the Force, and Duel, a tournament-style mode in which two players go head-to-head with what else? — lightsabers. Once the mode has been selected, you may choose from 11 different maps which are varied, well-designed and represent a nice mix between original maps, such as the infamous Death Star and tweaked single-player levels. Due to the difference in map styles, it’s certainly fortunate that you’re able to pick and choose your Force powers between spawns; Force Push is considerably more useful on the teetering catwalks of Nar Shadaa than within the grassy Massassi Temple. This customizability further enhances the game’s longevity, as you can learn to adjust and balance the various aspects of the Force with your own personal preferences and abilities, or to discover new uses for your powers. If that wasn’t enough, there are a handful of additional multiplayer-exclusive Force powers for you to learn and love online; some, such as Protect and Drain, are more useful for direct confrontations, while others, such as Team Heal and Team Energize, are particularly handy for full-scale base assaults. Throw in the ability to use bots for practice or to supplement a half-empty server, and Jedi Outcast‘s multiplayer component becomes something that will give you reason to leave the game on your hard drive for months to come.
Sound FX: There are few things more distinctive and exciting to the Star Wars fan than the low electric hum of an unholstered lightsaber, which is just one of many sounds that are done to perfection within the confines of Jedi Outcast. The muted zap of a blaster pistol, the plasticized clatter of a downed Stormtrooper hitting the floor, the robotic chatter of a nearby R2 unit — each and every sound is executed so well as to further immerse you in the Star Wars atmosphere that oozes from the game’s every pore. Even the ambient effects are well-chosen: the sound of far-off, foreign creatures chittering away in the swamps of Yavin is just as appropriate as the screaming roar of TIE Fighters and X-Wings blasting away at each other right outside of a spaceship under siege. Also helping to further the atmosphere is the fact that you may now eavesdrop on nearby conversations, and although these are almost always irrelevant to the story, they’re certainly entertaining to listen to. While this has been done in most every FPS since Half-Life, it’s rarely as amusing or engaging as it is here; after all, it’s not every day that you get hear Stormtroopers complaining about their ineffective armor and cumbersome helmets, or hearing their superiors blame their incompetence for the downfall of the Empire.
As the FMV has been done away with, it’s a relief to see that the voice acting is uniformly excellent. The Rodians and Grans sound as they were pulled directly from the movies, as do the various Remnant officers, with their stern British-inflected accents. Katarn himself is almost exactly how you remember him, though perhaps a little more gruff and moody this time around. While peripheral characters such as Kyle’s partner Jan Ors and Mon Mothma are equally well-chosen, what’s most noteworthy are the vocal stylings of the two returning Star Wars characters, Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian. With Mark Hamill providing the voice of a character in Soldier of Fortune 2, it seems more than a little bizarre that he doesn’t appear anywhere in Jedi Outcast. Fortunately, his replacement sounds similar enough so as to be serviceable. However, Lando is voiced by none other than Billy Dee Williams himself, which lends a certain authenticity to your quest and should please Star Wars fans to no end.
Musical Score: If there’s one thing you can count on in a Star Wars title, it’s a great musical experience, which is something that Jedi Outcast delivers the moment you load the program. The classic John Williams audio that has graced practically every digital incarnation of the series is in unquestionably fine form here, providing you with the perfect backdrop against which to slice and dice your way through the Stormtrooper-dotted landscape. Playing lightly in the background, the dynamic score seamlessly adjusts itself to suit whatever situation you may be facing. While a light tune might be playing as you’re wandering around a seemingly empty corridor, you’ll soon find the music swelling into the Imperial March as you turn the corner and find yourself face-to-face with a half-dozen Stormtroopers. In fact, the excellent score forms such an important and vibrant part of the atmosphere that it’s difficult to imagine what the game would be like without it.
Intelligence & Difficulty: Stormtroopers aren’t typically known for being the most brilliant strategists around, but in Jedi Outcast they appear to at least have been put through basic training. When in large groups, they’ll come at you hard and fast; if you manage to whittle down their numbers, you’ll find them more cautious, frequently ducking for cover, strafing you across open doorways and passages, and looking to flank you, even if it means passing through a number of additional rooms. Punching a hole through their commanding officer will also lead them to briefly panic and flee before attempting to regroup, which is another really nice touch. Enemy Jedi are no less capable, presenting an increasingly daunting challenge as the game goes on; although initially somewhat weak, they gradually grow to use acrobatics and Force powers to attack and prevent you from relying too heavily on your own abilities. On the whole, the AI is rather strong and impressive, and is often more than enough to offer you a good, solid challenge, though there are a few minor exceptions that are barely worth noting. For example, there is a rare and hilariously bizarre glitch in the AI that will almost randomly cause Stormtroopers to kneel and walk simultaneously, literally causing them to waddle about while attempting to kill you — like a pack of murderous ducks armed with laser pistols; thankfully, this strange “Ducktrooper” phenomenon is a fairly isolated anomaly in what is otherwise a solid AI.
On the flip side, the strength of the AI contributes to Jedi Outcast‘s incredible difficulty in its early stages, as you’re forced to face off against hundreds of Stormtroopers while you’re left with nothing but a slow pistol and inaccurate rifle. It is in fact in these early levels in which most players will be turned off, as the quick load button will see some heavy use; gamers such as myself who found Raven’s Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force to be far too easy will find this to be somewhat of a preferable switch, though most will likely find it to be imbalanced drudgery. Also, although a challenge is often preferable to a cakewalk, one shouldn’t mistake inaccuracy and sluggishness as an acceptable and necessarily entertaining definition of challenge. However, once you progress past this stage and claim your Jedi heritage, the challenge becomes more than manageable.
The general level of difficulty offered by the puzzles littered throughout Jedi Outcast varies between satisfyingly challenging and unnecessarily complex. As stated earlier, much of the non-combat progression revolves around pressing a button, finding a key, and jumping on platforms, and although some problems are quite logical in their solution, others can be quizzically obtuse, forcing you to spend a great deal of time unnecessarily backtracking through the game’s oft-times colossal levels. Fortunately, the majority of the puzzles are of an acceptably entertaining nature and rarely stand in the way for long.
Overall: With its unique approach to Force powers, lightsaber combat, and other core aspects of gameplay, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast espouses a significantly different view of the Star Wars mythos than its award-winning predecessor. Certainly, many players will be taken aback by the removal of the RPG-style Force development system, the infusion of some ill-conceived puzzles, as well as the unforgiving nature of the initial set of levels; however, given some time and an open mind, the game soon unfolds into an incredibly deep and enriching experience that should thrill franchise fans everywhere. The various tweaks and additions to the Force powers are wisely chosen closet Sith Lords will wonder how they ever lived without the improved abusiveness of Force Grip while the graphical splendor and sheer drawing power of the atmosphere casts a spell that’s admittedly quite difficult to break away from. Additionally, the renewed focus on the drastically enhanced combat techniques and breathtaking acrobatic feats of skill transform the lightsaber combat into a veritable cinematic experience all its own, complete with white-knuckle thrills that easily stand as some of the most memorable in gaming history. When all is said and done, Jedi Outcast is an immensely playable and entertaining game that easily overpowers its few niggling flaws with its style, its spirit, and most importantly, its unswerving dedication to fun. It is without question the best Star Wars game of all time, and will likely reverberate even longer as an action classic.
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