|Title||:||Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast|
|Platforms||:||Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, Windows|
|Review by||:||Jeremy Pallant|
About a year ago I had the opportunity to review the game Star Wars: Obi-Wan. I wasn't particularly complimentary. A year later there is a curious sense of symmetry in reviewing another Star Wars game, but this time reaching rather different conclusions. Jedi Outcast is a very good game. The difference this time is that the developers were Raven Software, who have a wealth of experience when it comes to developing first-person shooting (FPS) games.
The version of Jedi Outcast that ended up in my eager, not so little hands, was for the Xbox. I don't know whether it too used a version of the much-respected Quake III engine, but the results are sheer eye candy. It's a good-looking game. I can't honestly say it represents the best that the Xbox is capable of, but nonetheless it does look extremely good. Not that that should be regarded as some kind of guarantee; as anyone who has read my reviews will know, I tend to value game play over graphics every time.
Fortunately, Star Wars: Jedi Outcast plays about as good as it looks. I confess that I've never been able to adjust to the keyboard and mouse scheme preferred by PC gamers, so to play an FPS with a controller is my preferred method. This game has been well adapted to the Xbox controller. There are two views available. The FPS view is the primary one, and uses the missile and energy weapons available. But when equipped with a lightsaber, a third person view is used instead, and to great effect. The lightsaber is possibly the most powerful weapon in the game. A formidable offensive weapon, it also serves as a daunting defense.
In my Obi-Wan review, I was fairly scathing about the lightsaber's effectiveness. While it's still not the slice-all weapon depicted in the movie, it is much improved. For a game rated "Teen", it would be a bit much to expect to be able to cut a storm trooper in half, but look closely and you will see the occasional limb missing, particularly in your own death-scenes. On several occasions, after getting myself killed by a saber-wielding foe, the replay clearly showed that I was missing an arm. That's right. A feature pioneered by Max Payne, the death scene playback has made it into Jedi Outcast.
It's not as cinematic as that found in Max Payne, and it lacks the slow-motion blood spray. Furthermore, in Max Payne, playback only occurred when it was entirely safe to do so. That is, when it was safe to distract the player. Jedi Outcast isn't as careful. Still, it's a nice touch, and one that hasn't actually disoriented me enough to result in a premature death. The playback is triggered either by your own death, or by making what, for want of a better expression, I shall call a special move with your own lightsaber that results in the slaying of an opponent.
For this game, the character Kyle Katarn reprises the role he played in Star Wars: Dark Forces and Star Wars: Jedi Knight. Kyle, a mercenary and sometime Jedi, reminds me somewhat of Benton Quest, from the cartoon series Johnny Quest. As such, he looks a little out of place: he seems too fatherly a figure to be engaged in the kind of adventure depicted in these games. Along the way, you will also meet Luke Skywalker, and Lando Calrissian, the latter voiced by the actor who played him, Billy Dee Williams. Mark Hamill does not reprise his role as Luke, for reasons I cannot fathom; after all, it's not as if he's overrun by movie offers.
Instead, Luke is given voice by one Bob Bergen. No stranger to this kind of work, this game makes at least six times Bob has played Luke Skywalker. He has also given voice to Tweety Pie and Porky Pig. Now I want to hear Luke say "I tawt I taw a puddy tat."
The game moves along at a reasonable clip, and the plot is interesting enough to maintain the player's interest. You don't immediately have a lightsaber, but the collection of other weapons is more than sufficient to move you through the game. My one complaint about the weapons is the game's "golf bag " tendency. That is, the sheer weight of death dealing weaponry would, under normal circumstances, slow the bearer to a painful crawl. I know, it's only a game and some suspension of disbelief is necessary, but I'm always more comfortable with realistic burdens. A handgun or two, a longarm and lightsaber should be the maximum one could comfortably carry.
Still, it has become traditional to provide a variety of weapons in first person shooters, and Jedi Outcast delivers. As I mentioned previously, the lightsaber is potentially the most powerful weapon you will acquire, and unlike the others, it is a very effective defense. It can deflect incoming, and even return that fire to its deliverer. To gain a saber, you must undergo a test, which includes learning Force powers.
What would a game with the word "Jedi" in the title be without the Force? Various abilities become available to you as the game progresses, including Force Jump, Force Push, and my favorite, Force Grip. When activated, your target is raised into the air, and hangs there as his neck is slowly crunched, with suitable sound effects. It's not the kind of thing you want to do while under fire, but emulating Darth Vader is a lot of fun. and is a terribly satisfying feature. There are other Force powers available, but I'm not going to reveal too many spoilers.
Enemy AI isn't bad. Most of the time you're going up against cannon fodder, but when it comes to single combat, things start to get more interesting. As you proceed through the game, you will come across enemies that use lightsabers and Force powers just as you do, and they can be challenging. You are advised to use your own saber against these people, because otherwise you will find your own weapons' fire being redirected upon you. However, with the right weapon and the advantage of surprise, it can be possible to overwhelm their defenses.
Inevitably, the game is a traditional mission-based FPS, but interesting enough that doesn't detract from the experience. A little platform action is included, and some missions focus on stealth, providing an interesting change of pace. The game doesn't have stealth integrated as a feature like Tenchu or Metal Gear Solid: there just happen to be a few missions where avoiding the enemy is rewarded, and a gung-ho approach doesn't work. I actually found the stealth requirement to be somewhat irritating, especially because it often degenerated into a firefight anyway. I admit I would like to see a Star Wars game along the lines of the previously mentioned titles.
While a Metal Gear Solid type of game should be a no-brainer, I find the idea of a Tenchu style title to be rather intriguing. While the ninja concept doesn't appear to be applicable to the Star Wars concept, the use of Force Jump, the lightsaber and other Force Powers parallels Tenchu's grappling hook, sword and Ninja magic. Throw in stealth, and telling the story from the Empire's perspective, and I think that the concept would be viable. Dark Side Force Ninja's anyone?
The music is, of course, superlative, as we've come to expect from a Star Wars title. John Williams' compositions permeate the game, and enhance the atmosphere established by the first trilogy. Jedi Outcast truly adds to the story of the Rebel Alliance and its victory over the Empire, even as a side-story.
There is one glaring omission that is the primary reason I gave Jedi Outcast a score of only 8.0: multiplayer mode. Don't get me wrong, it exists, but not online. As far as I can tell, not even GameSpy Arcade supports it for online play. I've not had the chance to try multiplayer against anyone but computer-controlled robots, which are actually a fairly challenging prospect, but to omit such a basic concept as online play is, frankly, incomprehensible. It was a significant factor in the PC version and to exclude it from the Xbox version is, given the similarities between a PC and the Xbox, odd in the extreme.
Nonetheless, Star Wars: Jedi Outcast is a very good game, well worth the price of admission. It has excellent graphics and sound, a good plot, and a well-implemented control scheme. The classic Jedi weapon, the lightsaber, is implemented as well as the teen rating can allow it to be. In short, I highly recommend this game, unless you expect online play to be included. If it's online play on the Xbox you want, I advise you to seek out Unreal Tournament or MechAssault.
This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Gamebit, 03-Apr-03