Say, do you remember back in 1996? It was a good year for pc gaming, and it was also the year when Lucas Arts released Dark Forces. It was the first Star Wars game in the first person shooter genre, and it was even a lot of fun. Heck, I even remember the cheat-code for all the weapons being “LAPOSAL”. And now, 6 years and many Star Wars games later, Lucas Arts have released Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast. However, this time it has been developed by Raven Software. They had a difficult task, seeing as how a lot of very good first person shooters have been released and you could speculate whether they’re milking the name Star Wars for what it’s worth.
Regardless, a lot of people have been looking forward to this title, so here’s what I think of it.
The story takes place in the Star Wars universe, with all its exotic locations and downright weird inhabitants. You enter the role as a man named Kyle, who should be known for those who have played the original game. Your female partner Jan is along with you on a routine mission when you receive a message; there are some “complications”. I’m sure you can guess that “complications” usually means more villains than expected, but that doesn’t stop you! Throughout the story some unexpected things happen, as it should in any first person shooter. In short, you’re stopping a dark Jedi named Desann and his plan for interplanetary mischief. Even though the story is linear it is solid enough to be entertaining, but there are certainly better ones out there. I don’t want to reveal too much of the actual story, but you will travel to some really abnormal locations, like a city in the wind, temples and enemy strongholds.
Powered by the infamous Quake 3 engine, Jedi Knight 2 looks very nice. The levels themselves are fairly complex and life-like, but they tend to get confusing at times since you don’t have any kind of map. Texture-wise this game is also up to par with competing games, giving much variation while looking very crisp. Character modelling is well done, especially in the cut-sequences. The only thing they could’ve improved is lip-syncing of the characters. Animation-wise there isn’t much to complain about; villains move as expected, but the huge robot-like “nightmares” could’ve had more moving parts to give a better illusion of the real thing.
One of the graphical features that I liked the most is the particle effect of firing against a wall, along with the effect of using your lightsaber on a wall. In fact, this made the trigger-happy me waste perfectly usable ammunition, oh well. But, even though Jedi Knight 2 looks very decent it doesn’t really have that “wow effect” like in the upcoming Unreal 2 etc.
The first thing that I really noticed when starting this game was a pretty minor thing. In the first level there is a building of some sorts with enemy units a bit above you. And when I was firing like a madman at the villain up there he didn’t just stand there, he dodged, again and again. You see, in the first portion of the game you only have weapons that fire rather slowly. So, when an enemy moves to the left or right you can’t just fire directly at him, because then you would miss. Rather you have to do some instinctive vector-calculations, meaning if he is moving to the left you have to fire to the left of him. This is really not something you have to do in most first person shooters nowadays, and until you get the hang of it you can get annoyed, fast.
The weapons, which I quickly mentioned earlier, are all well-balanced and just plain fun to use. Most of the weapons have an alternative firing-mode so that you for instance have the option of accuracy versus firing rate, or in the case of the lightsaber: using it the normal way, or throwing it.
One of the main innovative features of Jedi Knight 2 is the use of force powers. The sentence “use the force!” suddenly gets a real meaning. Each Jedi knight has a set of powers he or she can use, like pushing or pulling things, jumping really high, healing or as mentioned; throwing the lightsaber. There are several, but I don’t want to spoil too much. In some of the missions these powers are vital to the success of the mission, whereas in others they can just give you an edge. By default you merely have to push a button from F1 to F8, which in my opinion can be hard when you’re already using both of your hands. You can of course reassign the keys, so that the most used ones are more easily reached.
Another thing that I really noticed about this game is the difficulty. The shooting part isn’t much harder than any other game, but Lucas Arts and Raven Software have scattered around a myriad of mini-puzzles, or just strange things you have to do in order to progress in the level. This reminded me a great deal of the good old Point-and-click adventures, where getting stuck could drive you up the wall.
A first person shooter is supposed to be a sort of an action-adventure where you kill the bad guys and save the world, not a game where some levels are so big that you loose track of where you’re supposed to go. Also, seeing as how you have no map and no compass (as seen in games like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault) you have to do the tracking on your own.
Secondly, in the first portion of the game (at least in normal difficulty and above) you’re constantly low on health, armor and ammunition. Keep in mind that this is coming from a person who has played more first person shooters than you’re average Joe.
I must say that my favorite weapon in Jedi Knight 2 is the awesome lightsaber. Some games have their rocket-launchers and railguns, but slicing through a group of enemies with a sword of light is just something to be experienced. Some of the things you pull of made at least me wish there was a way to record this and replay with different camera angles. Perhaps a mod pulls off something like that, one day.
Sound and Music
When playing you sometimes hear them expressing their feelings about you; like “die rebel scum!” but if you’re doing good then they’ll usually run like crazy and yell “we’re under attack!”. Raven Software did a good job making sound effects for the weapons, so that for instance the lightsaber doesn’t sound like a kid’s toy and a flachette gun, more commonly known as a flak cannon (think Unreal Tournament), sounds a powerful as it actually is. All in all, the sound effects they’ve mustered together raises the “coolness-meter”, which is something Command & Conquer: Renegade by far did not. It would be nice if they had more in-game voices though, for instance enemy units giving more detailed orders as to how they should attack poor Kyle.
So, over to the music. I’m pretty sure a lot of you can recognize a Star Wars tune, even if you’re a fan or someone’s grandfather. While playing there isn’t a constant stream of music, which is good because after 4 hours of Star Wars music you’re bound to get tired. By using good musicians and quality instruments the music helps to create the illusion of you not sitting by your pc, and rather fighting the scum of the universe.
The multiplayer part of Jedi Knight 2 has a number of differences from the single player missions. Mainly, you have a lot more Force Abilities to use, and all of them have 3 levels, so that if you have level 3 on the ability of speed then you are obviously faster than if it was at level 2. I was gladly surprised when I noticed how you actually have bots to battle, seeing as how several of the newer Quake 3 powered games have chosen not to. This is probably because there isn’t any extensive team-aspect of the game, so the bots can just run around and blast things pretty much like they did in the original Quake 3. You have many options when creating a server, for instance allowing only the lightsaber to be used, and I can assure you that it is fun to have turned on. Besides that you have regular options like friendly fire etc, so I will be surprised if you don’t manage to have fun taking out your aggression in the 11 multiplayer maps they included.
All in all this is a solid first person shooter, well worth the name of a sequel. It has very challenging single player mission, great music and multiplayer, and most importantly: a lightsaber! There are of course things that could have been improved, but this is a plain fun game regardless. A must for any Star Wars fan and a semi-must for any first person shooter fan.