|Developer:||Raven|||||Release Date:||2002|||||Systems:||Windows, Mac, Xbox, GameCube (but not PS2)|
Today on Super Adventures I'm taking a look at Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, the third in the Jedi Knight series. Poor Dark Forces: it was the one that started the games off in the first place but Jedi Knight was the name that stuck. Because it has 'Jedi' in it and every Star Wars fan wants to be a telekinetic space samurai.
I've played this before, but it's been so long now that all I remember about it is that the lightsaber combat is a step up from the last game and it probably does the shooting better. I mean you'd expect it have decent gunplay considering LucasArts passed the series on to FPS veterans Raven Software for this one, who were coming off Soldier of Fortune and Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force at the time. It seemed like Raven were getting around to all the big space sci-fi franchises in turn and giving them each a shooter, but instead they switched to making Marvel action RPGs weirdly, and now they make Call of Duty DLC.
The game has a 'mods' option right in the menu, which is cool, but I won't be touching any of them. I want the pure, unedited, non-Special Edition Jedi Outcast experience. Well, the single player experience anyway, I won't be showing multiplayer, and I won't be turning it off until I get to a proper Jedi duel.
Warning: This may contain spoilers for the earlier Jedi Knight games, including the fact that the hero becomes a Jedi Knight.
(Click images to expand them into bigger images.)
Jedi Knight incarnation, with the same outfit and beard, except considerably less 'live action'. He's rendered in-engine this time (id Tech 3/Quake III engine if you're wondering) and the animation is a little bit on the retro side, even for 2002. There's no motion capture here, and the characters flap their jaws like they're Half-Life scientists.
Also the new voice actor sounds like he should be playing Kyle Katarn's dad, and it really hasn't been that long since the last game.
In real life the games were released less than five years apart. Jedi Outcast came out in late March 2002, just a month and a half before 'Episode II: Attack of the Clones'. In case you were wondering.
Anyway, canon or not, Stormtroopers need gunning down, and Jan's tagging along for a change. Usually she stays in the ship and flies around until I need picking up, but... hey, where's the ship? Jan, what have you done with our new ship? It might look a bit crap compared to the one I blew up in Jedi Knight, but we need that to leave the planet!
Guns are cool though, everyone likes guns. Except when the bloody things won't hit anything you aim them at. I mean my rifle is fairly accurate, plus there's a bit of auto-aim on it that I can't turn off, but I'm firing slow moving energy bolts at fast moving enemies and the two rarely connect. I'm glad Jan's here now, as she's getting more kills than I am.
Second time around I made sure to get everyone's attention and kept them off Jan while she totally failed to get the front gate open. So I found a side door and took a lift up to another lift where there was a switch that activated a defence turret which I used to blast the door to pieces. So now we're in (and I'm hitting quicksave).
It took a fair amount of shots, but I killed them all eventually. Or maybe it was Jan... the important thing is that they're all dead and now I need to go on alone to open up some of these doors.
Oh, I see! I can shoot this thing as well to blow it up and open up the path. Jedi Outcast Rule #1: If you're stuck, try shooting stuff.
But then it exploded in a massive fireball, which incinerated everything in the tunnel without warning, including me. Jedi Outcast Rule #2: The game hates you. Reload and try again.
A FEW DEAD STORMTROOPERS LATER.
Oh I get how this works now. I was trying to input my clearance code into the console to unlock those two doors, but they're already open. It seems I need to go into the green and red sections to find the switch to turn this console on. This is some proper old school level design.
You know what true old school first person shooters (almost) always had? An automap! Jedi Knight's twisty three dimensional wireframe map may have been a failed experiment, but at least they put something in. Games like Wolfenstein: The New Order prove it's entirely possible to pull it off in a true 3D shooter, and it's a shame that by the late 90s barely any FPS did.
LEVEL 2: KEJIM BASE.
That arm couldn't look more like a set of steps leading up to that hallway, but I can't reach it from down here. I started off in that room up there on the other side of the windows, but I can't find a door to get inside on that floor. Oh hang on, it turns out that I can just smash the window open and walk through! Jedi Outcast Rule #3: Window glass is always unbreakable, except when it isn't.
LEVEL 3: ARTUS MINE.
Jan's staying in the ship this time thankfully, where she can shoot down TIE Fighters instead of getting shot by Stormtroopers. She's the pilot, Kyle's the commando, that's why when he finally got a chance to fly his last ship at the end of Jedi Knight he destroyed the thing beyond repair in less than five minutes.
|Star Wars: Jedi Knight (PC)|
And I'm stuck again. There's a floating truck that carries stuff across the facility and I'm pretty sure I need to hitch a ride, but there's only one room in which I can get on top of it and I get cooked alive if I go in there. I've searched this whole damn mine several times over and I can't find a way to turn down the heating.
To be honest I learned this by reading a walkthrough, because I couldn't figure it out myself. In my defence though, the pipe extends below the balcony, so it wasn't exactly making its presence known.
Valve are famous for rigorously playtesting their games, figuring out what parts of their levels are giving people trouble and using all kinds of design tricks to make it clearer where they're meant to go. I'm sure Raven must have done much the same thing, except opposite.
BUT THEN, AFTER RIDING THE HOVER TRUCK.
They're a pain to shoot, so I decided I'd just run past them all instead. It was working great until I had to stop to press a button on the wall, then they all swarmed me like off-brand piranha headcrabs and it was over in seconds. They're making me miss the cliff racer things in Jedi Knight.
LEVEL 4: ARTUS DETENTION.
Star Trek: Elite Force. The game's even got the same kind of shield and weapon energy recharge machines lying around, though I suppose that really comes from Half-Life. I've no regenerating health or shields by the way.
It turns out that the Imperials were forcing colonists to mine the crystals, and I've managed to open up the cells and let them run wild. Thankfully I don't have to escort them all personally, though I do have to find the prison warden and convince him to let everyone out (with a gun, not words). It's so weird having all these people around all of a sudden that I'm not supposed to shoot on sight.
The warden refused to move at a sensible jog like every other character, so I had to slowly walk behind him, keeping my crosshair trained at him all the way from his office to this door switch. Then the door opened and these bitey things sprang out without warning and murdered him. So now I'll have to do it all over again because apparently there's more doors left to open and I forgot to quicksave.
LEVEL 5: ARTUS TOPSIDE.
I've been trying to ignore how glitchy the shadows look at times because they make the Stormtroopers look good, but it's pretty obvious now that they're not working out. Probably just a side-effect of playing a 2002 game on a modern system, but either way they can't stay.
Darth Lizardhead (or Desann to his friends) is making his first appearance here, but he quickly establishes his villain credentials by having his apprentice take Jan into his shuttle... and then execute her. Just because he knows it'll piss Kyle off. Truly Desann is the most badass animal-head Star Wars character since that horse who became an X-Wing pilot.
|Hohass "Runt" Ekwesh|
Anyway I'm sorry to ruin this shocking character death for you, but to be honest I don't think that Jan is really dead. Because it hasn't flashed up MISSION FAILED, JAN ORS HAS DIED yet.
Desann picks Kyle up, chokes him a bit like Darth Vader, and then just walks away because this is so far from a fair fight that it's embarrassing for him. He flies off in his shuttle, leaving the mercenary alone with his rage.
Kyle's got a plan though, as in Jedi Knight he became one of the few people in the galaxy who knows the location of the Valley of the Jedi, which contains a big glowing beam of energy that can re-establish his connection with the Force! The last game also established that it gives you the power to "destroy stars with a thought, eradicate billions with a whisper", but Kyle's apparently not using that feature. Sure you really shouldn't be playing around with the Force at all when you're motivated by grief and anger because it leads to the Dark Side, but it'll probably be fine!
Kyle doesn't know about any of this though, and continues on to the temple on Yavin 4 (the Rebel base that the Death Star nearly blew up in the first movie) to meet an old friend and get his old sword back.
LEVEL 6: YAVIN TEMPLE.
Here I finally get to learn Desann's dark backstory. He was lonely on the planet of the T-Rex people because he was the only one with Force powers, so he left and became a student at the Jedi Academy. One day he killed a fellow padawan for 'being weak', then ran off to become a supervillain. He's not the deepest of characters.
Kyle's not all that interested in sticking around and chatting though, as he's got revenge on his mind and he needs a lightsaber for that. But Luke tells him that he'll have to be tested on his primary Force skills first and directs him to the ruined temple nearby. Man, the guy's had almost a decade to set up a proper Jedi training base and he's still sending students down into the crumbling ruins to test the most basic powers? No wonder his kids are going nuts.
LEVEL 7: YAVIN TRIAL.
In Jedi Knight I chose what powers to unlock and upgrade with a menu between levels, but here it seems I've got no choice in the matter; my abilities are just handed to me as I go.
Now that I have the Force Push power I can shove things forward when my cursor turns blue and swirly. Pull is sold separately. First I need to turn these wall panels around to reveal a glyph, then I slide the floor tiles along until the centre tile matches. This uses up a bit of Force mana, but the stuff recharges fast.
After this I've got pulling puzzles, running puzzles and jumping puzzles, with my reward at the end being a shiny lightsaber of my own! Actually literally my own lightsaber, as Luke put the thing down here to troll me.
LEVEL 8: NAR SHADDAA STREETS.
On the downside the game's playing the Mos Eisley cantina music again. Because of course it is. There's a reason why TIE Fighter has the best soundtrack out of all the Star Wars games, and it's partly because it actually has its own soundtrack, instead of playing dynamic clips of movie music.
If they're not sniping me from windows in the distance, they're throwing thermal detonators at me from above. I hear grenades falling all around me, clinking around and beeping, but there's nothing on screen to show me where they are. Whichever way I run turns out to be the wrong way and Kyle explodes.
Who thought it'd be a good idea to give the player Force powers and a lightsaber immediately before a level where they're utterly useless? Well except for Force Jump, I'm getting a lot of use out of that one, leaping between buildings, trying to figure out where the game wants me to go. This isn't just scenery you're seeing here, I can run around the sides of all of these buildings, getting sniped at all the way by assholes hiding in the dark.
Well the game's going to get fun eventually, I'm sure of it, and I'm going to stick with it until it happens dammit! After I've taken a long break.
LEVEL 11: BESPIN UNDERCITY.
I wish I could describe lightsaber duels in this, but I'd have to understand them first, and I'm not quite there yet. There's a lot of jumping around and blades clashing together, but Kyle's the one doing all the reacting to the attacks coming his way, while I focus on his movement. It seems that fights can be over ridiculously fast if I can get my blade to intersect with the Dark Jedi's body once or twice, so I'm trying to get behind him without letting him see my own back and it's a pretty frantic dance we're doing here.
LEVEL 12: BESPIN STREETS.
I mean look at this crap. On my left I've got a mission critical droid that's mindlessly wandering forwards into a hallway rigged with laser tripmines. On my right I've got huge open windows and a row of snipers shooting at me! I just don't have the time to deal with this situation before the robot blows himself up.
Aha, turns out the secret is to Force Push the robot backwards off the lift we came here on... oh no, wait, that blows him up. Shit.
LEVEL 13: BESPIN STARPAD.
But things are much happier now! I've got all these Stormtroopers to play with and they're all utterly harmless now that I've Force Pulled their guns away. I'm sure I've seen a few of them pick their old gun back up, but they refuse to use it afterwards. Except for the ones who carry keys that is, those guys are determined to get themselves killed (so they can give me their key). To be honest the difficulty has sort of flatlined since I became utterly unstoppable and learned to heal myself with the force, but at least I'm smiling now. The hardest bit of the levels has always been finding my way around anyway.
Also there's a weird R2-D2 and C-3PO cameo under those stairs over there. Though he doesn't actually sound anything like C-3PO so maybe they're just... cosplaying.
LEVEL 17: CAIRN DOCK.
What kind of lunatic rogue developer suddenly introduces a mandatory stealth level during the last third of their run and gun action game? Oh wait, Raven did the same kind of thing in Elite Force didn't they?
To be fair, the solution to this stealth stage turned out to be pretty much the same solution that I've used in every other level. Jedi Outcast Rule #4: You've walked past the way out five times already, you just haven't seen it yet. There was another way into the stealth room from above, located right next to a convenient light switch. I just blacked out the room, switched on my night vision goggles, and crept through unseen.
Then seven levels later I beat the whole game, but I've subjected you too many pictures already. And that's after I cut all the shots of the Lando Calrissian escort mission!
Star Wars: Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast is a game about being stuck; completely hopelessly stuck in a labyrinth of doors and precarious walkways. I think I must have spent half my time running back and forth down the same corridors, attacking every window, shooting at machinery, headbutting suspicious walls, and trying to activate anything that looked like it had buttons on it. If I was very lucky I'd spot a grate tucked away along the ceiling or a section of the floor would automatically drop down to the next area, otherwise I had to open up the walkthrough again.
On the plus side, the game respects the lightsaber, possibly more than any other Star Wars game I've played. The blade burns through anything it touches, whether you're swinging it or not, so you can just walk into someone and it'll kill them (or use it to cut a spiteful line down the scenery when you fall to your death). It blocks pretty much any laser bolt that comes your way, it kills almost anything in a single hit, it can be thrown and eventually steered through the air, there are three different saber combat styles to suit different opponents, and best of all if you stand in the rain the raindrops fizzle when they hit the blade.
Combat isn't as satisfying as I expected though because enemies can dodge bullets, the lightsaber always takes a half-second longer to swing than I wanted, and I eventually realised that it was smarter just to use Force Pull to disarm everyone instantly because it's faster, it never misses, and it didn't leave me defenceless while I did it. Which is funny because I assumed Force Grip or Force Push would be the overpowered moves given the Empire's continuing fondness for chasms. The game has definitely retained the awesome cavernous rooms and idiosyncratic weird-ass Star Wars architecture of Jedi Knight, though it's somehow even more of a pain in the ass to get around in it.
I'm torn on the game really. It uses the Star Wars setting well and the Force abilities are cool, but it's got a mediocre story and the game design is frustrating. I think I have to give it a star, it inspired me to stick with it to the end after all, but it's the kind of game that seems better in retrospect than when you're actually playing it and I can't honestly say I enjoyed it for the most part.