|Developer:||Raven|||||Release Date:||2003|||||Systems:||Windows, Xbox, Mac|
This week on Super Adventures I'm talking about Star Wars! I saw everyone else doing it and I felt left out. If you're reading this in five years time, then I'm talking about everyone going crazy over the release of 'The Force Awakens' last week. I know it's weird to think back to 2015, when people were enthusiastic about Star Wars movies again and the series hadn't been utterly driven into the ground by a succession of annual sequels, but that's where I'm at right now.
But I'm not talking about a film, I'd need some kind of Super Adventures in Sci-Fi website for that... no I'm talking about Star Wars™: Jedi Knight™ - Jedi Academy™! I'd make a joke about it being Star Wars: Dark Forces 4: Jedi Knight 3: Jedi Outcast 2 - Jedi Academy, but for once they've resisted sticking a number in there and making things more confusing than they have to be.
Jedi Academy is the last game in this prestigious sci-fi shooter series, but to be honest it's always felt more like a stand alone expansion pack to me, like Mysteries of the Sith was to Jedi Knight. Honestly I doubt I'll be able to say much about I didn't already say in my Jedi Outcast article a few months back, but it's Christmas so I thought I'd treat myself!
WARNING: CONTAINS NO SPOILERS FOR THE FORCE AWAKENS.
I was going to compare it to Jedi Outcast's logo animation but I just checked and the game doesn't even have one. Come to think about it, Dark Forces and Jedi Knight didn't have one either. Shameful.
The character editor is actually extremely basic, with a choice of species, a selection of skin tones, various sets of heads, torsos and legs I can assemble, and that's it. My main issue with it though, is that my character won't stop spinning around! How about letting me choose when I want to spin them around, I'm the one who's trying to compare outfits here.
Also weird is that they all seem to have their own personal range of outfits that only they can pick from, despite them all being basically humans in make up and gloves. It drastically limits my options for seemingly no good reason. Maybe I like a pair of the Twi'lek's boots and want to combine them with one of the Zabrak's tops on a human character... not gonna happen, it won't let me do it.
There's also 'saber type' and 'combat style' options, but those are for more experienced Jedi only. Clicking them doesn't do a thing right now.
Right, I'm clicking 'Begin Game'. Prepare to gaze upon my heroic creation.
Anyway my hero began the game on this space transport, sitting with all the other character types I could've picked. He was successfully minding his own business until this hyperactive human jumped over, determined to tell him that he's called Rosh. I've also learned my character’s called Jaden, we're both on our way to join the Jedi academy, and he's really envious of my lightsaber.
It turns out I’ve crashed on Yavin 4, a few kilometres from that Rebel temple from the end of the first Star Wars film, which Luke has since taken over for his Jedi academy.
You'd think that Mark Hamill would be playing Luke, seeing as he's a prolific and talented voice actor who's worked with LucasArts and Raven before, but nope. In fact this is actually Bob Bergen's 10th appearance as the character. It really doesn't make much difference though as Luke in the Jedi Knight universe is the dullest man alive. He wears all black because he's a void in reality where a human being should be, a personality vacuum. He's about as interesting as his haircut.
Oh did I mention that I've started off with a lightsaber instead of a blaster, meaning no first person shooting bit at the start? I'm considering this to be a good thing as the shooting in Jedi Outcast kind of sucked. I've got no Force powers though, beyond the ability to throw my saber forward and then summon it back again like a laser boomerang.
Rosh has ended up on the other side of the stream to me, and he's suggesting that I cut down a tree to form a bridge for him. Why did he have to be the only other survivor? Right, okay, I guess we're starting with the basics then. Click the left mouse button to hit things with the glowy sword.
It wasn't even my fault! I was trying to get us both in frame to get a better screenshot and I accidentally clipped him with the blade. Not that I would've lost any sleep over killing him off, seeing as he's just one notch down on the 'annoying sidekick' scale from Jar-Jar Binks.
Jaden swings the blade differently depending on the direction I'm moving when I press attack and if I hold the button down he'll chain his moves together, so I try to do drive-by swipes. Trouble is that he takes a while to get the blade moving so there's a delay I need to take into account; I can't just run up and mash the button (mostly because it'll get me shot).
Killing the two Stormtroopers has gotten me a blaster rifle, so now I can carry that everywhere and never use it. It's also caught the attention of a mean looking guy with red lightsaber. Wait, what?
Me, I've beaten both Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy so I should be a lightsaber master by now... but the knowledge hasn't stuck. I'm just holding the attack button down and dancing around, chaining attacks together, and hoping that one eventually slips through his defence into his soft vulnerable low-polygon body.
One trick I've discovered is to use the high ground against him... by jumping on his head and sending him flat on his ass. Doesn't seem to kill him, but it makes me smile.
SOON, AT THE JEDI TEMPLE.
Actually I think it's more of a lightstaff, and the bad folks are using it to suck energy out of the temple as Jaden watches from behind a wall. Unfortunately his surveillance turns out to be a little less covert than he assumed and he gets knocked out with a blast of light.
When the story kicks in like this, the game begins to feel like it's a tie-in to a rubbish 'Jedi Academy' cartoon that never existed; two steps removed from being genuine 'Star Wars'. The cutscenes are just as cringeworthy as the ones from Jedi Outcast and it’s making me miss the cheesy live action FMV of games like Jedi Knight and Rebel Assault II. I don't know whether it's the voice acting, the writing or the animation that's putting me off (I'm a terrible critic) but this combination really isn't working for me.
I love how much care and attention has gone into giving the blade a presence in the game world, as it sparks and cuts a trail through any scenery it brushes against. I doubt any game has done lightsabers better than this.
Anyway, just turning up at the academy has apparently gifted me with a full set of level 1 neutral Force powers, so now Master Katarn is training Rosh and I to push levers, pull bricks and run through doors to navigate this training stage. I can cycle between Force powers, but each also gets its own hotkey so I can access any ability the instant I want it... assuming I can remember what button I remapped it to (there’s a lot of powers in this).
That was a really short training stage, especially compared to the one in the last game. Rosh decided to drag it out a little though by hitting a switch and sending a lightsaber-wielding training robot after me. Because he's a arrogant cocky hyperactive little git who's willing to cheat so that he can win. It wasn't even a competition, we were just training!
Unfortunately Master Katarn is too laid back to give him the proper yelling at he deserves. I miss the old Kyle, back when he was a dangerous mercenary type.
Luke shows up to reveal that the intruders are long gone, but the symbol of a long dead Sith Lord called Marka Ragnos was found at the temple, so we’re to keep an eye out for clues about a group affiliated with Ragnos on our missions. Hey, I visited his tomb back in Knights of the Old Republic!
Unlike in the earlier games, this is letting me chose what order I play the levels in, though I'm assuming it's going to make me visit all of them before I get the next slice of storyline and a new set of missions. Of course two of them would have to take place on Tatooine, the series loves that bloody planet.
Alright I'm starting with 'Mercenary Activity - Tatooine'. Let's get this over with.
For me this is basically a choice between Force Grip and Force Healing. I won't be telekinetically throwing anyone around at level 1, but the Star Wars universe is built around chasms so I should start building up Grip early. Then again, healing is useful at any level as it helps stop Jaden from being dead. It's a tough decision.
I can also pick a couple of guns here, but really I don’t see the point. Everyone I kill is going to drop one and I don't even use the things.
I never really followed the extended universe so I've no idea what Han and Chewie were originally supposed to be up to at this point in time, but I do at least know when this point in time is.
In our timeline it was released in 2003, between Knights of the Old Republic and Rogue Squadron III, which themselves came out between 2002's 'Attack of the Clones' and 2005's 'Revenge of the Sith'. There's been worse times to be a Star Wars fan I suppose.
Okay all the enemies are dead, so now where do I go? Every door I try seems to be locked. I'm sure one of them will eventually open for me but it'd be nice if there was a way to know just by looking at them like in modern games. Also it’d be cool if that bloody R2 unit over there would STOP BEEPING FOR A MOMENT.
The mercs tried to set a trap for me here, but the idiots used laser trip mines with visible beams so it wasn't hard to spot. Not that I'm complaining. I am going to complain about that bloody R2 droid beeping though. I think there must be another one around here as they've got a bloody choir going. It's drowning out the John Williams!
Oh, that's something worth mentioning: like a lot of Star Wars games this seems to be using genuine recycled music from the movies instead of having a unique soundtrack of its own. Which is a shame because the original trilogy... had original soundtracks.
Well these two turned out to be useless, but that Half-Life style shield recharge unit over there will be handy. My Force power regenerates, my shields and health not so much, so by the time I come across one of these things I usually need it.
Of course like all video game charging units it only gives 75 points of energy before it runs out, so the folks that work here are out of luck. No more phone charging for them this month.
In other news, the plot thickens as the mercs have used their energy beams to shrink the Millennium Falcon. Oh hang on, that's a tractor beam. I'll still have to get up there into the control room and disable it though.
I don't like it when games play around with the scale of things like this, because I can tell when it's not right and it bothers me. I'm pretty sure it's not right anyway... pretty mostly sure. Or maybe the landing gear is just too short, I don't know.
Either way, at least it's not as bad as the interiors in Star Trek Online.
|Star Trek Online (PC)|
A FEW HALLWAYS LATER.
I won my duel on Yavin 4 by tactically flailing around, but this time I made it look like I know what I'm doing. I performed a forward roll and came out of it with a stab move. Instant kill, no messing around, I am now the master.
Though if you glance over at the red bar on the bottom left you can see how crap I really am. There’s just no health lying around on this stage. In retrospect I should’ve gone with the healing power over Force Grip. How many chasms was I expecting to find on a desert planet?
I turned off the tractor beams, killed the last few enemies and then Kyle strolled in, stepping over bodies to inspect the carnage.
I was sent back to the level select screen afterwards so I think I'll go with the rescue mission next.
Turns out there was actually only one survivor left from the ship that sent the distress call. He ran over to me, stepped on the sand and got eaten by a giant underground worm. And then there were no survivors. See, this is why you don't send Jedi apprentices off on their own with an afternoon's worth of training. The level actually has no real enemies on it, it's all about navigating the scattered wreckage without touching the sand, making multiple trips to grab the equipment Jaden needs to repair his transport.
I'm sure glad I chose Force Heal as my new power this time, that was a smart move. No seriously, when I slip off onto the sand I can usually get back to safety in time, but this falling damage is adding up.
TWO MORE MISSIONS LATER.
SOME PLOT HAPPENS.
Turns out that the evil Jedi hacked Luke's PC back in the intro because they wanted a list of famous Star Wars locations... so they could pay them a visit and suck out all the Force power. It's not a very good plot, though it does give me a contrived reason to go on a tour of the Star Wars universe and single-handedly kill everyone I find along the way!
EVEN LATER STILL.
It’s absolutely pointless to toss enemies around with Grip, seeing as I could throw my saber at them, or Force Push them, or walk over and hit them, or just shoot them, but dropping people off walkways always cheers me up. I have to admit, right now all the challenge is coming from the level design, with the enemies just there to give me something to do while I figure out where to go next. A map would be nice!
A FEW MISSIONS LATER.
It's taken me a while, but I've reached the game's mandatory first person shooter stage. No lightsaber means I can't block incoming blaster fire, but I can pull the weapons out of the Stormtroopers' hands and heal myself, so I'm not feeling all that vulnerable here. Even here the enemies are mostly just an opportunity for the player to show off.
For a game built on the Quake 3 engine it just doesn’t feel right in first person somehow, and not just because I haven't got a reload key or the ability to aim down sights. I suppose it doesn't help that I'm using a Stormtrooper rifle, specifically designed to fire off an impressive barrage of blaster fire without ever injuring the protagonists they're all aiming at.
Speaking of ships, I've just realised that the game hasn't introduced a unique Imperial supership for the villains to fly around in, twenty times more massive than a regular Star Destroyer. Darth Vader got to pull that trick in 'Empire Strikes Back' because he was the Emperor's right hand man, but everyone after that has been taking the piss. So bonus points to Jedi Academy for avoiding that trope.
A FEW MISSIONS LATER, ON ZONJU 5.
One thing though: if a game's going to yell at me to "use turbo to jump chasm" as I'm racing full speed towards a ravine, it should probably also mention what the 'turbo' button is. First time around I hit it a bunch of keys, flew right over the edge and fell to my doom. Had to replay half the level again afterwards.
Turns out that the turbo button is the same as the 'throw lightsaber' button, if you're curious.
EVEN LATER STILL, IN THE LATE DARTH VADER'S CASTLE.
I'm finally teaming up with Jedi Master Kyle Katarn on this mission, raiding Vader's palace on a planet with acid rain that burns through our health. As a former protagonist he's been through this crap a thousand times already, so he's using the opportunity to mock Jedi Knight level design, saying things like "The console to unlock the door is probably 12 floors up or something. How does that make sense?"
To be honest though, the game seems far more straightforward than Jedi Outcast. I've gotten lost a few times, but I haven't gotten lost like I did in the earlier games. I've never been utterly hopelessly stuck in a maze of corridors.
Trouble is that Dark Jedi are showing up everywhere now and they're not all falling for the forward roll+impale trick. Well, combat couldn't be a cakewalk forever I suppose.
After careful study and exhaustive comparison, I have come to the conclusion that Jedi Academy really is just more of Jedi Outcast... kind of. The two games are virtually identical in gameplay, but Jedi Outcast managed to piss me off all the time with its surprise stealth sequence, robot escort mission, sniper city stage, dark caves full of bitey things, and mazelike level design, and this didn't. Sure it could still use an automap, it's not flawless, but overall this basically plays like my rose-tinted memories of its predecessor. It's as good as I once remembered the earlier game being, but more fun than it actually was. To me anyway.
The lightsaber combat takes a while to get used to, but once you've figured it out the game becomes ridiculously easy for the first half or so, at least on Normal difficulty. The game's much less of a convoluted pain in the ass maze than Jedi Outcast, but finding your way around the levels is still the hard bit and 9 times out of 10 you're going into a fight knowing you're going to win. The joy of it comes from having a toolbox full of Force powers and getting to decide how you want to win. It's always fun to activate Force Speed, run along a wall, bounce off a Stormtrooper's head at the end, do a flip, slice through his two friends, then spin around and Force push the guy off a cliff as he's getting up.
For all my complaints about the cutscenes earlier, the game does feel a lot like Star Wars in the times that characters aren't talking, and it's very easy to skip the bits when they are. I'm not going to say the story and cutscenes are objectively terrible, but they're made of a type of bland cheese I don't find appealing. The game's pretty much a set of unconnected missions, so the plot doesn't add much to the package anyway.
Plus it has multiplayer! Which I didn't try. It's apparently good though.
If you've any interest in third person Star Wars laser sword action, Jedi Academy is worth checking out. In fact I'd say that if you only ever play or replay one of the Jedi Knight games, this is the one to go for. It's officially Not Crap.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, May the Force be With You etc!