Filmmaker George Lucas has entertained countless fans around with world with his unique fantasy Sci-Fi vision that is 'Star Wars'. Spanning 25 years and covering almost every form of media, from its initial big-screen conceptualization to books, magazines, comics (both books and dailies), and even video games. It was George Lucas' video gaming division LucasArts that brought the world of Star Wars to Desktop PC's back in the early 90's with such remarkable releases as Rebel Assault, TIE Fighter, and X-Wing. The real eye catcher came in 1995 with the 1st person Star Wars themed adventure, Dark Forces, released to compete with other titles fighting for gaming supremacy following the storm that was Doom. Unlike other FSP titles at the time, DF combined great storytelling (in the grande style of Star Wars) with excellent action and adventure, single handedly blowing over the competition as well as expanding the Star Wars Universe in ways not thought of previously.
In 1997, LucasArts released the follow up to Dark Forces, raising the gaming bar significantly for both gameplay and storytelling. Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II not only retained the excitement and action that was inherent in its predecessor, but also added the unique aspect of force abilities in the game. Players could now command the same powers that were available to some of the heroes (and villains) found within the Star Wars Universe in both the single and multiplayer versions of the game. Add to that the expanded weapons portfolio (including the ever popular lightsaber), a host of new enemies to battle, and a great new gaming engine with and incredible upgrade in the games graphic design, Jedi Knight was destined to become a hit. Now, five years later (and just in time for the release of Attack of the Clones on the big screen), LucasArts has released its latest title in the Dark Forces expanded Star Wars Universe saga. The highly anticipated Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast for the PC not only remains true to the quality levels established in its prior incarnations for both its storyline and gameplay, but also keeps a level of originality that was honestly not expected. It also turned out to be just plain fun to play.
Developed by Activision's subsidiary group Raven Software (makers of the highly entertaining Star Trek: Elite Force) and published by LucasArts, the storyline surrounding Jedi Knight II take place several years after DFII and the Mysteries of the Sith expansion pack. Our hero Kyle Katarn has forsaken the ways of the Jedi after the tumultuous battle with the Dark Jedi warriors at the mystical Valley of the Jedi. Still working as a mercenary and covert officer for the New Republic, however, Kyle finds himself in the middle of a thickening plot that threatens the galaxy. The last vestige of the Empire, known as The Remnant, have allied themselves with a fallen student of Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy with the intent of using the Dark Side of the Force to create and unstoppable army. Kyle must defeat this evil union utilizing ever skill that he has, even if it means returning to the path of a Jedi Knight.
Raven Software did a wonderful job of keeping the Star Wars theme the highest priority in the game. There is no doubt about it, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is about as close as a 1st person shooter can get to George Lucas' sci-fi vision. The visual graphics in the game are outstanding, the sound (including effects and soundtracks) are authentic, the storyline is interesting, and the action is intense as well as highly addictive. The five years of computer advancements (including sound, video graphics, and processor speed) did not go unnoticed by the game developers. Compared to DFII, JKII is leaps and bounds beyond. Character modeling is more realistic, and the level locations have much more detail to their textures and design. Enemy AI has also been improved, allowing for better in-game fight and interaction.
Another added improvement to the game compared to its previous incarnations lies with lightsaber and Force use. The Jedi's famous weapon of choice has been refined graphically, giving both the energy blade and the hilt a more realistic look than in DKII: it renders much more cleanly during combat situations and actually caused collateral damage to the environment. Lightsaber combat has also been drastically improved, giving players much more control of their combat style. During the single player mode of the game, players can choose from a number of styles ranging from defensive to aggressive, which in turn gives the character different sets of moves which are visually displayed during an attack or defense posturing.
The Force power system in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast has been drastically overhauled, which actually turned out to be good thing. Gone is the Dark Side/Light Side point accumulation system that generally caused confusion in DKII. Instead, the game designers have opted for a simpler version of force use that contains several of the major force powers for both the light and dark sides of the force (including mind trick, jump, push, lightning, grip, and heal). Kyle's actions no longer dictate the path of the force he will travel down. Instead, force levels are attained as the character uses that particular attribute. Simply put, as the game progresses, so does Kyle's knowledge of the force, giving him better control and a better ability with that particular force power. This simpler Force using scheme keeps the single player game linear and allows players to focus more on gameplay than on Force use.
Several other key aspects of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast have been changed that can also be seen as a general improvement. Gone are the cheesy live actor cut scenes found within DDKII along with their painfully delivered brand of dialogue, set in front of an obvious blue-screen element. Instead, Raven Software opted for the more traditional in-game rendered cut scenes that just seemed easy to digest, even if blocky and forced at times. The developers also put in quite a few 'guest' appearances from characters found within Star Wars lore, including a nice visit from one of our favorite Jedi Knights. Players not only get to interact with these characters, but can also battle along side with them at certain points of the game.
Though the 25 plus levels of the single player game should keep fans enticed, the developers of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast didn't forget about the ever popular multiplayer aspect. Seven modes of play are available to players with either LAN or interact access. These include the standard Free For All game, Holocron FFA (where force powers can only be obtained by finding the Jedi holocron devices), Team FFA, Capture the Flag, Duel (with the winner playing the next opponent on the ladder), Jedi Master, and Capture the Ysalamiri (same as CTF, but the player loses his force powers while in possession of the flag/ysalamiri). Many of the single player mode maps are available for play, including Bespin, Yavin, Nar Shaddaa, and various Imperial ship locations. Force powers can be tailored to suit the players needs, ranging from Dark to Light side abilities. Also of note, some familiar Force abilities from DFII that were deleted from the overall single player game make their return to MP version of JKII, including Sight, Rage, and Shield. Though fun to play, it did take some to actually locate the correct UDP ports to open up in our firewall software in order to allow free access to the server game sites. For the love of the Force, it makes no sense why this material cannot be included with the game manuals within the box. You'd think that with the expanding popularity of broadband connections that this wouldn't still be an issue, yet it was.
Overall, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast turned
out to be a fantastic title. Any true fan of the Star Wars saga will be
delighted to no end with the extremely fine detail that the games designers
added to the graphics, modeling, sound, and storyline. The expanding lightsaber
fighting capabilities and Force abilities are just the tip of the iceberg when
in comes to the vast set of improvements that Raven Software has made over the
previous incarnations in the Dark Forces series of games. Action and adventure
are things that a true Jedi may not crave, but thank the maker that developers
of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast didn't heed Master Yoda's teachings. Instead,
game players get both, plus a healthy dose of fun as well.