Classic first-person shooter Dark Forces didn’t give the player much choice other than blasting enemies, but LucasArts’ Jedi Knight – Dark Forces II is a quite different take on the genre.
Star Wars: Jedi Knight – Dark Forces II (PC)
(USA 1997, developer: LucasArts (defunct), publishers: LucasArts (defunct)/Disney, platform: PC)
Mercenary Kyle Katarn learns the way of the Force and has to prevent Dark Jedi Jerec to find the Valley of the Jedi that gives him and his apprentices ultimate power to rebuild the Empire.
A different story of the saga continues
At first it might seem strange to have a character who is used to guns suddenly become a wielder of the lightsaber, but using Kyle’s father as a Jedi is quite a good excuse for this change of character with initial mysteries for him to discover. While the first game didn’t have much character development, any memorable antagonists or allies except for a few cameos of well-known ones from the movies, it’s refreshing to see the continuation of events which could have happened after Episode VI – Return of the Jedi turned into a standalone story. One shouldn’t expect a complicated plot or deep character conversations, but the pacing is pretty good with enough interesting turns to keep the player’s attention, while some very odd-looking and therefore imaginative Dark Jedis to fight against are thrown in for good measure.
What makes the game different from its predecessor is also the inclusion of FMV sequences. Despite its age, the special effects and CGI parts hold up relatively well today, although the acting is quite bad at times. This has mainly to do with over-the-top villains or wisecracking and joking between Kyle and his partner Jan Ors that feels a bit forced at times. It’s on par with Rebel Assault II‘s campiness, but the mix of drama and comedic elements still fit the Star Wars philosophy of mixing serious moral decisions and gung-ho gunfighting, but without relying too much on fan service but instead telling its own story.
FPS old-school and Jedi new-school tricks
At its core, Jedi Knight is still an FPS with many weapons to choose from, but as the title implies, the most interesting and unique aspect is that one is able to fight with a lightsaber and use the Force to progress. A lightsaber automatically reflects bullets, although it needs some time and practice until Kyle can move fast enough to be almost unstoppable and slice through a group of stormtroopers. The third-person view can also help to stay on top of things, especially during duels with the Jedis. These don’t only look different, but require different tactics to defeat, although without a life meter, these encounters can become quite tiresome.
More interesting is the way how force powers can be used for different play styles. After most levels one receives stars which can be invested in various abilities. Depending on how many secret areas one discovers, even more can be distributed, although it’s still possible to complete the game without finding any of them. Divided into dark and light powers, one can use protective, defensive or offensive ones, e.g. healing, shielding oneself or choking the enemy Dart-Vader-style. Jumping higher or being faster are other very useful skills to overcome opposition. With so many level ups for each power to choose from it’s sometimes difficult to decide which development path to take, especially since it’s unclear how many stars can be achieved and when certain abilities are unlocked. So planning which powers to upgrade next might only be feasible for those who go through every nook and cranny of a level in order to find all secret areas and therefore receive extra stars.
Just like Dark Forces, the level design is both varied and frustrating. Locations are connected by video cutscenes and have different goals to achieve which progress the story in one way or another. They feature quite a few impressively wide open spaces, but orientation problems constantly crop up, even with a three-dimensional map that should constantly be visible as an overlay on screen. Switches to open doors can easily be overlooked, and some areas require quite a lot of mindbending thinking. All in all, there’s always variety in mission objectives, and it’s very satisfying to discover more and more of each individual level map. A special mention has to go to an amazing ship escape that could almost feel like a Naughty Dog Uncharted precursor.
Looking very old but still sounding rather good
Technically, the game doesn’t hold up very well today. Textures and especially character models are of a very low quality, and it’s difficult to get excited about the Jedi duels when the in-game antagonists look as disappointingly ugly as this, which stands in stark contrast to the video sequences. Fortunately, the CD-quality audio with the great soundtrack adds to all the Star Wars atmosphere one can hope for, even if there are problems with looping or even stopping music.
A revelation for FPS and Star Wars games
Star Wars: Jedi Knight – Dark Forces II is proof that some FPS are still fun to play today despite being technically outdated. It has an engaging story, fun level design and gives Star Wars fans the freedom to either use brute force with lots of weapons or deliver sneaky attacks with various force powers and the iconic and elegant-looking lightsaber. This makes it not only one of the best titles in the franchise, but also in the genre, especially with the FMV approach working surprisingly well.
With the force powers, players will have a different experience in how they go through the levels, while certain decisions (like helping or killing civilians) lead to alternative video sequences and story developments and endings. While the game is certainly no Knights of the Old Republic with its light RPG mechanics and freedom of choices, it’s still a refreshing take on the FPS formula.
If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG and/or Amazon link and buying the product also helps ;).