With new developer Raven Software on board, is the Force strong enough with FPS Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast to compete with the original, or is it just a graphical make-over?
Kyle Katarn cuts off his links to the force and again serves the Republic as a mercenary, only to get back his powers and lightsaber when Desann, a former student of the Jedi Academy, brings destruction with his army of lightsabers-wielding Reborn.
More story and character development
At first the plot seems to rip off the original Jedi Knight in that it has a group of alien-looking villains whose main leader wants to use the Force for his own agenda, while Kyle Katarn has to save the galaxy once again. Fortunately, there much more mature character and story development follows, showing how the former Jedi struggles with his dark and light side as he soon takes on a quest of revenge. Something of this darker Kyle was already shown in Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, but it was delivered in an unconvincing way due to a questionable change of perspective with a second playable character.
While the main villain has an interesting background story, he sadly remains as superficial as his Jedi companions. Of course the same can be said about the first game with its antagonists only being memorable because of their freak appearance, but it would have been nice to have them fleshed out more. Speaking of characters, Luke Skywalker makes a great appearance at the Jedi Academy, and his moral conversations with Kyle are just as fitting to the Star Wars canon as having him fight alongside the player. Lando Calrissian also has a cameo, and even if his role isn’t that big, it’s nicely interwoven with the change of setting, i.e. Cloud City. R2D2 and C3PO make a fun appearance as well, showing that developer Raven Software knows what fans expect from a licensed game. So plot and characters are as engaging as ever to connect all levels in a cohesive way, even if it’s a very linear experience without any moral decisions to make or different endings to watch.
Less orientation and variety in levels
Unfortunately the level design is a bit uninspired at times, relying too much on button pushing or opening doors from various locations while running through samey corridors. Even with a playtime of 10-15 hours, there are far too many levels set on a space station. Boss fights are also repetitive, with the final encounter being especially disappointing, as there isn’t much strategy involved in beating the opponents other than running away, evading attacks and swiftly hitting them. A highlight is to control an AT-ST though, walking through masses of enemies and shooting all the targets which would otherwise be a threat to the player when on foot.
A clear oversight is the missing map. With labyrinthine levels to traverse and elevators connecting identically-looking rooms, not knowing where to go is an unnecessary difficulty spike. There are also way too many doors which have to unlocked by keycards. As these are dropped by higher rank Imperial officers, one often runs past them without noticing. Mission objectives are often unclear as well with no useful hints. As if the sheer number of enemy forces isn’t enough, running around without a clue what to do makes the levels more difficult than they have to be.
No moral decisions and RPG mechanics
The use of different Force powers is much more streamlined this time, i.e. one doesn’t receive any stars to distribute at the end of a level as in previous games. The more one progresses in the story, the more powerful one becomes with all abilities automatically leveled up. Of course this takes away the RPG aspect completely, as the player doesn’t have to decide for the dark or light side, for offensive or defensive skills. This is certainly a blessing for those who couldn’t get their head around the often obscure level-up system of the former titles, as one isn’t stuck with special powers which are no use for certain enemies or situations. However, even if this system doesn’t require any planning or thinking, it still offers enough room for experimentation.
More strategy is necessary during lightsaber fights, as one can switch between various battle stances. Some are quite essential when confronting the more difficult Reborn, especially when they come in twos, threes or even more, making the duels a much more exciting experience. It’s only too bad that the level design relies too much on an increasing number of these encounters, resulting in an ever increasing difficulty curve.
More technological improvements
Technically, the game holds up pretty well even today. Facial expressions of characters are outdated, but the animations are still great, as can be seen when slicing, dicing or shooting through hordes of stormtroopers who do some spectacular-looking stunts when thrown back from the impact of blasters or flying through the air when hit by a lightsaber. The sound effects and music are as fitting to the franchise as ever, and even the voice acting is a big step up from the disappointing add-on. Lines are a bit cheesy at times, but the in-game cut-scenes work much better here. What doesn’t work so well is the third-person camera view in shooting segments, though, as the crosshair and movements of Kyle are difficult to keep synchronized, resulting in many projectiles missing their targets, something which becomes less of a problem when using the lightsaber.
More of the same old game with a new graphical outfit
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast tells a good story and is a revelation in terms of graphics, compared to its very dated predecessors. Using various Force powers and delivering deathly blows with a lightsaber is just as satisfying as it ever was. The automatic level-up system makes the franchise more accessible, while wielding the iconic lightsaber with various battle stances turns battles into something much closer to the movies. Unfortunately, the complicated level design, obscure mission objectives and missing map make the game more difficult than it needs to be. As it is, Jedi Outcast outstays its welcome a bit at times, but still manages to impress with its presentation and Star Wars fan service, even if it means treading the same old FPS gameplay ground.
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