Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 03/26/02 | Genre: FPS
Everyone who's ever been a Lucasarts fan knows what's riding on Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (JK2). It's the newest installment in the last great Lucasarts gaming franchise. With disappointments like Force Commander and Obi Wan, and the SCUMM engine glory days being overlooked by new gamers, Lucasarts needs something good. I'm here to say that Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast may or may not be that game. As confusing as that sounds, please read on, and I'll try to elaborate.
This game has all the ingredients of an utter megahit.
Recipe for Blockbuster PC Game
1. Make it an FPS: CHECK
2. Base it on a 'can't miss' franchise: "Star Wars" CHECK
3. License 1 versatile, well established engine: Q3a CHECK
3. Farm the project out to a brilliant developer: Raven CHECK CHECK
4. Mix ingredients until smooth and heat up marketing to a rolling boil just before release date.
5. Serve Immediately
Jedi Knight II has all these ingredients, but the end result seems a little underdone. Before we discuss the doughy center, let's discuss the moist, golden brown exterior of this game.
Kyle Katarn is back, picking up where Jedi Knight left off (Mysteries of the Sith seems to have had no effect on the storyline.). Kyle, fearing all the moral baggage and temptation of Jedi Knighthood, has entrusted his lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, and continued his career as a mercenary for the new Republic. Of course, you can't take the Jedi out of the man, and you'll be forced to reclaim your destiny to combat yet another Dark Jedi. Prepare for some interesting plot developments and twists. I've always felt Kyle's storyline was infinitely more interesting than the main SW plot, and JK2 keeps it intact. Though some may find it dips a little too deeply into the main SW plot, it's still classic Kyle Katarn fare.
You're dealing with the Quake 3 engine here, so bad visuals need not apply. Raven has continued their almost sinful intimacy with Quake engines, and brings a beautifully rendered slice of the Star Wars universe to the table. You'll encounter plenty of the standard SW baddies modeled to near perfection. The sense of immersion is not hard to find in this games graphics. Almost as wonderful is the game's sound. The orchestrial mood music, the blaster fire, death screams, stormtrooper chatter, and the unforgettable spark of two lightsabres locked in life or death struggle. Technically, this game is almost flawless. If you're an eye-candy monger, you're in for a treat.
Now we'll start getting into the more troublesome areas in the FPS arena. Weapon balancing, level design, and gameplay. A veteran gamer recognizes that without good performance in these three areas, an FPS is utter junk. So how does JK2 do? Well, that's a loaded question.
You start off with your standard blaster pistol. Primary fire for a quick shot. Alternate fire for a charged blast. All the weapons have alternate fire capabilities, and some of them are actually useful. You'll soon pick up the meat and potatoes of Jedi Knight gunplay, the Stormtrooper Blaster Rifle. You ever notice how stormtroopers couldn't hit the broadside of a Bantha in the movies? Well, it's because they were using this gun. Primary fire is a single shot. It's decently accurate, but for the amount of time that you spend with it as your primary source of offense, it should be alot more accurate. The alternate fire is even worse. With rapid fire you expect to lose some accuracy, but sometimes it feels like your blasts try their best to find a way around an enemy two feet in front of your face. Spamming blaster fire just does not work in this game. You're much better off trying to keep a distance and picking the stormies off, because they still can't hit the broadside of a Bantha. Later on, you'll follow the standard evolution of FPS weapons: Sniper Rifle, Insane Rate of Fire Gun, Explosive Projectile Laucher, Energy Weapon. Nothing innovative, really, so it needs no further discussion.
Now let's get to why this game is fun: Your Lightsaber. As much fun as this weapon is, it's a wonder they just don't give it to you at the beginning. It's an utter blast to use this thing! After you've reclaimed your trusty glowstick from Luke, you'll have relearned a few of your force powers, too. This brings you to the real meat of the strategy in this game. Using force powers in conjunction with your lightsaber is how you win this game. You'll find that you're more likely to clear a room full of stormtroopers with your lightsaber than with a gun. Force pushing a stormy to the ground and taking him out with an overhand slash is one of the most gratifying experiences in gaming, ever. Experiment with your powers, and practice with your lightsaber. Learn these things, and Jedi Knight II will be fun.
"So the lightsaber is what makes Jedi Knight II fun, huh?" Yeah! That's why the first few levels suck! You're reduced to fumbling around with that horrible waste of blaster cells known as the stormy rifle for two levels. The next level, you get the Wookie Bowcaster, which is a marked improvement, but still not enough to make up for the hell that is the stormy rifle. Once you've gotten your lightsaber, you still have a couple more subpar levels to go. After that, it's like the clouds part. The game can still be frustratingly hard, and the puzzles can and will stump you (playing "find the random grate" is a blast), but the later levels feel so much more rewarding. You'll feel like an utter badass taking out three dark jedi at once in a saber duel. There are plot developments, and beautiful environments, and WOW! just a really good game! I can only imagine what the game would be like if the weapons didn't blow. Once you've cleared Nar Shaddaa, the game starts. That's when the level design team had their second cup of coffee. So if you're still early in the game, don't give up! No matter how many times you get sniped by invisible (practically) Greedos, the game gets better.
Well, that's all for the singleplayer tip. Let's discuss multiplayer, shall we? Like the singleplayer campaign, the multiplayer is all about the lightsaber. Lightsaber dueling will become your new gaming narcotic. If you're a server admin thinking about setting up a JK2 server, just make it FFA Sabers Only. That's what the multiplayer is all about. There are the other standard MP elements. A Star Wars take on Capture the Flag, Standard DM(weapons and sabers), and Team DM. The usual fare. Although Team DM Sabers Only is a blast as well. What makes the MP amazing is that it is actually a full-on feast of entertainment, but with one weapon. Weapons balancing isn't an issue. When it's Sabers Only, you all get the same weapon, and you can pick your force powers, so you don't go "Quit camping the force grip rune, loser!" Before you resign yourself to Sabers Only for life, go try the other types of MP. You'll probably find you hate them and go back to Sabers Only DM like I did.
So you want a final verdict on this baby? Well here we go. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is like the little engine that could. You start the game thinking "Cripes! Look at this hill of crap I have to get over before I get to the point of the game!" Then you fight your way up the hill going "I think I can make it, I think I can make it!" All of a sudden, you've passed the stupid part, and you're over the hill. The ride down is a blast, and after that, you've got hours upon hours of good fun, striking down your friends with your mighty glowstick of death. Aside from the poor level design in the first few levels, and the irrelevant weapons, JK2 is a good game. With a little more thought, it could have been a great game.