Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Reviewed by Rhett Peterson
Before I start with my impressions of Raven's latest contribution to the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series let me tell you of my background with these particular games. Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 and its accompanying expansion pack Mysteries of the Sith were my first ventures into the world of the young mercenary, Kyle Katarn with his seemingly never ending battle against the Empire and its various cohorts.
Between the feeling of unleashing a blast from the Concussion Rifle into the ugly mug of a Rodian and the fact that I was/am a Star Wars geek nigh unto the nth degree, I doubt there was anything that could have stopped it from turning me into the total LucasArts junkie I am today. Sure there was that rough patch back in '98-'01 but hey, I'm not a fair weather fan, folks.
After a long wait, a sorely Concussion Rifle-less Jedi Outcast finally hit the scene. Once I got past the cold sweats and violent bouts of shaking that often accompany Concussion Rifle withdrawal, I embraced it with open arms, despite what I felt was a rather weak storyline and an arsenal of guns that no longer served much of a purpose. I was happy with the graphics Raven was able to get using their heavily modified version of the Quake 3 Team Arena engine. You could see the signs of age, but I had few complaints at the time. The saber play lead me to many late night sessions of alien dismemberment and other various forms of general wankery throughout the Star Wars galaxy; which Raven did an amazing job of submersing the player in, by the way.
This brings us to present day, and Jedi Academy, the whole reason you're here! Thanks for the wait.
Some things have changed this time around. No longer as players do we direct the destiny of Kyle, but rather follow in his footsteps as a student of his by the name of Jaden Korr. Jaden's a young man... or a young woman. It depends on how you choose to take advantage of the new character customizations available. Aside from being human, while playing as a male you can also choose to be Rodian or a Kel Dor and as a female, a Twi'lek or Zabrak. The first several batches of missions serve as training for Jaden, affording him opportunities to hone his force powers and visit many of the classic Star Wars locales and even experience some of the same things that the characters did in the movies. Hungry Wampas and an angry Fett, anyone?
I didn't really notice many graphical improvements, if any, over Jedi Outcast. The level design closely resembles that of its predecessor, as do the models and most everything else in the game. Even large chunks of the plot are close to Jedi Outcast's. The guns gave me the chance to be angry all over again but this time there's a redeeming quality; the concussion rifle is back! It feels really good to hold one of those again.
After you get Jaden through the training part of the game he encounters the new top baddy, Tavion. Remember her? You beat her half way into Jedi Outcast, but she's back... and now she has a big scary scepter. Not just any scepter mind you! She somehow found a scepter that can siphon dark force energy, which she plans to use to resurrect a long dead Sith lord by the name of Marko Ragnos. Thanks to the added feature of being able to choose whether you're going to be good or evil (much like in the original Jedi Knight), right around this point you can choose to pursue Tavion and try to stop her from doing this or you can decide to pursue her, kill her, and run off at the helm of the remaining forces of the Empire.
What to do? I, being a softy, went with the good guys, defeated Tavion and then fought Marka Ragnos' ghost inside Tavions body. No, really. His tattered rag-wearing ghost. Yeah, I laughed too. Then all of a sudden the credits rolled and I was left with a large, "huh?" feeling. Yeah.
[Ed- No, I haven't got a clue who Marka Ragnos is either, sorry]
Jedi Academy's strengths are not in its graphics, and definitely not in its story. They lie in the multitude of features added to the game this time around. The rideable vehicles, especially the swoop bikes which were a total blast to ride while simultaneously battling with your saber. The dual and double sabers both with added new moves mix up the melee combat a bit. The new Multiplayer game types are a very welcome addition, as Jedi Academy is aiming for the heart of the Jedi Knight multiplayer fan. Siege, Power Duel and the addition of the Concussion Rifle are just a few of my favorites.
That being said, Jedi Academy still leaves me with an overwhelming feeling of just being an aggrandized version of Jedi Outcast. Because of that I feel somewhat taken, having paid the price of a brand new game for one with so much of a resemblance to an expansion pack. If you really enjoyed the gameplay in JKII you'll adore the gameplay in JA. Just make sure to not buy Jedi Academy expecting a totally new game.
Pros: Concussion Rifle makes long-due return. New sabers and vehicles don't suck. Very fun despite some annoying flaws.
Cons: Can feel more like an expansion pack than a full new game. Storyline a bit suspect, and the Quake 3 engine's seriously showing its age.