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Jedi Outcast Review (PC)

Review (PC) - by Andrew "telarium" Langley

To say that this game was wildly anticipated is quite the understatement. Ever since Mojo had the pleasure of viewing this game first hand at E3 last May, we could tell this game was going to be fun. Now, almost a year later, Dark Forces III: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast has hit the store shelves, but have the high expectations of the fans been met? Oh yes.

Story:
Jedi Outcast continues the adventures of Kyle Katarn, who has appeared in such early first person shooter games as Dark Forces and its sequel, Jedi Knight. Let me get this out of the way… I didn’t really play either of those games. Despite this, I didn’t feel left behind by the story of Jedi Outcast. The game does well to begin new adventures with this character instead rehashing the details of the previous games. Everything you need to know about Kyle and his relationship with the force is explained in a simple way, and once you understand that, you will feel quite familiar with this character.

I’ll refrain from giving many more details about the story, since LucasArts and Raven have been secretive about the plot. I will say that while its story doesn’t rival that of a game like Grim Fandango, it is still an excellent plot for even the best first person shooters.

Controls:
Excellent. Simply excellent. For anyone who grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy and fantasized about what it would be like to swing a lightsaber, you must buy this game. Kyle obtains his old lightsaber after the first few levels and must reacquaint himself with its craft. Once you become familiar with the way you control the lightsaber, you will feel as if you were actually in a Star Wars film. Pressing the mouse attack button and moving Kyle forward will result in a downward thrust, while moving Kyle side to side produces a slashing motion. As you continue to explore controls, you’ll learn some other really cool lightsaber moves until it all becomes second nature. Eventually, when you come across some evil Jedi in the game, you’ll realize there’s nothing like locking lightsabers with a foe while looking totally badass.

The force controls are great, although not quite as easy. Pressing the default “X” key cycles through available force powers like push, pull, grip, lightening, and more. At the beginning of the game you have no force powers, and you keep learning as you progress to the very end of the game. This is almost a shame however, because the powers you obtain later in the game are awesome. Imagine a stormtrooper across the room shooting at you. Sure, you could just whip out your blaster or throw your lightsaber at him, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, you use force grip to pick him up by the throat and slam him against the walls and floor. Or, you use force pull to move the stormtrooper towards you so that he lands right on your lightsaber. Or (and I promise, this is the last one), you come into a room full of stormtroopers and push them all down using the force. When they’re disoriented and trying to get back on their feet, you rush in and slash them all to pieces with your graceful lightsaber moves. Once you progress through some of the levels, you can do all of these things and more. What other game lets you do this stuff?

Graphics:
Very nice. Most of the levels are excellent in the way that they perfectly simulate the atmosphere of the classic Star Wars trilogy. There were the occasional levels that seem less inspired and a tad boring, but those are far overshadowed by the better levels. I can’t even imagine how many times I must have said out loud, “Wow that looks really cool.” However, this game did seem to have more than its fair share of square rooms filled with 3D processor-friendly crates and boxes, but maybe that’s just the nature of a game like this.

The stormtroopers look very, very good and Kyle looks appropriately aged. The combat animation is also quite excellent for Kyle, who becomes more and more graceful as he wields his lightsaber around. There are some really wacky animations of stormtroopers dying that I didn’t quite care for. A lot of times they end up flipping around in a cartoon fashion, but that’s a very minor complaint.

One main complaint I have is the engine cutscenes. When viewed up close, the characters are incredibly stiff and their facial gestures very limited. One particular character is limited to a simple open and close mouth pattern. While the original Jedi Knight went way overboard with its full motion cutscenes and real actors, this one is very awkward and sometimes detracted from the really cool atmosphere of the game. If only they had been able to find a compromise between the two. I wish they had somehow incorporated Escape From Monkey Island’s impressive 3D animation system into the cutscenes.

Sound:
Yes! This is what a game should sound like. LucasArts and Clint Bajakian’s own company have combined to provide dynamic music for this game. While it uses only music from the original John Williams score, the soundtrack adds so much to the atmosphere of this game. For example, you’ll be creeping along in a hallway with some soft menacing music playing, when suddenly, an evil Jedi jumps out at you with his lightsaber drawn. The music perfectly shifts into the Imperial March, making the situation seem dangerous and hostile. I’d love it if more games took this approach, because it really breathes life into the action. Try playing this game with the music turned off and you’ll see what I mean.

The other sound effects are borrowed from the original trilogy, and are used well. The voice acting and dialogue, written by Sam and Max and Escape From Monkey Island scribe Mike (or Michael) Stemmle, seem appropriately Star Wars and do well to move the action along. There’s nothing more fun than listening to authentic stormtrooper banter just before you jump out with your lightsaber drawn and wreak some havoc.

Gameplay:
This game is fun. Really fun. Combine useful force powers, very cool lightsaber moves, and traditional Star Wars goodies and you’ve got yourself a great game. Sure, a few of the puzzles are a little too typical for a game like this. There are the usual jumping puzzles, find-the-switch-and-open-the-door quests, the jump-on-a-big-fan-and-be-blown-up-through-a-vent task, and even the ol’ electric-cable-in-water-so-don’t-step-there puzzle. However, there are a large number of creative puzzles and varied action sequences that more than make up for this. I’ll try not to spoil it for you, but you get to take control of other items in this game like droids and even a very cool vehicle near the end. There were many times in this game where I laughed with joy at what a fun Star Wars experience I just got to participate in. Here’s a suggestion for someone to make a mod for this game… playing an entire mission as an R2 unit? Sure it may sound crazy, but after you play this game, you’ll realize there are a lot of possibilities here.

In terms of your enemies, there is a drastic difference between the stormtroopers and the Jedi. The bumbling stormtroopers are appropriately stupid, while the Jedi are quite intelligent and difficult to defeat. Case in point, during a battle with one Jedi, I used the force to pick him up by the throat and threw him out of a window. If it was an idiot stormtrooper, I would have never seen him again. However, this Jedi managed to find his way back to me and continue our duel. Plus, it is really awesome to have friendly Jedi fighting along side you in a room full of dark Jedi.

Multiplayer:
I’m going to have to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t really care for the multiplayer aspect of this game. I’ve never enjoyed the free-for-all multiplayer aspects of Quake 3, so naturally, I didn’t enjoy the free-for-all in Jedi Outcast. Yeah, it’s got force powers and a lightsaber, but it’s just too hectic and manic for me. It seems like most players just run around like chickens with their heads cut off while frantically swinging a lightsaber. Perhaps there’s a method here I’m just not seeing, since multiplayer lightsaber control is a bit different than the single player. There’s also a dueling feature and a typical capture the flag scenario. It is mildly entertaining, but I enjoyed single player so much more. It is nice to have multiplayer in this game though, since it gives you something to do once you’ve completed the story. Maybe I’ll like it better once I become more familiar with it.

Conclusion:
Buy this game. It’s just that simple. If you’re any kind of gamer, you won’t want to miss this. It’s not perfect, but its minor flaws are squashed by the sheer fun and excitement of this game. Buy it. Now. That is all.

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