I Find Your Lack Of Faith Disturbing
The Empire might have been defeated, but several years after the events of Return Of The Jedi remnants of its once formidable might are still causing trouble for the New Republic. Which is where Kyle Katarn comes in. The hero of the original Jedi Knight is now a mercenary helping the Republic to mop up their enemies, having relinquished the way of the Force and hung up his lightsaber. As a result you start Jedi Outcast with nothing but your trusty blaster, only regaining your weapon of choice and force powers as the game goes on. Sadly this makes for a rather lowkey opening, as the guns lack grunt and (most importantly) don't feel like they belong in the Star Wars universe. The Flechette Weapon, for example, is almost identical to the Flak Cannon from Unreal, and there's even a standard issue rocket launcher included. To make matters worse, most of the weapons lack accuracy and have slow moving shots, which makes it hard to hit the broadside of a barn at long range, let alone a moving Storm Trooper. Things pick up somewhat when you finally get hold of the lightsaber, but it's not all good news here either. Melee battles tend to be rather random, especially when you're facing multiple enemies. One lucky blow to the chest is enough to kill you outright, and the fights are really too fast for you to attack and defend effectively. It's more about instinct and dumb luck than skill. Fighting gun-toting enemies, on the other hand, is far too easy. Right from the start Kyle can deflect every single shot that is fired at him with perfect accuracy and absolutely no player input is required. All you have to do is sit back and watch as your enemies are killed by their own reflected blaster shots. As long as they stay in front of you and none of them are armed with a rocket launcher or sniper rifle, you have nothing to be worried about.
May The Force Be With You
Unfortunately your enemies don't really show much initiative in these fights, and often just stand there blasting away at you until they kill themselves. The sole spark of intelligence comes when you face a large number of Storm Troopers, as one of them will almost always try to circle around behind you. This is incredibly predictable though, especially as somebody will usually shout "get behind him" first to warn you of what is about to happen. Even navigating the levels seems to be a struggle for your enemies, and they are easily confused. Sometimes you will see them running around in circles, bouncing up and down on each other's heads, getting stuck on a sharp corner or deciding that if they crouch you won't see them. There's something faintly ridiculous about the sight of a Storm Trooper doubled up as if he has chronic arthritis slowly edging his way across a platform. At other times soldiers ignore you completely as you pick off their buddies a few meters away, just because they have their back turned on you. I guess wearing those big white helmets isn't very good for your hearing. The AI has occasional trouble operating lifts as well, and doesn't seem to have fully mastered the art of opening doors. Indeed, one enemy I faced killed himself by bouncing grenades off a doorframe into his own face. On the bright side, the Force powers which you gradually recover over the course of the game are highly entertaining. There's nothing more satisfying than pulling a Jedi mind trick on a hapless Storm Trooper and then shoving him off a ledge into a bottomless pit using the Force. Other useful little tricks include dragging weapons out of your enemies' hands or using a Darth Vader style Force grip to lift a soldier clear off the ground. Best of all though is Force Speed, which mimics the bullet time effects of Max Payne by slowing down the world around you by anything up to 50% for several seconds, complete with a nifty little motion blur effect on your character. This makes lightsaber duels much more rewarding, as you can actually react to your enemy's attacks and counter or dodge them far more effectively than is possible when playing at full speed.
Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try
It's not just the authentic feeling Force powers that lift Jedi Knight II out of bargain bin land though. Raven have done a great job of recreating the atmosphere of the original trilogy, effectively capturing the visual style of Imperial facilities and lifting music and sound effects from the films to produce a game which (for the most part) looks, sounds and feels like Star Wars. Storm Troopers can be overheard chatting about their weapons and previous postings, and there are guest appearances from Lando Calrissian and Luke Skywalker. Sadly Mark Hamill wasn't available to provide the voice acting, so Luke sounds almost nothing like his big screen counterpart, but it's nice to see a few familiar faces amongst the invented characters. You even get to remote control one of those cute little maintenance robots that scoot around the floor of the Death Star. The level design is more of a mixed bag though. Some locations perfectly mimic the architecture and lighting of Star Wars, with intricately modelled Storm Troopers and the tell-tale snap of blaster fire helping to suck you in. Then you find yourself crawling through a long narrow cave with ugly green lighting, lousy texture alignment and dull headcrab substitutes crawling around all over the place. There are interesting puzzles to tax your brain, but also silly sections which involve bouncing around between platforms or navigating the seemingly inevitable warehouse full of crates. At other times it's not at all obvious what you should be doing, because the way out is through a pitch black room or via a tiny ventilation grate hidden in the ceiling. And then there's the bizarre sensor array which can apparently only be reset by jumping around between a grid of precarious rooms dangling over a bottomless pit...
Aren't You A Little Short To Be A Storm Trooper?
Jedi Outcast's multiplayer support is also somewhat hit and miss, with a variety of modes on offer. Naturally free-for-all and team deathmatch are both included, but neither works particularly well. All too often battles devolve into a group of players flailing around with their lightsabers, and then end abruptly as some git drops a rocket in the middle of your fight and kills you all instantly. You can choose to challenge a foe to a duel in the middle of a game, at which point your force powers are deactivated and nobody else can harm you for the duration, leaving the two of you free to battle it out with only your lightsabers. This tends to be rather time consuming, but you do at least get healed back up to a hundred health if you win. Not many people seem to indulge in duels though, and not every server will support this feature. Capture The Flag works somewhat better and can be fairly entertaining at times, but the real genius of Jedi Outcast's multiplayer support is Duel mode, a Rocket Arena style winner-stays-on game where two players battle it out mano-a-mano while the rest of the server watches as spectators. With no distractions, human opponents and a full array of Force powers to choose from, these bouts can be far more amusing than saber battles in the single player game or the ad hoc duels of the other multiplayer modes. And with a variety of player models and settings on offer, including a Cloud City cryo chamber, it just looks and feels right.
Jedi Outcast is a rather patchy game, with moments of genius let down by a lack of consistency. The guns are derivative and rarely used once you get hold of your lightsaber, the melee combat clumsy and chaotic, the AI poor and some of the locations derivative and poorly designed. This isn't the game we were looking for, but it's certainly no Obi Wan.