We've seen possibly more than our fair share of shoddy, loveless ports on the Xbox over the past year, and we can't help but finger some of the big name publishers for their attitude towards the new formats. The basic premise over the last 18 months seems to be to design everything for the PS2 and then if it's a hit, bung it out as "cost effectively" as possible on the Xbox and GameCube, and presto, a whole new sku to service the cash rich early adopter.
Except the early adopters have gotten wise to these evil ways, and for the most part, every single one of these ill conceived conversions has failed miserably - mainly because software designed for its native system is almost always vastly superior. Thus, when greeted with Jedi Outcast we were slightly optimistic because of its PC origins. Surely porting a PC first person shooter, based on the now ageing Quake 3 engine makes a lot of sense? The Xbox, obviously, employs a similar architecture, and gives console gamers hassle free fragging, complete with split-screen multi-player action. Perfect.
Kyle's a master locksmith
Except for the fact that Jedi Outcast was never perfect in the first place. The game is set "several years" after Kyle Katarn avenged his father's death and saved the Valley of the Jedi from Jerec and his band of Dark Jedi, and Kyle must cryptically "reclaim his past in order to save his future" - or in other words shoot a lot of Storm Troopers and assorted dark side scum, while meticulously winding his way through nine gameplay areas, unlocking every door in sight.
Gestalt's original review of the PC version back in April last year scored the game at 7/10, and observed that the game suffers from a low key beginning. He was certainly right about that, and it's probably enough to put even the most enthusiastic FPS veteran off. For fully six hours (depending on how good you are, and making allowances for the fact that playing with a joypad is inherently more difficult than a keyboard and mouse) you'll be wading through the FPS equivalent of sludge.
Level after level of tedious switch and/or key hunting, execrable jump puzzles, uninspired weaponry, botched AI, compounded by an engine that next to the now ageing Halo looks years behind, and certainly not a good advert for the Xbox. If you like your games to stagger along pushing out bland, low textured environments then Jedi Outcast is the one for you. Even forgiving its uninspired visuals, the regular hard disk pause while more data is spooled off the system is plain unforgivable. Regularly you'll fire off a shot; the game will pause for an instant before the sound effect eventually reminds you you're in a battle. Fortunately most of the AI issues mentioned last year appear to have been corrected, although we still managed to witness headless chicken Storm Troopers running in circles and crouching as they inched towards us. What was Vicarious Visions thinking? Probably about the money, but the blame must also be levelled at Raven for a patchily designed experience that could and perhaps should have been the definitive Star Wars FPS.
Use the Force, Kyle
But despite the ropey, frustrating, quick save laden beginning, things do pick up once you hook up with Luke Skywalker, and you're forced to learn your Jedi skills - but the way the game's structured leading up to this, it'll be a wonder if many gamers will even be bothered to trudge through this far. Somehow the lure of pulling off Jedi tricks keeps you staggering on, and eventually you'll get to switch to a third person viewpoint and pull off some unintentionally amusing, but highly useful manoeuvres. Top of the list for pure evil mind tricks is the ability to Force Push your foes into bottomless pits, as well as Force Speed (temporary sprint ability, while the world slows down around you), Force Jump, and Force Grip, which allows Kyle to lift enemies clear off the floor. Light Saber duels are also a good laugh, and make a pleasant change from the FPS drudge that leads up to it.
The initial set of weapons hardly helps endear you to Jedi Outcast. The Stun Baton is next to useless, as is the Bryar Blaster Pistol. The Wookiee Bowcaster is ok-ish, but you run out of ammo all too quickly, while the Thermal Detonator is occasionally useful, but only when the enemy's being exceptionally dim. This leaves the Blaster Rifle, and it's hardly a pulse raiser. Later on we get the Flak Cannon-esque Fletchette, the Disruptor Rifle, and the deadly Imperial Heavy Repeater which are welcome additions if you get deep into the game, but nothing we haven't seen many times before. If it wasn't for the enjoyable Light Saber battles and the exceptional authenticity the music and sound effects lend (in full 5.1 surround on the Xbox), you'd often be wondering what relevance Jedi Outcast has to the Star Wars universe at all. So much of the time it comes across as an FPS by the numbers.
Push everything in sight it might do something
To make matters worse, the puzzles are often so obscure you'll be marching off to GameFAQs in disgust - only to find you were doing the right thing all along (just maybe not shooting or pressing the exact right pixel!). Even at the earliest stages of the game you'll be expected to keep a look out for obscure vents or push an arbitrary switch that is entirely flanked and camouflaged by similar looking consoles. It's never exactly taxing, but the scenery so often blends into itself that it's often a painstaking process of clicking on everything in the vague hope that it activates something. You rarely know why you're pushing switches everywhere, but hey, they're there so we may as well keep stabbing away until something happens. Zzzzzzzz.
Which basically leaves the game's six multiplayer modes to shore up the package. Sadly, most are subtle variations on deathmatch: Free For All is straight deathmatch with all weapons and all force powers, Holocron Free For All is deathmatch except you start with no force powers, Team Free For All does what it says on the tin, Capture The Flag is Capture The Flag, which only leaves two slightly interesting variations: Jedi Master, which gives the player a single Light Saber on the map which you have to race for, with no player able to score points until someone has picked it up. Once a player has the Light Saber they can only use this as a weapon, but gets level 3 Force powers. Oooh. Finally, Duel allows only two players to fight at once, with a winner stays on approach, with the loser going to the back of the queue. Up to 16 players can compete on each of the nine maps, but bafflingly only supports two-player split-screen. We can only assume that four-player split-screen was too jerky, as two player is pretty rough as it is. In fact, if you just play with bots and have the whole screen to yourself, it still chugs unbelievably - especially when there's 14 bots joining you in the mayhem. It's all good fun - until you find yourself cursing the frame rate. It's plain unacceptable, and the lack of four-player, LAN or link modes just highlight its shortcomings even more.
In the final analysis, Jedi Outcast is certainly an entertaining package when it gets things right, but it's also riddled with design flaws, technical flaws and various minor irritations that conspire to detract from your overall enjoyment. Given that it's also not Live (or even LAN) enabled, Xbox owners don't even have that crumb of comfort to elevate its status. With news of a sequel in the works for release next year, let's hope LucasArts can finally serve up the FPS that fans of the franchise have been waiting for. Right now, this is the best Star Wars fans can hope for, but they deserve so much more.