Retrospective: Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II • Page 2

Having a blast.

Not that this is a bad thing - by matching Dark Force's ideas Jedi Knight lets LucasArts once again demonstrate an astonishing skill for creating vertically interesting levels.

You may remember the recent, completely dreadful Damnation, which spent its marketing describing itself as revolutionary as it was "the shooter gone vertical". It quite spectacularly wasn't, but more significantly, Jedi Knight was, and over a decade earlier. So very much of the game is spent screeching to a halt on the precipice of a terrifying drop, my poor stomach wobbling in terror. As someone who isn't bothered by heights this ability to induce vertigo is all the more remarkable. Narrow ledges, and seemingly impossible distances to fall, sometimes on vast space stations, make for excellently precarious locations to explore.

There's also the splendid puzzle design to keep you occupied. As I lamented in the Dark Forces retrospective, FPS games have forgotten the puzzle, with the occasional exceptions in a Half-Life episode. While it's mostly matching keys to doors, this is performed by requiring you to find innovative routes through levels, never knowing if you're stumbling on the correct path or on your way to a secret bonus.

Fighting an AT-ST with a lightsabre is not considered very sensible.

So once the Force powers arrive this is all icing. They're oddly introduced, in so much as they just aren't. At a certain point you can spend some stars on a Force Run ability, and you have to accept that that's the case. Perhaps simply holding a lightsabre unleashes these abilities? Who cares. So with Force Run you can now charge about at an incredible pace, which comes in fairly useful when you first encounter the terrifying AT-STs.

Level 6, Into The Dark Palace, is just remarkable. You're tasked with breaking into this enormous Empire complex. It's heavily guarded by Stormtroopers, and locked up tight, and by this point you can't Force Jump your way in. Instead you have to clear out enormous chambers of enemies, and perform a really fun Force Run dash to press distant buttons to extend a bridge and cross it, all in one panicked manoeuvre. It's exhilarating, and only more so thanks to the stomping behemoth walkers stalking the level. You can fight them should you wish to waste all your detonators and die a trillion times, but the sensible Jedi just pegs it past them as fast as he can.

As you add more powers, the game increases its complexity to match. Once you're able to leap enormous heights, the levels improve the vertical design even further, forcing you to always be looking up, down, and underneath.

And I've yet to celebrate the lightsabre! While Raven would dramatically improve the feel of the duelling melee combat in the later Jedi Knight games - here it's mostly about running around in mad circles while waving your sabre around like a stick of French bread - the pleasure of watching it brrrzzzzz into life is splendid. It automatically defends you against incoming blaster fire, Katarn swishing it to bounce the blasts away. While this is mostly out of your control, just that it's happening at all is stupidly fun, and it's never better than when you deflect their attacks back at them. "Why are you shooting yourself? Why are you shooting yourself? Why are you shooting yourself?"

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John Walker

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