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Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Score: 8.9 / 10
Not many games have been successful in both
the console and PC world. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast appeared on the
PC about seven months before it appeared on the Xbox and for the most
part it's an exact port. If you've got the PC version, there's no reason
to plunk money down for the Xbox rendition. However, Xbox owners should
be more than happy with the Star Wars found in Outcast.
Outcast puts gamers in control of Kyle Katarn who has forsaken his Jedi
destiny and is working freelance as an Alliance trouble-shooter and spy.
We join him just as he’s sent on a seemingly routine mission as he's
notified of a Remnant (i.e. Imperial) message with a reference the
Valley of the Jedi, where the climax of the previous game took place (in
case you haven't played the original PC game). Of course, as things
usually do, everything goes to hell as Kyle unearths a Remnant plot and
the involvement of a renegade Jedi named Dessan. A turning point later
and Kyle decides he must reclaim his
lightsaber from Luke Skywalker (who has taken it upon himself to train
Jedi on a familiar moon from Episode IV) and relearn his force powers to
confront Dessan and save the galaxy.
Most elements of the story will be instantly recognizable but some
aspects like the Jedi Academy will be new to those that haven’t read the
latest books. Not having indulged in the books to any great extent
I read Timothy Zahn’s three-book cycle – was still able to keep up with
The missions are story driven and are very linear for the most part.
Strangely enough it’s not until about mission 3 that gameplay really
starts to pick up. Although the first two missions are designed very
well and offer their own challenges it’s not until the 3rd mission that
Outcast hits it’s stride. The part that did it for me was running down a
canyon filled with Stormtroopers and an AT-ST while massive ion cannons
fire from an overhead ridge and X-Wings and Tie-Fighters swooping
overhead. The scene is chaos but it’s damn fun – especially manning one
of the turrets on the ridge above and wiping out the AT-STs and
Stormtroopers. Not everything comes off so well, but the level design
and the mission objectives are very good for the most part. (Those
experienced with the PC version will notice some minor level changes but
there's nothing too drastic.)
Part of Outcast's challenge is the AI. Enemies take cover, wait to the
side of doors for you to enter a room, or attack en masse (the main
culprit being Outcasts's version of Half-Life’s head-crab) to bring you
down. Depending on the difficulty you pick at the start of the game, you
could be in for a frustrating experience. On higher levels,
Stormtroopers are practically god-like and you’ll really have to pay
attention to what’s happening around you. There are a few places where
hearing a door open should put you on alert as the door is usually
behind you – and that door usually spews three or four enemies, all of
them with a clear shot at your back. (Using Force Speed – slowing
everyone else down – comes in very handy.)
Weapon variety is as solid as ever, but once you have the elegant and
powerful lightsaber you cringe every time you have to switch to a gun.
The familiar weapons return – thermal detonator, Wookie bowcaster, etc.
– but there are a few new ones, including the handy trip mine. And never
overlook the many Force powers available, including Force Grip, Force
Push, and the classic Force Lightning, that each have three upgrade
Translating the control scheme from the mouse and keyboard layout is
pretty good but it takes getting used to -- even for those that haven't
played the PC version. It has the familiar Halo movement scheme, but
managing Force powers, inventory, etc. takes quite a bit to master.
There is a definite learning curve so take my advice, adjust the default
settings. The default turning speed is way, way too slow and activating
Force powers by clicking the right thumbstick is a pain. The white and
black buttons can be assigned to specific Force powers and this is a
great way to streamline the control (and is not an option that will
occur to you unless you read the manual).
Having a complete understanding of controls is absolutely necessary if
you hope to dominate during multiplayer. There are a few different modes
-- Free-For-All, Duel and Jedi Master, which really lets you show your
proficiency with the Force -- and they’re all fun to varying degrees if
you've got a friend handy but multiplayer certainly would have garnered
more attention had it been Xbox Live compatible. As it is, the bots do
provide a solid challenge.
Graphics and sound are, in a word, wonderful. Vicarious Visions has done
a pretty good job porting the graphics from the PC version (with the
occasional stutter), which really brought Star Wars to life, especially
with the small touches like the familiar war room from A New Hope. But
they also get the big touches right too – it’s cool to see a bunch of
docked AT-STs awaiting their drivers. The familiar John Williams score
fits for every occasion and the sound effects are dead-on. The amalgam
of the two provides an extremely well rounded experience. I was a little
disappointed with the scaled-down animation during the cutscenes but
that's only because I played the higher-res PC version.
Animation is also top-notch – Stormtroopers plunge off catwalks and
crumple under a direct shot to the head. The voice acting is up to the
usual high standards of LucasArts and strangely enough the most
groan-inducing lines aren’t delivered dripping in melodrama. Outcast
also gives Star Wars freaks another word to add to their lexicon and
roster of all-purpose swear words: “Sithspit”.
And besides all the above, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is fun. No
matter how many times I died, either by my own misstep or some surprise
awaiting my entry into a room, I kept on playing even when I was stumped
on a puzzle or figuring out how to get out of a room alive. There’s much
to do and nooks and crannies to explore. It’s got everything that
first-person shooter and Star Wars fans will love. If you’ve got the
chance, go and get it.