Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast Review
LucasArts and Raven Software have teamed up to bring us the highly anticipated sequel to 1997's hit, Jedi Knight. This is Raven's first Star Wars game, although they have plenty of experience making first person shooters. They've licensed id Software's powerful Quake 3: Team Arena engine for this title, and use it well. The stakes are high, as Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast attempts to put together both a compelling single-player game, as well as a full-featured multiplayer offering in the box.
Raven Software has been licensing game engines from id Software for almost ten years now, and it shows that they know exactly what they're doing with them. Jedi Knight 2 is no exception, as it is relatively fast, looks stunning, and the OpenGL implementation is stable and compatible. Raven's added their own features to the engine, including their excellent Ghoul2 modelling system. It's everything you expect from an id Software- licensed engine, and more.
There are quite a few visual options to play with and tune to your liking, including all the ones from Quake 3: Arena plus a few. The engine itself scales up and down fairly well, making the game playable on 500MHz computers with Voodoo3 video cards, while still being able to challenge the best of today's systems.
While Jedi Knight 2 is mostly billed as a first person shooter, it can be played from a third person camera as well, which works surprisingly well. Default settings put you in the first-person mode when firing most of your weapons, and will automatically switch you to third-person when using your lightsaber or some of the extra gadgets you come across. If you like, however, you can set options to force the game to use either mode exclusively.
There are a lot of items and powers that you have at your disposal, which can make juggling it all a bit daunting. There are 13 weapons you can use, several special items, and a number of Force Powers to choose from - having hotkeys for each single item and force power isn't exactly practical here, so the "next item" & "last item" keys are particularly useful.
The game menus are all laid out just right, allowing you to make changes to just about any setting without leaving the game. When in a multiplayer game, all the options are available by pressing ESC and going through the game's top-bar menu. It works perfectly, and Raven has left nothing out of the menus.
This is simply the best looking Star Wars game on the PC so far. Everything has been done in great detail, and Jedi Knight 2's graphics are at times stunning. From the classic cantina-style bars to Imperial bases to lush outdoor romps, it's near perfect. The maps are all impressive, with excellent textures throughout. There are a few lower-resolution textures here and there that look a little out of place with everything else, but it's nothing that's a serious problem.
The weapon and character models are extremely well-done, with a huge range of animations all-around. Most of the game's cutscenes are done from in the game engine, with characters moving, talking, and gesturing fairly well. Some of the characters' mouth and facial animations just don't look quite right, but it's the best any PC developer has done so far that I've seen.
And while the cutscenes are all fine and good, it's the animations during the fights that are the most important. Here, Jedi Knight 2 delivers. Lightsaber battles are highly technical and the animations match up perfectly with what happens in the gameplay. Just walking around with the lightsaber, letting it mark up the walls when it touches them, is a rush.
Some people have expressed concern over whether JK2 includes dismemberment of any form. After hours and hours of playing, the only stuff that can be chopped off that I've seen are arms and hands. It still looks great, and there's no gore, although the dismemberment can be turned off in the game options anyway.
If you're looking for a large cross-section of every locale that the Star Wars universe has to offer, you'll be mildly disappointed. A large chunk of the game takes place in Imperial bases or capital ships, which does get a tad dull after a while. Throughout the game, though, you will still wind up in Cloud City on Bespin, the Rebel base on Yavin, and a nighttime city full of the smuggler-type scum you've seen in the movies.
Jedi Knight 2 has the player controlling Kyle Katarn, an interesting Star Wars character that fuses the Han Solo-style with, well, a lightsaber and the force. In the first game, Kyle renounced his Jedi powers after a battle with the Dark side, and since has been happy without the Force or his lightsaber. After a couple of hours into the game, there's an event that sends him back to the Valley of the Jedi to reclaim his force powers - then, it's off to pay Luke Skywalker a visit to pick up his lightsaber.
Your adventures will also have you meet up with Lando Calrissian - he and Luke will each be your partner for a short time in the action (along with Jan Ors, a veteran of the first game). You never have more than one partner, so things stay in hand. These characters do a pretty good job of holding their own in a fight, and are around just long enough to satisfy the player without dragging the gameplay down.
People who love to use lightsabers will be very impressed by this game, as almost any situation can be handled with with one (and maybe a few force powers). On top of that, if you'd rather use guns most of the time, you'll be able to do that as well, although you'll need different tactics.
The lightsaber's ability to block many of the enemies' weapons becomes a vital part of a Jedi's tactics. Near the end of the game, your character's lightsaber defensive abilities are so good, you'll be able to stand there untouched against fifteen to twenty Stormtroopers all firing various weapons at you. Kyle will automatically block or return just about every shot that comes near you.
A couple of hours into the game, you'll be able to use your first force powers - they're not much to start, but you'll get more (and they'll get more powerful) automatically as you progress. One of these, called Force Speed, slows down the game time (much like Max Payne's "bullet time" feature, although it's not slowed down quite that much) which allows you to run faster, and swing your lightsaber more rapidly.
You'll really need your force powers as you go - while the enemies themselves don't get that much tougher in the last half of the game, the situations are generally more difficult and you'll have to go up against many opponents at once. Fighting lightsaber-wielding Reborn and your normal everyday Stormtroopers simultaneously gets tough, but not overly difficult.
If you like to do a lot of quick saves & loads, Jedi Knight 2 doesn't hinder you at all. Load times are reasonable, and you can save your game all you like.
One of the things some players will be annoyed with is the number of puzzles in the game. I found myself stuck for at least a few minutes several times in the game, with one taking me half an hour to figure out. The puzzles are generally more visual, where a keen eye will give you the solution quickly. There are a few, however, that are frustrating and just plain tough even if you know exactly what to do. It would have been nice to see a couple of puzzles eased up a bit.
One thing that's refreshing is the length of Jedi Knight 2. It's definitely a larger game than Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and will take two or three times as long to beat as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault did. The average player can probably get through JK2 in about 16-18 hours, with better players getting it down to about 12.
Jedi Knight 2 has it all. Every sound effect, every major piece of John Williams' original score, and all the audio staples of a good Star Wars game are here. There are tons of conversations to listen in on as you're sneaking around, and every gun has a distinct sound. The ones that are your basic Star Wars variety (Wookiee Bowcasters, lightsabers, blaster rifles) all sound pretty accurate, and the new weapon sounds fit in well.
Voice acting in JK2 isn't too bad, although it's not particularly engaging. Kyle Katarn's lines are probably the most interesting, while some of the others aren't so great. Luke Skywalker is acted just fine, but it sounds very little like Mark Hamill. Lando Calrissian's voice acting, though, is done by none other than the original: Billy Dee Williams.
The music, all in great digital clarity, will dynamically change based on game events. It will play the more exciting stuff during fights, and will quiet down as you're exploring and figuring out how to get a door open or solving a puzzle. This is probably the best usage of "dynamic music" that I've seen in a game so far.
Jedi Knight 2 ships with a full-featured multiplayer component, complete with 11 maps, a slew of player models, and several game modes (including Free For All deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Duel modes, and more). On top of all the usual features that Quake 3: Arena has for game servers, administrators can limit or disable force powers as well as turn on a lightsaber-only option for all game modes, as well as other bits and pieces.
Multiplayer game balance is still up in the air, although such a complicated system will likely have a few minor issues at the least. It's tough to balance having lightsabers on top of all the other weapons in a multiplayer game, although nothing that I saw is blatantly overpowering. Only time will tell with this one. LucasArts has said that Raven has made the best use of all the cheat protection that the Quake 3 engine offers, although whether that'll be enough to stop cheaters, we'll have to see.
If you want to practice your multiplayer combat, Jedi Knight 2 includes Quake 3-style AI bots to place into a game, and they're not too bad. A lot of the single-player lightsaber AI is used by the bots, so it's a similar experience. They can get stuck in the maps from time to time, but overall it's a welcome inclusion in an already feature-packed game.
Raven Software has taken a big chance, trying to cover all the bases with Jedi Knight 2. Luckily, it has paid off, as this is an excellent game. It's got tons of stuff that players have been wanting since the first Jedi Knight, includes an engaging and fun multiplayer game, and delivers it all on the very stable and solid Quake 3 engine.
Jedi Knight 2 supports mods out of the box, although no editors or utilities shipped with the game. We'll have to wait and see what Raven & LucasArts have cooked up for mod makers, but I have no doubt Raven will deliver some decent editing tools - they've done it many times in the past.
Jedi Knight 2 is simply the best game I've played in a while. The atmosphere is 100% Star Wars, with a unique storyline, great locations, near-perfect action, and plenty of replay value in the multiplayer mode.