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Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is the sequel to LucasArts' 1997 release Star Wars Jedi Knight - Dark Forces II. The original introduced gamers to Kyle Katarn, Jedi anti-hero, and the joy of wielding the lightsaber and the Force in a glorious 3D. It featured an innovative technique of switching from the 1st person view used with blasters and other weapons, to a 3rd person view for more realistic control and self-awareness of the lightsaber. An add-on pack, Star Wars Jedi Knight - Mysteries of the Sith, introduced new missions, better puzzles, additional force powers and a playable female model, the Sith apprentice Mara Jade. The add-on pack also changed gameplay significantly: where the first title differentiated strongly between light side and dark side force powers, the second title made all force powers neutral.
As our story opens he's sworn off the lightsaber and the Force , and is working
as a mercenary for the New Republic with his pilot / main squeeze, Jan Ors.
Kyle and Jan receive a garbled transmission about an Imperial Remnant searching
for the Valley of the Jedi, an immensely powerful source of Force power. Their
investigation leads them, together and apart, through military bases, secret
laboratories, the Jedi Academy, smuggler's dens, dangerous mines, enemy star
cruisers, flying cities, culminating in battles to the death with the would-be
Emperor and his Dark Jedi Master.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast features spectacular graphics, lighting, character and set design fully consistent with the Star Wars universe. The outdoor levels feel big, open, and immersive. The indoor levels convincingly portray huge and detailed cityscapes, interstellar spacecraft, and landing bays.
Many of the cutscenes in JKII appear to have been rendered using the game engine itself - a technique Raven Software also used in their 3rd person masterpiece, Heretic II. Additional techniques appear to have been used to enhance the cutscenes; these techniques allowed the designers to create exciting effects impossible with the engine alone.
For example, JKII features some compelling cutscenes of spacecraft flying across a complex background. In each of these scenes, the image pixelates as if a pre-rendered high-resolution video had been compressed to produce a low bandwidth video stream for use in-game. The overall effect is beautiful, despite the noticeable degradation in video quality during these cutscenes.
The cutscenes make great use of facial morphs and body language to convey emotional reactions of the characters. The eyes blink, roll, and narrow. The lips purse, smirk, and frown. In surprising contrast, the lip-synch in cutscenes is little more than "muppet mouths" opening and closing in time to the speech.
During the game you run into the same kinds of enemies over and over again. The most common enemies include Tuskens, Rodians, Gran, and Stormtroopers. Relatively few skins are provided for these, and so they literally all look alike. That's OK for the Stormtroopers, but the lack of variety in the other races sometimes drags the story down from "adventure" to "shooter".
The character animations range from stiff and unnatural (for example, Kyle's walk and run animations, or the Gran detonator-tossing animation), to smooth and dynamic (for example, the acrobatic lightsaber dueling animations used by Kyle, Luke, Desann, and the Dark Jedi). I especially liked some of the mechanical animations: the movement of the protocol droids, the walker's low and high gears.
The attractive dynamic lighting and volumetric shadows in JKII are pretty par for the course from id's latest engine. Strangely, the lightsaber doesn't cast light onto walls when dynamic lighting is enabled - an effect that would have come in handy in more than one dark passageway.
The polygon counts of the models seem just about right - things that should be curved, look curved, and the structural models and textures combine to produce the illusion of a highly-detailed world.
The 3rd person camera is nearly flawless, perhaps even better than it was in Heretic II. An improvement over earlier Jedi Knight titles, JKII allows you to switch freely between the 1st person and 3rd person views, regardless of your weapon choice. The most noticeable camera issue occurs when Kyle is standing with a wall immediately behind him, looking up in the 3rd person view. In this situation moves inside Kyle, and an annoying ghost of the back-sides of his polygons appears on-screen. The player can often eliminate this effect by shifting Kyle's position slightly.
final notes on the graphics of JKII. First, many of the screenshots
in this review were taken with shadows and dynamic lighting turned off to
improve performance; regardless of what the box describes as the minimum system
configuration, JKII can get kind of choppy running on even a mid-tier
system with all graphics and sound options enabled. Second, screenshots taken
in JKII don't reflect the full graphic capability of the engine since
this game automatically saves screenshots using lossy JPEG compression instead
of the more detailed and disk-hungry Targa / Windows Bitmap formats.
The storyline of Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast mixes fierce revenge-driven action with a lukewarm romance and an irrelevant mystery. The plot is good enough that it doesn't get in the way of gameplay, and it provides both a backdrop of continuity and a path of progress for this linear adventure. It's not so good that you find yourself playing JKII late into the night just to find out what will happen next.
The plot features very few surprises: if you open a sealed door, you can be pretty sure there will be either yet-another-bad-guy or some valuable inventory item behind it. You defeat the bad guy, solve the puzzle, or die. There was no real mystery or ambiguity to the plot (contrast this with the rampant ambiguity of Myst, Shogo, or even Star Wars Jedi Knight - Dark Forces II in which a player's actions and choices really had an impact on the outcome). Even the game's "Big Plot Twist" could be predicted by anyone familiar with how things go down in the Star Wars universe.
The main plot is simple and unoriginal, but solid. Kyle starts out as a cynical mercenary, and undergoes a transformation in which he reclaims his birthright as a Jedi, gradually learning to care about the greater good and increasing his mastery of the Force in preparation for final conflict with a Dark Jedi Master.
The first subplot, Kyle's relationship with Jan, doesn't work. A romance most likely added to help attract a female audience, it portrays Jan as a cold fish making Kyle seem sentimental and needy. There's no growth or change in the relationship over the course of the story, and Jan remains a cardboard character for whom we develop little empathy. On the positive side, Jan is portrayed as smart, competent, attractive, and witty without being dressed as a bimbo. Jan and Kyle are separated at several points in the story, and it might have been fun to play through those parts of the adventure from Jan's perspective rather than Kyle's, fleshing her out as a character and exploring the potential of the relationship a bit more.
The other subplot is a Dark Jedi scheme to take over the Galaxy. Duh - like, what else do Dark Jedi ever do? I mean, whenever there are Dark Jedi running around in a Star Wars title, you can bet that they're trying to take over the galaxy. As the story unfolds, cutscenes reveal more an more of the evil plan, making connections between seemingly unrelated events and identifying those higher and higher up the chain of responsibility. It's a mildly interesting story, but it doesn't really impact the game - you don't act any differently, or change your opinion of any of the story's characters, or even gain any new abilities, as a result of what you learn in the cutscenes.
The story is laced with pleasant cameo appearances by familiar characters from the Star Wars universe: Lando Clarissian, Luke Skywalker, bungling Stormtroopers, arrogant Imperial officers, and talkative droids. There's also a bar fight, a narrow escape from a trash compactor, and text scrolling obliquely into the screen to help complete the Star Wars mood.
Kyle is a former Jedi who has sworn never again to use the Force. He changes his mind about the Force early in the game, and has to learn how to use and develop his powers all over again. This works out really well for the player, who also has to learn how to control and use Kyle's powers offensively, defensively, and to solve puzzles.
The first few levels of JKII are pretty boring and tedious to play, but they're effective as a short course in how to use the various projectile weapons and Force powers. Each level builds on skills you've learned in previous levels, and challenges you to apply them creatively.
The game gets a lot more interesting once you recover Kyle's lightsaber from the Jedi Temple. You find yourself feeling genuinely super-human, looking at previously insurmountable obstacles and thinking, "I'm glad I'm a Jedi". You also see more powerful characters using the Force in ways that you can't, and find yourself wanting their powers.
To control Kyle, you use the keyboard and the mouse. The basic movement controls will be familiar to anyone who has ever played an adventure / shooter based on a Quake-style engine. Kyle's Force powers are controled by another set of keys, by default F1 - F7. This arrangement can be a little awkward during gameplay if your other key bindings are the default: your right hand is on the mouse, while your left hand is on the strafe / crouch / jump / use / run cluster at the lower right of the keyboard, making it a long reach to the Force power keys at the upper right. The best solution is to experiment with the key bindings until you find a layout that's comfortable and easy to use. Finding a usable keyboard layout is only moderately important in Single Player mode; it will be much more important in Deathmatch.
There are thirteen types of personal weapons in JKII, and they can be grouped into melee weapons, projectile weapons, and throwable weapons. There's no limit on the number of weapons you can carry, but there is a maximum ammo count for each weapon type. The weapons do varying types of damage and most have a normal and an alternate firing mode. The first person view works best for the projectile weapons; the 3rd person view works best for the others. You can switch between the views at any time by pressing P.
The melee weapons are:
The throwable weapons are:
Those familiar with previous Jedi Knight titles will recognize most of these weapons. Other than the lightsaber, they're also pretty typical of what any modern sci-fi themed shooter offers. All of the weapons look great and work intuitively in JKII.
Star Wars lore tells us that the lightsaber is a Jedi's main weapon. The lightsaber in JKII delivers 110% on this promise. Using it, Kyle can block attacks, destroy obstacles, and fight in any of three different styles (light, medium, and heavy). The light style, learned first, allows Kyle to string together a long sequence of attacks from various directions and heights, quickly returning to a defensive stance; each hit does relatively little damage, but their cumulative effect can be devastating on even a powerful enemy. The heavy style features bold and deadly, but slow, single attacks; it leaves Kyle open to an enemy's counter-attack. The medium style combines aspects of the light and heavy styles. The llightsaber in JKII is really fun to use, and a highly effective weapon in most situations. Each style has its own moves, advantages, and disadvantages, and as you master the lightsaber you may find yourself switching between the styles based on your combat situation.
Kyle is usually on foot and either sneaking around or using one or another of these personal weapons. There are times when he needs more firepower, though, and for these times I highly recommend either a gun turret (first person view) or an Imperial walker (3rd person view) if available. Both of these are well shielded and equipped with heavy artillery that can take out ground troops, walkers, and stationary guns. The Imperial walker is really fun to drive, and if you're running low on ammo or just feeling sadistic you can use it to step on your enemies instead of blasting them. Important note for operators of these weapons: when your sheilds are depleted, consider abandoning the weapon - if it's destroyed with you in it, you die.
More than half of the puzzles in JKII are jumping or gauntlet puzzles. I despise this kind of puzzle, in which your character must jump from platform to platform using very precise timing, or dodge rapidly moving objects, either dying or having to start the whole sequence over if even one mistake is made. There's very little thought involved in creating or solving most jumping or gauntlet puzzles, and I really wish game designers would cut back on their use in future titles. Although JKII over-uses this type of puzzle, Raven added some nice touches: you have to use the Force creatively to solve some; others include alternative paths that lead to shortcuts or secret areas.
Roughly a quarter of the puzzles in JKII are maze puzzles. Slightly less cliche than jumping puzzles, maze puzzles require your character to find his way through confusing terrain or a complex structure, with many dead end paths and only one correct path. The maze puzzles in JKII are player-friendly, but challenging. For example, your obective might be to find a certain spaceship in a huge docking complex, or a certain temple in a rugged wilderness. In each case, you're solving a subtle maze puzzle, but you also have multiple secondary obstacles to overcome on the way. Kudos to Raven on making the mazes in JKII fade into the background.
The other 25% of the puzzles in JKII are genuinely inspired. In one of these pleasantly surprising puzzles, you have to prevent a droid from being destroyed by trip mines while under heavy enemy fire. In another, you must use Force powers to open an ancient combination lock. Another can only be solved by combining several Force powers at once. Yet another requires you to move by stealth - no killing - through an indoor area filled with enemy soldiers. Uncommon puzzles like these separate a mediocre single-player game from a great single-player game in my book, and I'm pleased that JKII includes several.
Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast provides several game difficulty settings.
The default setting is for medium game difficulty, and players familiar with
games like Heretic II or Quake 3 Arena should have no trouble
playing through the game at this difficulty level (although I recommend saving
your game frequently). Keep in mind that there seems to be a limit of roughly
100 saved games in JKII, after which the setup screen will no longer display
newly saved games for reloading. If you find that some of your saved games
aren't showing in the setup screen, try deleting some previously saved games
or moving these older saved games to another folder.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast includes seven multiplayer modes, decent ranged weapon and melee bots, and a built-in LAN / internet game browser with map voting. The multiplayer modes feature configurable game parameters, seven additional Force powers, and four additional pick-up items.
The additional Force powers provide team-oriented Jedi capabilities, and also allow players to configure their powers to favor either the Dark Side or the Light Side of the Force. They are:
Capture the Flag is a team-based multiplayer mode in which two teams attempt to keep both their own flag and a stolen enemy flag at their own base. This game mode has been implemented either as a built-in or as a mod in many other adventure / shooter games, and it works as expected. Gameplay tends toward the fast and furious in this mode. The maps provided by Raven are well laid-out, with several distinct paths to and from the base. The Raven maps are spacious, and seem to have been designed for a relatively large number of players (at least five on each team). Many internet servers run this mode continuously, with high player load factors.
Capture the Ysalamiri is a variation of Capture the Flag. It uses identical rules, but adds a Force-damping Ysalamiri lizard to the top of the pole of each team's flag. The Ysalamiri assures that whoever is carrying the flag cannot use the Force, and that no force-based attacks can be used against the flag-bearer. This changes the game dynamic significantly, leading to increased use of conventional weapons and decreased use of the Force during the game. Capture the Ysalamiri uses the same maps as Capture the Flag, but we found only a few internet servers running this game mode - perhaps because players would rather have full access to Force powers at all times.
Free For All is just what you'd expect - no teams, and everyone is an enemy to be killed for points. It works the same as any nearly other game's deathmatch mode, with the addition of an innovative lightsaber challenge feature. This feature allows two players to duel using only lightsabers, regardless of anything else going on in the game. One player challenges, another accepts, and from that point these two players can use only the lightsaber and force powers until one of them dies. The duelists are also immune to weapon attacks and Force powers of other players, and can't attack or use the Force on other players. In addition to providing a cool in-game twist, the lightsaber challenge feature allows nearly any deathmatch map to be used for lightsaber dueling. Free For All seems to be the most common mode running on internet servers.
Duel mode provides a structured environment for one-on-one lightsaber duels. Only two players are active at a given time, with the rest assigned a place in line waiting to fight. The active players fight each other with the lightsaber and force powers. The waiting players chat with each other and move around the map invisibly as observers (freelook) or follow combatants (chasecam). The maps provided for this mode are smaller than Deathmatch or CTF/CTY maps, since there are only two combatants, there's no sniping, and there's little advantage to hiding. The advantage of Duel mode is that it is "llama-proof" - it's very difficult for a player to deliberately disrupt the duels. The disadvantages of Duel mode are that the waiting players can't see each other or interact other than through chat, and that the waiting time between duels can be ten minutes or more on a heavily loaded server. We found a good variety of internet servers running Duel mode during our tests, although not as many as run Capture the Flag or Deathmatch.
Holocron uses the same rules as Free For All. In addition, players start with no Force powers, and Force power-ups known as holocrons are placed at strategic points on the map. Each Force power has its own style of holocron, and when a player picks up a holocron he's able to use that Force power until he is killed or exceeds the limit of three holocrons. When a player is killed, his holocrons respawn on the spot; when a player picks up more than three holocrons, the one he has been using longest respawns on the spot. If not picked up within 30 seconds, these holocrons vanish and respawn at their original spawn points on the map. Only a handful of internet servers were running this mode during our tests.
Jedi Master is a king-of-the-hill mode. One lightsaber is placed on the map; whoever gets it first becomes a Jedi Master with full Force powers, while the other players have only weapons and shields. The Jedi Master scores by killing other players, while the other players score by killing the Jedi Master. A player who kills the Jedi Master becomes the next Jedi Master. This continues until a frag limit or time limit is reached. This is a very fast-paced game, since typically the Jedi Master is surrounded by other players when he's killed, and these players immediately attack the new Jedi Master. On internet servers, this mode appears to be more popular than CTY or Holocron, but less popular than the other modes.
Team Free For All works like Free For All, but the players are grouped into two teams and earn points only for killing members of the other team. The strategy for Team Free For All is made unique by the new Force powers that support team cooperation. For example, players with high scores in Force Team Heal or Force Team Energize are able to significantly assist and rejuvinate teammates during offensives. This game tends to favor small groups of teammates with compatible Force powers who move around the map trying to isolate and kill enemy players.
Overall JKII provides a rich multiplayer gaming experience right out of the box. Be sure to check the Raven and LucasArts websites for the latest game patches, since some servers are now running patched 1.03 versions of JKII that are incompatible with the original.
The character voices in JKII kit the mark, following Star Wars' almost operatic conventions: low-pitched, British-accented or alien voices for the bad guys, higher-pitched, American-accented voices for the good guys. Billy Dee Williams provides the authentic voice of Lando Clarissian, while Bob Bergen delivers a believable rendition of Luke Skywalker. The voice acting is good, although with flatter delivery and much less variety in vocal style and use of regional dialects than, say, Monolith's Aliens vs. Predator 2.
Whether you're hearing the arcane beeps and whistles of an R4 droid, the dynamic whir and buzz of a lighsaber, or the raw crushing power of an Imperial Walker in motion, the mechanical sound effects are great. Weapons fire sounds just right for each weapon; you never think a weapon sound effect in JKII is either exaggerated or wimpy. Many of the sound effects are taken directly from the original Star Wars soundtrack to create a perfect fit.
The sound effects are perfectly matched to movements and background events, and nothing seems out of place in the ambient sound of the various game levels. John Williams' Star Wars music permeates the cutscenes and backgrounds. The music and sound effects are moving, authentic and familiar, but certainly don't break any new ground or push the envelope.
Overall the sound work in JKII makes a strong contribution to mood and realism, reinforcing the Star Wars feel while maintaining high technical standard.
I found that even with reduced performance settings, the sound cut in and
out or broke up during gameplay when a lot was going on; play this game on
a high-end system to get the full impact of the sound work. A patch released
by Raven adds improved EAX positional sound support. You can download this
patch from the Raven or LucasArts sites.
There's not much in Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast that you haven't already seen somewhere else - whether in a Star Wars movie, or in some other adventure / shooter game. Priced comparably to other current titles, it's a great value if you're looking for a classic Star Wars gaming experience built on a modern 3D engine.
The single-player game is interesting and challenging enough that you'll consider playing it again on a higher difficulty setting or to find more of the secret areas, while the game's seven multiplayer modes offer many hours of on-line entertainment. Players without fast internet connections, or who prefer to hone their skills in private, can take advantage of all of the game modes using the built-in bot support.
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