Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Kyle Katarn is back... but the force isn't strong with this one...
Lucasarts released the fourth game in their Dark Forces series early 2002. The sequel to Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, better known simply as Jedi Knight, Jedi Knight II picks up where the last game left off from the Jedi Knight expansion, Mysteries of the Sith. Only problem is, it seems to have absorbed too much from this expansion.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of the game is the lightsabre battles. When one draws their lightsabre and begins fighting with it (which will be for the great majority of the game) they are indeed in for some fun. Clashing lightsabres are accompanied by bright flashes and sparks, the hum of the sabre changes pitch with the swing, and buzzes during these clashes too. Lightsabre locks have been added into this game, too, allowing an amazing "cinematic" screenshot and adding a tactical side to the battles, rather than the hack n' slash from the previous game; furthermore, the ability to choose between fast, medium or strong lightsabre styles adds yet another tactical degree. Other feautres include being able to execute varying slashes, even a 360 degree spin right out of Star Wars, being able to throw the lightsabre and, best of all, the slow motion death scene when one kills another Jedi adds an astounding cinematic that makes you grin with pride at your completed battle that looks as if it was Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader himself!
What makes these battles so exciting, however, is largely due to the graphics. As I just mentioned, the lighting during these battles are superb, but outside these battles this lightsabre lighting diminishes. In the previous games the lightsabre always shed light, as it should, yet this was not retained. Despite this small let down, the graphics are awesome, especially the character models. Faces are carefully detailed, and even the cameo appearances of Luke and Lando look as close to the real thing as expected. FMVs are, once again, in game models rather than the rare real person acting that was found in Jedi Knight, which is another dissapointment, but at least they did a pretty good job with it. Facial expressions have been mastered, and skin even moves and creases as they talk. Shadows, however, are dismal: its almost as if they just decided to slap a shadow in every possible direction to try and make it look good; and, if I may qoute Zerotime, "everyone in the game looks like they're suffering from acute insomnia - *huge* bags under their eyes". Many of the shadows don't make sense, as there is no light source to cast them, and when they are above or below the body, they do not draw out from the body but instead are a disjointed shadow in exact replica of the body. Also, these nonsensical shadows play havoc with framerates, thus it is much better to simply disable them altogether.
Sound is a much better aspect, and it doesn't dissapoint in any area. Kyle and Jan sound the same (Kyle remains the same, however Angela Harry, who played Jan in Jedi Knight, has been replaced with [Vanessa Marshall), and even the cameos sound good (Lando Calrissian is done by the actual Billy Dee Williams). Ad aforementioned, lightsabre sounds are brilliant, and that extends to other weapons also. Miscellaneous voices sound like they're straight out of Star Wars (and they may well be), and to top it all off, the classic Staw Wars soundtrack is back in all its glory and better than ever!
The game starts to go downhill from here, however. As I mentioned, the game seems to have absorbed too much from Mysteries of the Sith. Firstly, the storyline is fairly dry and unoriginal. A Dark Jedi, known as Desann, is leading the Remnant (remaining forces of the Empire) and happens to come across Jan and Kyle, who had been assigned on a mission by the Republic. Desann captures Jan and "kills" her, yet it is blatantly obvious this is not the case. Kyle chases after the damsel in distress, vowing to bring down Desann. They could have gotten away with this storyline, but Lucasarts decided to murder it by adding a love interest between Kyle and Jan - terrible idea.
In Jedi Knight, the player could develop force powers as he wished, with a gentle bit of egging in the direction of Force Jump to ensure players could reach all areas. Players also had a plethora of force powers to choose from, and could even choose the Dark Side or Light Side depending on their actions during the story. Mysteries of the Sith carried on the tradition, but imposed a little restriction by preventing the player from going to the Dark Side, and making Dark acts drain force powers. Yet, rather than eliminating the Dark Side powers as a result, they took the Uber Jedi (a Jedi that uses both Dark and Light force powers) approach. While the Uber Jedi approach is cohesive for apprentices (in Jedi Knight, both Light and Dark were available until the Jedi became a full Jedi, and then must choose), it is not for higher levels of Jedi. This was reflected in Mystery of the Sith's sales, yet Lucasarts chose to retain it with a further restriction - not being able to develop your force powers. As you progress through the levels, the game automatically increases their power, and not once do you get to even suggest that you might want this power more than another. Also, the plethora of powers has been decimated, only giving the player eleven powers.
Multiplayer is what saves this game, however. Fifteen force powers are available here, and while this is not a major improvement, being able to choose between Dark and Light Side is. Tbere are a great many options for multiplayer, including the option to restrict armaments to lightsabres only. With the ability to add up to fifteen bots (including a player) means that one can simply play large, single player deathmatch lightsabre battles. This is incredibly fun, but its even better over the net or, better yet, a LAN.
Overall, Jedi Knight II is a highly enjoyable game, but is very dissapointing as it has alot more potential than what Lucasarts has given it. If you are one to buy games only for single player, it would be best to give this one a miss; but if you play alot of multiplayer this is a brilliant game. Definently one to put on the shelf for LAN parties, but otherwise I cannot recommend this to anyone but diehard fans.