Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Review

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Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Raven Software


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 450 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB video card

It's time for some new blood. Kyle Katarn is now an instructor at the Jedi Academy, and you are a raw recruit pledging yourself to the Jedi order. The remnants of the Empire refuse to fade away gracefully, and a strange cult has been engaged in questionable activities in areas strong with the Force. Using the familiar first-person shooter/third-person perspective of the previous Jedi Knight games, you must learn the ways of the Force while aiding the Jedi Order in their battle against the remnants of the Empire. All the while, a new and troubling mystery faces the Jedi.

Rating:
Dave Harlan


There's no ducking the obvious question – how does Jedi Academy (aka Dark Forces IV: Jedi Knight III: Jedi Outcast II: Jedi Academy) compare to Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, its immediate predecessor? Outcast was well-received, not least because it amped up the lightsaber combat introduced in Jedi Knight that has become the heart of the series. Jedi Academy plays like an expansion pack for Outcast, albeit an enjoyable and skillfully executed one. It may not ambitious, but that's not a bad thing. If you liked the lightsabers and Force powers from the last title, you're going to love them now.

Of course, you'll have to get the game to start first, and Jedi Academy is a little fussy in this regard. If you had no issues installing Jedi Outcast you wouldn't expect problems running Jedi Academy, which uses much of the same technology. But for some reason, the blurb on the back of the box, "NOTICE – this game contains technology intended to prevent copying" had this reviewer channeling Han Solo: "I've got a baaad feeling about this." Sure enough, the single-player game wouldn't start, though the multiplayer portion ran as intended.

After a fairly lengthy time on the phone with LucasArts tech support, checking drivers, DirectX functionality, etc. (all of which were working fine), they revealed that there is a known issue with certain systems. (They might have told me that to begin with.) It's a copy protection issue, so multiplayer mode (not copy protected) works, and single-player doesn't. When you spend real money on a final product, the advice to "keep an eye" on an official site for a patch is less than comforting. This puts gamers in the uncomfortable position of waiting to play, or exploring the darker regions of the net looking for a no-CD patch.

Now That You're in the Game


Fortunately, once you get into the game, you'll find it worth the effort. The graphics have been tweaked some, so Jedi Academy looks better than Outcast. But that seems to be more due to the work of the artists than the result of changes in the underlying technology. Jedi Academy just feels more like Star Wars than Outcast (and certain other Star Wars games on the market). The environments are more interesting than those in Outcast, taking us back to favorite settings from the original series, such as a putrid Rancor pit, the temples and forests of Yavin, the canyons of Tatooine (complete with Sandpeople, Jawas and accessible sandcrawlers), and the debris-spattered battlefields of Hoth with its abandoned underground Rebel base. The Hoth levels are particularly entertaining, complete with the carcasses of fallen Imperial Snow Walkers and the option to hop on a Tauntaun for a ride. The bleak Hoth landscape, complete with snowstorms and barely lit by dim beacons will put you back in your theater seat on Empire Strikes Back's opening day. And yes, there are Wampas! It's OK. Let your inner fanboi show.

In addition to the cantankerous Tauntauns, other levels allow you to pilot Scout Walkers (like those you saw in Outcast) and the Swoop Bike (introduced in the novel "Shadows of the Empire" and given the official seal of approval in Attack of the Clones). Perhaps you'll prefer the style of the original Speeder Bikes, but the Swoop is nice; it's sort of the Harley Davidson of Star Wars. The Swoop levels can be frustrating at times, but they are never boring. On the contrary, they require a different style of gameplay entirely, adding variety. It's a thrill to be running on foot with a couple of bikes circling and attacking and then to knock off a rider with a well-placed force push so you can steal his bike. Grand Theft Auto: Tatooine anyone? The Scout Walkers work much the same as they did in Outcast, although they do make an interesting addition in multiplayer, where they are best implemented in the Siege mode (more on this later). You might even check out a the cheat that allows saber-wielding Jedi to ride Rancors.

Jedi Academy tries to avoid the curse of "that linear feeling" by allowing you, at times, to choose your next mission from a list. You begin the game on Yavin, where you have to make your way to the academy and go through a few trials to learn the basics of the Force; then you are asked which mission you would like to tackle next. You examine the briefings and take your pick – do you investigate cult activity on one planet or destroy an Imperial weapon on another? Unfortunately, the order of your choices doesn't really seem to make any difference at all in the story. (There's still something to be said for the way the early Wing Commander games handled that). The progression always ends up like this: Do a required mission for the Academy. Choose from a list of six missions. After playing through five missions, receive the option of returning to the Academy or playing that sixth mission. Play the sixth mission. Second verse same as the first. The differences between Jedi Academy's style and that of Outcast may be no more than cosmetic, but the changes are still welcome.

Dark, Light, Whatever Works


A minor quibble is that Jedi Academy seems to be the shortest of all the Jedi Knight games. It's not so short that you'll actually feel cheated, but you'll be left wanting more. That's not just because it was fun, but because you were expecting more. A more significant issue is the implementation of the player's much-touted Dark Side/Light Side choice. In the original Jedi Knight, at a point about two-thirds through, you would go fully into either the Dark Side or the Light Side. That path was determined by the force powers you chose and your behavior during the game. (Activities such as wrecking helpless, harmless Power Droids really messed with your karma, dude). From that point on, you played the remaining levels with the powers and goals of the side of the Force with which you aligned, and that led to two different endings. This prompted many players to immediately restart the finished game to experience life on the other side. To the consternation of many, choice was left out of Outcast. So, when Jedi Academy was announced, the revelation that the Dark/Light choice would return brought much rejoicing.

The problem in Jedi Academy is that you don't make the Dark/Light choice until just before the final battle. True, as you go through the game you do get to choose your force powers. You can play through the whole game powering up all that cool Dark destructive stuff and blow off all that namby-pamby goody-two-shoes Light junk. But the late choice of a Dark or Light path doesn't create the same replayability of Jedi Knight. Instead of restarting the game, you'll be tempted to reload the last level and pick the other path.

By contrast, the progression of Force powers decidedly one-ups Outcast. In Jedi Knight, you improved your Force skills pretty much anyway you wanted (and some force points were allotted only by finding secrets – argh!), but that led to some issues in gameplay balance. In Outcast, you had no real choice. Your powers grew at a set pace from level to level, but that made some gamers grumpy. In Jedi Academy, it is only your "core" force powers – push, pull, speed, jump, etc. – that grow at a set pace. The Light and Dark powers are gained as you see fit. Each level, you are given a force point to spend, and that can go toward any of the Light/Dark powers, with a maximum of three points per power. By the end of the game, you might max out all your Light powers and just one Dark force power (Grip, of course, since everyone know that it's much easier to just toss a nasty Jedi off a cliff than it is to engage in one of those risky saber battles!).

*click*fwishZUUUUUUUUUUUUUM*


Ah, the lightsaber. Here's where Jedi Academy really gives us some fresh material. There are plenty of guns and explosives to be had in the game, but, honestly, you're here for the lightsaber. Happily, you start the game with your saber at the ready, unlike Jedi Knight and Outcast. In Jedi Knight you had to complete a few levels to find one. In Outcast, for some inexplicable reason, Kyle Katarn had given up the lightsaber and the Force only to relearn his skills.

After creating your character (which consists of selecting sex, race and clothing style), you choose your lightsaber hilt and color. Again, your inner fanboi will smile upon finding Luke's first saber in the list – the one Ben gave him. At the outset, you only have the standard single saber to choose from. As the game progresses, you are given opportunities to switch to either the double-bladed saber staff or dual sabers – one in each hand. Each saber has its own array of special moves, advantages and disadvantages. The standard saber has the familiar 3 styles to earn. The dual saber only has one style, but adds kicks and special moves. And while the saber throw is not the default secondary attack with the saber staff, it can still be thrown by deactivating the saber and then using secondary attack. The dual sabers have special moves to simultaneously attack front and back or left and right, and have one particularly devastating "defensive shield" move. The shield makes the player invulnerable while activated – something that can be frustrating when used by your foes in multiplayer.

There are also Katas (possibly Japanese for Extremely Cool-Looking Death-Dealing Death Technique of Death). Each saber type has its own kata, a multi-swing move that when properly executed, quickly makes mincemeat of a tight group of enemies (or puts the hurt on one particular guy who's ticked you off). While all of this could seem overwhelming, you'll find a helpful and easily accessible list of moves in the Datapad. That list shows the moves' animations and lists the key sequences to execute them. That makes it all the easier to master an entertaining array of stylish, effective combat techniques.

Everybody into the Pool!


Jedi Academy offers some new multiplayer modes. Beyond the standard Capture the Flag and Free For All (an insane, adrenaline-pumping deathmatch), you'll find a Siege mode, wherein two teams battle to defend/attack a stronghold. On Hoth, for example, you'll send a team of Imperials bolstered by a controllable Scout Walker to assault the base defended by the rebels. Checkpoints are acquired as certain conditions are met (destroy the power generator, etc.) until the final objective is reached and the level restarts. Players choose from several characters such as Jedi, heavy weapons troops, and others. The only trouble with Siege mode is that the levels feel a bit small. Hoth, in particular, could have benefited from some wide open areas, and it lacks cover for sneaking around.

New multiplayer action and new vehicles aside, Jedi Academy is very much like its predecessor. The jumping puzzles have been toned down in favor more intense lightsaber combat and perilous sight-seeing. This is probably all the game needed to do. After all, nobody looks cool solving a puzzle; everybody looks great slicing five stormtroopers to ribbons on a bridge spanning a cavernous, lava-filled ravine. Jedi Academy is shorter than Outcast but in many other ways an improvement. If the series maintains this level of quality, fun, and spot-on Star Warsiness, we'll be right there for Dark Forces V: Jedi Knight IV: Jedi Outcast III: Jedi Academy II: Jedi Tycoon.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 15, 2003 8:35 PM.

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