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Jedi Knight, Lucas Arts, 1998
Note: This game's full title is Star Wars: Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight.
Jedi Knight is a great game. Set in a well-known universe, the game takes full advantage of its franchise. The graphics are good quality, the story is cool (with a few caveats, mostly to do with the acting in the cutscenes), and the game has a certain appealing fun factor. I've played most other current first person shooters, and they have just seemed pointless to me. Jedi Knight is inherently the same in many ways -- you're just running around shooting things -- but the combination of extra options the game gives the gamer lift it above the crowd. And yes, I'm dismissing everything from Quake 2 to Outwars, but I haven't had a chance yet to give Unreal a try. Jedi Knight has its own share of problems, but it is one of the few games that has overcome my ennui about the genre. As simple as that.
Kyle Katarn returns from Dark Forces, except now he is finding out that he is more than a simple mercenary. His father was a Jedi, and Jedi Knight can be seen as a story of self-discovery. The gamer controlling Katarn's character gets to choose whether he goes to the Light Side or the Dark Side of the Force, and that's not an isolated decision, but a combination of three things. A Light Jedi will naturally not run around killing civilians or choose Dark Side powers when a rise in Force ability yields new options for Force powers. The third element has to do with a decisive branching point in the plot which I'll talk about in a minute. Unfortunately, the actor who plays Kyle Katarn in the cutscenes, Jason Court, is annoying. He has a little thing that he does with his eyes that is severely irritating. In the most irritating example, his sidekick Jan gives him some good advice at one point, and Kyle says, "Then you'll just have to rescue me," and bats his eyes at her. In normal life, I would describe him as a weenie, but since this is a serious review I won't use that word. In any case, this lack of sympathy for Katarn hampers the game. But it's only part and parcel of the bad acting in the full-motion video (FMV) cutscenes. I liked Katarn's sidekick, Jan, as played by Angela Harry, but everyone else should be advised to keep their day jobs. Boc, the latex man, was one of the worst offenders, but Jerec, the ultimate Dark Jedi in this game, was also pathetic. Certainly not in the same league of evil as Darth Vader.
Each level is tied in nicely to the plot. The first two levels, set on the space city of Nar Shaddaa, were awe-inspiring and led to quite a few exclamations of wonder and excitement on my part. Once Katarn escapes from that locale, he has to go to his father's house to discover more about his past (and to finally find a light sabre!). The levels near Katarn's father's house were not quite as good as the rest of the game, and were very reminiscent of something from Raven (like Hexen, for example). My thoughts about the other levels were mixed. Often impressive, but never causing the same impact as the opening ones. Level 15, The Falling Ship, was nasty and ingenious, as Katarn tries to escape a ship that is tumbling to the bottom of a canyon. A nice showpiece for the 3D engine. I appreciated the level design philosophy where there were many dangers but also many safeguards against stupid moves. In a real building, there is always a logical way out of each location, otherwise why the heck would the people build it that way. Jedi Knight gave a good sense that rational people in the future (or rather in a galaxy that is far, far away) would be telling their robot workers to build such structures. Each of the levels where Katarn battles a Dark Jedi got better and better. The first time we see Yun is in a small dining hall. Later on, the battles with Boc and Jerec had better locations, but I think the duel with Maw was my favourite.
There are 21 levels in the game, and the player makes the definitive choice between Light and Dark at the end of level 14. Let's just say that if you swing your light sabre at a certain point, you are a truly sick and twisted individual, worthy of the Dark Side. All of the levels are the same after that, but there are ingenious developments in the plot according to which side of the Force you have chosen. For example, Katarn chooses not to kill Yun after that first duel (Level 5 or 6, I believe). If you go to the Dark Side, you have to fight him again in level 16. But if you go to the Light Side, Yun does something much different at the beginning of the 16th level and you end up fighting Sariss instead. Of the climactic cutscenes for the Light or Dark Sides, I found the Dark Emperor one (as it's called) more satisfying, if a bit silly. Also ridiculous is the fact that Katarn "gets the girl" in either case -- he is neither charming nor evil. I give Lucas Arts credit for trying so hard, and I admit that FMV was part of what gave the game its interesting atmosphere.
Jedi Knight has no bugs that I noticed. The graphics were decent, and ran very smoothly at 1024x780 on my brother's computer (a P2 with 3D card and lots of RAM). I noticed only a few clipping problems as I played, but quite a few oddities in viewpoint when I switched to third person camera (not quite as bad as Tomb Raider 2 though). I liked the interface -- the defaults were set out logically and I used them -- and the install, set-up, and save/load parts of the game all ran nicely. Lucas Arts does a very professional job with the whole package of a game, and I was impressed with everything about Jedi Knight, from what went on the hard drive to what I was reading in the manual. Good work.
Last modified: July 13, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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