Star Wars Jedi Knight II Jedi Outcast WII PAL NGC-SUNSHiNE
English | Platform: Wii | Release: 3 January, 2012 | Publisher: LucasArts | Developer: Raven Software | 1.25 GB
Things have changed somewhat since I wrote my first impressions. I've finally finished the game and while I still think Jedi Outcast has some minor shortcomings, the overall experience makes this one of the best games I've played so far this year.
If you're even remotely interested in this one, you should go buy it and play it. In case that's not enough of a review for you, maybe the following explanation will help convince you...
For those of you who are just joining us (or like Dan are just a bit slow), Jedi Outcast is the latest in a series of action games focusing on Kyle Katarn, an ex-jedi turned mercenary. Kyle gave up on the whole Force thing after he was tempted by the Dark Side in the last game. You'll lead Kyle back to the jedi path through dozens of missions in his quest for...well, that gives too much away. Lets just say that what begins as a simple mission for Mon Mothma soon turns into an intergalactic tale of love and revenge that involves the future of the jedi. While that would be a bold claim for any game, Jedi Outcast pulls it off wonderfully.
Everything is tied together with a tightly written, mature plot. Kyle's motivations and the progression of the story are all handled with a touch that is at once both subtle and unrelenting. Each section of the story is set off by some really fantastic cutscenes. There's a nice balance and sense of pace here. Too many cutscenes in games are either unnecessary or overly long. While the cutscenes in Jedi Knight II are pretty beefy, there's always enough action going on to keep you interested.
The game's actually prompted a few discussions around the office about the use of licenses within games. Without going in to too much detail, I'll just say that the game uses a lot of the conventions ( cliches if you're on the other side of the argument) of the movies. I tend to think you're sort of expected to know that going in. I mean, what's a Star Wars game without a garbage masher level? Beyond that, you'll fight in a bar filled with dozens of space gangster aliens, lock sabers with your enemies on a narrow causeway teetering high above a yawning void and have a heart-to-heart with the jedi master about how to best use your rage for revenge.
Graphically, Jedi Outcast is fantastic. The items in the game that come from the movies are pleasantly accurate and the items not from the movies are conceived and rendered in a style that's perfectly in keeping with the overall design. Fighting off wave after wave of stormtroopers as you explore the interior of Cloud City is remarkably compelling, not only as a consequence of the superb models but also as a consequence of the animations. Each enemy spins and crumples according to context. You may shoot one guy and see him go spinning up into the air (and down a flight of stairs if you time it right). Other enemies may just collapse in place when you've sniped them in the head.
The enemies themselves aren't too terribly bright but that's in keeping with the license I suppose. Some enemies are quite smart. They'll try to get around behind you even if it means passing through a few other rooms. Other enemies will just walk back and forth along a single path until you kill them. There's a wide variety of enemies here -- from a new class of evil jedi to the rank and file stormtroopers to the mercenary Rodians.
While exploring the levels of Jedi Knight II I was really struck not only with how faithfully the world of Star Wars was recreated, but also with the intelligence behind most of the level design. The scale here is the first strength of the levels. Everything's really big and there's a staggering sense of height on some of the levels. The size of the levels is aided by the surprisingly lack of zones or load barriers. Cool secret areas are scattered throughout the game to reward players who have a mind to go exploring.
I also loved the sounds in the game. Almost all of the effects will be instantly recognizable to anyone who's seen the movies. Appropriately, the lightsabers, doors, guns and ships all make convincing vwings, shhps, fahtows ands chughghs. It's also nice that the team was able to get Billy Dee Williams to record the lines for Lando. Billy Dee's getting kind of old but he still manages to deliver. What's most surprising is that Raven couldn't get Mark "I'll Do Your Voiceovers for Free" Hammill. In any case, the actor delivering Luke's lines is pretty good. In fact, all of the voice acting is top notch -- even the throwaway lines and little conversations within the missions are delivered well.
If there's one area in which the game could stand a bit of a tweak, it's the puzzles. Don't get me wrong; I loved every crate shoving, dark maze exploring, platform jumping, button pushing minute of it, but most of the puzzles in the game are a little too hard and a lot too ridiculous. Some of them are of the type that's so obvious once you figure it out that you want to kill yourself for not seeing it an hour earlier; others make you question the enemy's logic in putting the button that sends power to the communication array in a tiny room floating high above an abyss that's only accessible by a sequence of catlike jumps.
At least the game has a quick save option.
If there was a second thing that needed to be improved, it would be the lightsaber interface. Overall, it's quite good but it requires a substantial warm-up period. At first it seems way more clumsy and/or random than a blaster could ever be, but after I got the hang of it, it was my weapon of choice throughout the rest of the game. The hardest thing to get used to is that your choice of attack is controlled with the movement keys. If you want to swing to the right, you've got to strafe left, for instance. This is ameliorated somewhat if you're walking instead of running but it's still a bit of a pain, especially so given that the game places so many lightsaber battles on the edges of canyons, chasms, gorges, rifts and otherwise bottomless abysses. Having each attack be tied to a move is a real pain in the ass.
What makes the lightsaber truly effective are the Force powers. In the hands of someone who's played the game for a few days, the Force powers and lightsabers make a deadly combination. You can push your enemies up against a wall or snatch the weapons right out of their hands. At later levels you can control the minds of your enemies, blast them with bolts of electricity or choke them from across the room. The default interface for this is a bit inconvenient but with some inventive hotkeying you can set things up for maximum efficiency. It's too bad that you can't pick your own Force powers here like you could in the previous game but the game increases your skills according to a script. This not only promotes good play balance but also ensures that you'll have the right skills for the puzzles ahead.
And while you can't pick your own Force powers, I was happy to see that (with a few exceptions) the game lets you use them the way that you want. I've come to the realization of something that Dan and Ivan probably already knew -- I'd be a pretty evil jedi. From the first moment I could disarm my opponents and render them absolutely helpless, my journey down the road to the Dark Side began. I'd lop off arms, push people down elevator shafts or just throat choke 'em a bit before flinging them against a wall and then dropping them down the elevator shaft. I see why the Dark Side is so attractive.
But as free as you are to use the Force powers in as evil or benign a method as you'd like, your progression through the missions is pretty straightforward. I found a few instances where the story branched off a bit but these diversions quickly rejoined the main trunk. Thankfully, your own approach to completing these levels is pretty open. For instance, I couldn't beat the so-called "stealth" level to save my life. Thankfully, if you're on the ball, you can go in with guns blazing or lightsaber swinging and still manage to take care of business.
The direct approach is also rewarded in the game's awesome multiplayer games. The standard deathmatch and capture the flag modes (in solo and team mode) are included but there's more to be experienced here. The duel mode, in which only two players fight at any time, is intense but there's far too much downtime for the other players between matches. Capture the Ysalamiri is another interesting idea. Each player tries to capture the Ysalamiri, a small lizard that dampens the use of Force powers. You get a chance to buy Force powers before the multiplayer match starts and there are a whole range of new, multiplayer-only Force powers.
The option to add bots for any or all of the opponents is good. The fact that each of the bots has unique preferences and tactics makes it even better. Unfortunately, like Elite Force, the game has two separate executables for the single player and multiplayer portions of the game so you'll have to quit one to start the other. Even so, the multiplayer side of Jedi Knight II will ensure the title stays fresh long after you've saved the galaxy from extinction.
Did I mention that one of the levels takes place on the Death Star?
I like Jedi Knight way more now than I did in the first few days of playing it. I think this is as much my not getting it as it is that the game starts too slowly. Normally I rail against games that don't grab my attention quickly enough but the investment in Jedi Knight II has more than paid off with hours and hours of pure, unashamed enjoyment (and more than a few minutes of rage and frustration at a few poorly conceived puzzles).
Raven's to be commended for their fantastic "don't call it a comeback" with the recent trilogy of shooters -- Soldier of Fortune, Elite Force and now Jedi Outcast. Each one comes with enough substance and style to fill up three or four lesser games. When it comes down to it, I played this game far too much, putting off all other obligations and interests until it was done.
Not only is this one of the greatest Star Wars games I've ever played, it's one of the best action games period. Get it, Play it, Love it.