Written by: Rik

Date posted: July 18, 2005


No blasters!

You’ve got to hand it to LucasArts: every time you think they’ve exhausted all possibilities for new Star Wars games, they go and announce some more. Sure, the quality hasn’t remained as high as it might have, and some might say that it’s quite a lucrative way of exploiting those who’ll happily buy anything with ‘Star Wars’ written on it, but at least they’ve got virtually every angle covered. Sure, most people want to fly an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon, but others may want to race against a cutesy, miniaturised version of Darth Maul or play through Episodes I-III with only Lego for company. Or play Rebel Assault.

Among the more understandable spin-offs was Dark Forces, the first Star Wars FPS. You played the part of Kyle Katarn, dashing/miserable mercenary, hired by the Rebel Alliance to find the Death Star plans and generally do a bit of running around and shooting stuff. While marred by some dull bits, it was pretty good fun overall, if only for giving to the opportunity to get your hands on a blaster and dispatch legions of hapless stormtroopers. In short, it pretty much allowed you to do most of the things you could possibly want to do in a Star Wars FPS, short of, you know, stretching out with your feelings and waving a lightsaber around.

Well, in Jedi Knight, Kyle’s back, and (wait for it) he’s discovered that he’s actually a Jedi. What’s more, a Dark Jedi called Jerec is responsible for his father’s death and has plans to unleash further evil by unlocking the power of the mysterious the Valley of the Jedi. Armed with a lightsaber, Kyle must learn the ways of the force to defeat the Dark Jedi and, ultimately, Jerec.

While some of the architecture is impressively huge, it's also quite boxy and basic.

First things first: it’s not the most gripping storyline in the world. Perhaps it’s the post-Return of the Jedi setting, maybe it’s the absence of any significant Imperial baddies, but matters certainly aren’t helped by the FMV cut-scenes, which are cheap-looking and badly acted. The Dark Jedi are particularly unconvincing, with dodgy costumes and hammy performances abound. Katarn himself, meanwhile, is so clean-cut they probably had to glue his beard on, and it’s difficult to believe that this is an older version of the cynical mercenary from Dark Forces. As for the effects, well, you can appreciate that they probably didn’t have a massive budget, but you’d expect LucasArts to at least get look of the lightsabers right.

The game itself is very similar to Dark Forces, particularly the opening levels when you don’t have access to a lightsaber and have to settle for a clumsy, unwieldy blaster at your side. The graphics have been improved, of course, although it has to be said they’re looking a little ugly these days. For various reasons, apparently to do with improving performance on lower-spec, non-accelerated machines, the polygon count on the characters is pretty low, with Kyle in particular looking as if he’s been constructed from cereal boxes. The environments are pretty rectangular, too, but they are also huge, and even now the sense of scale is impressive, although the levels occasionally fall into the same trap as its predecessor in featuring too many grey and boring rooms.

Three actors hired on the cheap...and probably feeling very silly indeed.

Early on, you may well feel as if Jedi only offers superficial improvements over Dark Forces. You dodge, you shoot, you get the key – you know the drill. However, the game really starts to open up when you pick up your lightsaber and begin your way down the Jedi path. This should really come as no surprise, considering that all of Jedi Knight‘s standout features involve, ahem, using the force. As you progress through the game, and depending on your performance, you’ll acquire ‘force points’, which you can then allocate to the various ‘force powers’ available to you (although the powers themselves are not all available from the start and have to be earned, too). The earliest powers at your disposal will be speed and jump – which become increasingly necessary to navigate some of the massive levels. Exploration becomes more and more important, and frequently you’ll be required to make improbable jumps only possible with the aid of these powers.

It’s at moments like these that Jedi is at its strongest, with the massive, open levels offering up all kinds of possibilities. Moreover, making a particularly difficult jump makes the whole thing feel more Jedi-y and less like a standard FPS. Some of the other generic Jedi powers are also pretty cool, you can use pull to relieve enemies of their weapons and leave them running around in a confused and helpless manner. Some of the other force powers are light or dark side specific. Initially you can pick and choose, but at some point you have to go down one path or the other; which you go down depends on your ‘force morality’ – defined by your choice of light and dark powers thus far, and also whether you happen to have blasted any helpless civilians along the way. It almost goes without saying that some of the light side powers are helpful but wussy, whereas if you choose the dark side you can shoot lightening out of your hands like Palpatine. No wonder it’s the quick and easy path!

Good against remotes, that's one thing...

The lightsaber is of some use in general combat; it can block blaster fire and take out a few enemies in close quarters, but generally you need to use it to fight the Dark Jedi. Effectively ‘boss’ characters who turn up every few levels, the Dark Jedi use a combination of Jedi powers and lightsaber combat and the general idea is that you have a big ol’ battle like in the films. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that well – the lightsaber isn’t particularly well implemented, and works pretty much as well as any melee weapon in these kind of games. It all amount to lengthy bouts of inelegant stabbing, with the occasional bit of running around and jumping randomly. At best, it’s like playing taking on an end of level baddie in something like Final Fight – but in 3D and a lot more fiddly.

And this is where Jedi Knight ultimately falls down. The more traditional FPS bits are much better than Dark Forces – the levels are bigger, and you can explore them more fully. However, some of the Jedi bits – specifically the lightsaber and the battles with Dark Jedi – are clumsy and tiresome. Generally, Jedi Knight fails to build any momentum. Personally, just as I found myself getting into the game it would suddenly be ruined by another end-of-level clash with one of the bosses. It might have been more acceptable if the storyline were more involving – but the FMV sections are pretty bad (though thankfully quite short) and you may well find that the plot passes you by.

Jedi Knight is a mixed bag, really. On the one hand, it’s better than Dark Forces, but on the other hand it fails to make the most of the Star Wars license and all of the potentially cool (okay, not technically the right word) stuff associated with being a Jedi that goes along with it. Factor in a dull storyline, terrible cut-scenes and the fact that the graphics have aged really badly, and you’re left with a game which you can probably take or leave. If you enjoyed Dark Forces and never got around to this, then you’ll probably enjoy it – just don’t expect too much.