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SummaryMore of the Same, and why that's good and bad.
The GoodIt’s been ten years since the defeat of the Empire above Endor’s sanctuary moon. While the New Republic continues to battle the Imperial Remnant, Luke Skywalker’s newly trained Jedi are fulfilling their historical role—that of guardian and peacekeeper. This may not be a dark time for the Republic, but it is a tenuous time for the Jedi, especially with the Cult of Ragnos threatening to resurrect the ancient Sith lord.
The Cult reveals itself during the opening cutscene, firing on a transport carrying would-be students. This is revealed to be a diversionary tactic, with the Cult’s real motive involving hacking into the Academy’s computers. If the Cult can locate areas strong with the Force then they can siphon the Force energy for their Master. At this point in the Dark Forces franchise, you’d think that only Kyle Katarn could thwart their dastardly deeds. You’d be wrong.
After the events of Jedi Outcast, Katarn is now a Jedi Master training students (of which Jaden, your character, is one). In an interesting contrast to the RPG Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Academy begins with you picking Jaden’s gender and race (KotOR offered human-only role playing). You then customize Jaden’s outfit and select a lightsaber color and hilt. As you progress through the game you also add new Force Powers, so in many ways Jedi Academy blurs the line between shooter and RPG.
While the entire game covers the Cult of Ragnos threat, the structure of Jedi Academy differs from previous entries. After the initial events and training/tutorial levels, you are presented with five missions around the galaxy. You can play the missions in any order and only have to complete four of them to advance to the next tier. The structure of the game works out to be five mini-missions followed by one larger story-related mission, repeated three times.
As you move up in tiers, your core Force powers (Jump, Speed, Push, etc) advance to the next level (up to level three- Jedi Knight). After each mission, you can add a new Force power or strengthen a preexisting one. These are the other Force powers (Light or Dark Side) like Heal, Grip, Mind Trick, etc. In an interesting switch, Force powers no longer seem to be viewed as good or evil, rather it’s how you use them.
Unlike Jedi Outcast, you start off with a lightsaber (something Jaden was able to build on his own before the Academy). Lightsaber combat is even more dynamic this time around with many more new moves and combinations. I can’t really say I figured out how to use the new moves, but with frantic button mashing I executed many of them. Towards the end of the game, you have the option of keeping with your single saber or picking dual sabers or a double-ended saber. You can also bring along the clumsy, random blaster and other weaponry if you want to try Jedi Academy as a FPS. These weapons are less vital this time around, especially against Dark Jedi who can deflect blaster bolts and Force Push missiles back in your direction.
So how is the game? The mini-missions are a lot of fun. There are plenty of different landscapes, mission types, villains, etc. You can investigate an attack on a Jawa Sandcrawler, become the hunted in a The Most Dangerous Game level, explore the acid rain blasted ruins of Vader’s Bast Castle, plant targets on an orbital platform for a Rogue Squadron assault, and more. Within the missions you can ride Tauntauns on Hoth, race along on swoop bikes, turn a capital ship’s turrets against a wave of TIE Fighters, and kill many many Stormtroopers and Dark Jedi.
The BadSo what’s wrong with this game?
First off, this is the first Dark Forces game which isn’t a great improvement over its predecessor. In-game graphics are great and the rendered cutscenes look great, but the cutscenes using the game’s engine are poor. Lip-synching is way off and character animation is clumsy. Pathfinding seems to be missing in missions where characters fight along side you and they are also less effective this time around and more prone to falling down chasms, not reacting to combat situations, and (in one strange situation) attacking each other. Finally, spawning is very visible in this game—it’s very disconcerting to see enemies beam in right in front of you.
Then, while the mini-missions are varied, there is no depth to them so you have a nonlinear game comprised of very linear missions. One mission was so strictly scripted that I had to restart the mission when I took the wrong path. Other missions end abruptly once the goals have been met, so in some cases it may be possible to escape combat and just run from objective to objective.
Finally, the story is serviceable but lacks the punch of Dark Forces, the scope of Jedi Knight, or the richness of Jedi Outcast. Jedi Academy does feature a Light and Dark Side path, near the very end of the game. Unlike Jedi Knight, which had a primitive, but workable, alignment system, Jedi Academy stops the game at a crucial moment and tells the player: “Do this to be on the Light Side or do this to be on the Dark Side.” The end result is something that feels like a compilation of mod missions, feebly tied together.
The Bottom LineWhere does this leave us?
Jedi Academy is still a great game, but it suffers in comparison to Jedi Outcast. I would recommend this game for its fun, short missions that mix familiar worlds and characters with new planets and enemies. I think it misses the mark set previously, but it was such a high mark.