Star Wars: Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast
Some good Star Wars action sullied by a lot of irritating puzzles.
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This is certainly the best game I have ever played that emulates the experience of being a Jedi badass with force powers and lightsaber skills aplenty. Once you acquire your force powers you can use the force to shove people off ledges, yank weapons away from Stormtroopers, fire that super-keen blue Jedi lightning, choke enemies, and even Jedi mind trick an Imperial officer or two.
The lightsaber combat is also done quite well. The third person perspective for this weapon feels quite natural, and for the most part it is quite easy to get the hang of wielding your lightsaber. There are three different attack stances; one fast but not too damaging, one slow but very powerful, and a compromise stance. Once you have access to them all they can be cycled through at the touch of a button, allowing you to modify your lightsaber technique as the circumstances warrant.
The games visuals are quite nice as well. The environments have a totally authentic Star Wars feel. All the architecture in the game looks just as any Star Wars fan would expect it to. Bespin looks like Bespin, the interior of Imperial ships is very much as one would expect; even the switches and control panels are all oozing with Star Wars detail. The 'Death Star' multiplayer map scores especially high in the nostalgia department.
Speaking of multiplayer, it can be a fun experience, especially the Jedi Duel, a lightsaber/force powers tournament of sorts. There aren't a whole lot of maps, but the ones that are there are mostly pretty cool. The ability to customize your MP character with light or dark side force powers is a nice touch.
The games first two levels or so, before you have reacquired you lightsaber, are awful. They feel like 'Doom' in Star Wars clothes, and almost made me give up on the game before it really got underway. Gameplay in these first few levels consists of switch hunting and jumping puzzles; not exactly stuff that makes you feel like a Jedi. It is all first person, as any weapon other than your lightsaber defaults to a first person perspective, with no option to change it back to third. As an FPS, the game is average at best, and awful at worst. Things do take a turn for the better after this point, but inane puzzles still plague the rest of the game.
The enemy AI could have been better as well, but since the Stormtroopers in the movies are so stupid, it's somewhat hard to criticize the game for not breaking with that element of the films. Mostly they stand in one place and shoot at you, while you run around slicing them apart, or deflect their own lasers right back at them. One especially annoying enemy, the Garms, are only armed with thermal detonators, and throws them indiscriminately, with no concern for their own safety. The tactic feels cheap, and betrays the existence of poor AI rather early in the game.
The Bottom Line
Overall, 'Jedi Outcast' is a pretty good Star Wars action game that does a fairly nice job of capturing the feel of the early films. It's not as good as it could have been, but not nearly as bad as some Star Wars games of the past (see my review of 'Star Wars Rebellion'). I am still waiting for the Star Wars game that is really going to knock my socks off. As of this writing, 'Knights of the Old Republic' and 'Star Wars: Rebellion' are just around the corner, so here's to hoping.