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Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (PC) artwork

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (PC) review

"Star Wars is terrible. Not just those recent iterations, but the entire series. Rich science fiction settings and intriguing elements of fantasy are painfully mixed together with infantile philosophy and a massive, unforgivable layer of cheese. Being the self-controlled guy that I am, I managed to dive into the videogame rendition of the Star Wars universe by way of the oft-vaunted Jedi Outcast, without letting my previously formed opinion of the franchise affect my newly formed opinion o..."

Star Wars is terrible. Not just those recent iterations, but the entire series. Rich science fiction settings and intriguing elements of fantasy are painfully mixed together with infantile philosophy and a massive, unforgivable layer of cheese. Being the self-controlled guy that I am, I managed to dive into the videogame rendition of the Star Wars universe by way of the oft-vaunted Jedi Outcast, without letting my previously formed opinion of the franchise affect my newly formed opinion of the game, although it became clear to me that much of the gaming populace has - Star Wars fans particularly. By juxtaposing the intolerably excruciating with the overwhelmingly delicious, Jedi Outcast makes itself almost impossible to love completely, unless your love for the franchise is already unconditional.

The pain comes first, and oh is it painful. Prepare yourself for it, because you will suffer. Much to my dismay and to the developers’ sadistic delight, Kyle Katarn, former Jedi Knight and now Forceless mercenary, has forsaken his Jedi ways, leaving this anti-Star Wars gamer in agony that initially seemed perpetual, having had Jedi Outcast’s dismally broken first-person shooter engine forced upon me. Through the ornately industrial halls of Kejim base and the Artus mining facility, the locales that comprise the initial torment, Kyle and his trusty pilot, Jan Ors, will fend off legions of stormtroopers, but not with force powers and certainly not with lightsabers – because that would simply be too much fun.

The E11 Blaster Rifle – the stormtroopers’ own – is what you’re stuck with for the torturous beginning, and saying that it’s a brutally ineffective killing machine would be an understatement of massive proportions. How the Empire conquered anything when its hordes are equipped with this thing is beyond comprehension, because, at least in Kyle’s hands, unleashing its crimson rage proves to be a dishearteningly futile affair: virtually every shot passes harmlessly around the intended targets, draining the ostensibly abundant supply of ludicrously lethargic lasers with arresting quickness. The inclusion of the Bryar pistol doesn’t ameliorate the situation because its secondary charge-up shot is useless when facing more than one of these white-clad goons at a time, nor does the inclusion of the unwieldy Wookie Bowcaster, which has been cleverly designed to resemble a crossbow, a novelty that gives it some distinctive flair but doesn’t change the fact that it’s a crappy weapon.

Stuck with only these woefully cumbersome weapons for game beginning, Jedi Outcast seems to be begging you not to play it, with each potentially exciting but ultimately crippled moment eliciting tear after tear. Strafing to avoid enemy fire will drive you from cry to bawl, because it reduces you own accuracy, which makes returning fire seem even more hopeless than before. Eventually you’ll simply stay still, making sure a few of your shots actually connect, enough to bring those stormtroopers down, enough to keep you pushing onward.

And just as all hope seems lost, just as it seems that this unrelenting emasculation will never end, and just as it seems you’ll fall to the dark side due to the gloom-inducing nature of Jedi Outcast’s opening – it takes a turn for the better. A predictable plot device that shall remain unspoiled smacks Kyle hard across the face, setting up a revenge story that’s clichéd, but actually executed well enough to be compelling. (It’s without the cheese too.) At this point it becomes clear that the dreadful introduction exists to complement the narrative structure, and it actually does that well. Had the shooting mechanics been better tweaked anyway, it would be easier to temporally forgive Jedi Outcast and accept the unbridled gaming bliss that follows: this turning point sends Kyle to the Jedi Academy at Yavin, where much to my delight, he reclaims his previously forsaken lightsaber and force powers.

Prepare yourself for it, because after being brought so low, you may not be able to handle the ensuing ecstasy. Though you’ll later acquire a few guns that actually aren’t useless, you’ll quickly understand why any real Jedi trusts his lightsaber more than any other weapon. Selecting it will cause the illuminating beam to shine forth from the short metallic handle, as the camera instantly pulls back to a third-person view better suited for melee combat.

Initially the saber mechanics seem elementary, with each click simply resulting in a single, impressively animated swing, but after your first foray into lightsaber combat with even the commonest of foe, it becomes quite clear that surviving your adventures as Jedi Knight will require ample finesse of your Jedi might. Changing movement patterns will alter the nature of each strike, and deliberate, focused strokes prove infinitely more effective than simply holding down the attack button like an idiot. Mastering this art will take time and patience, somewhat like the insufferable beginning, but much more enjoyable. Few things are more satisfying than being grossly outnumbered and jumping headlong into battle anyway, lightsaber in hand, as you deftly slice through creamy alien flesh and sturdy stormtrooper armor, causing dismemberments and agonized howls. It’s simply too much fun.

And the few things that are more satisfying than that do make their way into the game: fighting saber to saber with other Jedi. Sparks fly as sabers clash repeatedly during extended aerial bouts that’ll conclude with either Kyle’s slow motion victory or Kyle’s slow motion death. (Actually, you can disable the slow motion entirely, though I certainly wouldn’t suggest it.) These encounters gradually escalate throughout the course of the game, as both the skill level and the amount of opposing Jedi slowly increments to keep things challenging while you improve. Earlier fights are easily won after a few skillful dodges and saber slashes, while later you’ll find yourself being suspended in the air by the force grip of one Jedi, while another hurls his saber, the twirling laser lance cutting through Kyle’s waist. I love it. You’ll love it.

But for all its love, Jedi Outcast still finds ways to annoy you, and even make you hate it yet again. Not content to simply have you run through levels killing enemies, Jedi Outcast inexplicably throws platform-jumping sequences your way, requiring you to employ Kyle’s Matrix-like (well, Star Wars came first actually) Force Jump in a frustrating exercise where you’ll frequently over- and under-shoot while painstakingly trying to align your jumps properly, lest you miscalculate and find yourself plummeting into the black abyss below. Making use of the Force Jump should be an integral part of any Jedi experience, but its over-sensitivity and the narrowness of the platforms turn it into an excruciating affair. While it’s a different pain, all the harsh memories of the beginning rush back to haunt you as you cringe, the pain searing uncontrollably. Foolishly you thought the torment was over once the saber was in your grasp. It doesn’t end until the game ends, and you can only accept the love Jedi Outcast has to give if you’re willing to accept the pain it dishes out as well.

Prepare yourself for Jedi Outcast, because you may not be able to handle the love-hate relationship that inevitably creates. It'll bring your hopes up high, and then send them crashing down into a blazing inferno. You’ll be ambivalent and indecisive about whether you should love it or hate it, and in the end, you’ll do both. Star Wars fans everywhere have been singing the praises of Jedi Outcast for over two years now, calling it “godsend” and whatnot, and it truly is a blessing, but no blessing before it has ever been so mixed.

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Community review by radicaldreamer (July 31, 2004)

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