Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, for the PC

Presentation

First things first; I am not a big Star Wars fan. I'm one of the casuals, who think that lightsabers are nifty weapons, that the movies had great music, and I appreciate the overall adventurous tone. That's about it. Having said that, I am in no position to verify how accurate and carefully intertwined this game's story is with the Star Wars universe.

However, I can say that I liked it anyway. You play the role of a fairly new student in the Jedi Academy named Jaden Korr, who is being taught by Luke Skywalker, and Kyle Katarn. Jaden soon meets Rosh Penin, an obnoxious young show-off, who's alignment will best be considered shaky throughout the tale.

Very soon after, Jaden encounters members of a strange cult, but is knocked unconcious before learning much. Luke will later share that this cult is being led by Tavion, who was the apprentice of the previous game's lead antagonist. Tavion possesses the Scepter of Ragnos, and she is using it to absorb large ammounts of force energy wherever possible, in hopes of reviving an old Sith Lord, Marka Ragnos.

The story is presented marginally well. It follows the tried and true standard of "Cutscene > Gameplay > Cutscene > Mission Result". Menu navigation is pretty stylized. Most of the information you need is left for you in your PDA-like device, accessed with the TAB key. FMVs are sparsely used for most outer space scenes. You will also meet with more well known characters like Chewbacca and Boba Fett.

Graphics

While most people are busy consuming fancy graphical terms, I am happy with just quality models and detailed textures, and this game has plenty of both. The game runs on an enhanced Quake 3 engine, as many other PC titles of it's time did. This makes it quite scalable in terms of spec requirements. You could run this game well enough on a GeForce 2 MX, if you had to. The few graphical effects the game does use, are used very well. There's a nice motion blur applied to your player during certain force powers. Sparks will fly during most fights. Light blooming is applied to many objects, from lightsabers, right down to lava.

Very few areas in this game stand out in a bad way. That is, except for the cutscene animations and lipsyncing. These are truly terrible. I've seen muppets with more convincing verbal mastery, and the scripted actions like running, to jumping, to fighting, is again...comparible to a muppet's capabilities. But outside of these break points, the game moves very nicely.

Sound

Nearly everything here is made up of the familiar LucasArts-licensed sound effects and music. This is good because if you have experienced anything Star Wars, you know your ears are in for a real treat. But this can also be bad because if you are even a moderate fan like myself, you've heard every second of this audio probably 500 times before. Let's just say I didn't feel inclined to crank the speakers up too high. I'd like to say that if you are a total newbie to the franchise, then you will love it, but let's be honest here. I would only be speaking to about 5 candidates in the world, who fit that prerequisite.

Gameplay

The game offers a great blend of first-person and third-person action. First-person view is used for the operation of stationary turrets of all kinds, as well as your entire arsenal of weapons, with the exception of the lightsaber. From this view, the experience is just like any other FPS you might have played on PC before. You've got handguns, auto-rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, railguns, grenades, trip mines, detonation packs, and more. All of it is authentic Star Wars weaponry, which obviously means that in the place of bullets, you fire energy shots, which do travel at set speeds. You could probably get through the entire game using just these weapons, but in some situations it wouldn't be advised.

The third-person view is used for the operation of most vehicles, and all lightsaber usage. Unlike Jedi Outcast, you are granted a lightsaber right from the start. Like you would imagine, the lightsaber offers immense damage potential, at the cost of risking your life in close quarters fights. The saber can be utilized with three different fighting styles, not including the styles appointed to the double bladed and dual weilding options. There is a surprising ammount of depth to the saber combat, especially once you begin to fight other force weilding foes. Pressing the attack button, in combination with your style, stance, vertical angle, and movement direction, or any combination of these, will yield different results, and this isn't even getting into the combos or special moves.

The problem is, the hit detection can often be very poor with the saber. There are times when you do a clean forword stab, and miss by a foot, but still kill the enemy. Othertimes, you can cut right through an enemy in a frantic fight, and you even see the sizzling effect from the saber touching his/her model, but no life is lost. You can even humorously stand still, pointing the saber right into the skull of a character, and watch as it has no effect on their condition, despite what the fireworks flying out of their hair might indicate.

Outside of the lightsaber, this viewpoint offers an extreme variety of acrobatic abilities including rolling, wall jumping, wall running, backflipping, and more. It is the better viewpoint to use for the platforming aspects of the game, to be sure. You are also shown a crosshair at all times, which is handy for when you chose to manually switch to third-person while using one of your guns.

Your force abilities add further depth to the game. There are 8 neutral, 4 light side, and 4 dark side force powers. The neutrals mostly consist of inhuman traits like high jumps, super speed, and showy lightsaber skills. Light side offers defensive and non-violent answers to problems, like a force field, healing, and the popular mind trick. Dark side powers you with aggresive displays like lightning, gripping (choking someone from a distance), and rage, which is a type of "berserk" trait, which overpowers you to the point of eventual harm. The force powers serve as nice alternative solutions to the issues the game presents to you. If you give each a taste, and never forget that they are there, then the game will seem much less repetitious to you, throughout the missions.

I feel that the game should have offered some actual strategic advice on the usage of your weapons, moves, and force powers. Your PDA device gives quick explanations to each, but doesn't give you any practical or creative ideas on how to use them. It also only lists about half of your special moves, and how they are pulled off, and it makes you think that this is all you have, but this isn't true. You will be accidentally performing new moves even after beating the game. For example, you can jump godly distances, by turning on force speed, and immediately jumping in a direction. The camera will spin around you, confirming the move, as you fly through the air like a missile. This could be used to gain extreme shortcuts in some missions.

I didn't have too much trouble beating the game on the second difficulty, but I might have been abusing the save-state function a bit. Some levels could have used a little tweaking to offer slightly more guidance on where to go next. There were times where I was totally stumped on where my heading was, since I don't think the game has any built in maps. In most situations, just remember that the design is very linear, and your next path is very close by. Also remember that the tide can turn very quickly in a saber fight. You can go from healthy to dead in 1 second if you don't deflect a strong attack or two, so try to remain calm and in control during the duels.

Jedi Academy also sports a deep online multiplayer side. It comes loaded with most of the standard modes like Free For All and Capture The Flag, as well as some sequential 1-on-1 dueling modes. The online community is still very active. You will find that many of the FFA servers sport a playful atmosphere, not unlike what you would find in an MMORPG. Some servers will have players running around freely challanging anyone, while others may have a cluster of people camped out and chatting it up, while watching a couple duel out on a platform. It's a fairly vocal community, compared to what you'd find in most strict FPS games. The modding community is also very large, with plenty of worthy downloads to try out.

Stability

I came across very few bugs, which is great as far as PC games go. It never crashed on me, even in windowed mode. It ran flawlessly on the highest possible settings, along with 16xAF, and 4xAA. One problem I did have two times was with the sound. The sound effects began to crackle, and eventually go mute. Hitting ESC twice fixed the issue. The other problem lied with the overall configuration not getting saved in the multiplayer portion of the game. I've had to reconfigure my settings three times now. Still, these are pretty minor.

Overall

You can buy the game for $10 new at most retail chains, and it runs on even the weakest of gaming PCs. It offers a very solid experience, with a free online mode to keep you hooked. If you are a Star Wars fan, you've probably already bought it. If you are a fan of First Person Shooters, it's a definite buy. Finally, if you're a fan of third person action titles, I'd give it some serious thought.

7.5 out of 10

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