Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy - PC - Review
Jedi Academy is the latest installment in the highly acclaimed Jedi Knight franchise. In the last offering of the series, the excellent Jedi Outcast, Kyle Katarn and Luke Skywalker busted up some dark Jedi who called themselves the Reborn. This time around Kyle is a Jedi Master. His job is to teach the new Padawan recruits arriving at Luke’s Jedi Academy. Unfortunately we don’t get to play as Mr. Katarn this go round. Instead players take the reigns of Jaden. A powerful and promising new recruit who even manages to construct a new lightsaber from scratch. Oh yes the force is strong with Jaden, and Kyle agrees to help teach the young student and provide guidance.
During your arrival on Yavin 4 where the Academy is located, dark forces are awry. Tavion, who some of you may remember from Jedi Outcast, returns with a sinister plan to wipe out the Jedi for good. She is hell-bent on resurrecting a five thousand year old Sith named Ragnos. Sure Ragnos is dead, but Tavion has a powerful darkside force wielding staff that just might do the trick. Tavion and her minions who call themselves the Cult of Ragnos, go racing around the galaxy to force sensitive planets. The Ragnos staff/scepter sucks up this force and when the two are combined-look out. So its up to the Jedi to stop the evil once more as the guardians of the galaxy.
Something to note here. If you love the Jedi Knight series, but you haven’t bought Jedi Academy yet because you were waiting to read a review to see if the franchise still has life in it, then please read no further. Run to your local EBX and purchase this game because it is an ass-kicker. That’s right. Go now, you will not be disappointed. Still not convinced? Well by all means read on about this small box of gaming goodness.
As I said you play the game as Jaden the Padawan full of wondrous potential, however the goodness begins right from the startup menu. Customizing your character takes you through a whole set of options that include: gender, race-human, Twi’lek (Jabba’s dancer), and Rodian (Greedo) just to name a handful. You also need to pick your characters face, clothes, saber hilt and lightsaber color. Later on in the game as you progress the saber options increase too. There is a choice between a fast style or slower and more powerful. In addition to style you will eventually pick between staying with the tried and true one saber approach, or move on to a dual saber attack (like Anakin in Episode 2) or the double blade. I admit I went right to the Darth Maul double blade without hesitation. Each style and configuration have advantages and disadvantages, as well as certain exclusive acrobatic moves. For example every jump, kick, twist and saber snuff Maul did in the movie is possible to execute when you master the control. The keyboard and mouse control layout is smooth and responsive so mastery is just a practice click away.
The many powers of the force are present in Jedi Academy. You start the game off with basic force skills like jump, push, pull, speed etc. These base powers automatically upgrade with your natural progression through the game. However the light and dark side powers each have a set of four additional skills that the player must choose from. Each skill will impact gameplay and strategy and it is not possible to max out every force power. So choose wisely. After the completion of each mission the player gets a point to put toward a force power. If you want to kick-tail and ask questions later check out force lightning bolts, choke grip, and heal. The game also has many weapons. It is possible to complete the game by running and gunning, but to be honest I had my saber blazing all the way up to the final confrontation. Lets face it, this game is all about saber combat and the mastery of the force.
Jedi Academy is separated into a tier system. Each tier consists of five levels. Some are a fast blast that can be beat in ten or so minutes. Other levels are full of nightmarish Jedi battles and can take as long as hours to defeat. The change of pace is very refreshing, but the goodness doesn’t stop there. Each level is full of various styles of gameplay and goals. In one board you’ll have to infiltrate an alien facility battling dark Jedi all the way up a tower. In another you may be required to navigate a speeder/swoop bike across the the hostile wastelands on an unfriendly planet. At one point I ran through an underground prison arena rescuing prisoners and evading a giant Rancor. I blasted a Remnant outpost in a two legged walker. It doesn’t end there, but I don’t want to ruin any more surprises. Rest assured there is plenty to do and the game never lets the action take a dive. Jedi Academy is full throttle all the way through to the end.
Lets talk about replay value shall we? I already beat Jedi Academy once and I’m itching to go back and go through it again and I’ll tell you why. For one, I want to change my character’s appearance. I chose the double bladed Maul saber, next time I want the dual sticks. This change in blade will allow me to block attacks with one saber while throwing the second one. Next time I want to experience all the other force powers I didn’t choose the first time around. Did I mention you can choose to give yourself to the darkside? While it is true that the choice doesn’t appear until the end, it is there and it flips the story a bit. Also as I said each tier has five missions that you can play in any order, but after you beat four you are given the option to move on to a final plot progressing mission. So of course I blitzed through, which means I have at least 3 more missions I haven’t even seen yet. Now throw in a set of multiplay options that run the gamut from one on one dual to co-op siege with a bunch of arenas, and I think its safe to say Jedi Academy will be on your PC for a long time.
With varied level design and unique mission goals Jedi Academy is a refreshing blast to play. When you throw in all the customizable options for your character, saber and force powers this game begins to resemble a dream come true.
The Quake III engine is used again and it is pushed to its busting seams here. I’m impressed that it looks as good as it does. The interiors are ripe with Star Wars designing goodness and the exteriors are sprawling in some places. If you want to gripe it would be about the character models. They are fine, but appear a bit blocky when compared to the recent Unreal 2 and the Doom 3 engine on the horizon. I’d say this is the very last hoorah for the Quake III engine because the next generation of technology is ready to blow us all away.
John Williams’ dramatic soundtrack is the back bone of emotion as you battle through the hordes of dark Jedi. The laser blasts are crisp and the saber hum gives me gooseflesh. The voice acting is well done as always for a LucasArts title, especially Kyle. Crank it up and enjoy.
The great thing about this category is that you can change it. If the beginning Padawan option of difficulty is too easy then bump it up to Jedi or higher for more of a challenge. Again mastering your force powers is the key to slicing and dicing with ease as you progress through Jedi Academy.
I thought the story was rather interesting with several expanded universe (book) tie-ins that true fans will appreciate. The deviation away from Kyle as the main character was a good choice in this case. It adds a boost to the franchise and the game is just a whole helluva lot of fun to play.
Oh yes count them, six multiplayer modes. Includes free for all, duel, team free for all and even capture the flag. Unfortunately my butt gets fragged so bad it resembles a hunk of swiss cheese. Bashing the AI bots is fun though.
That’s right a very high score because once again LucasArts and Raven have delivered a title that has insane quality, engrossing gameplay with a ton of replay value and not to mention a program that is very stable. Jedi Academy is a wonderful gaming experience that will help ease the long wait until Episode III is finally released.