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“Star Wars” is quite possibly one of (if not THE) coolest and most nostalgic science fiction franchises ever conceived. Many will probably dispute me on this, claiming that the one to sit atop that throne is Star Trek, Doctor Who, or Stargate SG-1. The reason why I believe “Star Wars” wins (other than it being a big part of my childhood) is because it encompasses so many things that draw us in to a compelling story. There are likeable and identifiable characters, out-of-this-world space adventures, rockets guns and lasers, and of course LIGHTSABERS! When it came to furthering the franchise with video games, Star Wars was a no-brainer. Which brings me to #9 on my list of Forgotten Favorites of Gaming!
#9: Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Games based on “Star Wars” have been around since the days of the Atari 2600; a gaming artifact of the 80’s that somehow still had better special effects than all the prequel movies combined. Over the years the market would be flooded with game after game, each one trying to offer a new way of experiencing the beloved franchise. Then, in November 2002, Lucas Arts brought us Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast for the PC.
Outcast was the sequel to the previous Jedi Knight title which featured Kyle Katarn, a fan favorite who made his first appearance in the first person shooter Star Wars: Dark Forces. Jedi Knight was also marketed as a first person shooter, albeit with one defining difference: lightsaber combat. Yup, for the first time ever fans were able to wield the series’ signature weapon. However, the controls revealed themselves to be clunky, difficult to get used to, and just an all-around pain to use. Jedi Outcast fixed all of that and then some.
The story sees Kyle having given up on his Jedi life due to events from the first Jedi Knight game. However when he and his longtime partner, Jan Ors, uncover a dark conspiracy, Kyle is forced to pick up his lightsaber and reconnect with the force. How is the story? For the sake of spoilers, the plot won’t be discussed in too much detail here. Suffice it to say the story is well crafted and succeeds in expanding the “Star Wars” mythos after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” Other characters from the films (lips sealed) also make surprise appearances, some as glorified cameos…others not.
Jedi Outcast is once again a first person shooter, playing in the same vein as Doom or Wolfenstein respectively. However, a single key stroke will shift the view to third person and activate Kyle’s brilliant blue lightsaber. Simply put, the lightsaber combat is phenomenally well done. The controls are intuitive. The movements are fluid. As Kyle (and the player) progresses, new stances will be unlocked, allowing for a wider range of attacks and strategies. Being able to block blaster bolts is a long established attribute of a lightsaber and thankfully the game takes care of this by auto-blocking. Yet the game does not treat the player like a child or a god and will periodically introduce enemies that truly test your abilities.
Casually carving your way through a sea of storm troopers is satisfying as hell, but the real action is in the lightsaber duels. One on one, two on one, even three on one battles pervade the game. Unlike the over choreographed dance numbers that the prequels call “duels”, the battles in Jedi Outcast are gritty and unpredictable (final fight between Luke and Vader anyone?). The game lets the player take advantage of all the possible moves and strategies learned along the way. It may sound obvious, but these battles feel like real fights. Combine the sword play with Jedi powers and acrobatics and you have a recipe for awesomeness that never EVER gets old. A sequel was also produced a few years later, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. The game featured Kyle but its main protagonist was a forgettable chunk of wood that was made during a bare bones character creation at the start of the game.
“Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast” is a fantastic addition to the “Star Wars” saga. It brought lightsaber combat to life in a way that made fans get up and roar with geeky happiness. Not since that game has it been done nearly as well, even with Wii titles like The Force Unleashed. Copies of the game are readily available for very cheap prices through Amazon or eBay. Pick one up and experience a game from a more “Civilized Age.”