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Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

Developer: Raven Software | Publisher: LucasArts
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 09/17/03 | Genre: FPS

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is the second Jedi Knight game developed by Raven. Their first effort in the series, Jedi Outcast, was met with success, both with critics and gamers. However, Jedi Academy has some pretty significant differences from the previous game. Is it an improvement? Well, let's first take a quick look at the whole series to see what's going on. Newcomers will definitely want to pay attention as they will understand the story of Jedi Academy a little better if they've never played the past few games.

The titles in this game series can be a little confusing, but Jedi Academy is the third Jedi Knight game, and actually the fourth game in a continuous series. It all started with Star Wars: Dark Forces. It was a first person shooter that featured a new character in the Star Wars Universe: Kyle Katarn. Taking place just before Episode IV, Kyle is a mercenary hired by the Rebels to help them discover the plans of the Death Star. He soon finds some other nefarious projects are going on too though. The next game, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, skips to post-Episode VI time. In this game, we discover that Kyle's father has been killed by a Dark Jedi. In order to avenge his father, Kyle trains to become a Jedi Knight. This is when Force powers and lightsaber combat enter the series. The player is faced with some interesting choices too. Depending on how force powers are developed, the story, and ultimately the ending can be changed. Kyle eventually defeats the Dark Jedi exacting vengeance (or revenge?), while in the process, becoming a Jedi himself. Depending on the choices the player made, Kyle either became a good Jedi, or an evil Dark Jedi. However, after that, Kyle decided that being a Jedi wasn't really for him and he wanted to go back to being a plain old mercenary again. This is where Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast starts off. The New Republic hires Kyle to do some mercenary work. However, when his partner is kidnapped by a Dark Jedi, he realizes that he must once again become a Jedi if he is to save her. After a few levels of being a regular mercenary, Luke Skywalker himself will re-train Kyle at the new Jedi Academy. Jedi Outcast was the first Star Wars game that Raven had developed. They really took their knowledge of making FPS games and applied it really well to Jedi Outcast and making an awesome lightsaber combat engine with Force powers. That is what set Jedi Outcast apart from other FPS. Sure there were plenty of guns, but the real fun began when you developed Force powers and started using a lightsaber. The story was pretty interesting too. Luke Skywalker played a prominent role, as did a couple other classic characters. Although, they are weak now, the Imperials are still around. They are known as the Remnant. The New Republic and Luke's new Jedi Order are trying to restore peace to the galaxy after the fall of the Empire. Kyle Katarn plays a key role in all of this, and during that time, Luke remains worried about Kyle's future as a Jedi. In the end, Kyle becomes a true Jedi Knight, and that is where Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy takes off.

As I said, Jedi Academy features some departures from the previous games in the series. For one thing, rather than contrive another reason for why Kyle has lost his Force powers so the player can develop them again, he will not be the playable character. Instead, players will create a custom-made character that has been enrolled as a new student at Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy. In fact, Kyle Katarn is a Jedi Master instructing at the academy. Both Luke and Kyle will be prominent characters in the story, but the main character is your custom-made character, named Jaden. For as much as Lucas Arts hyped up the create-a-character mode before the game's release, this feature turned out to be a little disappointing. Perhaps I've just been spoiled by the amount of customization in Star Wars Galaxies, but the create-a-character mode for Jedi Academy seems a little bland. There are five different species that you can be, and even the gender choice is limited: Human (male or female), Twi'lek (female only), Rodian (male only), Zabrak (female only), and Kel Dor (male only). After selecting your species/gender, you get to select a head. There are only a handful of heads for each species. You can't customize your face, skin color, or hair. For instance, if you choose a Human male, you have to choose among just three heads. There are two white guys and a black guy. After you choose your head, you can choose among some different shirts and pants to wear. You can't really create a unique character. You can only "mix ?��n' match" a limited number of parts. It would have been really nice if you could change at least your hair and skin color, and had more heads to choose from. After you've created your character, you get to pick a lightsaber color and hilt. There is actually a pretty good selection of hilts to choose from. Now you're ready to start your journey towards becoming a Jedi Knight!

Of course, since the main character (Jaden) is supposed to be a representation of you, the character development for Jaden isn't as deep as it was with Kyle in the last three games, but that's to be expected. The story for Jedi Academy is pretty interesting, although the pacing isn't quite as good as it was with Jedi Outcast. The main reason for this is because the 24 missions are broken up into chunks in which the player chooses the order, and chunks of required missions. So the first few missions can be played in any order, and you can even skip one if you want to. Then you will play chunk of missions that are required and go in a specific order. Then you will once again play some missions the way you choose and then play some more required missions. This cycle repeats itself three or four times. The "optional" missions either don't relate to the larger story, or if they do, it's not terribly important. Then of course, the required missions feature a lot of plot development. It's an interesting change of pace, even if the story gets a bit choppy. The story is basically about you training to become a Jedi in the new Jedi Order. However, as you go on routine training missions you start to discover the activities of a mysterious Sith cult. As you grow stronger in the Force, Luke Skywalker entrusts more and more important missions to you. This Sith cult is working with the Imperial Remnant and is attempting to siphon Force energy from all over the galaxy. Eventually the main concern will be finding out what the cult is actually trying to do with the energy and then stop them from doing it. The plot develops through cutscenes which feature the welcomed return of the voice actors from Jedi Outcast. They do a great job with the dialogue and it helps the player become involved in the story.

The graphics of Jedi Academy are very similar to Jedi Outcast, but there are some notable enhancements. The lightsabers now cast a nice glow on the environment and objects around them. There are also new decal effects such as burn marks on bodies from lightsabers and laser blasts. There is a great deal of texture variety. There's a wide range of environments, and they are all represented well. You'll visit huge cities, deserts, snowy mountains, Imperial bases, and industrial complexes floating in the clouds. Each level is filled with little details to immerse the player and give the game a sense of believability. The particle effects are great too, and they're used a lot. The animation is excellent. That's a good thing to, because with all of the fast-paced lightsaber action, good animations are need so that the player can "feel" what is going on and how his or her character controls.

You can't go wrong with Star Wars music. The game is filled with tons of great Star Wars music and intelligent transitions to weave them altogether. The music really helps set the mood of each level and situation. The sound effects are equally pleasing. There's a large variety of lightsaber hums, laser blasts, explosions, thuds, clanks, and so on. I can't complain about the sound. That goes for the voice acting too. Well C-3P0's voice is a little off, but they got a really good imitation of Mark Hammil's voice (for Luke Skywalker), and the original characters are done well too. There are so many little details to admire in terms of both graphics and sound. Little touches such as raindrops steaming off as they hit your lightsaber show off Raven's attention to detail.

Jedi Academy isn't something extremely new. It doesn't feature any radical innovations over Jedi Outcast. I think of it as a more refined, more evolved game. They took what they did in Jedi Outcast and added more depth and variety to it. That resulted in a very solid game. Jedi Outcast was very good to begin with. Jedi Academy made it much more fun and interesting. Of course, the thing that sets the Jedi Knight games apart from other first person shooters is the use of lightsabers and Force powers. Unlike Jedi Outcast, in Academy, you have a lightsaber from the very beginning of the game. Lightsaber combat is done in a third person view. At first glance, lightsaber fighting might look like nothing more than randomly slashing at things. Sure, in the beginning of the game, the easier enemies, even the first few Dark Jedi you face, can be defeated this way. However, to be able to progress in later levels of the game, you are going to have to understand Jedi Academy's fairly deep lightsaber combat. This is where Raven has added the most improvements I think. There are many more moves to learn in Jedi Academy. Not only do you need to learn how to use them, but you need to learn how to defend against them as well. In the beginning of the game, you wield a single lightsaber, and you fight with what is called Medium style. Later in the game, when you become more attuned to the Force, you can learn a new combat style, Light, or Strong. You will even have the opportunity to wield two lightsabers at once, or use a double-bladed lightsaber. Each style and type of lightsaber has certain abilities that can be performed. Although learning these moves takes some practice, it's not too hard to execute. The controls are fairly intuitive and don't involve too many buttons. One you have progressed through the game some, you'll be able flip off of walls, flip over opponents, perform cartwheels, even walk up walls during lightsaber combat. Fighting normal enemies such as Stormtroopers becomes fairly easy, as it should be for a Jedi. However, you'll really need to draw on your skills when you fight Dark Jedi. They also use a variety of combat styles and saber types. Knowing the right moves in the right situations is crucial to beating the tougher Dark Jedi. It's also really satisfying.

The Force progression is one thing Raven has nailed down. Each Force power has three ranks, and they are upgraded between missions. For example, when you have Force Push at rank 1, you can knock down one enemy or push one object from a short distance away. At rank 3, you can push multiple enemies and objects from a large distance away. There are three sets of Force powers. The core powers are Push, Pull, Jump, Speed, and Sense. These upgrade automatically at certain points in the game. Push and Pull are extremely useful in combat, but they are also used to solve some puzzles. The other two sets of Force powers are Light and Dark. These force powers are chosen by the player. It is not possible to upgrade every Force power to rank 3 by the end of the game, so the player must decide which Force powers will suit their playing style. The Light Force powers are primarily defensive. The Dark Force powers are primarily offensive and destructive. Choices that the players make in the game will affect the ending. Force powers are not only crucial for certain puzzles, but once you get good at using them, they become a key element in combat. For one thing, it's what separates a Jedi from everyone else. Standard enemies are no match for a player who is adept at using his or her chosen Force powers. It's a lot of fun too. Flinging guys high up into the air or shocking them with a few thousand volts of Force Lightning is much more fun than using a boring laser blaster. Force powers are even more crucial in battles against the Dark Jedi though. You Dark Jedi opponents will be using Force powers a lot, and you've got to know which of your Force powers to use at the right time if you want to stay alive. This also carries over very well to the multiplayer, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Of course, there is also a good selection of guns in the game, and you will need to use them at certain times, but it's the lightsaber fighting and Force powers that make the Jedi Knight games unique. You won't want to put down your lightsaber unless it's necessary. Raven also did a much better job adding variety to the game. Not only do the different environments force the player to think differently about a fight, but Raven provided more different combat situations. In Jedi Outcast, you pretty much faced normal enemies, or a Dark Jedi with a light saber. In Jedi Academy, you will sometimes face multiple Dark Jedi at once. Some times, there will be a "helper" Dark Jedi that uses Force powers against you, but does not actually attack you. He will let another Dark Jedi attack you with a lightsaber. Sometimes you will face Dark Jedi who use guns instead of lightsabers. That is a completely different kind of challenge. Some Dark Jedi use dual sabers, and so on. There are also some cool boss fights that involve more than just a straightforward attack. The mission variety is also better. You'll even get to pilot an AT-ST.

One complaint about Jedi Outcast was that the multiplayer was unimaginative considering what you had to work with using the Star Wars license. There were standard Capture the Flag and Deathmatch modes, but it wasn't very creative and it had nothing to do with the Star Wars Universe. It was still pretty fun though. The lightsaber combat and Force powers made for some unique multiplayer battles. Well that still holds true for Jedi Academy. Capture the Flag and Deathmatch still remain, and they are still pretty fun. However, they added a much more interesting mode called Siege. In Siege two teams take on opposing roles such as Rebels versus Imperials or Republic versus Mercenaries. Each team has a set of specific tasks to complete. It's not about killing the other team more. Generally, one team is ultimately concerned with capturing or destroying something, and the other team is concerned with protecting it. There are several objectives that must be completed before the final capture or destruction can even be attempted however. On each team, there are a variety of roles to play, and there can only be a limited amount of players taking on each role. Not everyone can be a Jedi. Your team also needs Demolitionists, Scouts, and more. Each type of role will have specific weapons and items available to it. Your team needs to work together in order to accomplish its objectives. This is a great multiplayer addition. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it kind of fits in the Star Wars Universe too. Deathmatch and Capture the Flag can be fun, but those situations are also contrived and the Siege mode provides some added variety.

Overall Jedi Academy is not a revolutionary game, but it is a very good one. Raven took what they did right with Jedi Outcast and added more layers of depth and variety to it. If you liked Outcast, then you can't go wrong with Academy. It's a better game overall. Newcomers will enjoy Academy too. The game has a great learning curve. You start off slow and gradually gain abilities and the levels force you to learn certain techniques to progress. Those who played Outcast will have a better understanding of the plot in Academy, but newcomers will still be able to understand what's going on. With an involving single player and multiplayer experience that one-ups Jedi Outcast in practically every way, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is a game that definitely recommend playing.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 10/20/03
ESRB Details: Violence
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Screenshots for Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

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