Geeking out about Star Wars was a big part of my childhood and nowhere did that manifest more clearly than in my introduction to PC gaming. I started off on RTS games like Force Commander, but eventually graduated to first-person/third-person shooters like the demo for Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.
Playing that demo led me to play Jedi Academy, and after playing the sequel, I decided to see how the actual Jedi Outcast game fared by comparison.
Conclusion? It’s a lot better and tougher than you’d expect.
The story follows Kyle Katarn, a Jedi Knight turned mercenary who goes on missions for the New Republic with his partner Jan Ors. However, a run-in with the Imperial Remnant and a batch of Dark Jedi spells disaster, especially when Jan is apparently killed on one such mission. Resolved to have his vengeance, Kyle goes back to his Jedi roots and begins to comb the galaxy for the location of Desann, the leader of the Empire Reborn movement and Jan’s murderer. Along the way, he learns about and sabotages Desann’s plot to conquer the galaxy using the dark side of the Force.
It sounds strange, but I have to compare this game to its sequel Jedi Academy on both a thematic and gameplay level. As a story, it’s a lot stronger and far more consistent. While Jedi Academy is about a young man or woman on their quest to learn the ways of the Force and fight a Sith cult, Jedi Outcast is about a very personal quest for revenge balanced by Kyle’s struggle to define himself as a Jedi Knight. The game sees him break out from his bitterness over losing his connection to the Force and slowly regain his old confidence as a Jedi. It’s a new take on the Star Wars ethos, starting out from a cynical position (a hard-bitten mercenary) and then striving for idealism (a merciful and optimistic Jedi).
I’ve also got to say that the gameplay is much more intricate and difficult in Jedi Outcast. Every level involves multiple stages, so you end up exploring a dozen different corridors and fighting through waves of enemies in increasingly treacherous terrain. There’s also a bit of puzzle-solving to go with it, like hitting the button to unlock a door three levels away, while also grabbing an Imperial officer’s security key for the door behind that one. And then fighting the Reborn duelist behind that door. Sounds difficult, I know, but beating a level in Outcast is far more satisfying than it is in Academy.
That said, I do have one or two complaints. While no Star Wars game would be complete without the classic John Williams score, this game has an unfortunately tendency to get carried away with the music, so you have the Imperial March overwhelming the dialogue in a cutscene or lagging in the transition from a fight sequence to quietly sneaking around. I also needed a few moments early on to figure out which buttons I was meant to push so I could advance, especially when some levels have very poor lighting. I was paranoid about stepping off into the abyss or triggering an enemy NPC when I needed to avoid detection.
Overall, I found Jedi Outcast to be much more difficult to play than its successor, but ultimately getting to the end was a lot more satisfying. I felt like it was a far deeper immersion into the Star Wars universe, a good Expanded Universe story, and a very enriching gaming experience.
Bibliography: Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Developed by Raven Software. Published by LucasArts, Activision, and CyberFront. Windows, Mac OS X, GameCube, Xbox. Original release date: March 26, 2002.