Star Wars: Dark Forces III: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is a game from a bygone era. A game from before the Force was manufactured by not-quite-bacteria, from an age when the phrase “Expanded Universe” didn’t leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
I said a lot of less than complimentary things about this game in an older re-review. And, well, I still completely agree with most of my comments there — it’s not a game without foibles, and unfortunately it’s not perfect enough to have Deus Ex, Unreal Tournament or Drakensang‘s “Get Out of Criticism Free” card.
But I want to temper those comments with some love. Because for all it gets wrong, this game gets something — possibly the most important thing of all — so, so right.
The original Star Wars trilogy is distinctive. Before George Lucas decided to make a mockery of his own franchise (he didn’t even need a reboot ten years later by unrelated people, like most franchises that fall to the Dark Side), there were three excellent films with dramatic scenery and
This is what Jedi Knight II captures so well. Even though you can poke holes in the polygon budget and carp at the texture resolution in this day and age, it still looks bewilderingly like Star Wars. While the game uses real original trilogy locations — Bespin and Yavin IV — to anchor itself, the brand new Imperial Remnant bases (not to mention the Doomgiver) and the nightmare of walkways and thermal detonator pain that is Nar Shadaa extrapolate what the films generated to perfection. The way the textures are painted, the geometry of the buildings and decorations…
All right, all right, it’s got swamp/ruined temple levels, I am immediately biased in this game’s favour.
JK2 is also helped by the fact that Kyle Katarn is a credible lead. Unlike The Force Unleashed, whose main character was a horrifying dollop of teenage girl fanfiction (women even like Star Wars?), this game has Mister Just-a-Guy who happens to be pretty bad-ass but isn’t infallible or the most power force user ever.
Okay, he’s got a little of the emo, but it’s okay because it’s romantic emo and he doesn’t whine about it — he immediately turns into Mister Hate and starts tearing the place up. Okay, he also has that whole been-lead-in-two-games-before history, but that past doesn’t mean much in the context of this episode (excecpt him being the only one who knows where the Valley of the Jedi is, but having a unique set of coordinates for some space archeology isn’t exactly imbalanced).
The plot isn’t thick or deep, but it’s not offensive either (again, while The Force Unleashed ‘fits’ perfectly as a secret history and is fair enough standing on its own, it’s slightly nauseating because of the collossal amount of lore-murder it spews up). What it does is fire you up and set the scene for what Star Wars does best — science fantasy swashbuckling. Although the difference between Dark Jedi and Sith, always consfused me.
Overall, though, this is why we all agree that the next Star Wars films shouldn’t be daft worse-than-fanfic continuations of the original story, but should in fact be cinematic adaptations of the Jedi Knight games.