Whether you're an avid Star Wars fan or just a PC gamer who enjoys quality gaming, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast was probably on your harddrive at one time or another. Based on the then powerful Quake 3 engine, Jedi Outcast showcased saber swinging action that even the president of the "Star Trek 4 Life Club" would have enjoyed, and if it wasn't the single player mode that got you going, it was the excellent multiplayer mode.
Well, the series has a new entry, in the form of Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Back again is the epic struggle between good and evil, but this time, you take control of a student, learning to become a powerful Jedi in the Jedi Academy. The familiar faces of Kyle and Luke guide you through your journey, however in Jedi Academy, it is up to you to choose which side you will favor. Does Jedi Academy rejuvenate the series, or is it more of the same?
If you're not familiar with the original Jedi Outcast, then don't sweat, the actual basis of Jedi Academy's storyline does not really even connect to the storyline from the original's at all. As mentioned in the intro, you take control of a student entering the Jedi Academy, hoping to achieve the dreams and ambitions of becoming a Jedi Master. As fate would have it, you become a student under Kyle Katarn, the character who you controlled in Jedi Outcast.
Unlike Outcast, Jedi Academy allows you to completely customize your character's appearance. From the selectable choices are many of the familiar races, clothing types and clothing colors. This is a nifty little aspect, as it atleast creates a little more control over the game's experience. On top of the appearance customization, as you progress in the game, you also have the ability to control your force strengths, with both the good and dark side powers being upgradeable.
Jedi Academy also allows you to select which missions you would like to complete, however the game generally doesn't progress without you doing them all anyway, so basically, you select which order you would like to do them. After each major storyline advancement, you have a new set of missions in, usually, a new location. On the topic of locations, Jedi Academy sees you travel through a vast range of different environments and terrains, which keeps the gameplay relatively fresh from mission to mission.
However, one aspect that does not help keep the gameplay fresh from mission to mission is the general restrictions imposed on mission objectives. While the goals may be different in each mission, the way you complete these are not, making the game a very repetitive experience. Most of the time, missions that sound unique are nothing more than a generic "start at point A get to point B" followed by an animation cutscene completing the mission for you, however, granted, not all missions are like this, just the overwhelming majority. It may enhance the storyline's impact, the gameplay suffers as a result.
As you get towards the end of the game, you will be confronted with a choice. Without spoiling the game for anyone, this choice will indeed change the outcome of pretty much everything concerning your character in the game. If you are familiar with the powers and influences in the Star Wars world, I imagine you could probably guess this required choice, but nevertheless, it is quite admirable to see un-linear storyline events making their way back into the FPS. Unfortunately though, this choice will be the last major event in the storyline, as the game ends rather suddenly and disappointingly. Much like Atari's Enter The Matrix, Jedi Academy is simply a stepping stone in the series, however if a movie ever ended like this, I'm sure the director's life would be in serious danger from the revolting fans.
Quake 3 Arena, when released, was one of the market's best looking games, however, those days have surely passed, but with the latest Doom on the way out, that is more than expected. Unfortunately for Jedi Academy, which is based on the Quake 3 engine, this means the graphics are quite considerably behind many other shooters out there, and although good gameplay can usually make up for lackluster graphics, for a game that lends itself to close range animations and modeling, the graphics possess an extra important role and as it would seem, the dated nature is noticeable.
To be honest, the visuals are not consistently behind, some areas like the models and some animations are reasonably decent especially at mid and longer ranges, it is just after playing games like Battlefield 1942 and Unreal 2, the quality is really put in perspective. It is understandable that Jedi Academy couldn't be released with a new engine, because the Quake 3 engine is still the latest Quake engine, but there is little doubt the graphics are, in an overall sense, dated.
The control sub-system in Jedi Academy is essentially identical to the original Jedi Outcast, you use the commonly used 'WASD' control system with the mouse for movement and attacks, and you use other keyboard buttons for use of the force powers. If you managed to master the original Jedi Outcast, which was very easy, you will not have any issues with Jedi Academy, because nothing major is introduced or changed at all.
One would think that easy controls is a good thing, and it mostly is, however, particularly in multiplayer mode, the ease creates a somewhat "hack and slash" style of gameplay. Rather than relying on the player's skill, success can usually be brought upon by simply going nuts on your left mouse button near an opponent, with your fingers crossed on your other hand hoping one of your stray saber swings manages to land. Although the generic force powers can help the variety of attacks, there is no doubting the majority of fights are done in close quarters with sabers swinging. Perhaps having more executable moves would make things a little more complex and skill reliant, however I don't see this happening in this engine.
It's based on the same engine and it has the same essential feel and appearance. So why is Jedi Academy being sold as an entirely new standalone game? Honestly, I'm not sure. Nothing major is introduced in Jedi Academy, most of the new features are pretty insignificant, you have the same basic gameplay with a few new gizmos in the form of character customization, new saber types, and you have an un-linear storyline which you control, and really, that's about it. If you ask me, baring any technicalities I may have overlooked, an add-on pack here would have been much more appropriate.
Seeing as the story ends rather abruptly I suspect another game will continue your venture into the world of Jedi Knight, so if you plan to keep up with the series, this is a must buy, but don't expect to be 'wowed' by anything, it is really a run-of-the-mill sequel without any frills. However, even if the gameplay is essentially the same, we can't deny its playability and quality, the problem is we've done it before, and hopefully, we won't have to do it all again. Here's to hoping the next version is based on the Doom 3 engine.