Jedi Outcast Review
March 8th, 2021 at 11:20 AM by Kugee
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is the perfect game for even a non-Star Wars fan; after all, this is what first got me into Star Wars for a number of years! It's got everything one could ask for; an immersive environment faithfully modeled after the mainline movies, a simplistic yet effective storyline, rock solid lightsaber combat and force usage, as well as a wide arsenal of projectile weaponry to make use of in a variety of situations. Do be prepared for its high level of difficulty if it is concern, though.
Jedi Outcast is the fourth overall installment in the Dark Forces series, the rest which also will not let you down. It takes place some time after the game's protagonist, Kyle Katarn, defeated the dark Jedi lord Jerec to stop him from attaining absolute power concentrated from within the Valley of the Jedi, a location which is once again a key subject to Jedi Outcast's plot.
Being a product of the exapnded universe, Jedi Outcast is not canon (I wish it were), but the experience it provides is hardly so far off from how the original trilogy played out, apart from requiring active input from you in the form of keyboard strokes and swift mouse maneuvers. I suppose now would be a good time to start breaking apart the pieces of this game that really make it what it is.
The Story and Characters
Jedi Outcast has all of the standard Star Wars tropes: Imperial bad guys have or are on the verge of taking power, the Rebel Alliance (or New Republic in this case) are the good guys struggling against them, a good Jedi is a key to all of this but must be wary of the temptation of the dark side which consumed a large sentient reptile that is now leading a charge against all things good. Anyone who has at least minimal familiarity with the memes of Star Wars over the decades should know what I'm getting at here, but for what it has, it executes it very effectively.
Jedi Outcast's plot feels like a proper extension to the original trilogy with how it faithfully follows the storytelling style of said movies while also supplying its own ideas that would work just as well in a Star Wars movie. Of course the same could probably be said of many expanded universe components which Jedi Outcast borrows; I am not so savvy on them myself.
The same goes with the characters, a couple which were even adapted from the original trilogy to digitized MD3 models. Of course I can't go without mentioning Kyle Katarn, the endearing commando that likes to break a lot of the rules of a Star Wars character. He doesn't label himself as a Jedi as much as he is, just a guy with a lightsaber and some snark, but also humility and a fear of the dark side he's yet to conquer at this point.
I won't get too deep into this field as it's better that you experience the whole thing for yourself, but I will note that Desann works much better as an arch-nemesis than Jerec did. Rather than just being a senile jerk that wants to lounge in absolute power and laugh about it, this weird lizard has a slice of life to him. He's out there working hard to get that power he wants, he's resourceful and collaborative, and he has an attitude that better parallels Kyle's own.
Quintessential Gameplays and What
Jedi Outcast greatly refines the first/third person gameplay mechanics that Dark Forces and Jedi Knight introduced Star Wars to. In Jedi Knight, it was great to finally be able to utilize the lightsaber and a variety of force powers from a more immersive perspective, but they were quite crude and limiting in their functionality. Players were generaly better off just using the more "clumsy" projectile weapons. Jedi Outcast solves this by completely reworking the Jedi mechanics to be much more natural, and its successor Jedi Academy builds upon this further. As you progress through the game, you develop the ability to basically fly through maps, push around hordes of Stormtroopers, throw your lightsaber from greater distances, and get craftier with your surroundings.
Before, you could only stick to one side of the force depending on what you select, but while you can no longer choose which force powers to upgrade due to how some of the levels are designed, you'll now be able to use both light and dark powers, so you could blur the line between such powers being good or evil. After all, Kyle still borders on the dark side despite being able to crush so much of it practically on his own. (Please note: Evil is more fun)
Of course you've still got the other sorts of weapons to try out; actually, projectile weapons are all you have to start out with due to Kyle abandoning his Jedi ways for a while. Hitscan firing is sparse, so if you're coming from other first person shooters, Jedi Outcast's weapons definitely take some time to adjust to. They seem to be quite controversial, but I actually quite enjoy using them. Maybe it all has to do with the fact that I wasn't allowed to use them when I first played this at such a young age. Laser gun = bad, hot sword that chops off limbs = okay. Little did they know I had a workaround... the Portable Assault Sentry!
Apart from Bacta canisters, inventory items aren't really all that useful with the exception of the aforementioned sentries in a specific portion of the game, Seeker Drones for speedrunning trickery, light goggles for certain dark areas, and the necessary keys to steal from Imperial officers. It seems to be a common issue with FPS games, at least those I've played; there's so many items to pick up that it's hard to think about using most of them.
Still, for everything else you can expect to use frequently, all of it is a pleasure to use. There's nothing more priceless than jumping up high to yank a bunch of Imperial losers towards the ceiling all at once and have them crash to death, tricking a Stormtrooper into fighting for you only to blast his head off afterwards, stomping on a worker repeatedly like he's a Goomba, or whatever else you can improvise.
It's really no wonder Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy have such a strong cult following with active multiplayer servers to this day. The perfect marriage of FPS action and lightsaber combat found in these games is so unique compared to any other Jedi games of sorts. You might be inclined to refer me to other games of similar caliber at this point. I'm sure there are others that are pretty good, but that's not what I'm here for. I'm here to recommend a Star Wars game to a non-Star Wars enthusiast.
A forewarning, you're probably going to die a lot in this game especially if you don't have a grip on it; though I only play on the harder difficulties, regular quick saving is going to be a necessity. This is strongly the case at Nar Shaddaa, where there are just too many snipers all over and you're not going to have enough time to locate them all before they rip all your molecules apart. That is unquestionably annoying, and I really think something else should've taken its place.
Rather than discussing raw graphics, it's better to explain how they suit the various environments you'll venture through. To say the least, Jedi Outcast excels at immersing players into the many worlds of Star Wars. It's like you're right there on the set, infiltrating something akin to the Death Star (or that itself!) or ascending good ol' Cloud City. Some of the maps are faithfully modeled after the movies, particularly at the planet Yavin. You'll get to see how everything's kind of cleared out after the iconic Death Star battle and subsequent events, mostly the base is used as an academic grounds for rebuilding Jedi numbers now.
My favorite part of the game definitely has to be the infiltration of the Cairn base and the starship which it holds. At this stage Kyle's force powers are really taking off again, so there's a lot of new room to experiment with them. It's all courtesy of the way the levels there are crafted; for such small bases of operations compared to entire planets Kyle drops by at, these places really give a variety of sizable environments to screw around with the Force. The varied lighting across these places gives an impression that you're not supposed to be there, but you can make your place there anyway with everything you have on hand, and it's just so cool.
Some of the level crafts are really bizarre and make no sense especially for an ordinary Imperial worker or the like, but can be really fun for a Jedi nonetheless. At least in the Star Wars universe, there are plenty of convenient ways to explain them off... like those flying platforms they use in political meetings. Whereas Jedi Knight was designed with the assumption that one may not load any force powers at all, Jedi Outcast's maps are clearly designed with the Jedi in mind and not the faculty that actually need to use the infrastructure in a positive way that advances their agenda.
Perhaps it is something to be expected that John Williams' scores are to be put in Star Wars games; they're familiar, everyone loves them, and they generally fit. How they are used here may not be unique, but as many other things in Jedi Outcast, music implementation is well executed. Waveform audio tracks are used to great effect, neatly transitioning between "ambient" and "combat" phases as you encounter enemies and clear them out. Given Jedi Outcast was my first real experience with Star Wars as a collective, I could listen to that part of the movie soundtrack where Luke and company are getting those TIE fighters off the Falcon's tail and say "oh, this is the part where Kyle found out that outpost isn't as abandoned as it seemed..." Perhaps it is a testament to the versatility of the Star Wars soundtrack.
Like its successor, Jedi Outcast is rooted in the engine used for Quake III Arena, and as such carries over a number of its subtle attributes, bunnyhopping to name one thing. No doubt, this allows for even more creative movements than this game is designed around. Combining bunnyhopping with the Force Jump power can have you flying all over the place if you can maintain velocity and mana together. All you really need to do is hold down a strafe key and turn around as you land and immediately jump again to build up speed (actually, only the former might be necessary as opposed to Quake 1 and its derivatives from what I hear).
If you're wanting to run Jedi Outcast on an old machine, it covers a good chunk of hardware unless you need to use software rendering, not which it have. It'll happily run on a Voodoo3 or later as well as other cards which are good with OpenGL. The most fitting video card for the era this game comes from, I'd say, is none other than the ATI Radeon 9700. The comparably detailed textures of Jedi Outcast made this game an ideal benchmark candidate for a while in several PC news outlets, and I can say that the Radeon 9700 excels at handling them from personal experience.
Like Q3A, Jedi Outcast will happily run on Windows 95, though you'll almost certainly need to install a few update packages that allow it to make certain Win32 API calls it requires. Being an OpenGL game, it'll work in Windows NT 4.0 as well. Given Jedi Outcast is pretty demanding for what a typical Windows 95 system would have, you're more so bound to run this on a Pentium III or 4 system with a good early 2000's AGP card. As such, Windows 98SE or 2000 would be more reasonable if your video driver has SSE optimizations.
One thing I have to take issue with in Jedi Outcast is the two separate executables for the single player and multiplayer modes. This wouldn't be so much of an issue for me if the single player executable wasn't gimped on functionality; demo recording is only available in multiplayer, which really disappoints me since I wanted to use it for a certain video project of mine.
Way back in the ancient times of 2002, I used to play this game with cheats all the time, but nowadays I don't bother with them at all. Cheat codes seem to be particularly popular in Jedi Outcast, more than I would've guessed; they can produce some hilarious results as seen in some videos and screenshots from other players on the internet. You want to throw a bunch of Jedi fighting in an otherwise serene cutscene? You got it. Maybe I'll have to mess with them again when I find the time.
Whether you're a seasoned Star Wars enthusiast or just someone looking for another game to play, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is hours of fun waiting for you up ahead. Personally I don't care very much for Star Wars at all anymore, but Jedi Outcast holds a special place in my heart as something I ran on my Asus K7M build from way back when to pass the time. It was my A New Hope, my The Phantom Menace, or what have you. Even if you're about 19 years late, now's a great time to hop on board. Happy choking and electrocuting!
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