Reviewed: January 3, 2003
Released: November 19, 2002
“A Long Time Ago…In A Galaxy Far, Far Away”
Over 25 years ago those words impacted the world of motion pictures and have prefaced eight movies – soon to be nine (yes – I’m counting the three special editions), and countless video games. Those familiar words have once again returned to the Xbox in Lucasarts' latest release, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.
Jedi Outcast is the latest title to add to the already overwhelming flood of FPS games being released since the genre was born. And while this title may have stunned players on the PC and wowed gamers on the Xbox, GameCube owners are not in for the usual treat we have come to expect from Lucasarts. After all, how many of you purchased your GameCube just for Rogue Leader - be honest.
And then we have Bounty Hunter and The Clone Wars; all fantastic titles that look and play great. Jedi Outcast unfortunately looks like the port it is, either too intense for the capabilities of the GameCube, or simply the result of a low-effort attempt. Surprisingly, Raven Software, the designers of the PC game were part of the port to the GameCube.
First and foremost, Outcast offers up a story that is worthy of a movie screenplay. Told through numerous cutscenes – some pre-rendered and others using the game engine graphics, you are held captive throughout the entire game by the engrossing narrative. The acting is topnotch despite the obvious absence of Mark Hammill, and it won’t take long before you are immersed in a game so deep you won’t be able to stop until the closing credits, assuming you can tolerate several flaws in this particular port.
Everything isn’t just quite perfect in this new saga; far from it. Along the way you will fall prey to several pitfalls that the design team didn’t manage to avoid when porting this title to the GameCube. Many problems have carried over from the PC original like puzzles that are simply impossible to figure out, while others issues are rooted in average graphics and sound, and the eternal curse of playing an FPS game using a gamepad.
What can you say about the gameplay that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? Jedi Outcast does offer you the ability to play in either first or third person modes, which softens some of the controller issues by allowing you to approach the game from an action or FPS perspective. The default is first person until you equip the lightsaber at which point the camera automatically switches to third person mode. You can override this setting if you wish and slash your opponents face to face, but I found it much too difficult to move and fight in this view.
Every button and stick on the GameCube controller is used to some degree in playing this game. Unfortunately, the sensitivity of the control stick is set way too low by default making it impossible to move around and aim with any accuracy. You can change these sensitivity settings but you will be lucky to find one gives you that perfect blend of speed and accuracy. The D-pad will cycle through inventory items and Force Powers, but unlike the Xbox version you don't have enough buttons for hotkey assignments. This makes mapping and executing your favorite Force Powers with a single button impossible and hampers the gameplay.
Level design is pretty standard stuff with complicated maze-like interiors and vast outdoor levels. Everything is linear. You are guided around by a series of locked doors, dead end canyons, etc. that keeps you from straying too far off the beaten path. This takes away from the freedom of exploration, which makes finding all those hidden secrets that much harder.
The first several levels of the game are very reminiscent of the previous Jedi Knight games. You are fighting a lot of storm troopers with a variety of laser weapons. Most weapons have primary and secondary functions and your arsenal is amazingly large and diverse. Of course, around level three you reclaim your lightsaber and if you are like me, you won’t even use those other weapons again with the obvious exception of the sniper rifle.
This is perhaps my biggest complaint about the entire game. The lightsaber seems to create a very imbalanced combat situation in almost every encounter from the time you get it until the end of the game. Sure there are exceptions like the boss battles, or when going up against walkers, but in normal ground level combat, nothing beats your saber.
Your energy blade has the uncanny ability to deflect most incoming fire, and while many of these deflected blasts bounce into walls, many will hit the person doing the shooting resulting in their demise with you doing nothing more than standing there. Security druids that take dozens of laser blasts to kill are destroyed with a single boomerang toss of your lightsaber.
Your lightsaber becomes even more devastating once you start combining it with your Force Powers, especially when you use the Force to warp time so that you are exponentially faster than your enemies. You can zip into a room and lay waste to an entire squad before they even know what hit them. The effect is much like the altering of time in the movie, The Matrix, and is also used to show slow-motion death sequences in saber duels or whenever Kyle dies. The effect can be toggled in the options.
There is nothing so wickedly satisfying as using Force Pull on an enemy to yank him up close then swiping him with your saber, or pulling a weapon from a storm trooper’s hands then striking down the helpless drone. I often questioned Kyle’s possible flirtations with the Dark Side as he would electrocute an entire room of storm troopers with bolts of energy, much like those used by the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.
Of course combat is only about 80% of the game. Jedi Outcast features puzzles that range from mildly annoying to “where can I download a walkthrough?” Nothing in Outcast is obvious. You are given very broad objectives at the beginning of each mission and that’s it. On a few occasions Kyle would voice a “clue” that was about as vague as the puzzle itself.
Perhaps one of the hardest puzzles was the Communication Array on the Doomgiver. You had to enter a 3-symbol code to solve the puzzle. Each code was a different color and the terminals to enter these codes were in pod-like stations suspended in a bottomless pit. Picture a 9x9 grid of pods – much like a 3D tic-tac-toe board. Only a few pods are connected on each level, forcing you to make daring and precise leaps from pod to pod and level to level to find and flip the correct switches. To add additional insult is the placement of officers in many of the pods who logically have NO WAY of getting there. It took you a level 2 Force Jump to reach that pod.
My second biggest complaint is the sheer amount of jumping puzzles in this game. Come on guys – this isn’t Mario Brothers! If the aforementioned Communication Array puzzle isn’t bad enough, there is another puzzle where you are riding a hover-platform around the side of a circular chamber. Two storm troopers with rocket launchers are shooting at you from above and no matter how hard you try and how fast you snipe them, they will ALWAYS manage to blow-up your platform forcing you to jump to the anti-grav devices on the wall then make daring leaps to the opposite side of the chamber.
My only other serious complaint about Outcast is some of the quirky levels. I can think of at least a dozen locations where I was totally stumped and didn’t know where to go. Only after consulting the notes that came with my review copy did I realize “there was a ventilation grate I should have shot 6 rooms ago and gone through a vent to get a password”.
Perhaps the single worst flaw in level design logic was the first mission in the Yavin swamp. I had just cleared out the first landing pod and had no idea where to go. Even after consulting my notes/hint sheet, which spoke of a “small waterfall in the rocks”, it took me nearly 20 minutes to find the tiniest of trickles coming from the cliff with a submerged passage underneath. Perhaps finding this would have been easier if I hadn’t been using my lightsaber. It is nearly impossible to see anything underwater in the third person camera view.
There is a bit of variety in the gameplay. On a few occasions you get to take over gun turrets, both on the ground and on ships. You will get to take control of maintenance droids and R5 units and take them into locations you cannot go yourself. There is even one level where you take command of your own ATST and lay waste to a canyon full of enemy troops. These little diversions are spread out just right and break-up what would otherwise become a monotonous game after 10-15 hours.
Jedi Outcast looked great on my PC, and the Xbox version managed to put up a good show but the GameCube version missed the proverbial boat. The levels are now severely lacking in detail which doesn't help when the designers need to find excuses to explain the variable framerate that runs from acceptable to horrible. The framerate issues make it much harder to aim accurately and when you combine that with the already twitchy control stick you are in for some frustrating gameplay.
The models and textures are significantly lower in quality that either the PC or Xbox version and there are some problems with the gamma levels that will have you scrambling for the brightness controls. We've all seen better on the GameCube so I can't think of any reason this game suffers from so many graphical issues. If the Quake engine used to create the original couldn't make the trip then they should have either redesigned the game or scrapped the project.
Rooms range from tiny cramped crawlspaces to enormous chambers filled with pulsing generators and glowing lights. The carbonite chamber on Bespin is perfectly recreated and I was expecting to hear the hiss of Darth Vader when I first entered. The real-time lighting is stunning casting colored glows on you and other objects. I was disappointed that my saber didn’t light up more of the surrounding area, but I guess that is what my night-vision goggles are for.
Another particularly distressing note were the cutscenes. These movies were beyond gorgeous on the PC but now they look like filtered or compressed MPEG video, very grainy and not nearly as nice as the PC version. Many of the movies splice right into the gameplay so when the higher quality game graphics "pop in" you realize just how bad these movies really are. I have no idea what happened but these movies are as equally bad as they were on the Xbox.
The sounds effects are taken right from the libraries at Skywalker Sound and you will instantly recognize the hum of a saber or the distinctive sound of an E11 blaster bolt whizzing by your head or the metallic crunch as the giant foot of an ATST stomps down near you. One of the most amazing effects, perhaps due to its sheer subtlety, is the hiss off the raindrops as they strike your saber in the outdoor swamp level. Despite the accuracy of the sounds, they just don't seem as vibrant as the PC or Xbox version and there is no Dolby support.
The dialog is excellent in both the cutscenes and the ambient chatter during the game. I highly recommend that you restrain yourself from barging into areas with storm troopers and hide around the corner listening to their conversations. There is some truly excellent and humorous dialog to be found if you take the time to listen.
I was surprised to learn that Billy Dee Williams returned to voice his Lando character, but not nearly as surprised to learn that Mark Hammill did not. The character of Luke Skywalker plays a substantial part in the narrative of this game, and the fact that Mark has become known for his voiceover work on computer games as well as animated television, it was mildly disappointing to say the least. I will give props to the actor who did do the voice of Luke. He nailed the timing and tone of the Skywalker character to near perfection.
The music is pure Star Wars from the opening theme to all of the musical sequences that are cued to the action in the game. It’s pure John Williams’ magic, and it never gets old no matter how many times I hear the Imperial March or the triumphant music during the closing credits.
Jedi Outcast took me about 18 hours to finish. I'm sure that playing the PC version last year helped me get through the game a bit faster than first-time players, but there is still plenty of gameplay to be had with this title. Your mileage may vary on the single player game depending on your skill and the difficulty setting you choose. Everything is linear and the story unfolds the same way each time, so the only thing that will change will be the challenge. As a small bonus for GameCube gamers, you now get to explore Alzoc III, an all-new level just for console owners.
The multiplayer modes of Jedi Outcast are severely lacking when compared to the PC that allowed 16 Jedi to battle it out over the Internet. Instead, we are left with a two-player game and all the traditional modes we've come to expect from other games in the genre. Thankfully, the use of intelligent bots allow you to add up to 14 more Jedi into the mix, so the scale of the PC game is maintained; you only lose the human factor. Be warned that the framerate issues increase in severity as you increase the match size.
The standard Deathmatch and CTF modes are present as well as Free For All, Jedi Master, and a Duel Mode that allows two Jedi to exchange saber swipes. Holocron is another great game that starts players off with no Force Powers and you must run around and locate the Holocron cubes containing the various Force attributes.
Force powers can be selectively “purchased” before each game and there are special multiplayer-only Force powers you will not find or be able to use in the single player game. You will have as much fun using these, as you will your lightsaber.
The multiplayer modes for Jedi Outcast may breath some extra life into this title, even if you play it alone against the computer. It’s worth it just to play around with those extra Force powers and check out the multiplayer exclusive levels like the Death Star!
Star Wars Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast is an excellent game, but with obviously no effort whatsoever in trying to bring this title to the GameCube has resulted in a barely adequate port that will disappoint even the most diehard of Star Wars fans. Control is problematic and combined with erratic framerates you never know what to expect other than frustration.
If you are looking for a good Star Wars game for your GameCube then there are plenty of them available and they are all better than this one. If you simply crave a good FPS game then check out TimeSplitters 2, Metroid Prime, or even the new Die Hard: Vendetta games. They will all offer you better gameplay than Jedi Outcast can provide.