Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Reviewed by Mark Isaacson
Although we were all expecting a simple expansion pack to Jedi Outcast this year, Raven and LucasArts decided to go a different route, and I'm glad they did. What we have here is another solid addition to the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series that, although using many elements of the previous title, brings with it some great action and one of the better multiplayer modes for a first person shooter.
With Kyle Katarn moving on from his adventure days, the opportunity to create your own Jedi is an excellent move for the franchise. While there aren't as many options as KOTOR in terms of the development and look of the character, there's still enough to create a fairly unique personality. Hopefully the next title (if there is one) will add even further options and races, but for the moment I'll stick with the tried and true male human (since I am one!).
Another important move by Raven is handing you the lightsabre straight off the bat, without having to go through the usual tasks with a collection of blasters (although they are still available if needed). Instead, you have to work through the game to pick up the different lightsabres on offer, from the two in one aka Darth Maul to holding one in each hand. There are a number of different attacking styles with each sabre combination, opening up further possibilities for defeating enemies then before.
Speaking of which, controlling your chosen Jedi is a breeze. Those familiar with Outcast will feel right at home here, as little has changed. Although it will take a tad longer to get used to the new attack stances.
Graphically, Academy is a mixed bag. There are some nice touches here and there, much the same as before. The frame rate has been pushed up ever so slightly, meaning your PC requirements may need an upgrade. But there are a few elements slowdown in the more intense action sequences, and a few bugs here and there can be found if you look closely. Thankfully, though, neither hinders the gameplay experience too much to warrant an outcry of rage.
Considering there is a nearly four year old Quake 3 engine under the hood, Raven has still come up with something special. Just imagine what they can develop if the Doom 3 engine is used!
As Josh mentioned in his review, once again sound is the shining light. Using the original movie score along with a full collection of now familiar sound effects is a very common attribute to Star Wars games, and rarely do you find one that doesn't fit the bill in this category. Then again, when you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times.
The one thing that really lets Academy down, at least from my point of view, is the story. Yes, its the telling of a young Jedi's climb up the ranks of the order, challenged by the Dark Side of the Force, etc, etc. But it pales in comparison to the storytelling behind Kyle's previous two adventures. I suppose I'm just one of those people who prefers a good story behind a game. And since the structure of the game allows you to choose what missions you play and it what order, the story is lost.
One of the more interesting moves by Raven is the updates to the multiplayer modes. Gone are two of the modes that few played in Outcast (although they were enjoyable), replaced by a two new, and arguably far more entertaining modes.
First off the ranks is Siege. Similar in style to Wolfenstein's multiplayer modes, or a little bit of Counter-Strike, you must work as a team (either the Rebels or Imperials), choose your class, then battle for the map. Supporting up to 32 players (16 per side), it's a great inclusion to the package.
The other new mode is somewhat like Episode I and II, in which two weaker Jedi take on one mighty Jedi/Sith warrior. This one might decide once and for all who really are the kings of the lightsabre.
Jedi Academy is another great title from Raven, and another find example to back up LucasArts' decision to pass on their bigger products to other development teams. While I will miss Kyle from the main headlines, the future for this series looks bright.
Overall: 9.3 / 10