Since I have already expressed my love for the original Star Wars Jedi Knight and the Mysteries of the Sith expansion, it is only fitting that I move on to the sequel! Don’t worry, I will return to Dark Forces soon enough and have also recently completed Jedi Academy … so soon I’ll have reviewed the entire Kyle Katarn saga on the netbook for you! But for now, let’s look at Jedi Knight II.
Back in 2000 LucasArts had a game in development called Obi-Wan, based around the character portrayed by Ewan McGregor in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The game was to be a successor to the critically and commercially successful Jedi Knight games. But in late 2000 (after my wife had placed a pre-order for that game and Duke Nukem Forever through Amazon, feeling great about her Christmas shopping for once), LucasArts canceled the PC version of the game and eventually released it for the XBOX. It was during that time I joined a Star Wars gaming web forum community, making online friends I have had for a decade.
We were all very disappointed by this turn of events, but before long we were treated with some even better news. The same day that LucasArts announced that the Obi-Wan game would be coming to the about-to-be-released XBOX, they also announced that Raven Software was developing a true sequel to the Jedi Knight franchise for the PC based around an older Kyle Katarn and utilizing the state-of-the-art Quake III Team Arena graphics engine. Needless to say, we were all thrilled and followed the developments closely through the .plan files of developers and by navigating the truly horrific ‘Flash’ site released in January of 2002. We were also fortunate that some members of the community had connections with Raven software and some of those developers joined the community and contributed some useful information and were all -around good guys.
When Jedi Knight II was released in late March 2002, gamers were treated to a thoroughly modern graphics and combat system, but also an implementation of a great lightsaber and Force power system within the context of a true Star Wars EU (expanded universe) story worthy of the Kyle Katarn legacy.
It has been nearly 8 years since the game was released, so when the entire Jedi Knight collection was released on Steam last fall I installed Jedi Knight II on my netbook to see if it would run … and ended up playing once again!
I am going to be honest and label myself as a ‘Jedi Knight 2 fanboy’ – at one point I knew that I had played the game from start to finish at least 35 times … but that was a while ago and I know I have played it loads since then, so I estimate that I have at least 50 complete run-throughs. Computers I have played it on include: Dell Inspiron 8100, ‘Titanium Powerbook G4, 12″ Powerbook G4, Dell Inspiron 8200, Dell Inspiron 8500, Aluminim Powerbook G4, Dell XPS m170, original Intel-based Macbook Pro, Dell Inspiron XPS 1730, 2008 15″ Macbook Pro, HP Mini-Note 2100, Unibody Macbook Pro and Lenovo S10. It is one of my favorite all-time games, and one that I have labeled as a ‘comfort game’ something that I can settle into and find thoroughly relaxing … which is perhaps odd since it is entire a combat-centric experience!
The game start out as a standard first-person shooter, which makes sense based on Kyle’s dark-side temptation in Mysteries of the Sith. This led him to sever ties with the Force, so he is back to using the same trusty blaster he had in Dark Forces. Some critics didn’t like that you spent about 4-5 hours playing the game before getting the lightsaber, but for me it felt like a trip back to the great days of Dark Forces. Kyle needs to use his shooter skills and wits to get through the first two planet missions before a turn of events causes him to seek out his connection with the Force once again and to regain his lightsaber.
But even during those first five levels across two planets, this isn’t just an ordinary mission. You are accompanied by the infamous Jan Ors, whom you met in the original Dark Forces, and who took physical form in the FMV (full motion video) cutscenes. There are goals to accomplish, puzzles to figure out, and a plot to advance, all while taking care of wave after wave of Stormtroopers.
While in many ways Jedi Knight II is not a standard shooter, in many other ways it is very much a standard level-based shooter that was in some ways passe by 2002. That was another way that the game felt much like homage in the early sections to me. The levels are discrete but abstracted to fit together into an over-arching storyline that makes sense. Kyle also gets to spend plenty of time doing the typical ‘find the switch / open the door’ puzzles that are a FPS mainstay.
As I mentioned, there is a significant turn of events after the second planet that changes everything, and sends Kyle off in search of his Force powers and lightsaber. As a result he returns to the infamous Valley of the Jedi to reconnect with the strong source of Force Power, and then to the new Jedi Academy on Yavin IV where Luke Skywalker is serving as Jedi Master for the New Republic … and also holding on to Kyle’s lightsaber.
But something else happens on Yavin – the game itself has a catharsis, transforming from FPS to a third-person lightsaber action game while John Williams amazing themes swirl behind you. I remember playing the Jedi training area for this first time, with the music “Tales Of A Jedi Knight & Learn About The Force” playing as I got through the puzzles set up to train me to use the new powers. It was one of my favorite moments in more than 20 years of gaming at the time … and 8 years later it still gives me chills and brings a smile to my face.
Jedi Knight II is a huge game, similar to the original in terms of size and scope. So while you spend several hours with only a blaster at your side, there is plenty of time to feel the progression of your lightsaber skills and Force powers. When you start on your first Jedi mission – back to the wonders of Nar Shadda (where the original Jedi Knight began … more homage) – you have only low level powers and a single ‘balanced’ lightsaber style at your disposal. You are no match for snipers, cannot deflect all incoming bolts, and are neither quick nor powerful enough to deal with three-eyed Grans wielding thermal detonators!
But as you pass through each area you gain new powers and advance in ranks with your existing powers. Force Powers include Speed, Jump, Push, Pull, Lightsaber Throw, Lightning, Mind Trick, Choke, and Heal. Unlike the original Jedi Knight, you do not manually assign new powers and levels, instead the game dictates when you gain new levels. This design takes away some freedom, but allowed Raven to design levels that force you to make use of specific skills such as Level 3 jump or speed to survive.
You also get different lightsaber ‘stances’ as you progress. You start with the Yellow or ‘balanced’ stance, then later get the Blue or ‘fast’ stance, and finally Red or ‘strong’ stance. Yellow is a balance of speed and power, while Blue sacrifices power for attack speed and an amazing ability to deflect incoming blaster bolts. Red stance is slow and leaves you open to attack, but when it lands a hit it is almost always lethal.
After completing Nad Shadda, you head to Bespin (Cloud City from Empire Strikes Back) with Lando Calrissian. Here you meet with your first lightsaber wielding enemy and get to see Raven’s melee combat engine in all of its glory! You also discover that you have been tricked into revealing the location of the Valley of the Jedi, and that there is an evil plan underway that you must uncover. During the rest of the game you will do battle with tougher and more numerous Force-enhanced enemies, including ones wearing lightsaber resistant armor, and of course a few ‘Boss battles’ along the way to a very satisfying conclusion.
Technically, Jedi Knight II remains solid. The graphics are well done, balancing detail with scope in order to produce some huge levels to traverse. I am not saying that everything is good – there are some pretty awful repeat texture areas in the Cairn Cock section that are just a mass array of copy & paste of bland gray tiles – but in general the look and feel of the game is excellent.
I have already complimented the game’s musical score, which is implemented using a very effective dynamic music system that quickly changes the music based on what is happening in the game and whether you’re in combat or stealth mode. The rest of the sound – the weapons, voice acting, and the satisfying snap-hiss of the lightsaber – are extremely well done and remain satisfying to this day.
I actually bought a new mouse before the release of Jedi Knight II based on using multiple buttons, and still own that same mouse and use it (or one of the others of the same model I also bought) every time I play. The game uses a very standard WASD key configuration, but also uses numerous other keys for quick access to Force powers and weapons. Right-mouse is already mapped to lightsaber throw when equipped. The standard configuration uses the Fn keys for Force powers, but I tended to quickly remap Q to Speed, R to Mind Trick, T to Choke, H to Heal, and V to lightning. I also mapped Push and Pull to the forward and rear thumb buttons on my Intellimouse, and honestly never found anything else that felt comfortable.
Jedi Knight II was extremely popular as a multiplayer game for a number of years, and I actually played a fair amount despite not being a huge fan of multiplayer matches. My personal favorite mode was Jedi Master – one person gets the lightsaber and Force powers, and everyone else is armed with blasters and has to run around trying to kill off the Jedi … so they can pick up the lightsaber and defend against the onslaught! I was pretty good at it, and it was just loads of fun.
Jedi Knight II is my favorite of the entire Kyle Katarn saga, my favorite Star Wars game, and my favorite first person shooter. That doesn’t mean I consider it ‘the best’ of any of those categories: I think the original Jedi Knight is the best overall game of the series, either Jedi Knight or Knights of the Old Republic are the best story-based Star Wars games. But as we all know, it is possible to be able to look and see flaws while still considering something as a favorite. And for me, Jedi Knight II will always occupy a very special place in gaming, and will always be one of the very first games installed on a new computer … for yet another run through.
RetroGamer Perspective: Star Wars continues to gain new fans, and for many who were very young when the prequels were released, they are just getting around to playing these games – and for them 8 years is *OLD*! For the rest of us it is a nice peek back in time.
Netbook Gamer Perspective:
- Digital Download / CD version? – you can get the game from the Steam and Direct2Drive digital download sites. The CD version is out of print but is easily attainable through used or trade sites.
- Installation Notes: The game is on a single CD and installs quickly. There are no registration codes to enter, no online authentication or other requirements to get going with the game.
- Disk Space Requirements: full-install of either CD or Digital version takes ~675MB.
- CD Required to Play? Yes – for the CD version you will need to have the CD in the drive or a virtual drive. Obviously not required for the digital version.
- Control Considerations? Jedi Knight II uses a thoroughly modern WASD FPS control scheme.
- Will it run on a VIA C7? I managed to get the game installed on my HP Mini Note, but I couldn’t get anything more than a slide-show in terms of performance. Partly this is because Jedi Knight II is a CPU constrained Open GL game.
- Will it run with 1GB RAM? Yes!
- Special Considerations for running in Windows XP / Vista / Win 7? The game was designed with Windows XP as the target, and therefore runs fine in all modern operating systems.
- Compatible versions for other OS such as Linux or Mac OS? Yes, a native Mac port was released in November of 2002, and later got a ‘universal binary’ patch to run on Intel hardware. The game reportedly runs fine on Linux using Wine.
- Notes on the Digital Version: The older games released on Steam & Direct2Drive as part of the ‘Jedi Knight Collection’ suffer from a variety of issues, but Jedi Knight II runs perfectly.
Conclusion: Jedi Knight II has aged very well. The graphics scale nicely on new systems, but it also performs as you would expect an 8 year old game to run – flawlessly. The gameplay is missing some of the new mechanics such as sprinting that have become commonplace, but otherwise retains a tight and modern feel. The melee combat feeling Raven software developed has yet to be surpassed in any game in any genre since. For a game available for $10 on Steam or Direct2Drive that occupies only a single CD worth of space and will run nicely on just about any computer available, this is an easy recommendation for any gaming fan who missed this one the first time around.