I can recall back to my childhood watching the Star Wars Trilogy. I have rather fond memories of the movies and even dreams that have never been able to manifest themselves in any other media other than my imagination. It's rather disappointing when I think about it, especially considering the multitude of opportunities LucasArts has had to capture the experiences of the movies. Don't get me wrong, they have produced gems like Star Wars: X-Wing and The Super Star Wars games, but on the same note, they're also credited with flops such as Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer and Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter. In fact, it seems all of their recent attempts have been lackluster at best.
Like a beacon of light through an overcast horizon, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II—Jedi Outcast breaks away from the proverbial trash that has been haunting LucasArts over the past few years. This wonderfully crafted adventure does justice to the universe where many before it have failed.
In this beautiful rendition of Lucas' universe 8 years after the destruction of the 2nd Death Star in Return Of The Jedi, players take charge of Kyle Katarn, a mercenary and former Jedi Knight. For those that aren't well versed in the Star Wars universe and its many subsequent stories, Outcast may require some back-story. The title that started it all was Dark Forces, a title featuring the mercenary for hire. In this epic first-person shooter, players swept through locales to uncover the plans to the original Death Star and return them to the rebel alliance. In the Second installment in the series (Star Wars: Jedi Knight—Dark Forces II), Katarn has begun to explore his past and his abilities with the force. He returns wielding this knowledge and a new powerful weapon, a lightsaber. A Dark Jedi named Jerec threatens to find the Jedi burial ground known as the Valley of the Jedi. This valley contains the essence and power of every Jedi that lay here and Jerec planned to use it to make himself powerful beyond reproach. To complicate matters even more, Jerec has murdered Kyle's father, and Kyle seeks revenge. Upon avenging his father's death and swearing to keep the Valley of the Jedi a secret, Katarn separates himself from the force completely in fear of turning to the Dark Side and using the Valley himself for evil. He continues to work as a Rebellion mercenary for hire, and this is where Outcast's story begins.
Katarn and partner Jan Ors take on a mercenary mission on behalf of the rebellion. They are sent out to a remote planet to look for Remainant Forces (any Imperial Forces remaining after the destruction of the 2nd Death Star). From there, numerous events escalate the story and lead Katarn to various locales, such as the newly founded Jedi Academy and Lando Calrissian's city in the clouds, Bespin. These events also lead him to search out for his connection with the force, for without it; the road ahead will be impossible to forge.
Now, for as long as I can remember, I adored George Lucas' idea of the Force and the way of the Jedi. I always wondered what it would be like to utilize, in reality or fantasy, an energy that, when wielded by someone with the proper training, can be a means to bring serenity and peace or unimaginable destruction. I wanted to duel with a lightsaber and have the universe's most powerful asset at my fingertips. Now, I do. This is where Outcast sets itself apart from many of LucasArts' other abominations: Kyle's ability to utilize the force and its implementation. It fits in as smoothly as it did in the films. And because he lacks official Jedi training and a pure heart, he teeters on the edge of both the light and dark side, giving him the ability to use both parallels of the force. This factor is not only incredibly entertaining, but succeeds in developing Katarn's character away from the average Jedi/good guy motif and into a unique individual.
Kyle's abilities can be used to manipulate a variety of situations, and though early in the game these abilities aren't fine tuned, the middle to last half of the title really gives players the chance to unleash his full potential. Everything from distracting multiple enemies, pulling weapons from their hands, to throwing enemies off ledges and choking them to death in mid-air are available in his mystic arsenal. I could not help but feel totally engrossed during these moments in the game. It is without a doubt the most defining element of this experience.
This title also does well in keeping Kyle from being indestructible. When faced with numerous enemies, area hazards, or highly destructive weapons I had to quickly understand that without using some tactics or properly using the Force, I would not survive. I also had to refrain from simply running into battle with lightsaber swinging. I found this to really open my childhood dreams' "eyes." I often saw the Jedi characters as almost god like beings unable to be destroyed by average men. Outcast really opens up this view for me in a way I had never perceived.
With this much going for Outcast, there are only a couple of things I felt were lacking. One of these is it's multiplayer section. This mode is adequate but nothing spectacular. Computer-controlled bots can be utilized for those wanting to test their skills against multiple enemies or can even go head to head with a friend via split screen. The problem is even when placed on the highest difficulty the enemy artificial intelligence isn't very menacing. The only way to get a real challenge is to play a friend who is as skillful as you. The largest disappointment is that even though it was launched around the time of Xbox Live, LucasArts failed to incorporate programming for that particular online community. So unless several Force-savvy friends are available for a challenge, this section is rather deflated.
The second has to do with the first quarter of the title. At first, Katarn has absolutely no use of the force and the title remains a first person shooter. I found it difficult to stomach these areas because in comparison to the rest of the title, it is very bland. The title makes no attempt to go outside of the kill-enemies-grab-the-key-go-through-the-door-kill-more-enemies formula that has been established since the days of Doom. It was not until the force was at my disposal that the experience became anything more than routine. I found the initial portion of the title difficult to stomach because it was nothing new.
While Outcast is not perfect, what it does right it does damn well. It's a well-organized and planned platformer with the best elements of the Star Wars universe rolled in. I was finally able to manifest my imagination into a media I could see and hear. Simply put, becoming a Jedi was ever more magnificent than I could have hoped for.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.