Missing in Action: Jedi Knight

Where in the Galaxy is Kyle Katarn?

When it comes to Star Wars games, LucasArts has had its fair share of hits and misses.  From the superb Knights of the Old Republic to the diabolical Masters of the Teras Kasi, or worse yet, Super Bombad Racing (thanks Jar Jar!), gamers must usually approach videogame renditions of the hugely successful galactic film series with a great deal of caution.

Thankfully, this has never been the case when it comes to the Jedi Knight series.  Starting way back in 1995 when Dark Forces was released for DOS, Macintosh and PlayStation, the series has grown to become one of LucasArts most beloved works.  If you’re confused as to why the first game is called Dark Forces, and not Jedi Knight, that’s because it doesn’t actually have anything to do with Jedi.  However, Justin Chin, the storyline writer for Dark Forces, had always intended for the game’s protagonist, Kyle Katarn, to develop into a Jedi character.  And thank the Force that this happened – Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II was the first game where we got to truly experience lightsaber combat that worked.  From this point on, the series built on this, so that by the time we got our hands on Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, you really could fight like a proper wielder of the Force.

Dark Forces

But this was back in 2003 and, despite the series’ critical and commercial success, there hasn’t been another release.  Perhaps it’s just something inherent to LucasArts – the Battlefront series was, up until LEGO Star Wars, made up of the best-selling Star Wars games ever made and, much like Jedi Knight, it too hasn’t been graced with a new entry (except for a couple of handheld iterations).  Of course, the company is right to focus on new series, not to mention that too many sequels can be a bad thing.  But a lot of people are in agreement on this one; the Jedi Knight series is desperately in need of a new instalment.

Over the 8 years that it ran, it was one of the best examples of technical advancement in videogames.  From its engaging story to its exceptional lightsaber combat mechanics, a new Jedi Knight game could restore balance to the Force…I mean Star Wars games.

What Made This One So Strong with the Force?

It’s hard to discuss the merits of a videogame series when it changes quite considerably between each instalment.  Jedi Knight released at a time when developers didn’t just make minor incremental tweaks or updates to a franchise and slap a new subtitle (and price tag) on the box (funnily enough, this used to be called an expansion and it was much better value-for-money!).

Nevertheless, Jedi Knight is remembered for one key reason: it’s Star Wars through and through.  Very few other games have evoked the same feeling.  The cheesy one-liners, the epic battle of light versus dark, and the power you felt playing as a Jedi all contributed to one heck of a gaming experience.   Kyle Katarn, who has since grown to become one of the most popular expanded universe characters, won us over with his brash, badass nature.  He’s the cool alternative to Luke Skywalker and not just a carbon(ite), stereotypical copy.

Kyle Katarn: Badass Jedi At Your Service

Jedi Knight did a great job of portraying the character and the game’s supporting cast with live-action cutscenes that interject the gameplay.  Sure, it was done on what seems like a pretty tight budget, but it immediately captivated Jedi Knight’s audience – being a fan of one of the greatest film sagas of all time, it was near impossible not to relate to the game’s cinematic approach.  Although this changed in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, a very filmic quality remained as Raven Software took advantage of the technogical benefits made available by the Quake 3 engine and looked to recreate that classic Star Wars experience.

What made the games so fun to play, however, was the immersive Jedi-based combat.  Ever since their first viewing of A New Hope, every Star Wars fan has, at some point, imagined they were a Jedi and the Jedi Knight series offered the next best thing.  Jedi Outcast was the pinnacle of the series in this regard, offering silky smooth lightsaber control that was easy to learn, yet incredibly difficult to master.  The amount of intricacies that a top player had to be aware of was staggering.  Having a range of combat styles and using the 8 directions supplied by your keyboard meant that you could be incredibly varied in your approach to dueling an opponent.  And this is another area where Jedi Knight succeeded in delivering a truly authentic Star Wars experience.  Much like in the films, lightsaber duels could go on for some time before a victor emerged, and when someone did win, it was because they pulled off a surprise hit or exploited their enemy’s weakness or mistake.

Moreover, Jedi Knight is a story of the main character’s development.  It is by no means as in-depth as a BioWare RPG, but this advancement is seen more through the actual gameplay than it is the story.  As you progress through one of the games as either Kyle Katarn or Jedi Academy’s Jaden Korr, you, much like any practicing Jedi, begin to learn new lightsaber skills and Force powers.  Early on in the game, you’ll struggle to overcome certain enemies and obstacles because your powers and skill limit you, meaning that in some instances (such as fighting Jedi Outcast’s Tavion) you’ll be relying on a little luck to get you through.  By the end of the game, however, the outlook is very different.  While the difficulty is much higher, you know you can more confidently approach a tricky part of the game and succeed (nothing is more satisfying than taking on 4 Dark Jedi at the same time).  The sense of power felt when staring down a squad of Stormtroopers and annihilating them all without taking a single hit is incredible, and it’s truly amazing how few games manage to provide the player with the same level of progression.

Epic

These aren’t the only achievements of the Jedi Knight series.  Technically speaking, each game performed exceptionally well in the graphics and audio department, and the level design is considerably high in quality.  Again, this is linked to the notion of the series being very Star Wars – the technical aspects help to create a very immersive experience that is almost on par with the movies.

A New Hope?

It is incredibly hard to imagine what a new Jedi Knight game would actually look like.  The gaming landscape has changed considerably since Jedi Academy released in 2003.  First and foremost, consoles are the key focus for developers, and if you’ve ever played a home system port of Jedi Outcast or Jedi Academy, it just isn’t as good as on PC.  Therefore, would the next Jedi Knight game be more complex, a continuation of the same thing, or simply dumbed down?  Given that the masses now regularly sign into Xbox Live or PlayStation Network for a spot of Call of Duty, Jedi Knight would more than likely be simplified, and I fear that a lot would be lost in the process.

The Force Was Not Quite As Strong with This One

Were this not an issue, it would be fair to say that most fans of the series would expect more of the same thing, with a few new bells and whistles thrown in on top.  The gameplay allowed for a great deal of complex and varied combat, and it’s difficult to see how this side of the series could be deepened further.  A new story is mandatory, one which perhaps steers away even more so from Kyle Katarn, only because we’ve trained him up from padawan to master twice before.  At the same time, the story in Jedi Academy, even with its new character, was rather disjointed thanks to many of its missions not really feeling as central or as important to the main story as we were led to believe.  Jedi Outcast did a much better job of presenting one overarching story that had some cool deviations carefully placed throughout and a return to this particular approach would be very welcome.

Augmenting the scale of the game would also be a nice improvement.  In previous Jedi Knight games you were predominantly fighting on your own from start to finish, but the moments where you teamed up with Lando or other Jedi Knights were especially cool (if you’ve played the final mission in Jedi Academy, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about).  Having more allies on-screen, and even a buddy through online cooperative play, could add a lot more immersion to what Star Wars does best – the grand battles.  Jedi Academy’s “Siege” mode was actually a prime example of how suited cooperative gameplay is to the series.  Building upon this with a more story-driven element could prove to be a very compelling gaming experience.

Lastly, and most importantly, there mustn’t be any sign of Jar Jar Binks.  The only permissible exception to this is a level where either you get to lop the irritating Gungan’s head off, or fight your way through a digital version of Skywalker Ranch and bring George Lucas to justice for creating such a monstrosity.

May the Force Be with You, LucasArts

So if you’re a little tired of The Force Unleashed’s hack ‘n’ slash mechanics, or LEGO Star Wars’ overly simplistic gameplay, then why not boot up a copy of one of the classic Jedi Knight games and embrace the nostalgia?  Hell, they’re even available through Steam.  It’s a series that has aged well and it’s a shame that a new entry isn’t somewhere on the horizon.  We can only hope that at some point in the near future, LucasArts takes a look back to a time not so long ago in a galaxy that really isn’t that far away and decides to create another one of those rare, AAA quality Star Wars videogame experiences.


Comments
One Response to “Missing in Action: Jedi Knight”
  1. Joe Walker says:

    I’ve been wanting a new game in this series for a LOOONG time. I was stoked when I bought the whole series in a bundle on Steam, substantially less stoked when none of them worked right.

    “He’s the cool alternative to Luke Skywalker and not just a carbon(ite), stereotypical copy.”

    I lol’d.

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