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(Star Wars) Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 10
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

Ever think about how your life would be different if you had use of the Force? You could easily get out of speeding tickets with mind tricks, you wouldn't need to get up to find the remote and a lightsaber could cut better than any Miracle Blade! Although Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy doesn't allow you to answer these questions, it certainly gets you one step closer to experiencing the life of a Jedi Knight.

Jedi Academy isn't the most breathtaking of Star Wars games -- the game looks good, but not great. The look is definitely Star Wars and does a great job of representing the look of the movies. This turns out to be the one of the game's strengths graphically. Each of the game's locales look just as you remember them and are sure to bring back some nostalgia. One of the more rewarding areas (and best looking) is the return -to Echo Base. Although I'm usually not up for another trip to Hoth, it was really neat to see what things look like in the aftermath of the battle. There's just something neat about seeing the ruined AT-ATs, almost like a field trip to a historic battleground. Other environments look just as good and I enjoyed seeing a visual representation of areas I'd only read about (like Vader's castle).

Characters are nicely rendered, but look a little boxy. The variety of character models isn't there either. Although you are given the ability to customize your character, I was a little turned off by the number of choices available. This lack of choice is evident during scenes where all the Jedi students are present and you can see that there is little variety between them. Animations have been kicked up a notch and more closely resemble fights seen in the newer movies. Yet, at the same time, some more minor movements -- like walking -- look a little rough.

History will show that there has never been a bad sounding Star Wars game. Even crapfests like Yoda Stories featured great effects and music. The familiar John Williams overtures grace every level of the game and fit the mood of the game well. There's also a nice blend Original Trilogy themes and Prequel themes scattered throughout. Sound effects are spot on -- especially the hum of a lightsaber. The voice acting is good for a game, but shares the same stiffness that has become associated with Star Wars in the last two movies.


Gameplay:

The first thing players will notice about Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is the absence of Kyle Katarn in the game's lead role. As it turns out the one-time hero and protector of the Valley of the Jedi has gone into semi-retirement and is now teaching at Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy. You are Jaden Kor, a promising student on your way to the Academy. After a rocky welcome to Yavin, you are sent on a series of missions in order to unravel a sinister plot. Is it just me, or are the plots to the Jedi Knight games, or most recent Star Wars games, becoming a little more ridiculous? First there was the mythical valley that was a gathering place for the Force, then there were the Reborn Dark Jedi and now Jedi Academy gives us a staff that can not only suck the Force out of things, but also imbue the Force into others. Ungh. Although I'm probably being really rough for commenting on this, it would be nice to stretch out into the Expanded Universe just a little more. You know - maybe give fans what we've been wanting for the past 2 years, like.I dunno, the Vong?

Anyway, this is not meant to but a negative spin on the game, since it is still entertaining, ridiculous story and all. One of the more unique aspects of the game is that Jaden is whoever you want Jaden to be. You are given the option to set the gender, race, attire and look of the main character. You are also given the choice of which Force powers you wish to master and what style of lightsaber hilt and color you want. As you go through the ranks of the Jedi you'll also be presented with the opportunity to master new saber fighting styles and will eventually have the option of fighting with either dual lightsabers or a Darth Maul style double-bladed lightsaber. At first this may seem similar to Knights of the Old Republic, however the character creation isn't taken to that extreme since the story is the same regardless of what your Jedi looks like. As far as I could tell, there doesn't seem to be much of a tracking of whether your character goes towards the Dark or Light Side and rather the story decides that you're a Light Jedi.

The mission layout of the game is quite different from the previous series in the game as well. Although the game does follow an overarching story, you can choose which missions you want to accomplish. At each Jedi level (Padawan, Knight.) you are given five assignments. You can choose to do these in any order you want or you can choose to skip some. This, of course, isn't a good idea because you'll not only miss out on the game, but also the chance to upgrade your Force powers. I was pleased with the missions that were presented, especially since they try to get away from the more traditional 'run around and kill stuff in a maze' convention. For example, one mission has you trying to repair your downed ship on a planet inhabited by Tremors-like creatures. Whenever you walk on the ground, the vibrations will alert them to your presence and you'll die. This means you have to figure out how to collect the parts you need without stepping on the ground, which is done my jumping from rock to rock or by using the Force to move plates of metal around. Jedi Academy also features the customary 'stripped of all your weapons and forced to make it out alive' mission. During missions you'll also run into some familiar locales and faces, such as Chewbacca, and get the chance to ride a swoop bike and Taun Taun.

Even though Jedi Outcast was an amazing game, the real reason for it's popularity was the multiplayer element. This element is carried on in Jedi Academy via Xbox Live. Multiplayer options include a Duel Mode and my personal favorite - Siege. This is a mode for all of you guys who, like myself, have been engrossed with Return to Castle Wolfenstein's team-based multiplayer game. In Siege, players break up into teams. One team is charged with completing an objective, while the other tries to stop them. In order to accomplish this task, each member of the team chooses a different job. Assault Troops are your general fighting class; Heavy Weapons Troops specialize in big time damage; Scouts are experts at sniping and espionage; Techs can re-arm troops with ammo or provide healing; and Jedi are, well.Jedi. Each job plays an important role in this game. Even though the idea is to just go with an all Jedi team, you're not likely to get very far.


Difficulty:

Playing the game on default setting is likely to give you a nice challenge. The game features a nice learning curve that slowly settles you into the game, but there are a few missions where you'll be thrown into a much harder situation then you bargained for. I really liked this since it kept the game from becoming too predictable. Things really pick up when you start facing Dark Jedi in battle. I found this aspect to be a tad harder than I expected since, at times, it felt like the duel was more of a crapshoot than a skill-based fight. If you think things are too easy or hard, you can change the difficulty level.

Game Mechanics:

It is never easy converting a game from mouse and keyboard support to a controller. I can only imagine the nightmare it must be to cram all of the game's keyboard presses and mouse clicks into one easy to use controller configuration. This seems to be a challenge that the developers were up to as the controls are laid out very well and are easy to use. When reviewing Jedi Outcast, I was critical of the control set up. It was easy to navigate between buttons, but the response was loose. I was happy to see that this problem was fixed in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Getting around the buttons was also easier to manage.

Jedi Academy uses a mix of first-person and third-person action. When using any of the games non-lightsaber weapons, you will go into a standard FPS mode. Wielding a lightsaber puts you in a third-person mode - which is the angle you experience most of your adventure in.

Jedi Academy may not be as impressive as its predecessor, but it still manages to provide for a good experience. The gameplay is decent and the Xbox Live enabled multiplayer is definitely worth it.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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