A galactic adventure that is far, far away from what new players expect today.
2002 was a crucial year in the lifespan of the Nintendo Gamecube. It was the year of Super Mario Sunshine. Metroid Prime launched in North America, while The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker released in Japan. Meanwhile, late November 2002 featured Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, with Vicarious Visions developing a version of the game for consoles, after Raven Software created the original, a March 2002 title on PC.
Jedi Outcast is considered the third installment in the Jedi Knight series that is published by Lucasarts, although this Switch port comes to us from Aspyr. The game follows 1995’s Star Wars: Dark Forces and 1997’s Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. In this context, the title Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast makes sense. Those who are new to the series in 2019 must have been confused, then, when it was announced during September’s Nintendo Direct that Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast would launch before Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. In fact, Jedi Academy is the sequel to Jedi Outcast, which justifies its current Q1 2020 release window on Switch. This also means that Jedi Outcast is built on upon the narratives and mechanics of the games that came before it.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast begins as a first-person shooter, before changing to a third-person action-adventure game once new abilities are unlocked. This may seem jarring at first glance, but the game begins with series protagonist Kyle Katarn working as a mercenary for the New Republic after severing his connection with the Force after the previous game’s events. It has been eight years after Return of the Jedi in the timeline of the Star Wars extended universe and Kyle only begins his journey with a variety of blasters at his disposal, until the plot’s events necessitate the re-learning of the lightsaber and Jedi abilities. Accessing the lightsaber shifts the game into a third-person perspective and using Force powers for puzzle solving shows moments of clever design, while returning to blasters and other weaponry funnels the game back into first-person.
The Star Wars setting shines here, thanks to help from the original publishing partnership with Lucasarts. Character models for familiar Star Wars faces are accurate for the graphical capabilities of the time, weapon sound effects are exactly as they should be, and the music plays off of memorable riffs from John Williams’ famous scores. It’s this type of Star Wars-specific presentation that really allows the player to believe and become invested in this world, especially if they are already familiar with the film franchise. Aspyr also deserves to be praised for the quality of this port. Performance is smooth in docked and handheld mode, optional gyro motion controls are added for those who want them for aiming, and textures are cleaned up enough to properly support graphics from 2002 in 1080p resolution, without the visuals undergoing a complete overhaul from scratch. Players who simply yearn for the original experience, translated as smoothly as possible to Switch, will be pleased.
While the accuracy of the original experience may be intact, those who are looking to jump into Jedi Outcast for the first time in 2019 should be warned that the game’s age shows in plenty of unsatisfying ways. A tutorial in the first level is sorely missed, when the player is thrown into a 3D world with zero conveyance of how to interact with it. What is a BioTech Bacta Canister, or that glowing green object in the room? It’s 2002 game design, so you figure it out. Objective direction is purposely vague and a penchant for obtuse puzzles shows through when interacting at a specific point with a panel of lights is the key to progressing forward. The lack of a mini-map on the heads-up display, or even the lack of a map on a pause screen is completely baffling for a game with vast 3D environments. Managing a health and armor system with item pickups in the world adds a manufactured trial-and-error difficulty, when an enemy could be around the corner at any moment. It may be a player’s preference to experience games “how they used to be,” but it also should be considered that most modern games have strayed away from these design decisions for a variety of reasons.
To go with this, the gameplay experience unfortunately leaves much to be desired for those that have become accustomed to conventional shooters and action-adventure games. Kyle Katarn controls very loosely, as he slides around the world and repeats the same vocal grunt after every jump input during forced platforming segments. For a game that wants to initially establish itself as a first-person shooter, the aiming of blasters and the overall hitbox detection on enemies is maddeningly inconsistent, which only highlights the infancy of the genre on consoles after the refinement of 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved. Even after Jedi powers are introduced with a clever level of learning through puzzles, the game immediately throws the player into a stage littered with enemies firing sniper rifles. Cutscenes and voiceovers especially show their age, with questionable cinematography, flat acting with crunchy audio fidelity, and only the slightest attempt at trying to match lip flaps. Most frustrating of all is the necessity of the player’s heavy reliance on a manual save system, when death is just a room or a missed jump away. There’s a certain brutality involved with this game experience, and while that may appeal to some nostalgic players, it likely will not to those who have become comfortable with action-adventure games from this decade.
I can certainly appreciate what Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast tried to accomplish at the time in 2002. After the appearance of Attack of the Clones in movie theaters earlier that year, the adventures of Kyle Katarn continued in the medium of video games. For those who are looking to recapture their memories of playing the original game just as it was, the Switch version is a fine means of relishing in that. As a video game releasing in 2019, however, new players should be cautious and, at the very least, aware of what they are getting into. Players who are familiar with the mechanics could complete the campaign in about 12 hours, while several to many more hours will be added for those who are new.
If players want to discover what Star Wars games used to be like before the arrival of November’s Jedi: Fallen Order, this is a reasonable point of comparison. After all, 2002 seems like a long time ago when it comes to cinematic action-adventure game design. Sunshine, Metroid Prime, and Wind Waker all hold up as game experiences from this era. Jedi Outcast is far, far away from doing so.