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Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: LucasArts
Genre: First-Person Shooter / Third-Person Action
Players: 1-16
Similar To: Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Rating: Teen
Published: 09 :29 : 03
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 8 = Excellent

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P3 450, 128MB RAM, 32MB video Card
Reviewed On: P4 2.5Ghz, 512MB DDR, GeForce 4ti, SB, Win XP Pro

Intro

It's time for Kyle to step aside and let the new blood take over. That's where the player comes in as they take the role of a young adventurer who has been given the opportunity to enroll in the Jedi Academy. Progress through extensive missions, balance the force, and build up expertise in abilities and saber combat in this action-packed release from Raven and LucasArts.


Gameplay: 8.5/10
To be honest, I really couldn't get into Jedi Knight II. The slow pace and emphasis on jumping and back tracking just didn't sit with me well, but I did hear of its greatness from Nicholas and others. After experiencing Jedi Academy, I can now see why everyone told me to trudge through the first few mundane hours.

In short, Jedi Academy is a stripped-down approach at becoming a Jedi. Basic decisions to choose which side are there, and those aspects will be discussed more later, but the main emphasis is on putting the player in situations that need resolving and leave little room for pussy-footing around. This direct approach still leaves room for the player to evolve, but it also grabs them early on and keeps the game more interesting.

While JK I and II had a progression of building upon the player's knowledge of the force, as Jaden, the player is already a prodigy of sorts in the realm of the Jedi. Having built a lightsaber on his own, thought to be impossible, he is brought to study at the academy and to fully develop his powers so that he may become a true Jedi Knight. Shortly after embarking on his journey to meet with Skywalker, he becomes a player of increasing importance in a new war that is emerging as a Sith cult teams up with remaining Imperial forces.

As a student, the player will initially team up with the renowned Kyle Katarn on their early missions so that they may learn the ropes from a veteran; although, in truth, he's rarely anything more than a means of progressing the story within the individual missions. The extent of his influence will be giving the player advice to stick with the light side.

For an action title, Jedi Academy has a decent amount of optimization. Starting out, gamers can choose between a variety of male and female characters, as well as the hilt and color of their lightsabers. As missions are complete, extended force powers can be enhanced and some of these powers include healing and protection for the light, with choke and lightening for the dark. The maximum level of training is 3, and the player will be warned during sections of the game if they're choosing to not balance their training, which occurs when one opts to focus more on the dark than the light. As sections of missions are completed, the player will then increase their position within the order and will also have their basic powers (jumping, pushing, pulling, etc.) increased. Training with the lightsaber will also progress as the player will eventually get the choice to continue to train with a single saber and its 3 styles, or go with either the staff or dual sabers and their single style.

The missions are a pretty good lot, with few actually feeling different. The player can choose in which order they will be played, or if they will be played at all, since the option to skip missions and head back to the academy is given. Going back to the academy advances the story, and since you also get more training through the missions, going through all of them is advised.

To tackle the problems, the player will not only have their force power and lightsaber(s), but also the standard variety of weaponry. While there are a few puzzles that require using the force, which are somewhat underdeveloped and of too few, the game is mostly jumping puzzles and combat. Similar to Jedi Knight 2, the weapons seem to be pretty ineffective, with only a handful actually being worthwhile. I'm not sure if this was intentional so the player will focus on using Jedi-oriented tactics, but it's still frustrating having to pelt a standard guard with a handful of rounds from an advanced weapon before they finally die.

The mission designs are good with most having an emphasis on either close combat or in areas that end of resembling arenas, both of which allow the player to use some fancy acrobatics. When not in a hallway or room, a good deal of time will be spent on walkways high above the ground; now, this has unseen repercussions in that it can be somewhat easy to simply choke someone and drop them off the side (which is fun every time) or to push them off, this is hard to do later on with the more advanced foe, but this can make some of the earlier missions easy to go through. These areas are also somewhat difficult because of the extra jumping ability that Jedis have, it makes controlling them feel a little floaty; so, it gets tough when navigating puzzles that require precise landings.

I ended up really liking Jedi Academy. It was refreshing not having to do a slow build-up, and to have the able to do cool things right out of the gate. The game does tend to become a little monotonous towards the end, when there are so many dark Jedi running around that the lightsaber combat begins to feel redundant and it isn't so cool anymore to pull of a nice combo in tandem with force powers. There are some levels that try to give the game some variety, like speederbikes and shooting down tie fighters in a turret, but those end up being only decent. The heart of the game, the combat - running through mobs of storm troopers and their elite brethren, as well as single combat with other Jedi - is what's in abundance and so enjoyable.

Graphics: 8/10
The Quake III engine is doing a fairly good job this time around. Some of the foliage tends to pop up and there isn't a ton of detail, but the trade-off of it is that it's able to run on older machines. The animations are top notch, and the cool maneuvers that the player can do are always a treat to watch. The effects are great, especially the lightsaber, as it lights up dimly lit tunnels and evaporates rain as it hits with a slight hissing sound. There are random oddities, like lifted corpses lying completely flat in thin air, and some clipping. I think the decision to use the Q3 engine was a good one, despite not being incredibly detailed, it still looks great.

Sound: 8.5/10
Star Wars music is really an easy way to make even the most obscure SW game seem relevant to the universe. While nothing new was tried this time around, I won't take for granted that messing with the formula could've really thrown off the entire feeling of the game. The voice-overs are solid and sync well with their digital counterparts, the effects are also equally satisfying. The random conversations are a nice touch, so I wouldn't mind a little more in the way of environmental and random sounds to make the game a little more atmospheric.


Control: 7.5/10
I can't imagine any other way to handle the ability to choose between so many weapons and powers. It's easy to get flustered in combat and hit the wrong button, but I'm not sure if there's an adequate way around that. Some of the weapons are still a little unwieldy, but my main problem was the jumping portions that were mentioned earlier. The character can jump high and glide to the side, but they can also slide completely off a beam or crate and into lava and/or an endless void - I tell you, there's nothing more upsetting than being the victim of your own awesomeness.

Overall: 8/10
It'll be interesting to see where Raven takes the series from here. Those who enjoyed the build-up of Jedi Knight II might be thrown off with Jedi Academy's more upfront approach, but that's exactly why I enjoyed it. The game could've done better with more fleshed out force puzzles and end-game saber duels, and tweaking the other minor nuisances (weapons, jumping, and disappointing variety levels). The overall experience was a positive one, despite its rough edges, because there's little else as cool and exhilarating as whipping out a lightsaber and knowing the ensuing action will be represented exactly how it should be.

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Related Links: LucasArts
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