Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Past and Times of Yore - Jedi Knight 3: Jedi Academy, Everyday I'm Lightsaberin'

Release Date: September 17th 2003
Genre: First/Third person shooter
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Raven Software
Platform: Microsoft Windows, Xbox, Mac OS X
Players: 1 & Multiplayer
Classification: T (Teen)

Well how did I get this far without reviewing this one? out of all the times that I’ve played it. I believe I briefly mentioned Jedi Academy in my first The Past and Times of Yore post, as it’s definitely one of my most-loved games and I’ve played it through a good number of times. Jedi Academy was actually the third in the Jedi Knight series featuring Kyle Katarn none of which I actually played before but I am wanting to try Dark forces as I do like Doom clones.

But anyway Jedi Academy was possibly the first Star Wars game I played where you could be a Jedi, apart from maybe Super Star Wars series on the SNES, the difference here was it was a (mostly) third person game that used the Quake III Arena engine, making it the first game I played where I could swing a lightsaber around in a 3D universe, and boy was it fun. The story takes place apparently ten years after the Battle of Endor and is the first game where you don’t play as Kyle Katarn but a new Jedi named Jaden Korr who was part of a group of students flying to Luke Skywalker's Jedi academy on Yavin 4. This is a great setting as I love games which start you of as a mere student then as you progress you become more powerful and higher in rank with more abilities/weapons, this is the kind of thing I wish they would do with the next Tenchu game (if it ever comes out) though technically they did do this with Tenchu Z.

Luke addressing Jaden, Rosh and the Academy initiates
I'll make a quick note here that there actually is a multiplayer mode to this game as well but I only ever played it once and frankly don't know much about it so the review will be based on the singleplayer game.

When starting the game you can actually chose what your “Jaden” looks like and I did find it kind of strange that you could be a Rodian or Kel Dor named “Jaden” you could even be a female human, Zabrak or Twi’lek. I did have a go at most races though interestingly enough the human male brown haired and white skinned head that I took the first and last time I played the game I only recently found out was regarded as the canonical appearance for Jaden as he was actually used in several books and stories in the Star Wars extended universe. I also tried out some mods which changed the character model for the singleplayer game, one I used heavily changed Jaden into Quinlan Vos who actually had a Jedi cloak on and looked pretty cool, and even Darth Vader which I’ll admit was pretty ludicrous. Lastly someone made some voice mods for the singleplayer campaign so the Kel Dor and Rodian characters actually sounded the part (which made sense) I liked to use the Kel Dor one with Quinlan and Vader which made them sound pretty cool.

Character creation screen
Lightsaber creation screen
You can then pick your Lightsaber hilt and colour and as the game was easily moddable, I had a lot of fun finding different mods to use. There was quite a few out there but only a select few I used all of the time, one of which wwas the the ‘Lightkatana’ mod which obviously changed your sabre to a style more akin to the Japanese sword.

Jaden squaring off against a Reborn cultist, notice the curvature and design of the blade making it look more 'Katana like'
Others were the ‘Bloody’ mod which as you would guess turned the lightsaber “sparks” to red and spills blood on the ground and the “Reebo Sabers” which changed the size, shape and length of the sabers.

I messily dismember a Snow Trooper in Echo Base
To start off with you have a single sabre but as you progress you can wield two sabers or a saber staff. The core of the game is mapped out into sections with you doing 5 side missions and then leading on to the major quest for that section, each time you finished a mission you got to add another point into the Light or dark force powers whereas the core force powers are updated automatically as you progress through the story, I’ll give a rundown of them below.

Core Force Powers: These powers start at Tier 1 once you start training with Kyle then advance along to tier 3 once you have become a Jedi Knight.

Force Jump: Jump Higher using the Force
Force Push: Push enemies off balance or off an edge
Force Pull: Pull enemies toward you to do a stab kill with your lightsaber
Force Sense: Use the force to see things more clearly such as hidden patterns and icons and eventually see enemies and items colour coded and through walls
Force Speed: Use the force to slow time and run faster
Lightsabre Offense: Allows you to do more damage with your lightsaber
Lightsabre Defense: Allows you to better defend yourself by deflecting blaster fire and lightsaber attacks
Lightsabre Throw: Allows you to throw your lightsaber for longer periods

Light and Dark Side Powers: These you can put 1 point in per mission completed.

Force Absorb: Absorb incoming force attacks
Force Heal: Heal yourself
Mind Trick: Force an enemy to stop attacking you or even fight for you for a short period
Force Protection: Shield yourself from damage for a short time

Force Drain: Drain health from enemies
Force Grip: Strangle enemies and throw them around
Force Lightning: Electrify all the things!
Dark Rage: Become faster, stronger and invulnerable at the expense of health.

Me choking an enemy to death, damn I evil.
I’ll take this point to admit that In later playthroughs I cheated at the game, mainly due to Jaden’s fragile nature and so I could mess around with all the dark side powers and not have to worry about protecting myself. Don’t get me wrong the light side powers are pretty cool especially when you’re trying keep yourself alive but as I went on I found that as you got into the later stages of the game and fought more Jedi with dual sabres and saber staffs and you had two as well and there was sabers flying all over the place so you could die in seconds as I also knew several ways to almost insta-kill enemies with certain moves.

Lightsabers gone wild
And speaking of moves there are several Saber styles that you can use, you start off using the balanced saber style then can choose either the fast or strong single saber styles and once you become a fully fledged Jedi Knight you have the option of learning a third single sabre style, using two lightsabers or using a sabre staff. I’ve used both though the sabre staff was always a favourite for me especially with the reebo saber mod as you can sabers of varying lengths and thicknesses with short thick sabers doing more damage.

My Sabre staff was at an average thickness (no pun intended)
Each style has its own moves that personify the style for example the single sabre strong style is for powerful and heavy hitting attacks (like this flying jump slash which I love) but may leave you open to enemy counterattacks and quick the style is for quick glancing attacks that do less damage. The dual saber and saber staff has their own style as well and are both pretty awesome from stabbing a grounded enemy with two sabers to slicing them up with a spinning saber staff attack. There are also various acrobatics you can do such as wall jumps and backflips and as you become more powerful in the force you can end up doing great leaps across chasms and run straight up walls, I must admit once you get your force powers up to level 3 they get pretty ridiculous, you can clear entire rooms in seconds with force lightning and throw otherwise deadly enemies such as reborn off a ledge with a well timed force grip. One of the other things I like doing is Mind Controlling an enemy into fighting for you and watching them attack other soldiers, the flying troopers are good for this as their so annoying to kill.

An example of level 3 of Force Grip/Leap/Lightning and Mind Control

So basically you’re an apprentice Jedi paired with an annoying companion called Rosh Penin who accompanies you from the start after your transport ship crashes and you have to journey through the jungle to get to a Massasi Temple to meet up with the rest of the students, you go through this area with Rosh and although you do not have any force power you have you lightsaber handy. After your brief foray in the Jungle you finally get to the Temple and your allocated master is none other than Kyle Katarn. I had heaps of fun doing the training learning to use the Lightsaber and do various tricks like force jump and speed which obviously make you jump higher and run faster and force sense which allows you to see various symbols and other objects. After that you start off doing the side missions which only slightly affect the main storyline to get the end missions for the tier which is both a major plot point and an increase in your Jedi skills allowing you to access tier 2 and 3 of the base skills.

Training on Yavin with Kyle
Throughout most of these missions I used the Lightsaber as you may as freakin well since you have it from the start, I never played any of the Jedi Knight games but apparently you only got your Lightsaber towards the middle of the game and there really wasn’t much use for the weapons in general combat apart from one level where your Lightsaber was stolen. I did however use a select few which I’ll detail below

DL-44 Blaster Pistol: Your basic blaster pistol that you automatically have for every mission, useful for blowing up explosive barrels or tripmines
Tenloss Disruptor Rifle:  Excellent for sniping at hard-to-get or unsuspecting enemies.
Destructive Electro-Magnetic Pulse 2 (DEMP 2) Gun: Basically one-shot most droids which made killing those flying ones a peace of cake.

Other non-essential but fun weapons were the two that were unlocked towards the end of the game:

Stouker Concussion Rifle: This was used by those really annoying hazard troopers and is pretty damn powerful shooting either a fast moving blast which exploded on impact and an instant blast that blew you backwards.
Merr-Sonn PLX-2M Portable Missile System: This had a lock on system which was excellent for taking out those flying troopers or large groups of enemies.

Using the Laser Cannon and the E-11 Blaster Rifle in first person.

All of these weapons had a primary and secondary fire for example the blaster pistol had a single weak fast shot and the secondary was a more powerful charged blast. The Concussion Rifle and Merr-Son  Missile Launcher weapons in particular were awesome for messing with other Jedi, for example if you shot a non-locking missile at a enemy Jedi they would force push it back to you and then you could force push it back to them and essentially play “tennis” though this was difficult to do, you could also do this with the concussion rifle but it was damn hard as it travelled super fast. I had a bit more fun using the tracking missile as when you fire it at enemy Jedi they jump around and sometimes fell of the ledge, ledges were a common source of fun as well as I couldn’t count how many soldiers and Jedi and Jedi I pushed, threw or tricked off a ledge to their doom, the levels on Chandrila and Taspir III are notorious for this.

Having fun in Chandrila with the Merr-sonn and Stouker Rifle, this was a notorious level as it was the first one you did as a fully fledged Jedi Knight and funnily enough it's incredibly unsafe being in a giant chasm and all.

Playing some Missile Tennis with the Merr-sonn

As I mentioned most of the time I  went on my merry way slashing way with my Lightsaber or killed enemies with force powers and I noticed they had this feature that if you killed the last enemy of a group with your lightsaber the game would go into slow motion and would pan around your character matrix style while you slashed or stab through them which looked absolutely awesome. What’s more was that I found you could change it so that it happens every kill you do with the lightsaber and also when you are fighting enemy Jedi and they dodge creating some awesome cinematic moments and kills, this feature alone could the main reason this game gets into my top 10 games of all time it’s just so good it’s made me play this game through at least 5 times.

Doin some bloody murder on Coruscant and demonstrating the slow-mo kills

So now back to the story finally...

The story revolves around a cult called the Disciples of Ragnos who are stealing Dark Force energy and generally causing chaos all around the galaxy. In the beginning you’re mostly fighting easy enemies with the occasional fight with a weak cultist, enemies include mercenaries, stormtroopers and some planet-specific enemies such as Tusken Raiders and Noghri. There’s also  some different kinds of troopers including flying ones which are really annoying and different types of droids, some of which use lightabres! One thing I love is that you experience a lot of Star Wars nostalgia, the first two levels are on Tatooine and you see the Millennium Falcon and meet Chewbacca, then in the next one you have to find some Jawas and kill some sand people. You go to Hoth, ride a Tauntaun get attacked by a Wampa and battle through Echo Base, you have to avoid a Rancor in a Hutt Cartel gambling palace, you race, chase and fight on Speeder Bikes, you co-operate with General Wedge Antilles on a Covert mission, you pilot an AT-ST and while on an Imperial Dreadnought you have to disable the tractor beam on your ship in a familiar looking but less dangerous setting.

Wow this looks familiar
So almost everything you do revolves around classic Star Wars scenes and scenarios, apart from right at the end where shit get serious. At the start of the game you’re basically fending off enemies  trying to shoot you with blasters and the occasional fight with a weak Sith, then after you become a fully fledged Jedi Knight there’s cultists and dual saber and sabre staff wielding Reborn all over the place, it’s like you’re starved with dozens of appetizers then had mountains of food shoved down your mouth. The last level is pretty intense as it’s an all-out battle between the Jedi order and the Disciples of Ragnos and there’s sometimes up to 6 different people in the one area with Lightsabers flying everywhere and it becomes pretty chaotic but spectacular especially when everyone’s dodging and setting off the slow-mo circle thing. I’ll say now that you do have to make a choice between Light and Dark near the end which slightly affects the outcome of the last level and final fight. The story itself is fine, I enjoyed the levels where you were joined by Kyle and kicked ass and laughed at the fact that he had a Lightkatana too.

Heeere we go again!
 The graphics in the game are based on the Quake 3 Engine and still look acceptable today I reckon, of course this was due to the fact that I had to tweak the game to run in 16:10 widescreen mode and 1680x1050 resolution so it looked fine really despite the fact that some of the animation and texture graphics were quite dated but what do you expect from a game made 11 years ago. One of the funnier aspect was when different characters gave you a mission briefing they’d just be a talking head on the console often (in Wedges case) with no other facial animation then their lower jaw making them look somewhat like a puppet when talking. also if you waited for about a second after they had finished talking they would pull a much more concerned looking face for no apparent reason. There were also other problems such as at one point the game went to a cutscene then appeared to freeze but with the characters still moving but not saying anything just looking around.

"So errr is someone going to say something?, gettin kind of freaked out here"

By far the most annoying problems though where made by what I think was the framerate issue that I’ve encountered before in certain games such as the first Dead Space and GTA4, in both of these games I experienced bugs where I got stuck on a certain part such as hanging off a moving helicopter and pulling self up or walking through a door and only by turning on the Fraps recorder and getting the framerate down to 30 or below. I’m not sure why this happens but it’s something to do with my computer being too fast for the older games.

Part of the cutscene where you can still see me frozen where I left off, made it look pretty damn ludicrous.
 Unfortunately in this instance I wasn’t able to overcome the problem and had two separate incidents at what could be the two most crucial plot point moments ruining them in the process. The first was when you get to the end of the second chapter and instead of cutting to a cutscene you see yourself run out of yourself and act out the whole scene with you there watching, luckily I was able to continue the scenes loading by attacking and killing frozen enemies. The other point was probably the most crucial in the game, the part where you had to choose between the Light and Dark Side but before you can get to the choice the screen goes black and you can’t even continue. I ended up having to cheat to load the last level, man what a goddamn letdown. Though I have experienced the whole thing before of course and I guess I could try the Steam version but I think I’ve had enough of the game for now really.

The scene right before you choose the Light or Dark Side, then the screen goes black and then freezes.
 In any case the game looks fine, I loved the look and feel of the graphics back then and I still do now for the nostalgic feel, the effects and the textures were fine I reckon, sure the character models were funny but you never really noticed that when you were swinging your Lightsaber around. The best things about the game was the way they re-created all the planets and it’s been done well, I felt very immersed in the Star Wars Universe and it often felt much bigger than it actually was, especially in the Chandrila, Zonju V and Coruscant levels as there were drops and floating platforms all over the place. There was also some rather nice water effects but the general look and feel of the graphics and the awesome level design was way ahead of its time, the game obviously looked even more brilliant playing at a previously unheard of resolution like 1680x1024.

Pretty water on Yalara
As for the sound well it’s fwoorsh-waaorwn-zishskt-tastic, all the right sounds are in there, of the Star Wars characters from the original movies there is Luke, C3PO and Chewbacca, funnily enough Luke isn’t actually voiced by Mark Hamill but I didn’t even notice, in the first level you see the Millenium Falcon and Chewbacca but no Han Solo, probably because they  either couldn’t get Harrison Ford or weren’t allowed to find someone to speak like him. In any regard the voice acting though kinda cheesy is fine as it could be a lot cheesier the sounds have all the right bleeps, bloops and slashing someone in half with a lightsaber really has the right effect with the screams from the enemies and the bloody mod installed goes right back to that infamous dismemberment of Pondo Baba’s arm of course this being much more deadly. The music is basically what you’d expect from a Star Wars game, almost every bit of score you can recognize as being Star Wars and it sounds great, great yes that’s really all I got to say.

"Hi Everyone now first of all I'm not Mark Hamill, I may look like him but it's someone else speaking here"
Yes that indeed really is all I have to say Star Wars Jedi Knight Jedi Academy really was awesome and still is awesome, I haven’t played the previous Jedi Knight games and probably never will just keep playing this one again and again but frankly I’ve had enough for now I think unless the Steam version has somehow cut out the bugs and allowed for widescreen viewing etc but I dunno. All I know is this was one of the greatest games I’ve ever played and I haven’t found a game quite like it since. It was definitely the best Star Wars game I’ve played with the second being Jedi Power Battles for the Playstation, its one of those games that never gets old no matter how many times you play and I love it.



What I like:
  • You're a goddamn Jedi trainee in an Academy and you can even create your own character.
  • You have Lightsaber throughout the whole game and can eventually use two or a Saber staff
  • The game has a start-off-from-nothing approach
  • Force powers are awesome
  • Great slow-motion circle killing effect which almost wins the game for me.
  • Great Star Wars immersive graphics, sound and characters
  • Game can be easily modded (or hacked)
What I don’t like:
  • Bugs have popped up as the game gets older
  • Can die too quickly in the later game.
  • Needs more Academy interaction i.e walk around the Academy RPG style
  • Story needs more sex and romance (NOT with Rosh)

This is my Saber, this is my Sword.

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