With its excellent visuals, well-written storyline, killer sound, and wealth of multiplayer options, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II -- Jedi Outcast is unquestionably one of the better Star Wars games around. With that said, there are enough frustrating aspects to the single-player experience that the patience of even the most tolerant gamers will be tested throughout, especially early on.
Apart from the use of Star Wars locations and themes, it's the lightsaber combat and use of Force powers that set Jedi Knight II apart from your average first-person shooter. So it's unfortunate that the first few hours of the game are tiredly reminiscent of just about every other switch-flipping, key collecting, kill-everything-that-moves shooter out there.
The reliance on artificial roadblocks to progress is especially annoying, such as when you must collect encryption symbols in order to unlock a force field, or jump on top of a seemingly normal object in order to find a hidden corridor. The solutions to most of these "puzzles" are not obvious or intuitive, so you'll probably have to resort to a strategy guide if you don't want to spend hours wandering around aimlessly, hoping to stumble across the right solution.
Once you get a lightsaber and start gaining Force powers, the single-player game becomes considerably more enjoyable, but, even then, many players may still be put off by the overabundance of puzzles, jumping, and switch-flipping. On the plus side, enemy AI is set at just about the right level, so stormtroopers and other foes will duck, run around corners, or rush straight for you depending on the situation. They're not terribly smart, but neither were they in the movies.
Jedi Knight II's real saving grace is the multiplayer experience, which simply allows you to have fun by battling other players in lightsaber duels or free-for-all deathmatches. The variety of options and gameplay types is almost overwhelming, but that's a good thing. And even if you don't have a net connection, just playing against CPU-controlled bots makes for an enjoyable time.
Using a modified version of the Quake III engine, developer Raven Software has brought the sights and sounds of the Star Wars universe to life with great care. From the detailed environments to the great character models, you'll feel immersed in a universe that is immediately familiar but never clichéd. The sound is usually the best part of a Star Wars game, and here it's no exception. The John Williams-inspired soundtrack changes in tone and tempo to suit the level of action, and the weapons' sound effects provide satisfying blasts, hums, and whooshes. The acting during cut-scenes is also very good, with Billy Dee Williams himself on hand to voice Lando Calrissian.
Because Star Wars: Jedi Knight II -- Jedi Outcast is such an accomplished game, there's a tendency to want to forgive its shortcomings. But be aware that the single-player levels are aimed at the hardcore gamer willing to spend hours of trial-and-error to solve a puzzle or at those who don't mind following the step-by-step instructions of a strategy guide in order to proceed. Chances are the majority of players will try some of the single-player game, become frustrated or bored, and then move on to the outstanding multiplayer modes.
Graphics: Jedi Knight II is an excellent-looking game that really captures the essence of the Star Wars universe.
Sound: The use of familiar Star Wars music, sound effects, and voices goes a long way toward creating an immersive experience.
Enjoyment: While the single-player game might be frustrating for some, the multiplayer modes more than make up for it.
Replay Value: The single-player game is lengthy, and the multiplayer modes will keep you playing for a long time to come.
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