Star Wars: Jedi Knight -- Jedi Academy is the fourth title in a series that began as Star Wars: Dark Forces. In the three previous games, players took the role of Kyle Katarn, a Rebel-agent-turned-Jedi who at times had trouble resisting the temptations of the dark side. Though Kyle Katarn is no longer the main character, he still plays a major role by acting as the player's Jedi Master. Unlike previous titles in the series, Jedi Academy allows players to create their game character before setting out to save the galaxy. Character creation is limited, however, as Jedi Academy does not attempt to take the series into new ground, sticking to the scripted-action formula rather than moving the series into role-playing territory as the character creation screen might suggest.
Regardless of the gender or species chosen, all characters are named Jaden Korr. You can be a male Human, male Rodian, male Kel Dor, female Human, female Zabrak, or female Twi'lek. This decision only affects what you will look like in cut-scenes and when playing from a third-person view. Every race sounds Human and speaks perfect Basic, so even though a Rodian should sound different than a Human, he doesn't. Male characters have male voices and the females have female voices, and both speak the same dialog. The dialog should have been altered slightly, at least in a few places, as there is a comment early in the game about how "creepy" Jaden finds Rodians. This really doesn't make sense if you are playing as a Rodian.
Once a species is selected, players can choose a head, torso, and legs, as well as a base color for their outfit. Next is the lightsaber creation feature, which unfortunately, is a bit limited. You get to select both a hilt and a saber color, but there are only five saber colors from which to choose. Red isn't a choice, either, since that is the saber color of every lightsaber-wielding bad guy in the game. Fortunately, the best selection appears about six hours into the game when you are given the option to carry dual sabers or a double-bladed lightsaber.
Unlike Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy gives players a lightsaber and Force powers at the very beginning of the game, which is a mixed blessing. The beginning levels of Jedi Outcast were standard, first-person shooting levels, and presented a greater challenge since Kyle Katarn didn't earn a lightsaber until much later. In Jedi Academy, players will be having a blast from the outset -- as they deflect laser blasts, throw their saber at fleeing enemies, and defeat stormtroopers with one slash. This makes the game quite easy from the get-go, and it doesn't get much more challenging after that. It is hard to say what the developers could have done to fix this, since you don't want them to stray too much from Star Wars lore. Even a weak Jedi is still much more powerful than the majority of the scum and villainy found throughout the galaxy.
Levels are presented in sets of five minor missions, with major missions taking place between the sets of five. Each set of five can be played in any order, and after four are completed the fifth can either be played or skipped entirely. They should definitely be played, though, since the game only lasts about ten hours even if you finish all of the levels. Most minor missions take place in small areas, which aren't too interesting to explore. The smallest mission has users hopping on rocks and ship wreckage in an attempt to find parts to fix their crashed ship. It isn't too exciting, and the only enemy is a giant worm that reacts to footsteps on the sand, similar to the movie Tremors. Another short mission has Jaden running around a small prison freeing captives while avoiding a rancor.
There are some familiar settings in Jedi Academy, such as Yavin 4 where the academy is located, and Echo Base on Hoth. While on Hoth, you can engage in some brief tauntaun-riding and battle a wampa ice creature. A visit to Tatooine results in the annihilation of some Tusken Raiders, and the exploration of a Jawa sand crawler, but unfortunately, you do not get to visit Mos Eisley. There are also visits to Corellia, Coruscant, and a few not-so-well-known locations in the Star Wars universe. While most of the game takes place on foot, there is the aforementioned tauntaun riding as well as a level featuring swoops, which are similar to speeder bikes, but can be tougher to handle since they can't strafe. Yet this is one of the better levels, since you can whack enemies with your lightsaber as they ride by, not unlike the motorcycle combat game Road Rash.
If you've played Jedi Outcast then you've already seen most of what is in Jedi Academy. Although there are a few different enemies, most consist of stormtroopers and Dark Jedi that look very similar to those from Jedi Outcast. Enemies in Outcast weren't of high intelligence, and they seem to be slightly less intelligent here. Stormtroopers don't move around as much, but perhaps this is because you always have a lightsaber drawn as you approach them, rather than firing a laser rifle. They simply stand in one place while firing lasers that are deflected by your lightsaber. The Dark Jedi provide some degree of a challenge, especially when they attack in groups of two and three. Some Dark Jedi will inadvertently jump to their deaths as they attempt to circle you, but luring them outdoors and helping them fall to their death with a little Force push isn't a bad tactic either. However, in most battles (including the major battles), you can usually run away or jump onto a higher ledge, then use Force heal before continuing the fight.
Force powers are divided into three groups. There is a set of light side powers and a set of dark side powers that upgrade as the game progresses. Light side Force powers include absorb, protect, heal, and mind trick while the dark side consists of grip, drain, lightning, and rage. The third set of powers -- which includes pull, push, speed, throw, sense, and jump -- upgrade on their own. Sense is a Force power new to the Jedi Knight series. Once activated, it helps Jaden locate items that can be interacted with as well as show the location and health of non-player characters (NPCs). Sense would have been much more useful in Jedi Outcast since it included a number of frustrating puzzles. Jedi Academy doesn't feature too many puzzles, and with the help of Force sense it doesn't take long to solve the ones that do exist.
There is a short training course early in the game to get players familiar with the Force powers but offers no real Jedi training. This level could have been greatly enhanced if players were able to receive better training from Kyle, such as entering the cave on Dagobah that Luke Skywalker had to in The Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, without giving too much away, the overall storyline actually makes that impossible. And for that matter, where is Luke Skywalker? He gives orders at the academy throughout the entire game, but we never get to see him show off his Jedi abilities. A great moment in Jedi Outcast was when Luke fought side-by-side with you. Though Kyle does go on some missions with Jaden, he isn't very useful and it isn't as much fun seeing the player you controlled in previous games as it is to see an iconic hero from the movies.
Jedi Academy receives a passing grade mainly because it's a lot of fun to wield the lightsaber and use the host of Force powers. Yet at the same time, the developers should stay after class for delivering a game that is too short, features too much that we've seen before, and ends with a disappointing final battle.
Graphics: The game looks very much like Jedi Outcast which is a good thing. Although that game is a year and a half old, the graphics still look fine and the game runs at a smooth frame rate. Some of the levels aren't that interesting but that has more to do with the level design.
Sound: As is the norm with Star Wars games, Jedi Academy features excellent music. Weapons effects are very good too. Voice acting is fine but it would have been better if Jaden's voice was more accurate to the species that the user is playing as.
Enjoyment: Lightsabers and Force powers are never dull. Lightsaber battles are the best part while pushing around stormtroopers while using Jedi mind tricks on them is fun too. However, the game is very short and easy on the normal difficulty setting. There is so much more that could have been added without disrupting the main plot.
Replay Value: The game is only ten hours in length but there are multiplayer modes. Multiplayer games vary greatly depending on the server settings that can allow or disallow Force powers as well as set the levels on Force powers. All of the modes from Jedi Outcast are here: Free for All, Team Free for All, and Capture the Flag. Two new modes include Power Duel, where one player enters into combat against two players in a lightsaber battle, and Siege. Siege is unique in that each player must select a character class that limits what weapons and Force powers they may use.
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