There’s no hiding the fact that first-person shooters do not age very well. The genre evolves at an even faster pace than others, with new and better controlling games each year, and although the core concepts as a whole haven’t really changed much in the past decade, it’s undeniable that a game from 2002 won’t play as well as one from 2019 in terms of control, precision, and most notably design-wise. There are concepts that have become standard this day and age that didn’t exist back in the early 2000s, but if you come into a game like say, Star Wars Dark Forces II: Jedi Outcast with the right mindset, you’ll get to play one of the better Star Wars games from the pre Disney and Star Wars canon reboot, and easily the best lightsaber duel simulation this side of the outer rim.
It’s been a few years since the events of both Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight and Return of the Jedi, and hero of the Rebel Alliance and original snatcher of the first Death Star plans Kyle Katarn has long given up on the ways of the Force, going back to his mercenary work with his old partner Jan Ors. He’s been given a mission to infiltrate and investigate an apparently decommissioned Imperial base by New Republic head honcho Mon Mothma, which turns out to be the tip of the iceberg in a plan set by remnant forces of the Empire and a new Sith lord to turn normal beings into Force users. It doesn’t take long for Kyle to check back in with Luke Skywalker and into swinging a lightsaber around, which is what we’re all here to do, right?
Patience is the key of the game in Jedi Outcast, since it takes a little while before you start cutting off arms and jump all willy nilly in third-person. A better quarter of the game is spent playing it as an early 2000s first-person shooter with an assortment of Star Wars guns, that is, you’ll be relying a lot on a fairly imprecise stormtrooper blaster rifle, but sometimes might pop off a few laser bolts from Chewie’s favorite tricaster every now and then. The level design in these sections is obtuse when compared to today’s streamlined style of straight ahead shoot fests, and normally require a little exploration, trial and error, and a hefty dose of pixel hunting. It’s nothing ridiculously bad or that will make you quit the game outright, but it’s worth giving a fair warning regardless to those coming into this for the first time ever.
Once you’re through these sections of the game that will probably take you around three or so hours to beat, depending on how hard of a time you have popping off the stupid AI behind those stormtrooper little heads, you finally get a chance to start cutting into them, slowly learning new Force powers along the way — like my favorite, the ol’ Force choke ‘n drop — and even going head to head against other lightsaber users. Lightsaber combat is the real meat of the game here, and it gave Jedi Outcast ton of replayability back in its heyday, since a lot of the fun of playing was taking these duels online and facing off against other players. Unfortunately, these console ports of Jedi Knight II lack that feature, but considering that this is now a budget title, you do get plenty of bang for your buck, since the single player portion is fairly long and tells a pretty cool story that’s sadly not worth a damn anymore if you care about official Star Wars canon.
The port itself is quite barebones, I have to say. There’s nothing really done to it outside of making it run in widescreen with smooth framerate, which in fair consideration takes a little bit of work to pull off on modern PCs in case you decide to play the original version of Jedi Outcast. There are motion controls on the Switch that can thankfully be turned off, but outside of that, this is pretty much the same game you might have played 17 years ago. Katarn controls well on a controller, although he might feel a little squirrely when you first start playing, especially in first-person. Quick tip: you can switch to third-person mode without having a lightsaber, and it makes it much easier to handle some of the early game platforming bits which are kind of tricky to pull off in first-person. It doesn’t take too long to get a good handle on the overly kinetic movement, and for as bad as the precision might be on your trusty blaster rifle, there’s some really forgiving aim assist waiting for you.
There’s no auto-saving, so you’ll have to make manual saves at every point you feel like you’re about to make a boo boo, and annoyingly enough, you can only keep a handful of savegames around, so cleaning out your list is mandatory right from the beginning. It’s a really weird issue to have for a game this old and for as much storage as we have on modern consoles, but it’s not that big of a problem in the grand scheme of things if you think about it. Also, don’t forget to make a save every time you finish a mission, because in case you already forgot, there are no auto-saves, even if you beat a level!
Visually, you should know what to expect coming into this. Jedi Outcast is a game from 2002, and it certainly looks that way. Character models are pretty basic and don’t animate too well for today’s standards, but the overall art direction of the game did a lot with the limitations from the time when it came to being faithful to the look of Star Wars, which also extends to the sound work, borrowing the beeps, zaps and boops of the classic movies, along with John Williams’ iconic score.
Jedi Outcast was the third version of Kyle Katarn we got to see, and even though he isn’t nearly as (unintentionally) hilarious as his FMV version from the previous entry in the series, his interpretation here is suitably gruff and snide for the part. LucasArts even got Billie D. Williams to reprise his role as Lando for his cameo in this game, so enjoy seeing a somewhat younger version of him be all smooth talking before he makes his big return to the big screen at the end of the year in Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker.
It’s a bummer that the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm basically did away with all of the non movie canon for Star Wars, since a lot of the expanded universe actually proved to be really well developed, including the games and some of the books that eventually got converted into games, like the Rogue Squadron series that starred Wedge Antilles in a post Return of the Jedi universe. Still, it’s pretty easy to just not care about who exactly stole what or did whatever that’s considered official. On the other lightsaber-cut-off-hand-replaced-by-a-mechanical-one, it’s damn cool that decades before Rogue One came about, an at first glance throwaway “Doom clone” like Dark Forces and its story explained away such a vital aspect of the movies in a much better way that even George Lucas was not able to pull off on his own with the movie prequels, don’t you think?
Aspyr, the folks that have worked in bringing this game to current gen consoles have already promised to release its sequel Star Wars: Jedi Academy sometime soon, so it won’t take too long for you to get your prayers answered for a game that wastes no time putting a lightsaber in your hands right away. Until then, however, for as much as Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast tries to throw you off in its initial hours by trying to make you think it’s going to be a so so first-person shooter for the entirety of its run only to turn into a lightsaber hack-a-thon, there’s plenty of game and story here to get you ready for what’s coming next, with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order right around the corner.