Review by moho
"Best of the Jedi Knight series"
Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy was one of those games I almost expected to be disappointed by, but thankfully I was in for a surprise. If the Jedi Knight series was getting worse with every game, it just got a whole lot better. Where Jedi Knight 1 and 2 seemed more like Quake-style first person shooters with a lightsaber stuck on, Jedi Academy feels like a third-person Jedi game with a first-person-shooter stuck on. A very refreshing change on its own, but there are a lot of other things that Jedi Academy has going for it too.
Without spoiling anything, you start this game as a student who arrives at a Jedi academy, ready to learn the ways of the Force. As the game progresses, strange goings-on in the galaxy lead you and your Masters on a quest to find out what's going on, and (hopefully) stop it.
Additionally, missions are for the most part handed out in small sets which you can do in any order you like. In fact, you can usually skip the last mission of a set and progress the storyline early, but you can miss out on some great levels and further developing your force powers by doing so, so I'd recommend you give everything a try.
As a change from the usual formula, you actually get to customise your own character, as a male or female, and of a few different alien species (although some races have only males available, and some only females) with mix and matchable heads, legs and torsos. This rather cool feature finally allows you to see the back of a head more interesting than Kyle's.
As I said previously, this is the first Jedi Knight game where you really feel like a Jedi. You start the first level with only a simple lightsaber, and chances are you'll be using a lightsaber of some variety as your main weapon for 90% of the game. Actually, that may not sound cool, but it is. If you've played Jedi Knight II, you know what to expect of the basic saber moves, and it's pretty much all there again in Jedi Academy. If not, well, suffice to say that some of the moves you'll be pulling off are straight from the movies, and if not, they'd look like they should be. This is made even cooler later in the game, when you're given the opportunity to upgrade your single lightsaber to something much more impressive: the 'double sided' lightsaber staff as used by Darth Maul, or dual lightsabers, that is, one lightsaber in each hand. There some small downsides (as well as some obvious upsides) to these new sabers, but the sheer coolness of them will mean few will neglect the chance to upgrade.
If you were disappointed by the bland and often non-sensical level design in Jedi Knight II, Jedi Academy will be a breath of fresh air. The mission-based layout means you'll be traveling all over the galaxy in a variety of unique environments. Apart from the ''Imperial base interior'' environment, which appears a little more than others, I almost never got the ''I've been *here* before'' feeling that can happen so easily. Moreover, levels seem designed quite well to suit your powers as a Jedi. As your jumping ability automatically levels up throughout the story, so levels will require more jumping and acrobatics. Also, you can expect some nostalgic moments when you revisit certain locations from the Star Wars movies, the Hoth level coming immediately to mind.
Now, to tell you the truth, I'm no fan of the Jedi Knight weapon array. Compared to the diversity of weapons in games like Unreal II, the Jedi Knight weapons array is pretty bland and unimpressive in comparison. Even the most powerful weapons look like they should be in weapon slot 3, and the ammo for them tends to be so limited that you never really feel like you're wielding the potential to dish out some serious damage. *But*, and this is a very big but, in Jedi Academy, it really doesn't matter. Because when you hold the saber, you really do feel like you can dish out the damage. Throughout the whole game I must have killed less than 10% of the people I did with a non-saber weapon of some kind, and then, it's mainly because they were so far away that a saber throw or force grip couldn't reach them.
On combat, there are essentially two types you'll encounter: non-Jedi troops, and Jedi. Non-Jedi troops aren't very challenging unless you really let them gang up on you. Thankfully, killing a roomful of guys is more fun that ever, and with so many ways to do it, you probably won't get sick of it very fast. Note however that there is the occasional ridiculously powerful standard troop, such as the armored Hazard Trooper with a really heavy gun. These guys can kill you faster than a Jedi, so you still do have some 'standard' enemies to worry about.
Now, fighting Jedi is what this game is all about. Well, maybe not exactly, but it's a damn lot of fun. I find myself quick-saving before just about every Jedi I find standing as an ominous sentinel at some point in a level. Not just because of the possibility that I'll die, but because I'll want to fight the battle over and over again, trying different ways to attack, using different moves, different force powers, etc. What sort of tactic works best for killing two Jedi at once? I must have replayed some fights 10 or more times just to find out which tactics work best against what. Then, if you decide to upgrade your simple saber to dual or a staff, you've got a whole new set of moves and tactics to try out.
Regarding how challenging this game is, I suspect that if you intentionally used the cheapest tactics available in every battle and situation, this game would be a walk in the park at the default difficulty level. If, however, you want to have fun with your fights and not do this, you can probably expect to die every now and then (and hopefully enjoy every minute of being skewered on some Dark Jedi's lightsaber).
Although Jedi Academy is another Quake 3 engine game, I found the textures and general look to be greatly improved since Jedi Knight II. Levels are much more colourful and vibrant, and the textures seem much more detailed and varied than previous Jedi Knight games. Honestly I can't say a bad thing about Jedi Academy regarding its graphics. It's no Doom III or Half-life 2, but as far as games of this generation go, it's probably the best I've seen out of the Quake 3 engine, if not quite up to the graphics in Unreal II. I didn't have problems running it, but there are some reports of people having framerate troubles despite being around the mentioned system requirements... So it might be a good idea to ask around if you feel like you're pushing too close to the minimums.
Nothing too spectacular, but then, nothing really felt wrong either. The saber battle sounds and other combat noises all work pretty well, and the music (if nothing else) does tend to fit the scene. Usually, if you expect the Imperial Theme should be played, it is. So, no real complaints there. Regarding the voice acting, it's pretty good as far as video game voiceovers go. I didn't really dig the hero/heroine's voice, but considering the others all worked pretty well, I'm not going to hold it against them. They had to use one male and one female voice-track to do the voices of a number of different alien species, after all... So don't expect your alien hero to talk any different than your human hero.
As I said in the title, I consider this the best game in the Jedi Knight series so far. If you want to play a Jedi rather than some guy who seems like he found a lightsaber on the street somewhere, this is the game to get. And notably different form the last two Jedi Knights, it has a great variety of very interesting and unconfusing levels. I always found the fighting parts a lot more fun than running around 15 seemingly empty rooms wondering what the heck I had to do to get out of the place, so if you're the same you probably won't have a problem with the more straightforward action-oriented level design in Jedi Academy. Regardless, if you expect you'll like cutting down boatloads of Imperial guards, and engaging one-on-one with evil saber-wielding Jedi, this game is exactly what you're looking for.
I'd give this game an 8.5 if I could. As an action-FPS, I think it's worth 8, but if you love Star Wars games and want something where you finally get to be the Jedi you've always wanted (in a game that actually works), then it's definitely a 9.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/18/03
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