Let's reboot ... Jedi Knight
This week Disney lit a pyre and consigned Lucasarts to history. It went wobbly towards the end, but few studios can match Lucasarts' distinguished back catalogue. For many it's their adventure games that spring to mind when considering the studio's legacy, but savvy licensing and sterling in-house work produced great Star Wars games, too, like X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and Dark Forces. Raven took over reins for Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, and honoured Lucasarts' demise by releasing the source code for both games for free on Thursday.
With the future of Star Wars 1313 in jeopardy, it's hard to know where the next Star Wars game will come from. We're going to have to invent our own. It's time do direct this week's dose of wishful thinking toward a reboot of Jedi Knight.
The story of Kyle Katarn is long and convoluted, but he has a good beard, and his past as a Storm Trooper and his brushes with the Dark Side give him an edge that his pious Jedi brothers and sisters lack. Let's keep him. His beard's a little greyer and he's a little wiser, but he still hangs out with Jan Ors, he's buddies with Luke Skywalker, and he has a seat on the Jedi Council. But in what capacity would he serve the new Jedi Order?
Let's take this back to the series' core fantasy. You're a Jedi Knight. The best thing about being a Jedi Knight - George Lucas circa 1998 can take note here - is not your ability to mediate tedious trade disputes between alien grumps, or to protect royal figureheads in glorified escort missions. You are a magical space monk with a sword that can cut through anything. You can throw people off cliffs with your mind. You can trick people into thinking you're not there with a wave of your hand. Jedi are the ultimate infiltrators, warriors, pilots and generals. A new Star Wars game bolstered by modern tech could deliver that power trip magnificently.
Forget Dark Forces, how about Jedi Knight: Special Forces? Republic Commandos are the galaxy's go-to team of problem solvers, but some tasks are too great for their talents. Need a Star Destroyer destroyed? Need a vital planetary shield base blown up? Need to steal intel from an Imperial cloud fortress? Give the poor Bothans a break and send a stupidly powerful space monk instead.
Kyle Katarn may be a council member, but he's still one of the best duelists alive - according to his spin-off novels - he has experience in infiltration and covert operations. The Alliance must crush resurgent Imperial forces and uncover and destroy the new Sith Lord. To do this, Katarn and a squad of crack operatives, backed by the military might of the Alliance, must strike at key structures in spectacular locations across the galaxy. You must assess your target, co-ordinate each assault and lead the attack in scenarios that incorporate the scale and spectacle that made Star Wars' best battle scenes memorable.
It wouldn't be an Alliance assault without the bit where everyone gathers around a big glowy map thing and makes a plan, but this is more than an introductory cutscene. The camera zooms in on the neon map, and you're in control. You can see your target – a captured operative with vital intelligence detained in the depths of a prison facility built on a black glass plateau on an planet of shifting volcanic rock. Various entry points are highlighted, but there's no attack plan. That's your job, Katarn.
If you played the original Rainbow Six, you'll recognise the waypoint planning system that lets you direct your forces before the battle begins, but instead of individual soldiers you're sketching in Y-Wing bombing runs and commando drops. Perhaps you have no urge to strategise. Perhaps you just want to ignite a lightsaber and chop the legs off an AT-ST. For the impatient, Alliance strategists have come up with a few pre-ordained attack plans that you can drop into at will.
The battle begins. The camera is suspended a few metres behind the nape of Katarn's neck in a familiar third person view. You select your lightsaber and ignite it with a flourish. All around you, the battle has already begun. You've decided to lead a band of Jan Ors' smugglers in an attack on an ion cannon battery. Take down the cannon and your allied starship can drop low enough into orbit to launch Y-wings and wipe out a shield generator.
You reduce the battery to wreckage. Moments later, bombers scream overhead, followed by a cloud of enemy fighters trying to score a lucky hit. There's a distant WHUMP as the generators pop. “The shields are down!” an Akbar-esque voice squawks over comms.
"A bit like Star Wars: Battlefront?" you might think. Kinda. It's bigger than Battlefront, and beautiful. You're not just a lowly soldier, you're the most powerful entity on a battlefield. Jedi Knight and The Force Unleashed have struggled to reconcile the power of the Force with the need to challenge the player and guide them down a path, but when you're playing a being with such remarkable abilities a corridor structure is like sluicing a tidal wave through a funnel. Nothing should survive. Contrived methods have been used to balance this up. Certain objects are immune to force powers, some doors can be shattered, others can't. Lightsabers pass through walls leaving a glowing trail but no damage.
Jedi Knights are overpowered. Embrace that. Force Push can blast through walls with the block-busting effects that GPU physics demos were made for. Lightsabers can cut through anything, but for blast doors it'll take a bit of time - see Qui Gon Jinn and Kenobi's opening escape in The Phantom Menace. A solid blow with your saber will remove limbs and kill quickly.
You're also powerful from the start. There's scope for developing cultivating new force powers and saber styles over the course of the campaign, but you're a senior figure in the Jedi order. You won't have to traipse for hours through grey facilities to earn your lightsaber. It's got "Jedi Knight" on the box. The moment you first jump in you're doing what Jedi Knights do.
The series has moved away from its blaster-heavy FPS Dark Forces origins, but Katarn doesn't consider himself above the use of sidearms. You can use your powers as much as you like, but there are consequences. the Force-fuelled destruction you're dishing out on the battlefield send ripples throughout the system. Overdo it and Katarn will feel a sudden disturbance in the Force. Admiral Akbar-a-like crackles back to life with some disturbing news. A squad of jet black Intercepters have carved a flaming path to a nearby landing pad. The Sith are here, and they're coming straight for you.
It takes a few minutes for them to reach you on the vanguard of the assault, but their arrival – like Bioshock 2's Big Sister – is heralded by shrieking strings and the powerful bass horns borrowed from the Imperial March. Dark forms somersault into the melee, carving up your allies with ease. Sith Warriors are terrifying, animalistic, quick and savage in their movements. The power fantasy of the initial attack becomes a tense, focused battle against a handful of expert opponents.
Lightsaber battles in previous Jedi Knight games were fun, but wild, characterised by the slippery slashing that you get when upper-body animations are divorced from leg movements. Sith and Jedi warriors would benefit greatly from the balletic traversal tech we've seen in the Assassin's Creed series. Those complex, hybrid animations allow account for sudden direction changes that also look graceful. In combat, Arkham City's unrivalled counter animations could work wonderfully with lightsabers. The meaty ground-and-pound Batman style wouldn't mesh with the dazzling busywork that makes up lightsaber duels in modern Star Wars movies, but I'd rather move to a quicker and deadlier variation inspired by the sudden bouts of Zatouichi. These tense stand-offs and sudden executions are better suited to combatants with a blade hot enough to melt steel.
This example describes an open battle scenario, but your strategic plan could just as easily include an infiltration intro section. Instead of sending bombers after the shield generator, you could mind trick your way inside personally and sabotage the Empire's infrastructure from within. Targets need not be planetbound, either. Huge space stations and hollowed out planets are just as likely to pop up in Star Wars' varied universe.
I could go on forever, but this coffee has grown cold, everyone has left the office and the lights are going out. Time, then, to hand the discussion over to your good selves. What would you like to see from a new Jedi Knight game? How would you do lightsaber combat? How would you handle Katarn's whole lightside/darkside dichotomy?