Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast remains pure Star Wars wish fulfilment

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Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting PC gaming days gone by. Today, Ben explains why the Force is with Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast.

Everyone has their favourite Star Wars game, and everyone has a reason why. Some say Battlefront for casting you as commander in epic fantasy fights, whether duking with Jango on a Kamino overrun with enemies, repelling AT-ATs on Hoth, or grinding up Separatist forces on Geonosis.

Others say the X-Wing series for propelling the conflict into space. And some are keen on Republic Commando for its realistic infusion of SWAT-type tactics into clone trooper combat.

No one likes The Force Unleashed.

It's all about wish fulfilment—giving players the chance to live their Star Wars fantasies. My favourite is Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, because, for me, Star Wars is Jedis. Now, this is probably just the lingering effect of my many, many Star Wars marathons, but when I think Star Wars I instinctively hear the swoosh of a lightsaber. I can see its bright blue beam crackling. That’s what this game is all about—hence the appearance of the word ‘Jedi’ in the title twice. It's also one of the casualties of the culling of the Expanded Universe. Jedi Outcast is one of the many reasons that still hurts a bit.

Raven released Jedi Outcast in 2002, slap bang in the middle of the prequel trilogy travesty. The developers seemed to operate in a safe haven from Lucas's Episode II, and the result is a vital palate cleanser free of midichlorians and annoying kids. Its plot harkens back to vintage Star Wars, when dapper smugglers wore lace necklines and the official colour of the Imperials was a dull grey.

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Our hero, Kyle Katarn, starts Jedi Outcast as a simple New Republic mercenary, having severed ties with the Force after almost succumbing to the Dark Side in the last game. We find him and his Rebel partner Jan Ors investigating a seemingly benign base on Kejim, but they arrive to find it crawling with Imperials. Within they discover a research centre studying cortosis crystals—the kind used to power lightsabers. The revelation triggers a series of events that sees Katarn regain his powers, battle a clan of dark Jedi called the Reborn, and meet a host of famous faces.

There’s Lando Calrissian, who not only acts immeasurably cool as always but manages to blow the lid off an Imperial gig smuggling cortosis crystals through Cloud City. There's Mon Mothma, the Chief-of- State of the New Republic who assigns you missions throughout the game. And there’s Luke Skywalker himself. He offers Katarn his lightsaber back if he can complete a set of trials (spoiler: Katarn does them without even breaking a sweat).

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First reviewed: PCG 107, 92%
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: Raven Software
Release: 2002

Katarn's a better Jedi than Skywalker anyway. He uses three kinds of Force powers: Light Side (Force Heal, Jedi Mind Trick), Dark Side (Force Lightning, Force Grip), and neutral (Force Speed, Force Jump, Force Pull, Force Push). A Force meter, which depletes on use and refills over time, prevents spamming. Completely at odds with The Force Unleashed's approach to Jedi combat, this is a game about management, planning and self-control, about thinking like a righteous space knight rather than a wrecking ball in a cloak.

Katarn also uses three kinds of lightsaber moves: fast, medium and strong. Different styles have their own unique combos. Lightsabers can even deflect shots from blasters. It's the little things like that which mean the most to Star Wars fans. I remember being blown away when I discovered walking too close to a wall with a lightsaber out left white-hot burn trails. It was like I could express my presence in the world, and few games felt like that at the time. Over a decade on, it's clear this is a game that holds the source material in high regard.

this is a game about management, planning and self-control, about thinking like a righteous space knight

But Katarn is more than a lightsaber. He's conflicted, a former stormtrooper who becomes a Jedi. He remains one of the great Star Wars heroes, a Han Solo rogue but with Force powers. Who shot first? It doesn't matter when you can do a badass flip over a cantina table and roast a man with blue lightning.

And it holds up. In fact, Jedi Knight II has actually improved with age. This is largely due to an active multiplayer community. Several modes are available, including capture the flag, free-for-all and team deathmatch, and all can be played with bots. Before each match you can customise your Force loadout, and the server host can even disable Force powers altogether if they choose.

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As the SDK was released soon after the game, mods are rife. Support was boosted when Raven gave players the source code under the GNU GPLv2 licence. Anyone familiar with id Software's Quake III: Team Arena should feel right at home.

There are hundreds of brilliant mods—for skins, visuals, weapons, maps and more. One total conversion called Dark Origins by John Tannehill lets you take Darth Maul through a rewritten story featuring new voice acting, skins and damage effects. Enyak's Mutilator goes further with damage, letting you lop off of limbs and heads. For budding bounty hunters ForceMod II adds a grappling hook, jetpack, optic radar, cloaking, a flame gauntlet and dual pistols for mercenaries, and dual blades, twin sabers and customisable blade types for Jedis.

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Then there's JediMod Official (v1.2). Arguably the most comprehensive multiplayer mod, here you can wield two sabers at once, customise them with dozens of colours and 45 hilts, and even deploy new stances, special moves and taunts. There are cheats courtesy of the console, too—you can have a lot of fun turning off the AI and enabling noclip and bullet time. If it wasn’t already, you could feasibly turn Jedi Outcast into the Star Wars game of your dreams yourself

For me, Jedi Outcast simply is Star Wars. What it was, and what it always wanted to be. It shone a decade ago and it hasn't lost its lustre, thanks to a massive library of mods. Raven's 2002 classic remains the purest videogame take on the Star Wars universe, for me.