If there is one ounce of consitency in the Star Wars gaming universe it’s, well inconsistency. It seems Lucas’ brand of digital soap operas never seems to find it’s spot in the gaming world. From the ground breaking and truly award winning Knights of the Old Republic to the atrocious Phantom Menace for PSOne, the series never seems to get a threshold on where it’s going. One stable that has been around though is the Jedi Knight series, or should I say Dark Forces. Starting as a Doom clone back in the days of PC glory this series has also been on both ends of the line. After a disappointing first outing on the XBox Jedi Academy had large shoes to fill. The question is did Raven Software handle the port correctly or is the force just not strong with this one as well? We dive into yet another lightsaber wielding game for the lovely XBox console, won’t ya join us?
Those who have played previous installments know that the Jedi Knight series is mainly a FPS with lightsabers. Jedi Academy seems to want to stray from this norm by giving you the weapon of choice for all Jedi’s right from the get go. When using the saber the game switches to a third person perspective, which suits the game better in my opinion. The problem with this is that you will rarely ever go into first person unless you are forced to, thus straying the game from it’s normal FPS routine and making it more of a third person action game. Problems arise from the get go as the touchy jumping and “iffy” clipping cause far too many accidental deaths before you master the slippery control scheme. Once you have it down though it truly is second nature and most seasoned Jedi Knight vets will enjoy the expanded lightsaber combat.
The story throws you into the role of an up and coming Jedi, as your ship destined for the academy crashes you and your friend Rosh must find your way through the wilderness. It doesn’t take a Star Wars scholar to determine the rest of the story but the cameos and introductions of new characters do place themselves well in the universe. As you progress through the game your force powers will increase and you will be given the option to upgrade various other powers. You can choose either light side or dark side powers which in turn will decide your path. The core powers are automatically upgraded such as jump and push, but you do have the option to learn such classics as force lightning and rage. Your lightsaber will also be of your making once you become a Jedi Knight. You can choose from the standard single saber, dual sabers, or the now famous double bladed lightsaber. Your choice will effect how you handle yourself in combat so choose wisely young apprentice.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of Jedi Academy are the visuals. Using an extremely archaic engine to run this game was a mistake in the first place, and the textures are just unacceptable for XBox standards. Character models could use lots of polygonal upgrades, simply porting them from the PC version was not a wise decision as this game could have greatly benefitted from the XBox hardware. What is smooth though is the frame rate, which runs quite nice, and the level design is also of great caliber. You will visit such great locales as Darth Vader’s Castle and Hoth along your journey along with plenty of new and exciting systems. The sound is also a let down, simply using stock sounds and Williams usual orchestral score seems like a great idea on the drawing board, but in reality it tends to get stale after a while. Some diversity and originality would have went a great distance with this game, alas it does suffice.
The control scheme is lifted directly from the previous installment, and seasoned Jedis will have no troubles adapting. What does deserve notice though, and you probably won’t discover unless you read the instruction manual, is the ability to assign force powers to the black, white, and X buttons respectively. By simply cycling to them then pressing the corresponding button you wish to assign them to for three seconds you will attach it to that button. This is crucial for boss battles and online play, so be sure to use and abuse it. Speaking of online play Jedi Academy supports up to eight combatants over XBox Live. The range of modes are kind of lacking but definitely fun. Personally I would have liked to see future upgrades alas Jedi Academy does not have the ability for such endeavors. The online mode is simply icing on the cake and will extend the life of your game, plus it’s just damn cool to see eight people in a light saber duel, it gives you feelings of the Clone Wars!!
When the day is done Jedi Academy is a far cry from classic status. With it’s ancient visuals, predictable sound, and drab storyline the game fails to ever give you a huge sense of being a Jedi. What it does do however is deliver hours of great saber action for your buck. Add this to the online aspect and you have yourself a pretty solid purchase for Star Wars geeks. Certainly not the best game in the series, yet it retains a sense of fun that has yet to be achieved in it’s lifespan. I definitely recommend it to those SW geeks like me who can never get enough lightsaber action, oh yeah and never forget the online saber battles. Perhaps this game would have been better named an expansion as opposed to an all out sequel.