ScreenCritics Groot takes a look back at 1997’s ‘Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II’. What made it so compelling to fans of the series?
After the immense popularity of the original Star Wars trilogy, the franchise developed a large fan base and branched out into multiple forms of media. These include forays into cartoons, comics, toys, books and of course video games. It’s the varying quality of these video games that have left many gamers scratching their heads over the years – with some amazing classics sat alongside some awfully terrible outings. In recent times the Star Wars license has been mildly disappointing audiences over at EA with Battlefront. Yet back in the 1990’s there where multiple titles coming from all kinds of developers. In 1997, LucasArts released one of the greatest Star Wars games of all time, Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II.
The game takes place after the events of Episode VI of the original trilogy; following Kyle Katarn (voiced by Jason Court), a former imperial soldier turned rebel on the path to becoming a Jedi. From the intro cinematic we find out that a power-hungry dark Jedi called Jerec (Christopher Neame) is searching for an ancient resting place called the Valley of the Jedi. From here we are then taken to Nar Shaddaa, where Kyle investigates the murder of his father. It’s here that he discovers that the murderer was Jerec and decides to go on a path of revenge. Throughout the game’s story, you learn why his father was killed and follow Kyle as he goes on an ever increasingly dangerous mission to stop Jerec at all costs. Throughout his journey he is backed-up by his pilot and companion Jan Ors (Angela Harry) as well as his fathers droid WeeGee; who gives Kyle his first lightsaber.
One of the key features of the game is that the cut-scenes were filmed with real actors; giving the players a feeling like they are witnessing a true sci-fi movie. The actors did an amazing job at portraying their respective characters, with the best performance being that of Jerec. Christopher Neame nailed the role perfectly; blending the dark nature of another iconic franchise villain, Darth Vader. The sadistic nature of the villains master, Emperor Palpatine. I remember seeing Neame’s character; it was genuinely scary but there was a sense this was a strong antagonist. Kyle on the other hand is the complete opposite, and was more a mixture of a cocky pilot, Han Solo, and a courage’s hero, Luke Skywalker. The characters fitted easily with the background, which was mostly shot with CGI, which wasn’t that bad considering it was 1990’s. I could watch the cut-scenes with such joy without even playing the game, and I consider this to be a better Episode VII then the Force Awakens.
The gameplay shifts between first-person and third-person view, depending on the weapon the character is using. When using laser pistol, rifles and many more the player is mostly in first-person view, whilst when he uses the lightsaber the game automatically goes into third-person. This can be changed in the options, and for all those who want to fight with a lightsaber in first-person view I can say you won’t be disappointed. The game has a verity of different weapons, while the lightsaber mechanics were done spot-on. You truly felt like a jedi, wielding a weapon of great power made you believe that the force was strong with you. Besides the addicting story, the game also offers an interesting multiplayer experience. Playing with 32 people simultaneously online was incredible at the time and the game consisted of multiple game mods such as capture the flag and the classical deathmatch.
Of course we can’t mention Star Wars without talking about the Force. As the player progresses towards becoming a Jedi, he also learns multiple force powers. The basic powers include force jump, force speed and force pull. Other abilities are unlocked as the game progresses – depending of which path the player chooses. The crucial point in the game is when the protagonist is tempted to join the dark side. Depending on the players actions up to that point the character will ether join the Dark Side or renounce it. Every side has his own share of abilities and the game awards the player force points in order to upgrade their powers. This is perfectly balanced in the game; if your on the dark side then you have the ability to blast lighting, throw enemies and even strangle them to death, whilst on the light side you can heal yourself and absorb the force from others.
As for the visual style of the game, it can’t be praised the best in terms of graphics. In 1997 multiple developers were already establishing great titles with much better graphic quality. However this title did bring some amazing set pieces. Fuel City and the Valley of the Jedi were done a bit sluggish, while the Forress of Barons Hed and Nar Shadda were without a doubt the best levels in the game. It would have been nice to see the development studio make more levels like these two. For a final stage in the game, the Valley of the Jedi, I was not impressed and the climactic battle was the only reason why most people overlook it.
When it comes to enemies they range from a different verity, from different types of aliens to regular Stormtroopers. However the strongest point in the game are defiantly the bosses. The game has a total of seven bosses and even tho there aren’t many they are not to be taken lightly. The final boss is arguably the most powerful and the one that provides the most challenge. The tension that builds up to the fight sets the scene for a very emotional battle not just between two Jedi, but between the forces of good and evil. The scene reminds me of the final battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in episode VI. Kyle holds the fate of the entire universe in his hand and has to fight not just his father’s killer, but also the temptation of the dark side.
In the 1990’s LucasArts, boomed in to the gaming industry with some extraordinary games. Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II was considered one of the best franchises games, and it was even adapted as a novel in the upcoming years. The game was built on the Sith engine, that would later be modified and used to create another game published by Lucas Arts, Grim Fandango. It was also used to create an expansion for the game titled Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith only a year later. It was also rumored that Darth Vader would make an appearance in the game, but was eventually cut out of the final product. It’s also worth mentioning that it was heavily inspired by another FPS game at the time, Doom. In the end this Star Wars title truly lived up to the name, and even after the fall of Lucas Arts, the game got two more sequels from Raven Software.
Overview: Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is without a doubt one of the best old classic FPS games, and no wonder it was such a critical success. The game packs an amazing punch for any die-hard Star Wars fans and newcomers as well. Even tho the graphics might seem outdated for today’s standards, the sheer amount of fun, both single-player and online, makes up for that. The entire story made you feel like you were in an actual movie partaking in and epic adventure. The feeling of how it was to be a force user was never before been done with such precision and care, for any true Jedi out there this is surely a game worthy of replaying.