Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II

Jedi Knight 2

As I stated in my last review, I was looking forward to this one. After how well Dark Forces held up, its sequel sounded even better! We will be acquiring a lightsaber and force powers, two different story-paths, and the game will be on a new engine! My younger self would have been sold on the longer versions of glowsticks alone, but as a more intellectual adult, I won’t deny I have high hopes. Expanding upon old ideas is not a bad thing necessarily. After all, most sequels do this to keep their fans attached to their series, while still providing upgrades and fixes to the concept of the last entry. Ironically, however, we are going from using the Jedi-engine from Dark Forces, to the Sith-engine. I do wonder if the dark side is indeed more powerful.

The cheese and love

We take control of Kyle Katarn, the protagonist from the last game. Sitting at a bar, he meets up with a droid named 8t88, who has information about who murdered Kyle’s father. The droid tells him that he was killed by a Dark Jedi named Jerec, and if that was not enough, he intends to rebuild the Empire. After telling Kyle this, 8t88 shows him a disc he found at his father’s workshop and wants information about it. When Kyle refuses to tell him, a firefight starts and we transition to gameplay.

The overall plot is not very interesting, but not necessarily bad and it knows how far it needs to go with its premise. You are simply a man who wants to find out what happened to your father, why, and destroy the greater evil. It is a simple tale, but a decent one and none of the story-segments deviate from these goals.

Jedi Knight cutscene

What holds up the story the most are the characters. They range from likeable and believable, to over the top acting that you can’t help but enjoy. This mix is actually well done, as the whole project feels like a fan-made movie that they really put effort into. The main-characters share a good connection with each other and feel complex, yet down to earth, making them easy to identify with. While the acting can be a bit over the top, it never becomes an annoyance. The crowning achievement of overacting, however, has to go to the villains, as they are really chewing the scenes and having a blast playing their roles. They are so silly and when you can see how much they enjoy playing their parts, you can’t help but smile at them. Having the overall plot be more character-driven is also a good move to let them shine.

The story and worlds feel fitting to the tone of Star Wars, but it is also easy to take in for newcomers, since it does not require knowledge of the lore, or its source-material, or even the previous game. There are also two different story-paths you can take, but unfortunately one is clearly canon. Another element that is a bit of a shame is the logic for our progression. These are minor, but I do not believe you can shout at a flying spaceship while you are stationed on the ground and expect a response.

These aside, Dark Forces 2’s greatest strength in its story, is showing how much it cares. The characters are likeable and humorous, the story is focused, and it all represents the Star Wars-universe well. It is not a grand story and has minor faults, but it is enjoyable all the way through. While there are plenty of cutscenes, I never felt like they were a pace-breaker and always looked forward to the next one.

Story Score 7.5/10

Hack and shoot in empty space

At first we step into what is essentially the gameplay of the previous game, with it being a first-person shooter, having health- and shield bars, you can carry 9 different weapons with all being mapped to a numbered hotkey, reloading doesn’t exist, and finding items to support progression such as key-cards and night-goggles. 1997 introduced the mouse and keyboard-setup we are familiar with today and Dark Forces 2 uses it too. However, it also has the option for the traditional Doom setup, making both old school and modern gamers feel welcomed. You can even customize the controls to your liking, which is great.

Jedi Knight 2 stormtrooper

The game is a linear first person shooter, with huge areas, plenty of guns and a handful of enemies. The stages can be massive, but only in terms of certain rooms being pointlessly big. The actual stages are very linear and uninteresting. Despite this and that you always have a map available, the game is not always clear on where to go, as areas can look similar to each other and plenty of levels had me take leaps of faith. This is inexcusable when you also take falling-damage and the game gives no indication if a jump will lead you to a safety or not. You can thankfully save at anytime.

The platforming is not much better. There are some platforming challenges that can create a fun way for finding secrets, but more often than not I found the jumps very uncomfortable thanks to the tank-controls and jumps being barely makeable or having annoying obstacles to deal with, such as wind. There are some light puzzles, but they usually make you into an errant boy by finding keycards or hit certain switches, which can also be timed. You have a list of objectives, so you are not totally lost on what you have to do, but they can cause lots of backtracking in an otherwise very linear game. The stages do include some secret paths that can yield hidden support items, but they were only useful for getting ranked at the end of the stages, which will play a bigger role later on.

Why do the support items not matter? Because many areas are simply empty and the few enemies that are there, are also terrible at shooting at you, making each encounter easy. Even worse, is that your shots don’t always hit the enemy, even if your crosshair is right on them and yet you will always win. The weapons themselves are fun to use, with most having a secondary firing mode, such as rocket-launchers that can make its rockets stick to surfaces or enemies, similar to mines. However, I never found much use for them thanks to the boring combat, and even some weapons being outright useless, such as the crossbow, which has slow shots that aren’t much more powerful compared to the regular blaster.

Jedi Knight lightsaber

Not only is there a lack of enemies, but the ones you do get are idiotic and will only chase you if you are right in front of their faces, making them easily exploitable and downright bad. They can hold some dangerous weapons and even take cheap-shots at you where you would have no chance of defending yourself, such as being right above you when you enter through a door. Yet, you will always have the upper hand. Even an AT-ST doesn’t stand a chance, which is basically a walking tank.

Then we get our hands on a lightsaber as early as stage 4. This is a smart move to get you comfortable with the FPS parts of the game before changing it to a third person hack and slash with tank-controls. You can play in FPV mode with the lightsaber and in TPV with guns, but even the game makes it clear what the best view-point is by giving the option to change automatically from one view to another when you equip and unequip the lightsaber. The saber is very enjoyable to use, by hacking through certain environmental parts to get further through stages and of course: slash enemies. However, you can also block with your lightsaber and even reflect shots back at the enemies. The blocking seems to work when it feels like it, which makes it annoying to handle as a defensive tool. This might sound like the game might become more challenging due to giving you a powerful weapon that can kill enemies in one or two swings, but no. In fact, it gets easier.

Not only will you be having a strong sword with a decent length, but also force-powers! You start off with force jump and speed, which will enhance both of these abilities, making traveling through the stages much better. You can even bypass certain parts of the stages with the jump. Each stage will rank you on how many secrets you found, and give you stars that are basically stat-points you can use for leveling up each force power you have, up to level 4. However, due to the game being very easy, it was never a need or even a want to become stronger. Eventually, you will be judged on your actions, such as if you killed many innocent bystanders or not, and will be able to choose between dark- and light-powers. Light-powers are unfortunately the better way to go, as they have some incredibly strong healing-powers and an insane force-shield. The dark-powers are decent, but much more offensive and nothing compared to the light-side, when you can become nearly invincible. Besides, I personally like to see myself striving for the good of all.

Jedi Knight robot

There are also a good amount of boss-stages, where your father will tell you from beyond the grave how these encounters will act, and what strengths and weaknesses they have. This might sound like a smart move, as they aren’t visually designed to show weaknesses and have some unique powers to them. However, they are all laughable fights where you only need to circle around them and hit them with the lightsaber. This is just terrible and they easily become boring as they can take a lot of damage. Shooting them with every rocket I had did nothing, so you are expected to use your lightsaber. The only fight that gave me a bit of trouble was the very last one, but my strategy did not change much.

Then there are a bunch of small annoyances that really drive me up the wall. The game, at times, can automatically change from F being force heal to force jump, which does not just give falling damage, but can make you lose health if you hit the ceiling. Mines can only be destroyed with an explosive weapon, changing weapons is delayed by 5 seconds, and reloading a save-file when you are dead by pressing fire can make you use your then equipped weapon, which is even worse if it explodes in your face. Lastly, the game crashed on me 10 times when I tried to save.

After 21 stages with them taking about 8 hours to play through, I was really mixed. It is nice to have different playstyles in a game to vary it up, but when neither the enemies or the stages take good advantage of our hero’s capabilities, it becomes more often than not boring. Out of the 21 stages, I can only count 5 I enjoyed and had some decent level-designs. A cool and well thought out concept has nothing, when you can’t design levels around it.

Gameplay Score: 3.5/10

The 3D galaxy far, far away is unimaginative and ugly

We already see the power of the Sith engine, with items, enemies and almost everything being in 3D compared to the last entry. However, while technically a huge leap, it is simply an ugly game. Character-models are terrible, textures are a mix of decent and poorly constructed ones, light-effects vary in quality, and the environments have more in common with paper-boxes than interesting locations. While it certainly was a marvel for the time, it has aged poorly. Even worse, is the creativity. This is an unimaginative world, mostly consisting of uninteresting metal-constructions or natural environments that literally could be mistaken for brick-walls. The enemies don’t fair much better, with only a handful of different enemy-types, making each area feel very similar. The bosses show some thought to their designs and the weapons fair at least better, having most being brought from the previous game. They have intriguing shots and designs to them, even if the explosions are done with 2D-textures. Being able to cut of limbs also helps the presentation somewhat.

Jedi Knight Orcs.jpeg

There are plenty of cutscenes in this game, with at least one before each mission. They consist of CG mixed with full motion video in front of a greenscreen and it looks as awkward as it sounds. They really don’t blend well, despite both the actors and the animators trying to give it all they’ve got. Speaking of which, the actors do a fantastic job, being so delightfully cheesy and their voice-work is on par with this. Every cutscene felt like a lovely break from the game.

The soundtrack is very well done, from iconic Star Wars tunes that are all orchestrated and still beautiful, to the more atmospheric sound effects that give a feel of the environment you are in. Both are well placed, so the lack of music in certain areas never felt off. The sound effects of all the weapons firing are satisfying, and swinging the lightsaber has the weird motion-sound that is still cool. Even your footsteps are affected by what terrain you were trampling over, which is neat. The only one that made my ears bleed, was when I used the overpowered force-shield. It is terribly loud, constantly shouting light tones, and almost feels like the game is punishing you for using it.

Presentation score: 4.5/10

Offers more, but was it needed?

As stated, you have two paths you can take and they are complemented by cutscenes and at least different playstyles. However, the dark path feels a bit shallow, making it hard for me to say a second playthrough is worth it. Cheat-codes can be fun for a while and there are plenty of ways to play god, which is fun for a short burst at least. This installment features also competitive multiplayer with a lot of customization, but it is very basic and not something that kept me coming back for more. It is solid, but nothing compared to the plenty of other multiplayer-shooters out there

Extra score: 5/10

Verdict

This is a terrible shame, as this is not a bad idea for a sequel. Having a new engine, combining two playstyles and still try to make both worthwhile, was a good move. However, the areas could have been so much better designed and when you have such vast variety of ways to deal with enemies, why not focus on the enemies? A more robust multiplayer would have also helped, as it shows promises too. The minor annoyances also hold this back tremendously. It was worth it thanks to those silly cutscenes that always puts a smile on my face, but I wonder if a visit to YouTube is not more worthwhile.

50/100

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