Believe it or not, there is an entire class of Star Wars fan whose primary affectation for the series derives not from the movies, but rather the plethora of games that they have inspired. From Super Star Wars to Tie Fighter and Galactic Battlegrounds to Battlefront, players have experienced the campaigns of a galaxy far, far way from a number of perspectives. Some have followed the cast of the movies, some showed us what it was like to be a lone foot solider, some explored the role of the humble fighter pilot and others placed you as the tactical mastermind of an intergalactic conflict. However, only one series really made you feel like a Jedi; the Jedi Knight quadrilogy.
The first game in the series; Star Wars: Dark Forces, was your typical 90s first-person shooter. Taking place before and during the Original Trilogy, Dark Forces told the story of Kyle Katarn; mercenary hired by the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans for the original Death Star. Following this the Empire begins to develop the Dark Trooper program, forcing Katarn to sabotage their initiative before it can lay siege to the Rebellion. Despite being little more than a Doom clone, Dark Forces was one of the first games to truly immerse the player in the Star Wars universe. From the level design, music and sound effects, everything contributed to ensuring that player felt like they were (to borrow a phrase from Disney) part of Lucas’ world. Even the scope of the story was such to place the player as an integral part of the Rebellion. It helped that Katarn received orders from Mon Mothma herself. While critically acclaimed upon release, it would be the sequel that would truly turn the series into something special.
Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight was as the title suggests the first in the series to feature lightsaber combat. Indeed, it was the first 3D Star Wars game to feature an elegant weapon of a more civilised age. Once again starring Katarn, this game revealed the mercenary’s Jedi heritage. One year after the Battle of Endor, Katarn embarked on a quest to track down the Dark Jedi Jerec, learn the ways of the Force and avenge his father’s death.
As a newly awakened Jedi, players could choose from a variety of Force powers, both light and dark side in nature. It also was the first Star Wars game to feature a karma system with both Light and Dark Side endings being available. Players who succumbed to the temptation of the Dark Side, would see Katarn establish himself as the new Emperor. It also featured live-action cutscenes, marking the first time that lightsaber combat had been officially filmed since Return of the Jedi. An expansion pack dubbed Mysteries of the Sith featured both Katarn and his apprentice; Mara Jade (yes, that one) as playable characters. Released in 1998, it expanded the story and set the stage for the next game in the series.
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast saw a Katarn who had returned to his mercenary ways and abandoned his Jedi powers following a brush with the Dark Side. When his long-time partner; Jan Ors is seemingly killed by Dark Jedi while infiltrating an Imperial stronghold, Katarn embarks on spiritual journey to regain his lost powers. Katarn had to prove to Luke Skywalker, the New Republic and, most importantly, himself that he was worthy of the title; Jedi Knight. It was a story that really explored what it meant to be a Jedi and analysed the burden of power. The nature of the Dark Side is examined wonderfully here with the central antagonist Desann, a former padawan of Skywalker, acting as perfect mirror for Katarn. What pressures lead one down that path and what keeps them in the light? These were questions that Jedi Outcast dared to ask in a market where even it’s immediate predecessor had tended to discuss the issue in the context of black and white morality. Katarn is a flawed character and one whom the player can relate to moreso than many of the holier than thou figures of the Prequels. It is arguably one of the more challenging and compelling pieces of Star Wars expanded universe material.
Jedi Outcast perfected the formula that had been established by its predecessors, with an engaging story and fluid combat that truly allowed a player to feel like a Jedi. Besides improving and expanding on the controls, lightsaber combat was reworked so that players could engage in extensive combos. It allowed players to forge their own path and customize Katarn’s powers with a mix of both Light and Dark Side with a number of upgrades available for each power. The powers were not intrinsically good or evil, it was the player’s choices which defined type of Jedi they wanted to be. While some may argue that Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) eclipsed Jedi Outcast in this regard, it is hard to deny the impact that it had on future games in the series such as The Force Unleashed. Were it not for Jedi Outcast, i’m not sure we would have gotten that level of customisation in KOTOR or any other game. It is the reason why we place such a value on such features in our Star Wars’ games and is deserving of recognition in that regard.
The things which distinguished Jedi Outcast above all was its superb multi-player. Until Battlefront many wouldn’t have associated Star Wars with solid multiplayer experiences, but two years beforehand Jedi Outcast nailed it. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Jedi Outcast was powered by the Quake III engine. With both local and online player supporter, Jedi Outlast featured arena battles with a number of game modes (death-match, capture the flag etc). Players could utilise a number of weapons and Force Powers to wipe out the competition across a multitude of maps spanning the films and expanded universe. Nothing was more satisfying than besting your friends in a one-on-one lightsaber duel that would put Darth Maul to shame. The PC version was also the subject of an extensive modding community which added jet-packs, skins and game-modes ensuring that the game remained viable even a decade after its release. If you wanted to run around as Boba Fett with a purple lightsaber, Jedi Outcast was the game for you.
In 2003, Jedi Outcast was given a sequel/spin-off in the form of Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Jedi Academy starred Jaden Korr, the apprentice to Katarn as he/she tried to tie up the loose-ends of the previous game. It featured reasonable character customisation with respect to species, gender and clothing. Additionally, one of its key selling points was the ability to create your own lightsaber choosing the hilt, design and colour. Players could stick with their single lightsaber or branch out by dual-wielding or forging their own double-edged lightsaber; the saber-staff. While it too had a substantial multiplayer component, there was little to distinguish it from Jedi Outcast.
Next year Disney will release Rouge One; the first Star Wars spin-off film of its kind. The film will tell the story of the how the Rebels obtained the Death Star plans and it is more than likely that Kyle Katarn will not play a role. So until then, spare a thought for the mercenary turned Jedi and give the Jedi Knight series a try. For those yearning to experience what is truly like to be a Jedi, this is the Star Wars game you are looking for.
Join us tomorrow as we take a look at one of the most odd and rarest album every created; Empire Jazz. In the meantime, check out yesterday’s article on Heir to the Empire as we count down to Episode VII: The Force Awakens.