Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast was the long-awaited follow-up to Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, the much loved first-person shooter for the PC that drew both action fans and the Star Wars faithful like bees to honey. The game, developed by Raven Software and published by LucasArts, continued the story of main character Kyle Katarn in eye-catching style with excellent graphics and tight gameplay, and it offered the ability to use force powers in a manner that no other Star Wars game has ever allowed. While the original Jedi Knight never made it to a console, LucasArts has opted to bring the sequel to the Xbox and the GameCube. We recently had the chance to get a look at the Xbox build of the game to see how the journey from the PC to Microsoft's console was faring.
For those unfamiliar with Jedi Outcast's back story, the game follows the adventures of Kyle Katarn, a mercenary who winds up helping the Rebellion in the fight against the Empire. Kyle's colorful life and adventurous background have slowly unfolded throughout the Dark Forces and Jedi Knight games. Initially a Han Solo-like scoundrel, Kyle found the force in Jedi Knight. Unfortunately, wrestling with the temptation of the dark side and other traumatic events in Jedi Knight have caused Kyle to shun his Jedi ways. Jedi Outcast opens with Katarn trying to resume his "normal" life of smuggling, but, as you'd expect, fate intervenes, and before you can say, "I have a bad feeling about this," Kyle is embroiled in a struggle to stop the last vestiges of the Empire from creating an army of force-charged cybernetic warriors. The suitably dramatic tale translates into 24 single-player levels that span eight different environments that capably make use of the expanded Star Wars universe.
If you've played the PC version of the game, you should have a good idea of what to expect from Jedi Knight II. The conversion of the game to the Xbox and GameCube is being handled by Troy, NY-based developer Vicarious Visions, best known for its stellar Game Boy Advance games, such as Crash Bandicoot and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and 3, as well as Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro for the PlayStation. Jedi Outcast for the Xbox will offer essentially the same basic content as the PC version, but it will also incorporate some of the extras that have been made available since the game's release last March, such as the level from the single-player demo, as well as new character models for the game's multiplayer component. In addition, the game is being tweaked a bit to appeal to console gamers' appetite to discover and unlock new areas. For example, multiplayer skins will unlock as you encounter the corresponding aliens in the game proper. Some of the larger levels have been seperated into smaller areas in order to accomodate the lower memory contraints of the Xbox and GameCube, though you'll still be able to save anywhere you want. Beyond that, details have yet to be set on what else may find its way into the game.
The game's controls map out nicely on the Xbox controller, and controlling Kyle in the third person seems to be a pretty user-friendly experience. While the final control scheme hasn't been nailed down, the build we played let us move Kyle with the left analog stick and look with the right stick. The right trigger served as the primary attack and the left was the alternate mode of fire. The D-pad let us cycle through our inventory and available force powers, and you'll be able to switch between the various lightsaber combat stances with a single button press. The exact configuration of the face buttons is likely to change as development finishes and the team tweaks the layout. And while you will be able to dismember enemies in the game, anyone hoping to go full Texas Chainsaw Massacre like the unofficial patch did for the PC version of the game will be out of luck.
The game's multiplayer options, which were plentiful in the PC version, have obviously been scaled back for the Xbox and GameCube games. Jedi Outcast will not support online play--just split-screen for up to four players. On the upside, the game will have bot support, which will let you play against AI opponents by yourself.
In terms of graphics, the game is looking pretty sharp on the Xbox, and it holds up quite favorably to the PC version of the game, which isn't too surprising when you take into account what the Xbox has going on under the hood. The level of detail is high, and the lighting is close to the PC's. Little touches, such as the scorch marks from your lightsaber and blaster fire on the walls, are looking good as well. The frame rate hitches quite a bit, but the game has yet to be optimized.
So far Jedi Knight II is shaping up nicely on the Xbox. Vicarious Visions' conversion appears to be proceeding apace and retaining the bulk of the PC version's appeal. Our experience with the Xbox version left us impressed, and we're eager to see the GameCube version, which will support progressive scan. Look for more on Jedi Outcast in the coming months as its fall release approaches. In the meantime, check out our developer interview with the game's producer here.