Having produced both Dark Forces and Jedi Knight, LucasArts is no stranger to quality first-person shooters. Released two years apart, both games won critical acclaim and saw enough commercial success to warrant a third entry, Jedi Outcast, in the series, which was unveiled to the public only at last year's E3 in Los Angeles. The game is primarily being developed externally at Wisconsin-based Raven Software, where it's currently nearing completion. In fact, Jedi Outcast officially entered the beta stage of development last week and seems to be on schedule for a release in late March or early April of this year. Recently, LucasArts producer Brett Tosti swung by our offices to show off this beta build of Jedi Outcast and demonstrate the different multiplayer modes, showcase the arsenal of weapons, and talk about the various force powers that will ultimately be available in the game.
As anyone who's been following this game's progress for the past year surely knows, Kyle Katarn, everyone's favorite brooding hero with Jedi powers, reprises his role as the main character of Jedi Outcast. While LucasArts is still keeping a tight lid on the details of the plot for fear of spoiling the game prematurely, we do know that the game takes place nearly 10 years after the events of Jedi Knight and its Mysteries of the Sith expansion pack, which would explain Katarn's beard and graying hair. Even though he gave up his lightsaber at the end of the last game, something happens to Katarn, and it compels him to seek it out. And in the process, it rekindles his mastery of the force, which has slipped with the passing of time. Tosti explained that--like the other games in the series--Jedi Outcast is very story driven, and in his quest to regain his force powers, Katarn will interact with many other characters, including his longtime sidekick and pilot Jan Ors, as well as the Jedi master himself, Luke Skywalker.
However, Tosti was quick to point out that the method in which the story progresses and, specifically, the manner in which Katarn reacquires all his old force powers will be markedly different this time around. Jedi Knight had some role-playing elements, like allocating certain force "points" to strengthen existing force powers or learning new ones altogether. And depending on which force powers you chose, Katarn would stray to either the dark side or the light side of the force. In Jedi Outcast, this gameplay mechanic is missing--you simply won't be able to choose how Kyle progresses, and you won't have two outcomes. Instead, Jedi Outcast's progression is set in stone. That's not to say that Jedi Outcast is linear--certainly, many levels will often have multiple paths or different ways of solving any given puzzle--but you'll get specific force powers at exact points throughout the game, no matter how you play. "This allows our level designers to create areas that are specifically suited to your powers," explained Tosti. "For example, if we give you force jump at the end of, say, the first level, then we can add an area in the second level that'll require you to use that power. We couldn't do that in Jedi Knight."
Almost all of the force powers from Jedi Knight will be available for Katarn to use in Jedi Outcast, including a handful of new ones, such as force choke and mind trick. What's more, every one of these force powers will be "upgradeable" up to three times, and the overall effect will be quite noticeable. The first iteration of force pull, for example, will give Katarn the ability to knock enemies off their feet. With the second, slightly enhanced version of that ability, Katarn will be able to disarm enemies from a distance, while the most powerful force pull available will let him actually strip a weapon off someone and use it as his own. Likewise, the ultimate form of force choke will let you hold enemies in midair and throw them in any direction--including onto a group of onrushing storm troopers--with a flick of your mouse. These enhanced force powers will undoubtedly go a long way in making you feel like an honest-to-goodness Jedi master and not just a padawan dabbler.
Force powers aren't the only aspect that evolves as you progress through Jedi Outcast. After all, good Jedis are just as adept at using their lightsabers as they are at making X-Wings float, and Katarn will actually get better at swordplay at various points throughout the game. Jedi Outcast will do this in a manner that's similar to the way it upgrades force powers. You'll start the game with a standard fighting stance that allows Katarn to swing and parry his lightsaber by using his forearms and wrists, which basically translates to attacks that are fast but still pack a little bit of a punch. Later on, Katarn will learn to adapt a light fighting stance that will allow him to strike more rapidly than before, but at the cost of reduced damage. Finally, you'll earn the heavy stance--here, Katarn will dig his heels into the ground and swing his lightsaber with a great deal of effort. If he connects, Katarn will do a great deal of damage, but he'll be left wide open for a short period of time if his swing fails to find its target. Tosti said that you'll be able to switch between these three stances at will once you earn them so that you can use a fighting style that best suits your current situation.
Of course, Jedi Outcast is a first-person shooter, and it wouldn't be complete without the obligatory wide array of weapons. Besides, even the best Jedi will pick up the occasional blaster every now and then. To that end, Jedi Outcast will have no fewer than 12 ranged, explosive, and melee weapons, not counting the lightsaber. You've seen some of these weapons in the earlier games of this series--weapons such as the bryar pistol, storm trooper rifle, wookie bowcaster, Imperial heavy repeater, and thermal detonator--but Jedi Outcast will have a lot of new additions to its arsenal as well. These include the DEMP2, which fires a deadly electrical arc; the Golan Arms flechette, which fires countless tiny metal arrows in a conical area; and the Merr-Son missile system, which is a rocket launcher with multiple firing modes. In fact, Tosti was quick to point out that every weapon in Jedi Outcast has both a primary and an alternate attack. Some weapons even have a third firing option, usually a charged variant of its primary attack. The disrupter rifle, trip mines, det packs, and a stun baton round out the list of goodies you can expect to find in the game.
It's worth noting that Raven Software and LucasArts are balancing the single-player and multiplayer components of Jedi Outcast separately. While this is still an ongoing process, Tosti did say that there will be significantly more force powers available to players in the game's multiplayer modes than there will be in the primary campaign. Force drain, which sucks the available number of force points from other players, is one such multiplayer-only power. Another is absorb, an ability that lets you fill up your force meter whenever a force power is used against you. Additionally, some of the force powers that are available in both single- and multiplayer modes are drastically different from one another. The Jedi mind trick, for example, will make you completely invisible in multiplayer games, while it serves only as a distraction for computer-controlled opponents in the single-player campaign.
And speaking of computer-controlled characters, you'll be able to play any of Jedi Outcast's multiplayer maps with bots instead of humans, if you're so inclined. And with seven different multiplayer modes and a map list that's still growing , it's easy to see why both aspects of Jedi Outcast--single-player and multiplayer--are getting equal attention from its developers. In addition to the typical CTF, team deathmatch, and deathmatch modes, the game will have some unique twists on existing multiplayer conventions, such as Jedi duel, wherein two players spar while a crowd looks; capture the ysalimari, a mode that cancels out the force powers of anyone carrying the slimy critter; and a mode called Jedi master, wherein a single lightsaber will give its owner the ability to use all available force powers but, in turn, will also mark that player as the target of all the other contestants on that map. In this mode, the only players who score points are those who kill the Jedi master and the Jedi master himself.
From Tosti's demonstration of Jedi Outcast, it's obvious that the game is not only coming along nicely, but also quickly shaping up to be a worthy successor to the venerable Jedi Knight. We hope to bring you more coverage on Katarn's newest adventure sometime before Jedi Outcast launches, but in the meantime, be sure to indulge in the latest batch of screenshots and concept artwork, which we've added to the media gallery.