Jedi Outcast: Jedi Knight II Preview

We traveled to an office far, far away to take a look at the third game in the Dark Forces series.

Kyle Katarn and his trusty light saber are back.

LucasArts isn't best known for its first-person shooters, and yet its first-person shooters are some of the best known in the PC gaming community. Dark Forces was the first such game not to draw comparisons to Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, due to its then-unique ability to stand on its own. The game cast you in the role of Imperial defector named Kyle Katarn as he battled storm troopers, droids, and bounty hunters in an attempt to prevent the Empire from crushing the rebel insurgence. The company's 1997 sequel, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, had players reprise the role of Katarn, who now had the use of several force powers. Jedi Knight was one of the first first-person shooters to incorporate role-playing elements like character interaction and character advancement into the genre, allowing players to gradually "choose" whether Katarn remained on the light side or descended to the dark side. Four years after the release of Jedi Knight, LucasArts announced the development of yet another sequel, Jedi Outcast: Jedi Knight II. The game is being developed by the folks at Raven Software--who've earned a significant amount of notoriety for developing great action games since the days of Heretic--and it's scheduled for release in the early months of 2002. Recently, we were given a chance to visit the LucasArts offices and take a close look at the third game in the company's venerable first-person shooter series.

The light saber isn't the only weapon available to Kyle, though.

The game's producer, Brett Tosti, was on hand to demonstrate three levels from Jedi Outcast, one of which was the same level 2761789shown to us at E3 . One of the two newer levels takes place in a hangar on the Rebel base on Yavin 4, and it really shows off the graphical prowess of Jedi Outcast and the Quake III Arena engine that powers it. The base was alive with activity, as a handful of R2 units scurried around the hangar deck, servicing different X-Wings--which, by the way, look very impressive. Tosti didn't comment on whether or not there will be any interaction with vehicles in Jedi Outcast, but if the past two games are any indication, then it wouldn't be an unfair assumption. The overall visuals of Jedi Outcast, even in its current state, are very impressive. The game makes use of most of Raven's proprietary rendering technology, like its famed GHOUL technique from the Soldier of Fortune series. And while on paper the game might not be as advanced as Soldier of Fortune II, you wouldn't be able to tell from seeing it in action. Kyle Katarn and all the other characters cast real-time shadows on the ground, self-shadow onto themselves, and even have their own images reflected on shiny surfaces, like the black-lacquered interior of an Imperial hangar. Lightsabers, Katarn's primary weapon throughout Jedi Outcast, leave red-hot scars on the walls and ground and emit bright flashes and a shower of sparks during sword fights. The saber duels look all the more real because of the polygon-to-polygon collision detection that Raven has built into Jedi Outcast, so, much more so than in Jedi Knight, extended sword fights in Jedi Outcast will not only look a lot better, but they'll also feel a lot more precise. Hit-specific reactions will add yet another sense of visual realism to the game.

Jedi Outcast will play a lot like Jedi Knight. The game can be played from either the first- or third-person perspective, but since you'll be more reliant on your lightsaber in this game than you were in the previous one, Tosti suggested that most people will prefer to play the majority of Jedi Outcast in the third-person mode. Doing so will give you a better perspective of your surroundings, making it easier for you to judge the distance and angle of the enemies around you. Like Jedi Knight, Katarn will automatically block laser bolts with his saber if he's facing his aggressor, and for a fraction of force power from his force meter, he'll be able to deflect these bolts back at the person who fired them. Saber control will be tied to a combination of mouse movement and direction keys, not unlike Max Payne's "shootdodge" technique. Of course, Katarn will also have a number of traditional weapons available to him, including a Rebel blaster, an Imperial autorifle, a bowcaster, and thermal detonators, all of which will have both primary and secondary attacks.

Naturally, as a Jedi, the most powerful weapons available to you will be your force powers. Jedi Outcast will have nearly all the force powers from Jedi Knight, including force push, force jump, and lightning, but it will also have several new ones, one of which is the ability to use Jedi mind tricks. This force power can be used in a variety of ways, from simply confusing guards into looking the other way while you sneak past to manipulating them into unlocking doors into areas that were previously inaccessible.

Characters, both good and bad, will interact with Kyle.

Jedi Outcast takes place almost a decade after the events of Jedi Knight, and while the plot is still a closely guarded secret at LucasArts, Tosti told us to expect some of the series' memorable characters to make a return appearance. Specifically, Katarn's faithful sidekick and pilot, Jan Ors, will play a significant role in Jedi Outcast, and like the two games that preceded it, Jedi Outcast will be very character-driven. However, unlike Jedi Knight, this game won't have quite so many RPG elements, including the ability to choose between the light and dark force paths. That's not to say that your actions won't have any consequences throughout Jedi Outcast--quite the opposite. Like a good Jedi (the game assumes that you finished Jedi Knight on the light side of the force), you're supposed to be a protector of the innocent, show discipline before committing to action, and train like the dickens. How does that translate into gameplay? According to Tosti, the many characters you'll run into in the game will either be helpful or not, depending on your actions. So if you storm through a level, slicing and dicing people mindlessly, NPCs will most likely shy away from you. Whereas if you're mindful of attacking only your enemies, some characters that you'll encounter will feel comfortable around you and offer you advice that's crucial to the game or open an otherwise inaccessible area.

Storm troopers don't stand a chance againt a Jedi knight.

Likewise, the enemies you'll encounter will be quite fearful of you--what Imperial storm trooper isn't afraid of a Jedi knight? These characters' AI will dynamically change depending on their situation. For example, if you're greatly outnumbered by storm troopers, they'll act a little bolder and take chances they wouldn't otherwise. If the odds favor you, however, enemies will often run away and seek defensive positions. Tosti demonstrated enemy behavior by attacking and killing an Imperial officer in front of a group of storm troopers. Seeing their leader fall before them and having their morale broken, the troopers fled from Katarn. That doesn't mean that the enemies are cowards, though. Lightsaber duels with Sith lords will almost seem as if they're taken right out of the movies. Here, enemy AI will be smart enough to deftly maneuver away from your swings and parry with blows of its own when you leave yourself open. During one such scene, a Sith lord managed to dodge Katarn's sword swings by jumping over one and ducking under another. This level of AI will also carry on down to the lower rungs of the enemy hierarchy as well--don't be surprised if a storm trooper picks up a thermal detonator you've lobbed at him and throws it back at you. Also adding to the realism in the way that all the game's enemies react is the fact that most of the moves in Jedi Outcast are motion-captured, not animated. While "mocapping" does have its disadvantages, the most obvious advantage are character movements that as close to real life as possible.

Following Jedi Knight's act is certainly a tough task, but Raven Software has a great track record when it comes to developing action games, and we don't doubt the company's ability to deliver a worthy follow-up. Jedi Outcast isn't due for release until sometime next year, so we'll be bringing you more updates on this truly promising game in the coming months. Stay tuned.

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