Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast Preview
We check out the GameCube version of LucasArts' first-person shooter for the PC.
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Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast continues the story of Kyle Katarn, who capably fit the "troubled hero" boots you'd expect from a protagonist in the Star Wars universe. Developed by Raven Software, the game was the long-awaited follow-up to Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, a much-loved first-person shooter for the PC that blended the Star Wars universe and the FPS genre into a highly addictive experience. Jedi Knight II's combination of solid graphics and gameplay, the ability to wield force powers, and a number of multiplayer options had a strong pull on game players, who snatched up the sequel when it was originally released as a PC game earlier this year. Following the game's success on the PC, LucasArts announced at this year's E3 that it had plans to bring the game to the GameCube and the Xbox. We recently had a chance to try out a previewable build of the GameCube version, which is being developed by Vicarious Visions, to see if the force is truly with this PC-to-console conversion.
For those unfamiliar with Dark Forces storyline, the games have followed the event-filled life of the aforementioned Kyle Katarn, a former Imperial officer who seems to be a magnet for trouble. Katarn was originally a decorated Imperial trooper, but he soon abandoned the Empire following his father's execution for treason. After joining the Rebel Alliance, Katarn eventually wound up studying to be a Jedi knight. Unfortunately, following the events of Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II and its expansion pack, The Mysteries of the Sith, Kyle has distanced himself from the Jedi lifestyle. Jedi Outcast finds him attempting to return to a simple life of good old-fashioned smuggling and assorted mercenary work. Fortunately for players, Kyle's life doesn't go quite the way he'd planned and he winds up battling against the forces of evil again, wielding his blaster and the force powers that threatened to overwhelm him earlier.
In terms of what the GameCube incarnation of Outcast will offer, Vicarious Visions is bringing over just about everything from the PC. You'll find all 24 single-player levels and all eight different locations drawn from the expanded Star Wars universe. A new single-player mission, Mission at Alzoc III, will be available once you've cleared the single-player game, and it will offer a rather unpleasant trip down memory lane, as Kyle will be confronted by some of his most lethal foes. As mentioned, the gameplay and most of the content will be brought to the GameCube, although there will be some obvious differences. The biggest changes will be found in the multiplayer modes and the game's control, which is being mapped to the GameCube controller. The multiplayer game mode is called Jedi arena, and it will feature several different game types such as capture the flag, free for all, team free for all, lightsaber duel, and Jedi master. While capture the flag and the free for all game types are pretty straightforward, the last two offer a distinctly Star Wars-centric experience. Lightsaber duel will let you fight one-on-one in classic locations, such as the carbonite-freezing chamber on Cloud City, à la Luke and Vader. Jedi master, on the other hand, keeps it real and encourages the assembled characters to rush the player holding the only lightsaber. The various modes have undergone some tweaks to work around the GameCube's lack of online connectivity, and while the game will support only two players in a split-screen multiplayer game, you and a friend will be able to play with up to 10 bots. The game will actually offer you a selection of 28 bots to choose from, each with its own distinctive behavior. You'll even be able to play on a team with the bots of your choice if you select the proper mode. In addition to choosing from the various game types, you'll be able to set a variety of parameters to customize your battles. Most notably, the GameCube will feature a new option that will let you limit multiplayer games to "weapon only" combat.
As far as control goes, Vicarious Visions has managed to make the best of a challenging situation. Jedi Outcast's controls made the transition to the GameCube pad fairly well. You'll use the analog stick to move Kyle around, while the C stick will control where you look. The D pad is used to cycle between weapons, items, and force powers. The left trigger will use your selected force power, while the right trigger will attack. The Z button will be used for your secondary attack, and the Y button will switch you to lightsaber mode. The X button will crouch. The A button will jump, while the B button serve as a context-sensitive "use" button. The setup gave us some pause when we first started playing the game--using the Z button effectively during a firefight was a little trying, to be sure--but it actually didn't take long to get accustomed to. That's not to say we didn't miss the keyboard-and-mouse setup, but Jedi Outcast's control is manageable after some practice.
The graphics in Jedi Outcast, on the other hand, won't require much time to get used to. The GameCube hardware handles the graphical load well, and the GC version compares favorably with the PC game in terms of visuals. The environments and characters all sport a solid amount of detail, and just about all the special effects seen in the PC game are present to one degree or another. The expected nips and tucks are pretty subtle, although the occasional unsettling texture or blocky model does crop up in places. The game's frame rate is high and fairly solid, although our preview build did get a bit choppy when things got crazy onscreen. The only other rough spot we encountered was the CG in the game, which was looking a bit too compressed. Hopefully Vicarious will have time to address these points before the game ships.
From what we've played so far, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is shaping up pretty well on the GameCube. The game retains just about all the elements of its PC cousin, although we sure would like to see the PC's online play come over. The game is looking solid and handles surprisingly well once you get the hang of it. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is slated to ship this November for the GameCube, with an Xbox version to follow.
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