Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Updated Hands-On Impressions

We sit down with the soon-to-be-released follow-up to Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.


At a recent European press event, we were able to try out the final version of Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy for the PC. Jedi Academy will let you play as a customized Jedi apprentice of one of several races (including human, Zabrak, and Twi'lek), complete with the lightsaber of your choice. You are apparently a prodigy student who created your own lightsaber without any Jedi supervision. Your ship is mysteriously attacked as you arrive at the Jedi Academy, and the storyline revolves around Luke and Kyle sending their students out to investigate a connection between the attack and a mysterious group known as the Cult of Ragnos. Though we were unable to go through the customization process ourselves, we were able to play as a prebuilt Jedi character through the first few levels of the game.

Jedi Academy introduces a system where you get to choose your next mission rather than proceed through the game in a strictly linear fashion. Luke and Kyle will offer you a batch of missions, which you can choose to go through in any order. After you complete most of these missions in the batch, you will be offered the chance to return to the academy to learn more about the Force. But you may want to finish the remainder of the missions so you can get more Force points to spend. So far, we have seen missions based on Tantooine, Corellia, and Hoth. The later mission has you to investigating the derelict Echo Base seen in The Empire Strikes Back. You can see one of the rideable "vehicles," a tauntaun, in this level as well as an AT-ST. The tauntaun can trample the snow troopers in your path, or you can swing your lightsaber from atop the mount, like a medieval knight.

In another one of the game's early levels, you must rescue the impounded Millennium Falcon with the aid of Chewbacca, who acts as a computer-controlled helper, much like Jan followed and provided backup for Kyle Katarn in Jedi Knight II. Chewie was armed with a wookiee bowcaster, a crossbow-like weapon that fires green bursts of energy, and though we were able to sample several different weapons, including several of the blaster weapons from Jedi Knight II, we found that the default lightsaber served us quite well, especially since our character automatically deflected most enemy beam attacks with it as long as we weren't attacking. Like in Jedi Knight II, the mouse motion and angle we used to attack our enemies determined the direction and type of our lightsaber strokes, and whether we ended up severing limbs. Like in Jedi Knight II, a well-placed lightsaber strike in Jedi Academy is instantly lethal to most normal enemies.

Once we had completed the hangar mission, we watched a brief in-engine cutscene starring our character's Jedi mentor (and the hero of Jedi Knight II), Kyle Katarn, as he investigated the damage to the famous starship, which appeared to "simply be torn up from the inside," possibly at the hands of the mysterious Sith cult that plays a role in the game's story. We found ourselves presented with a choice of several different missions to complete next, including a mission on Corellia that began on a speeding transport ship traveling at a great height, and the sandy deserts of Tattooine, to hack and slash our way through hordes of angry Tusken raiders. Before we did, we were able to spend Jedi character points to develop our Jedi powers, shown onscreen in three columns, much like in Jedi Knight II. The central column on the screen shows intrinsic Jedi powers, such as lightsaber throwing, which increase automatically over the course of the single-player game, while light-side powers appear on the left side of the screen, and dark-side powers appear on the right. Light-side powers include abilities such as force heal (which heals damage) and force pull (which can be used to move objects and characters), while dark-side powers include abilities such as the damaging force lightning power, and the incapacitating force choke power.

The developers have stated that you'll be able to choose between the light and dark side in the game. We haven't reached that point yet, but we did get warned by Kyle at the end of one mission for using too many dark force powers. We made a beeline to the force choke ability, because as everyone knows, it's satisfying to choke and smash your enemies into walls or off of cliffs. Kyle acknowledged that it was tempting to do so in a battle, but that we should not succumb to the dark side. Presumably, you will only get so many warnings before you convert to the dark side.

Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy for the PC has gone gold and is scheduled for release in September. The game is also scheduled for release on the Xbox later this year. Look for our full review of the PC version soon.

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