Jedi Academy is the next installment in the current run of Jedi Knight first person shooter (FPS) games. The game is set 10 years after the battle of Endor, in which the rebels destroy the second Death Star. The Empire has been defeated, peace is starting to wash across the universe and the Jedi have started training new recruits. Your character is one of these recruits, who has mysteriously been able to build a lightsaber without any training. As the game starts the shuttle taking you and other recruits to the academy crashes and so starts the adventure…
Jedi Academy is a mission based FPS, instead of having a logical progression of levels or missions you get to choose which one you’d like to do next. Once you’ve picked a mission you get thrown into the deep end and you have to perform the required tasks to complete it. As you’d probably expect the action part of each mission plays pretty much the same as all the other FPS’s out there. You have a number of mission goals which you must complete, to this end you run around a 3D world solving puzzles, performing tasks, killing enemies etc. Missions vary from a simple gather data and report to a lets take down an entire facility with 1 Jedi vs. hundreds of enemies. A number of the missions have you running around well known places such as Echo base on Hoth.
Before you start each mission you get to choose which weapons you’d like to take with you and to upgrade a force power to the next level (more on these later.) The weapons range from the standard Imperial E-11 blaster to a missile launcher (where would FPS games be without the missile launcher?) You also get the choice of a number of ‘throwing’ weapons: thermal detonators (i.e. grenades) detonation packs and trip mines.
As most people would know Jedi can use force powers which allows them to perform super-human acts, influence objects and people and sense what’s through walls etc. The game features 16 force powers, 12 light (good) and 4 dark (evil). Each time you use ‘the force’ it takes a number of force points which slowly regenerate over time. Each power has three levels: level 1 doesn’t cost many force points but isn’t very powerful level 2 and 3 are more powerful but use more points. Force powers become more important as the game progresses and you’ll have to learn how and when to use them.
Before you start the game you get to choose your character’s species, customise colours and your outfit. As well as choosing your appearance you also get to choose the colour and hilt of your lightsaber. Later on in the game you’ll be given the chance to change you lightsaber style, play with dual lightsabers or even the double ended lightsaber.
Lightsabers, ah yes. At many points during the game and especially towards the end you’ll encounter enemies wielding lightsabers, as a lightsaber can reflect most weapons including missiles you sometimes have very little choice about how you dispatch them. Although I’ve read the manual a number of times I still can’t get a hold of the lightsaber moves, I tend to just thrash around and hope for the best. Sometimes as you dispatch an enemy with a lightsaber you’re treated to a Matrix style slow-mo of the hit. Rather annoyingly the game doesn’t treat this as a visual effect but moves the camera and hence changes the direction the controls move you in. The can lead to a few fatal falls if you happen to be on a ledge which can be quite annoying.
Vehicles are available during some missions, including AT-ST’s and speeders. Most of the vehicles are quite intuitive to control however I found it quite difficult to control the speeder as the mouse sensitivity is set too low so as you fly round a corner you tend to be going more in a straight line than a curve. I could increase the mouse sensitivity but that would affect the character too so it seems the balance between walking and some vehicles could be better.
Graphics wise the game hasn’t really progressed from Jedi Knight II. The textures are clear and well drawn but they’re not going to blow you away, the movements of characters are fluid and reasonably realistic. There are a few odd graphical features, for example when you get up close and personal with a large non-player character such as a Wampa the game slows to a crawl even on a fast computer with oodles of RAM and a top of the range graphics card. I get the feeling that the graphics engine is being pushed to its limits.
As with the graphics the sound doesn’t seem to have moved on much either. The weapon sound effects are clear, the speech is free from noise and general distortion. There are a few nice effects such as enemies screaming as they fall to their deaths. The background music is suitably cheery or gloomy as dictated by the environment. Basically the game looks and sounds good but isn’t going to make your jaw drop to the floor.
Sadly there are a number of annoying niggles with the game. To start with there’s no way to leave the mission menu without entering a mission and then quitting, this seems strange as this would seem to be the most logical place to stop playing the game and return to it later. Also when you meet AT-ST’s in battle you can’t run between their legs – there appears to be an invisible solid box around the legs which seems quite strange. During some missions you have to take control of a heavy blaster mounted on a stand, get too close and you can’t use it which can be annoying when there’s hundreds of enemies rushing towards you. Lifts can be annoying too – you only get a second or two before the lift returns to where it came from. However the most annoying bug has to be the problem with one of the missions where the door to the landing pad won’t open. Therefore, after completing the mission you have to re-play it (or get a little help from Obi) to be able to finish it!
All in all this is a reasonable game with a few annoying bugs should you come across them. However, given the standard of FPS games at the current time there really isn’t anything to make it standout from the crowd. If you’re a Star Wars fan and you enjoyed Jedi Knight II you’ll get a real kick out of this game as it’s basically more of the same. However, if you’re not then I’d check-out some of the FPS games due soon such as Halo and XII. If you’re really patient you could always wait for Half-Life 2.
May the mildly entertaining force be with you.