Jedi Knight: Being One with the Force
Dark Forces was an incredibly popular Star Wars video game tie-in, bringing the player into the backstory of the events prior to A New Hope and introducing us to the popular character Kyle Katarn. In fact, he proved so popular that LucasArts decided to bring him back in a sequel. Kyle was established as a mercenary. He worked for the Republic for a profit, having been a defector from the Imperial Forces – this game gives us more of his backstory and propels him forward in an interesting and unexpected way in Star Wars lore.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II explains that Kyle has a tremendous propensity for the Force (this title was released long before the hideous term “midi-chlorians” was ever spoken or conceived of in the Star Wars universe); this came from his father, who was secretly a Jedi. The game begins with an epic Full Motion Video scene showing a Dark Jedi master – Jerec – interrogating Kyle’s father for the location of a map. Upon refusal, Jerec whips out his lightsaber and in a gloriously exaggerated style, strikes off his head. This propels Kyle into discovering the mysteries of the Force and attempting to find the ancient Valley of the Jedi before Jerec can absorb its power. The plot is engaging but fairly standard Star Wars fare; the most important aspect to all of this is that Kyle (and by extension, you) gets to wield a lightsaber!
Dark Forces II is incredibly good. Looking back on this title and its predecessor, Dark Forces, it’s not hard to see why these titles were so very popular and thanks to distributors like Good Old Games, are still alive and being played today. Jedi Knight was the first game to fully embrace Direct 3D and was an early adopter of both dynamic lighting and 3D sound. This is illustrated with dynamic effect when we see dark corridors being illuminated by your lightsaber, lighting your path as it faintly hums in your grip. The sound design was also utilised to bring a distinctively immersive experience; when you hear the heavy metallic tread of an AT-ST walker to your left and you know it’s time to run as the John Williams soundtrack swells, you feel that unique, tremendous joy of being in the Star Wars universe.
You don’t immediately obtain a lightsaber; there’s some old-fashioned First Person Shooting to orient you to the basic control mechanic first. The first level eases you into the story and features Kyle being double-crossed by a Shadow Assassin robot, and you face off against Gamorreans and Rodian enemies with your traditional blaster-style weapons. There’s a nice alternating variety present in this opening level, and as you climb ever upwards to meet your returning associate Jan Ors on the roof it’s a fairly exciting opener. It shows LucasArts’ skill with level design, keeping the feel fairly congruent with the previous title but creating a vertically interesting level, helping reassure returning players with a familiar control mechanic but making the traditionally boring training level a little more interesting.
When the Force powers arrive in the game, they add so much to the already-rich experience, they truly empower you as a player and feel authentic. You begin by obtaining Force Run, which enables you to speed towards an enemy and deliver devastating fatal blows with your handy lightsaber. This ability, like the powers that come subsequently, is granted through the levels and can be enhanced by spending points on it; this is done as a star type system and offers a new sense of progression in the series. You can also choose to spend these points on Dark Side powers, which is an early form of decision-making; depending on what side you choose to gain more abilities on, this will affect the story mode, which will eventually branch off into either a Light Side or Dark Side ending. This was fairly mind-blowing, being able to take a character established in the Star Wars universe and affect his destiny. It also added some replay value, as you would naturally want to see the consequences of each ending.
Some of my favourite experiences in Dark Forces II have been the emergent gameplay aspects that come from exploring these pivotal Force abilities – using Force Run to zip through the legs of the dominating AT-STs and evade them skillfully or using Force Jump to explore the level design vertically, opening up more routes to traverse through them or hunting for secrets. It’s when you can jump incredibly huge distances that the game opens up, expecting the player to not just look forward or backwards, but up and down, a truly 3D environmental experience.
The final aspect of the game which I want to touch on is the lightsaber duels. These are skillful, beautiful moments of combat ballet using your Force powers in tandem – this is exactly what it feels like to be a Jedi Knight. You begin by naturally swinging away, the buzz of the lightsaber and the satisfying crackle as it strikes home on an enemy rewarding you with a sense, a shiver of power running through your body. Once you reach the boss battles with Jerec’s fellow Dark Jedi, you realise that you need to be more considered in your approach. One memorable encounter sees you leaping from ledge to ledge, engaging in force battles, attempting to get a strike in with your lightsaber and fend off incoming blows. It’s an incredible experience.
The only problem that this game has is the character models; they have aged incredibly poorly and that can detract from the enjoyment of those coming to it with contemporary tastes. But the story still holds up. The FMV scenes are fun and the acting is perfectly hammy. The lightsaber combat is incredible and it captures the feel of the films and extends the universe suitably.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II can be purchased from Good Old Games.