Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Developer: Raven Software
Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Xbox
Price Paid: 6.99 GBP
Available on Steam: Yes
Jedi Academy is the fourth game in the highly acclaimed Jedi Knight series, first released back in 2003. Developed by Raven Software, Jedi Academy loosely follows on from the story of its predecessors, but is the first game in the series where you do not take the role of the its usual protagonist, Kyle Katarn.
Jedi Academy is a Star Wars game through and through and I can say right now, one of the best. You create your own character and play through a healthy amount of missions in a non-linear order. You can choose several races, any gender and even lightsaber combat styles as well as the lightsaber hilt design and colour. The customization, although not as in depth as some games, adds that special something to the game and adds enjoyablility to the experience to see your very own Jedi chopping through swarms of bad guys. You begin the game as a student at the new Jedi Academy, headed by Luke Skywalker and Jedi Master, Kyle Katarn. The story see's you investigate a Sith cult and remnants of the Imperial Army, as the New Republic attempts to bring order. The tale here is definately a fun ride, the characters are good and it feels like Star Wars. Which, in a Star Wars game, is very important.
As mentioned, the missions are broken up in a non-linear manner. You play through several missions, and then have the choice of playing a special story mission. You do not have to complete all missions offered to you before you attempt the story advancing mission, although it is recommended. The illusion of freedom serves well to organise the plot, with cutscenes and dialogue throughout. A sense of progression is also given as you can learn new fighting styles, invest into different force powers and customise your lightsaber, such as choosing to wield two or a Darth Maul style double edged blade.
As for the gameplay, this is probably the most fun I have had in a Star Wars game, even one of the best in general. The lightsaber combat really does put other games to shame, you can pull of a variety of easy to control and use combo's, flip off walls and make impressive acrobatic feats, all whilst having an easy control of the force. The combat really does feel good, you run into a room; front flip in the air whilst letting off some force lightning, swing your blade into an enemy and watch in slow motion as you slice off a limb. The lightsaber duels with other Jedi are also extremely enjoyable, you feel like a Jedi here more than any other game. The force powers are also implemented well. You can learn and upgrade many different powers, such as choke, heal, protect and rage, as well as several others - as well as the core skills upgraded automatically, such as your acrobatic ability.
The levels themselves stand out. There are classic Star Wars locations (Hoth, Tatooine) as well as many other planets and cities. You can see that real thought has gone into the level design and there is a strong degree of exploration with branching paths and hidden areas. In most levels there are brief puzzles which aid the variety and enjoyment of the game. You can also ride Tauntaun's and pilot speederbikes which, when coupled with a lightsaber, make for some interesting, fast paced chase scenes. It's not just lightsaber combat either, you also have the option of using a variety of firearms and explosives, although the incentive to use these over a lightsaber is minimal, they do come in handy in a few situations and aid in the variety of the game.
For a game made in 2003, Jedi Academy might look dated. But it is definately not unplayable and actually looks great in some areas. The lighting and lightsaber effects are especially awesome to behold, as is the level designs and the flow of combat in motion.
To think of all the Star Wars games that came before, and all that have come since. Jedi Academy still remains on of the greats alongside Knights of the Old Republic. Imagine the Force Unleashed if you will. The level design, lightsaber combat and gameplay as a whole is better in Jedi Academy, than in The Force Unleashed. Jedi Academy may be old, but it is available on Steam, will run on most computers and it doesn't with the singleplayer. There is a healthy multiplayer community and plenty of mods including skins and maps to keep you busy.
So if you want a Star Wars game with a decent story, fun gameplay and awesome lightsaber combat, then Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is the game for you. (Seriously, get it. It's cheap now guys.)