Out of all the Jedi Knight games, Jedi Academy was the only one I heard little to nothing about. No one I knew played it, I saw no hype for it, and I did not even see this one on any top 10 Star Wars games lists. This made me very unnerved as I had no idea if this was because the title was mediocre, bad, or just had a terrible name that made it hard to find out where in the timeline it took place. After how messy some of the previous titles could be, how does this one hold up?
Good fanservice if nothing else
After customizing your character to your liking you take control of Jaden, who will be representing you throughout the adventure. On your way to the Jedi Academy to learn the way of the force, you and your “friend” Rosh crash-land not too far from the academy after the ship you boarded got attacked. Wielding a lightsaber alone, you try to make your way to the academy and help Luke Skywalker and your master, Kyle Katarn (the star of all the previous titles), to find out what has happened.
To start out positive, you will be taken on a grand adventure, seeking out bad guys and saving those in need to further the plot. You will travel to plenty of different areas, making the world feel vast and unique. Throughout these missions, you will at times fight alongside other Jedi and there are some witty comments between you, or decent monologues when your characters is alone. Even the enemies talk about some daily events, which is cute. There is some interesting lore to the mythos, such as why Jedi can now use dark powers, and plenty of good fanservice for those into the Star Wars universe. The characters are likeable and reliable, even if Rosh is a bit shallow, and making your own character is also neat. This gives the game some personality and seeing a character you played throughout the series fighting and teaching you, makes you easily relate to him. The character creation is limited, but has enough to create a decent-looking fellow.
That being said, the plot is very uninteresting and predictable. By having a mission-setup, there are plenty of minor events that will lead you towards the next goal, but I rarely found them interesting. While I enjoyed visiting the diverse locations and having conversations with the lovable characters, you must be a fan of the Star Wars lore, the movies, or at least have some knowledge of the previous games to actually get the most out of this title, which is a shame. There is also an end-part that feels silly, but I will leave it at that. The story works and nothing is mediocrely executed, but it is definitely made for fans.
Story Score: 6/10
Going to school has rarely been this fun!
While some aspects of the previous games are intact, such as the shield and HP-bar, we finally start out with a lightsaber and it is a joy to have. As a third person hack and slash-game, Jedi Academy gives you a bunch of moves already at the beginning, a neat tutorial, and an enjoyable first-mission. To start out with, the sword can be swung in multiple direction based on your movement, have different fighting-styles with some being unlocked later in the game, and thrown in a boomerang-fashion. This makes the dangerous lightsaber already a fun tool to use, since it has a lot to offer. Using the id Tech 3 engine, it also gives a lot of realistic movement, both in characters and the saber itself. You will even damage enemies and areas by simply touching them with the saber.
Up next are your force-powers. You will have 8 normal powers that will be upgraded automatically, such as jump, speed and force push, and 4 light and 4 dark-powers you can choose to upgrade before a mission. All can be upgraded upwards to 3 times and none felt useless, making it easy to create your style of play. The light-powers are more defensive, due to having forces like heal and mind control, while dark is more aggressive, with moves such as choke and lightning. You will also have a force-bar that refills automatically if you are not using a force-power to give yourself boosts such as better defense, and it works well. This makes it balanced in your use of stronger powers vs the less stronger ones.
Throughout the game, you will have to tackle at least 4 out of 5 missions to progress to a plot-mission. Not only is this a good way to make the players choose what mission they want to neglect, but since each mission gives you the ability to upgrade one of your force-powers, it is a nice risk vs reward system. Despite this choice, I found every mission enjoyable and different from each other. Some will have you battle tons of enemies, another will have you use your Jedi-sense to find bombs to diffuse, and there are even chase-segments and platforming-parts that are actually fun! I never found them unfair, confusing, or as an unneeded form of dragging out the game, but as fun distractions. They never stayed for too long and felt intense in a good way. Your character will also comment on the area, giving you subtle hints on what you might want to do and the objectives are clearly shown. There was even an escort-mission that I found very enjoyable, and that is impressive on its own.
Helping this, are not just levels that are built to be easier to digest and work well with your moveset, but also enemies that vary in design. Some might be Dark-Jedi, normal Stormtroopers that we know are terrible, and some mechs that are dangerous to tackle head on. This variation is a good thing as you will have to vary your approach and be aware of everyone at all times. Especially demanding, are the lightsaber duels as they can be dangerous since they wield deadly powers similar to yours. Some might even specialize in a different technique, making them varied due to their fighting-style. Adding to the praises, is a good difficulty-curve that always gave me a good challenge.
So are there any negatives? Well, none of these will hinder the enjoyment of the game, but definitely should be noted. Before each mission, you will also be able to take with you 1 normal side-arm, 2 other ranged weapons and 1 type of grenade. Due to how diverse and powerful your saber is, I found this unnecessary as the game does not seem at all focused on highlighting any other weapon. The guns can be of some support and the shooting works well with the firearms being brought from the previous game, but I never used the ranged weapons as they were not needed. Customizing your own character is neat, with the possibility to play as different races, however it is quite limited and they could have gone just a tad further with this concept. Lastly, there is a terrible glitch at the beginning, where Rosh dies by jumping too high, creating a game over. It is a very unfortunate one as it could have been easily avoided.
These are, however, only minor negatives that don’t hinder what a great game Jedi Academy is. I am so happy that they finally focused on the sword-fighting and gave it much more attention, with levels and enemies giving a lot of different concepts to deal with. Giving both focus to a game-mechanic, while still varying up other types of gameplay is not an easy feat. However, Jedi Academy finally did it, making it a satisfying singleplayer game that I will definitely revisit multiple times.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
A marvelous galaxy to moonwalk on
Everything is technically impressive for its time and the game holds up artistically as well. There are plenty of diverse areas to visit, both different natural and urban environments, with fantastic effects and clear attention to detail. One of my favorite small touches is how the rain makes the lightsaber spark, giving it a more realistic feel. The effects of shooting and using the lightsaber never get tiring for me, as they can be visually hypnotizing when there is chaos on the screen. The characters and creatures are well designed, making them memorable and appealing in the artistic aspect. Limbs fly off more often, so the use of the id engine is well implemented. Character animations, however, are not always great. They can be a tad stiff from time to time and they seem to be rather moonwalking than actually walking, which is admittedly hilarious.
We have both in-game cutscenes and CG. While the CG is more pixelated than the in-game presentation, it looks more impressive with good attention to minor details, making them intriguing. The in-game cutscenes are decent, but not great thanks to characters moving stiffly. I also noticed certain sound effects disappearing from time to time, which was odd. The voice actors do a good job performing their roles and feel genuine. The male version of the main character could have redone some lines, but it is never to the point of being bad. However, as I have stated in previous reviews: the score by John Williams is fantastic and still works lovely in this game too, with sound effects being as iconic as Sonic’s rings.
Presentation Score: 8.5/10
Fighting with lightsabers got even better!
There is an alternative ending in the main-campaign where your character turns to the dark side, but it is pretty shallow and only feels added to satisfy players who prefer evil endings. Since it can be activated towards the end, it is a poor inclusion, but a mere blemish and you won’t miss out if you never take this ending. As previously stated in the other Jedi Knight reviews, I do love cheats that play around with game-mechanics instead of just making you a God. There are plenty of costumes and modifications you can play around with, and it is fun to try out different character skins. However, I know this won’t appeal to everyone and that is where the multiplayer comes in.
Multiplayer returns with upwards to 16 players able to partake in different game-modes, from capture the flag, free for all deathmatch, team vs, and more. The customization of rules, such as only lightsabers mode, the bunch of ways to personalize your character, and even having mods being easy to install, makes it an incredibly fun multiplayer. Seeing an upgrade from the last game with more developed mechanics (such as balancing the force-powers more), makes this the essential lightsaber battle simulator in any Star Wars game so far.
Extra Score: 9/10
I am so incredibly happy to see the series go out with a bang. With such a good singleplayer campaign, fantastic multiplayer, lovely presentation, and paying homage to the source-material, this is an essential game for anyone that is a fan of Star Wars. Newcomers will also find a great game, despite not being familiar with the lore and maybe not even bother with the story. If you are still unsure, just ask yourselves if going to school to learn about the powers of the force-magic and a lightsaber sounds fun to you, and I think you will obviously know the answer.