The Switch is finally getting itself some Star Wars games! With last week’s release of the rather excellent Star Wars Pinball being very quickly followed by this, a barebones port of 2002’s Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Quite rightly regarded as one of the very best Star Wars games – certainly in terms of its amazing lightsaber combat and surprisingly engaging story – it lands here sans its multiplayer component but at a rather attractive budget price. So, 17 years after it first released, how has the single-player campaign aged and is it still worth your time and money?
Well, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first. For around about the first four-to-five hours of your adventures as bad-ass intergalactic mercenary Kyle Katarn, things are pretty bad. Some of this is down to the fact it’s such an old game at this point, and archaic design decisions are to be expected; however, just as much can be attributed to a deeply problematic and badly-judged start to proceedings that was just as annoying back in the day as it is now. This is a game that locks everything that makes it so highly-rated behind a long and arduous trek through some very poorly-designed opening levels full of terrible puzzles and awkward gunfights against dodgy enemy AI.
Things kick off with Kyle and his partner Jan Ors investigating a supposedly deserted Imperial Outpost on the planet of Kejim. It is, in fact, manned by a rather large garrison of Imperial forces, and armed only with a selection of uniformly bad guns and thermal detonators with a laughably tiny blast radius, it’s up to you to face off against this army of braindead stormtroopers who constantly zig-zag around in front of your blasters making them nigh on impossible to shoot.
The pew-pew action here really is quite poor – something that isn’t in any way helped by the addition of motion controls – and until you find some way to reliably deal with your enemies that works for you (we prefer to charge, strafe and stun them as much as possible) you will die. A lot. Your opponents in the first few hours with this game will run right at you blasting away with no regard for their own personal safety, and quite often attack you en-masse so that almost every encounter leads to you clinging to the very last remnants of your health and shields – a situation compounded by the dearth of health packs scattered throughout stages.
Played with a keyboard and mouse on PC, these early combat sections weren’t such a massive and clumsy pain, but with console controls, they are an uphill battle. We can’t stress enough that you will have to really strap in for a very tough time, save-scumming like you've never save-scummed before in order to finally get to the point in the story where Kyle hooks up with Luke Skywalker, gets his lightsaber and starts unlocking some of his Force abilities. Early combat problems are also compounded by archaic level design, and you can really see how the basic language of video games has drastically and fundamentally changed over the past 17 years; some of the puzzles, random guesswork and head-scratching leaps of faith expected of you here make absolutely no sense to modern gaming sensibilities.
Levels are full of locked doors which require switches be pushed in order to progress. Some of these switches are almost impossible to find due to chronically bad placement; this is compounded further by pretty terrible textures on computer consoles and walls that make finding the point you’re meant to push a switch difficult to see or easy to miss. Seriously. We challenge you not to use a walkthrough guide at some point in the first half of this game, thanks to the fact that the solutions to many of its dreadful puzzles require you to awkwardly jump around pieces of background scenery in order to climb up into some little vent that you would never be expected to access in a modern video game. There are also some chronic jumping and climbing puzzles to navigate, which will make you consider pulling the Joy-Con off your console and binning them for the sake of your sanity (let's hope you don't play this on the new Switch Lite).
However, once you’ve slogged your way through five levels worth of this torture, arrived at the Valley of the Jedi, reawakened those Force powers and gotten your hands on that sweet, sweet lightsaber, things really do turn around. Well, there's still the small matter of some very annoying snipers in Nar Shaddaa, but once you deal with this final humiliation, we promise, things really do turn themselves right around – because Star Wars: Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast has the best lightsaber combat in any Star Wars game to date.
Even after all this time, it’s still fantastic. It’s a surprisingly deep and sophisticated take on the Jedi’s signature combat style that makes every fight a delight to slice your way through. Those enemies who so frustratingly zig-zagged your useless laser fire earlier now become an endlessly hilarious barrage of saber-fodder, and the catharsis of deflecting stormtrooper fire back where it came from and generally dancing a merry Jedi dance of death through all and sundry is very, very real. Besides making absolute fools of the lowly stormtroopers, there are also some fantastically fun duels to be had with other Force-wielding enemies and a couple of standout lightsaber battles that will put all of your hard-earned Jedi skills to the test.
Combining your lightsaber and ever-expanding array of Force Powers to take on Imperial Forces is endlessly engaging stuff. Force-pulling guns out of stormtrooper's hands, using Force Push to fling folk around the screen and off ledges, Force Speeding your way right into bunches of enemies and throwing your lightsaber so that it flies away, does some death and then returns to your hand is all as entertaining as it sounds. It really is a testament to how well-made the melee combat is in this game was that even much more recent attempts at Jedi carnage, such as that found in Force Unleashed and its sequel – can’t hold a candle to what’s on offer here.
Away from the combat, there’s also a surprisingly decent story that picks up eight years after the events of Return of the Jedi and builds on the foundation laid down by the previous game in the series, 1998’s Mysteries of the Sith. It’s well-written stuff that’ll keeps you engaged right to the end and is helped along by the liberal use of sound effects from the movies, John William’s incomparable score kicking in at all the right places and even Billy Dee Williams popping up in his role as the dashing Lando Calrissian.
As we’ve already mentioned this Switch port is barebones stuff; this is the 2002 game served up exactly as it was back then, and it’s missing an online component that was a real riot owing to the neverendingly appealing nature of player vs player lightsaber duels. Motion controls and HD Rumble are thrown in and you can adjust the sensitivity of your horizontal and vertical movement, but we didn’t really see that any of that made much of a difference – this is a game that always played better on PC. Having said that, the controls here do their job perfectly fine – as long as you’re not trying to fire a gun at anyone. In terms of graphics, it’s obviously a bit of a mixed bag at this point, but some areas do stand up pretty well and overall this is still a good enough looking game.
Finally, and unfortunately, we did run into a bug on a few occasions during our review that saw attempting to load certain saves crashing the game back to the Switch homescreen – this obviously isn’t ideal, and we’d advise you save as often as possible so you don’t lose a bunch of progress, especially in those painful opening hours.
Star Wars: Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast has an opening five chapters that will test your patience to its absolute limit. In some ways, this is down to its age and in others it's just bad design coupled with the odd decision to hold back the game’s best aspects for such a long stretch. This poor pacing is the one thing standing in the way of us giving this a hearty recommendation. However, If you think you’ve got the fortitude to push on through to the good stuff – a trial worthy of Yoda himself – you’ll be handsomely rewarded with some top-notch Star Wars action. It’s a shame the multiplayer fun has been excised here and we did run into that save file bug but, all in all, if you can persist with the dark you’ll be rewarded with the light and – for at least half of its duration – this old classic is still just about as good as Star Wars games ever got.