Star Wars: Jedi Academy is certainly not the first Star Wars game for the Xbox. Many titles set in that universe have had their chance to grace the Microsoft console. Indeed, for followers, it seems like LucasArts has developed a delectable taste for the Xbox’s emphasis on whiz-bang graphics and digital surround sound, both trademarks of the filmmaking powerhouse behind LucasArts.
However, Jedi Academy is unique in that it hails from the same lineage as Dark Forces; the beginning of the marriage between first person shooters and Star Wars that started in 1997. Jedi Academy quite literally takes a step back (though not in terms of gameplay) by changing much of Jedi Academy to resemble a third person action game. For most of the time in Jedi Academy, you will be wielding and developing saber skills and force powers. And all of this takes place in the classic ‘behind-the-back’ perspective.
Jedi Academy places you in the shoes of a new Jedi protégé called Jaden. Kyle Katarn, the star of the previous series, is relegated to a minor role as Jaden’s mentor. Force powers and the lightsaber are available at the beginning of the game. The absence of these was a trademark to previous Jedi Knight games, which forced you to rely on more conventional blasters and lasers to get through the initial parts.
Customary of most Star Wars titles, the game involves moving throughout different star systems and visiting strange planets. In Knights of the Old Republic, you would also start conversing with the indigenous people. If Jedi Academy were a movie, it would be more of an action movie. Its sibling title, Knights of the Old Republic would be more of a conversational one. Both games feature skill-progression, character development (through the attainment of new force powers) but Knights of the Old Republic lets you talk yourself out of battles. You don’t have that luxury in Jedi Academy.
On each world, you’re tasked to carry out objectives that err on the pedestrian side. Retrieve some objects. Destroy some obstacles that prevent you from moving on. Get from point A to point B. Some will involve encountering serious opposition. The most difficult foes you’ll encounter are the Sith agents in the latter parts of the game who even the playing field with their mastery of dark Jedi powers. Other objectives involve a little environmental/obstacle traversal but for the most part the game gives little hint as to what needs to be done and forces you to explore the real estate before moving on. That’s probably where the conversational pieces would have come handy. Dialogue, as much as shiny flashing arrows on screen, can be greater pointers in a game.
In control scheme, Jedi Academy resembles Jedi Outcast, which uniquely captures wielding a saber (or sword or any other melee weapon for that matter) without being overly complicated. The visuals are also on par with that former title but it is quite obvious that the Quake engine is starting to show its age. Even a phenomenal effort put into it (a la Call of Duty) won’t turn it into a cutting edge piece. Expect to see everything you know in Star Wars but not necessarily in a new light.
As always, the sound is impeccable, utilizing the full range of the Star Wars audio library to bring forth a compelling cinematic experience. The developers, however, have gone the extra mile. They’ve crafted a significant multiplayer component to the game that features system link, Xbox Live and split screen multiplayer for two. Up to ten players can participate in the network gaming modes with a variety of game types including the obligatory deathmatch and capture the flag variations. The most impressive was the Siege mode. It pits one team on defense and one team on offense with checkpoints that must be overcome. For those with smaller parties, bots can be inserted to fill in vacant players. There is also a one-on-one lightsaber duel.
On a story level, Jedi Academy won’t win any awards. It doesn’t help that a much more expansive Star Wars world was presented around the same time in Knights of the Old Republic. It lacks the depth to engross and absorb but the action will prove to be satisfying to most fans of the genre. The piece de resistance of the whole package has to go to the comprehensive multiplayer component. It gives the good but not great single player part a memorable finish. The Siege game, in particular, will keep people coming back to Jedi Academy long after they have graduated.