While Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast didn’t age quite as well as we hoped when we reviewed it six months ago, its sequel, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy has gone some way to addressing the somewhat poor taste that its predecessor left in our collective mouths. This is thanks in no small part to a highly enjoyable multiplayer mode and compelling single-player story campaign that both serve to easily elevate it beyond the stature of Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast’s earlier PS4 release.
Star Wars Jedi Knight Jedi Academy PS4 Review
The Force Is Strong(er) With This One
Before we get into yapping on about game mechanics and such, let’s address the white AT-AT Walker in the room – namely, the state of the port. Originally released all the way back in 2003 and coming just one year after Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy continued to use the same Quake III engine tech as its predecessor, and though it looked marginally better as a result, the game hardly blew the house down when it came to delivering a mind-blowing visual experience.
As a direct result then, the port to PS4 is hardly mind-blowing either. While the bump to a Jedi smooth, 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second is welcome, the comparatively basic geometry and low detailed textures that plagued Jedi Outcast also return here – albeit in not quite so an aggressive fashion. So therefore a caveat applies; if you can look past the dated presentation you’ll find a superb Star Wars title and one that despite the intervening years, has in all other aspects aged rather beautifully.
A Much Improved Single Player Campaign
For a start, the single player story campaign is leagues better than what was seen previously in Jedi Outcast. As Jaden Korr, a Force-user under the watchful tutelage of Luke Skywalker and Jedi Knight hero Kyle Katarn, the player is tasked with investigating a Sith cult that has designs on resurrecting Marka Ragnos, a seriously nasty Sith Lord from the past.
Before you get started however, Jedi Academy provides the player with a fair amount of freedom to customize their character. Providing sufficient creative latitude to define their race, gender, color and other aspects of their appearance, while such customization might only be skin deep, it’s still nice to be able to dictate how your hero looks all the same.
That level of customization extends to your trusty Lightsaber too, allowing players to fuss over aspect of its construction. From hilt to blade, players can alter everything from the color of the weapon to the style of combat that is used, permitting players to wield a version of Darth Maul’s iconic double-bladed Lightsaber, or, have one Lightsaber in each hand, Ashoka Tano style.
Once you’re happy with your Force-user, the single-player campaign soon unfurls itself – taking place across three massive chapters that in turn have a number of smaller acts built within them. The first thing that you’ll notice about Jedi Academy’s campaign is that the variety of locales you’ll visit are a world away from the clinical utilitarianism of the many Imperial installations you spent time around in the previous game.
From the choking, dusty sands of Tatooine, to the twinkling star-field that hangs over the high-rise skyscrapers of Coruscant and just about every Star Wars setting you can imagine in-between, Jedi Academy certainly delights in the sheer variance of environments that it offers.
Gameplay-wise, while Jedi Academy is somewhat similar to its predecessor, Jedi Outcast, it does implement enough new mechanics and wrinkles to the formula to keep folks interested. For a start the mission structure has been vastly overhauled. While you can quite happily crack on with the primary story missions, there are a range of side missions that you can take on from Katarn and Skywalker which take you to corners of the Star Wars universe that you don’t usually see.
Elsewhere, Jedi Academy also allows players to ride vehicles like Speeders for the first time and has entire missions built around them. Though the handling for some of them are a tad too twitchy (especially when it comes to the Speeders), these levels certainly make a change from the run and gun/slash/force power template that Jedi Academy lifts from Jedi Outcast.
Make no mistake, this is a great campaign – not least because in addition to all these shiny new locations, you meet a wide range of characters from Star Wars lore that are both at once surprising and extremely welcome at the same time. Additionally, there’s ample incentive for repeat play because if the trophies weren’t enough, the fact that you can choose to be a goody two-shoes Jedi or a rampant, power-obsessed Sith surely will be, as multiple endings and non-linear story decisions are on offer throughout the campaign as you mature from student to Jedi/Sith master.
As before, though players can choose between a first-person and third-person perspective, a lot of attention has been given to the Lightsaber combat in Jedi Academy, and boy does it show.
The key aspects of Lightsaber combat in Jedi Academy are the Lightsaber(s) you are using in addition to the stance that you have adopted, as each offers a range of advantages and disadvantages on the battlefield.
When using just a single Lightsaber for example, players can alternate between three different stances which in turn directly affect the power and speed of each attack. Likewise, there is scope for customizing your attack strategy in mid-battle too, and one instance of this is how Jedi Academy allows players who are wielding dual Lightsabers to simply switch off one of them and use the remaining weapon its ‘fast stance’, meaning that regardless of what Lightsaber you’ve chosen, you’ll always be a flexible combatant.
In practice too, Lightsabre duels feel predictably great as the clash of saber on saber results in that iconic electrified sound that we all know too well from the films, and when coupled with the various force powers and acrobatic abilities, being a Jedi and fighting as one both feel as great as they should do.
An Ageless, Innovative Competitive Multiplayer Offering That Stands Tall Even Today
Clearly though, it’s in Jedi Academy’s supremely entertaining online multiplayer offering that the bulk of its appeal lay. Seemingly making up for the fact that Jedi Outcast had no multiplayer offering whatsoever, Jedi Academy offers a veritable suite of online mutliplayer modes for players to sink their teeth into. With a variety of different modes including capture Capture the Flag and Power Duel with support up to 32 players across over 20 very different maps, it’s fair to say that developer Raven Software did not skimp on that online multiplayer goodness this time around.
Beyond its impressive collection of modes and maps however, it’s really in the moment-to-moment Lightsaber combat that Jedi Academy shines. Lightsabre combat in Jedi Academy’s multiplayer modes is horrifyingly fast and precise and as such, requires a high level skill and quick reaction times on the part of the player to be successful.
More than that, the use of various Force powers such as Heal, Lightning, Push, Pull, Jump and so on all add to make these conflicts much more interesting too, allowing players to get super creative with how they approach certain encounters. For example in one multiplayer session, I witnessed a player use his Force Push ability to quite literally return an incoming rocket to its sender (in much the same way that you can pull it off in last year’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order).
Fast, fun and always rewarding players who sharpen their skills and innovate, it would be fantastic for Jedi Academy’s online mulitiplayer to explode in popularity simply because there’s still nothing quite like it on the market.
In the end then, while the port work is seemingly more concerned with lightly polishing what was already there – it ultimately matters little. Much better than Jedi Outcast and a superb Star Wars title in its own right, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy deserves to delight an all new generation of gamers.
Star Wars Jedi Knight Jedi Academy is out now on PS4, PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Review code obtained independently by reviewer.