The Xbox has only been around since November 2001, and already we've been handed seven, (count 'em: seven!) Star Wars games. While some gamers may view this as licensing overkill, we Star Wars fans sit happier than an Ewok in the forests of Endor.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy is the second installment of the Jedi Knight series to appear on the Xbox (the other being Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast). Jedi Academy is primarily presented as a 3rd person action/adventure game, running on the same engine as Quake III.
Gamers will play through this title as Jaden, a character completely new to the Star Wars universe. While those of you who enjoyed the past Jedi Knight games as Kyle Katarn, his function in Academy is to serve as your master/mentor. While a new lead character is certainly a departure in this series, it's not necessarily a bad thing, as this iteration allows the player to customize both Jaden's look, and later- fighting and lighsaber style.
The game takes you through fifteen (three sets of five) levels that span both new locales and familiar SW mainstays. The bulk of the game is 3rd person combat with an emphasis on dueling that utilizes the mastery of both your trusty (and customizable) lighsaber, and force powers - though you'll also come across other more 'modern' weaponry like blaster rifles, rocket launchers and grenades. All of this adds up to an overall gaming experience that should last most players somewhere between 12-18 hours.
While the overall experience is fairly short, because of many of the unique features, and furious action; I'd have a hard time not recommending this title to both Star Wars fans and action fans alike.
When you start Jedi Academy, your first order of business will be to assign Jaden a certain appearence. You'll be able to designate gender should you choose to be Human, but for the other four races, gender is already determined. You'll also be able to customize the physical appearence of your character- choosing from a suitable array of heads, body/parts, as well as clothing.
Academy also brings to the table a feature we Star Wars fans have long been clamoring for: Customizable LightSabers. Initially, you can only designate the color and handle style, but later in the adventure, you'll be able to choose from both different blades, and stances. (And yes this includes double weilding, as well as a blade similar to Darth Maul's in Episode I).
As for actual in-game play, the camera will change between first and third person views dependant upon the mission type and task at hand. Jedi Academy is largely based on a hack-n-slash mentality. That is, if it moves, kill it. Wave after wave of Storm Troopers and Dark Jedi will attempt to thwart you in your efforts to become a Jedi Master. Unfortunately--in many instances--they won't try too hard.
The AI in this game is far below what most gamers should come to expect of this genre, granted the awesome hardware the developers had to work with. In several instances, you'll find that some enemies won't attack until you're a certain distance away (even if you're already within visual), and in other cases enemies will simply kill themselves by falling off of ledges and other high places. Not that this doesn't help you, but really, where the fun in that?
Speaking of fun- Force Powers play a huge role in both your combat and training. There are 16 different abilities to choose from, four light-side standard powers (powers that you begin with), four dark-side standard powers, and four each advanced abilities. After each sucessfully completed mission, Jaden will get a chance to up his Force abilities (each up to level three).
Force abilities range from the basic- sense, speed and saber offense and defense; to the complex, which includes skills like drain, grip, and the ever popular Jedi mind trick. In combat switching between these abilities and standard weapons is a snap, and the game's controller serves this title well.
Another nice addition is the implementation of vehicles. While not present in every level, they serve as a nice supplement to the rest of the game.
Were it not for the game's somewhat inconsistent AI, this particular score could have been much higher. And it's too bad that it wan't, because Jedi Academy is already such a blast to play.
The visuals are pretty run-of-the-mill as far as Star Wars goes, which is kind of a letdown after having witnessed the beautiful KOTOR. Not to say that the graphics in this title are bad, but I believe they could have been a lot better.
Because of the intense stab/shoot 'em up nature of the game, it also suffers from a few noticable dips in the framerate when there are too many enemies on-screen at the same time.
While these frustrations take away from the game, not all is lost when it comes to graphics. The weapons, especially Sabers, look and perform exactly as you'd expect them to. Chracters and their animations look good, and enemies react to where you've struck them.
The environments are somewhat blase, but you'll probably be too swept up in the action to notice. The vehicles also look good, and you'll be pleased to see a few familiar (and sometimes) forgotten characters pop up here and there.
The camera does its job well, and rarely hitches up on corners or low ceilings. It's just a shame that the rest of this title couldn't take advantage of this.
As in almost every other Star Wars game, the sound here is without a doubt its strong suit. All of the sounds and music that has become such a cinematic staple over the years is here. The sweeping scores that John Williams provides are as brilliant and striking as ever.
The weapons and machanical noises all sound like they're pulled straight from the films. The dialogue is also smooth, and this game offers some really good voice-acting. For those of you lucky enough to sport it, this game does support Dolby Digital 5.1.
Suggestions: Fixing the framerate should be paramount. The AI could really use some brains inside of those Storm Trooper helmets as well. Give the graphics the once-over that KOTOR proved a Star Wars themed game could handle. And a more in-depth story might better satiate nerds like myself. Altogether though you'll have a fun time with Jedi Academy. .