I loved the Jedi Knight games growing up as a kid. But I also played them on a PC, and replaying the opening five levels on a Switch in 2019 is an exercise in masochism.
Dark Forces 2 and Jedi Outcast are two of my favourite Star Wars games from the ’90s, and definitely some of the best DOOM/Quake spin-offs from that era. The levels are big and expansive, there’s plenty of hidden secrets and things to find, it’s complicated and involved in ways only ’90s singleplayer shooters can be, and the game really opens up when Force powers start kicking in.
But that’s also a huge problem with the Switch and PS4 re-release of Jedi Knight. It’s a completely faithful port of the original — perhaps too faithful.
Kyle Katarn’s doesn’t have any force powers when Jedi Outcast begins, and the first mission in Kejim Post is crawling with Stormtroopers, officers, and lots of oldschool FPS puzzling. Back in the day, that meant a lot of ducking in and out of corners, firing single charged shots from the blaster pistol because health pick-ups were far and few between.
The first mission alone could take around an hour if you didn’t remember the location of everything, not to mention any instances where you forgot to quick-save and got caught out by a band of Stormtroopers. (And don’t get me started on those bloody spiders in the Artus Mine mission, which are next to impossible to accurately target with JoyCons and the motion controls.) The save system is basically intact in the Jedi Outcast console version: the checkpoints haven’t been updated for modern sensibilities, so if you’re not regularly saving manually, then you’re going to find yourself retracing an awful amount of ground.
And that’s not even counting for the fact that a lot of Jedi Outcast‘s enemies and levels were designed to deliberately trip you up, or at least to make you cautious about progressing. Enemies will be peering down on you above from ledges and higher platforms as you walk through hallways. Future levels will have snipers that can nail you from half a mile away. Seven or eight Stormtroopers and officers will burst out of a door charging your way, and all you’ll have to deal with it is the horrifically inaccurate Stormtrooper rifle and not a lot of heatlh and shields to fight back with.
Back on a PC with a mouse and keyboard, all of this was a hell of a lot more manageable. With JoyCons, a Pro Controller or some other kind of gamepad, slaving through the initial Kejim and Artus bases are brutal. It’s literally painful enough that I would completely understand if people bounced off the game entirely, because a lot of that oldschool design just doesn’t translate well to 2019, even more so when you’re using a JoyCon that’s drifting and the Force expects you to have a degree of accuracy that even Splatoon doesn’t demand.
It turns out that Star Wars is a popular franchise on which to base a video game. This might be something to do with the fact that you can stick the name Star Wars on pretty much any old rubbish and it will still sell like hotcakes. Hello Kinect Star Wars, I’m looking at you.Read more
Once you get a lightsaber, it’s a completely different story. You can block a certain amount of laser fire at will, Kyle can pull and push objects with abandon, and you’re free to roam around until everything you need gets into slashing range. The game’s much more manageable, and ultimately enjoyable.
But those first few hours? Good lord. Jedi Outcast was a game made in a time where developers were still working out how to make shooters work on a console. The original developers didn’t even try to make Jedi Outcast work on a console, and Aspyr’s port honours that completely.
Which is great in some senses — the lightsaber combat is still crazy good, the game rocks in multiplayer, and the performance is solid throughout. But maybe a bit of extra work to make Kyle Katarn’s adventure more palatable with the controls people are using in 2019 would have gone a long way. The Switch version has still got me jazzed for the old Star Wars games again — but I think for the sake of my sanity, I’ll replay the rest on PC.