With the current rash of Star Wars-licensed games, it seems that LucasArts has resorted to outwardly exploiting the franchise. Development time between games has been decreasing and quality has become more and more spotty. Amidst all the clutter, Jedi Knight, the sequel to Dark Forces, is easily the most hyped and anticipated one.
Essentially a first-person shooter made to compete with the likes of Quake 2, Jedi Knight tries to separate itself from the pack early on by capitalizing on the Star Warstheme. Utilizing full-motion video cut scenes in between gameplay, complete with live actors on digital backgrounds, Jedi Knight includes something most Doomclones forget: an actual plot! Stages coincide with the plot accordingly and revolve heavily around the objectives, which is refreshing from the usual find the keys and exit theme. Players journey through the stages in the role of Kyle Katarn (think totally bland Han Solo wannabe with sprinkles of Luke Skywalker), who must learn the ways of the force and frag all enemies along the way.
Throw in all the elements (like 3D accelerated graphics, Star Wars setting, John Williams composed soundtrack, and refreshing plot-oriented missions), and you have a surefire winner, right? Close, but Jedi Knight fumbles a bit along its journey to becoming a true Jedi master. It's not that the game's execution is poor, but it really isn't that revolutionary. Take, for example, the stage designs. While the sci-fi look is there and the environments seem natural at first, after prolonged play, stages drag on way too long and it's rather clear that the level designers lengthened the stages out with the use of extra obstacles and puzzles. It's a shame because I found the game most effective when I could lose myself in the fantasy environments (that are convincingly realistic). Once I started to get frustrated by the lengthy design, it breaks that suspension of disbelief and I'm all too aware of the contrived stage.
More signs of lack of innovation lay in areas like the music. After playing many of LucasArts' releases, one begins to realize their pattern of rehashing the exact same themes used in the movies in every game! There are no remixes or new tunes. It's simply PLAYED OUT. There's nothing stunning about the gameplay either. Enemy artificial intelligence is still pretty mindless and blasting them doesn't require much skill either (unlike in GoldenEye 007, which took this scheme to another level of sorts).
On the whole, Jedi Knight isn't trying very hard to redefine what we know of the genre. Despite some of the game's more unique innovations like the integrated story, mission goals, and the force powers, the game still feels a little dated in the gameplay department. It's still common practice blasting away mindlessly at the enemies and seeking out secret areas. Likewise, weapons and items are still strangely littered throughout the stage, but the game's worst flaw is that it never truly lets me forget that it's a game. With so much potential for me to truly lose myself and so much possibility to transcend videogame and genre cliches, Jedi Knight is all too content to revel in normalcy.