Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 is the sequel to the popular 1995 game Star Wars: Dark Forces. The game once again lets you take on the role of Kyle Katarn, former Imperial officer turned mercenary, who has now learnt that he is force sensitive and begin to train as a Jedi. Unfortunately, Kyle’s father is murdered by the Dark Jedi, Jerec, who wants to know the location of the mythic Valley of the Jedi.
Whilst the first game in the series was very much a Doom clone set within the Star Wars universe, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 introduces improvements and variety to the gameplay, chiefly with the introduction of The Force as a playable element, along with lightsaber combat. Setting the style of gameplay that would be used by Star Wars games for decades, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces allows the player to choose how they will learn the ways of The Force, allowing you the option to customise and upgrade your abilities as you see fit.
The Force powers are split into three separate categories; Light Side powers, which allow you to heal yourself, make yourself undetectable to enemies, and to protect yourself from damage; Dark Side powers, which allow you to throw objects at enemies, choke them from a distance, or fire lightning at them; and Neutral powers, which focus on enhanced speed, agility, and other physical traits.
The different Force abilities are separated fairly rigidly, more so in the rest of the Star Wars universe, where throwing things with The Force was never seen as a Dark Side ability, and Jedi’s used the power all the time. It’s a stricter line between light and dark as the game wants you to think about the path that you’ll be guiding Kyle down, whether the abilities that you’re teaching him are leading him towards the Dark Side, or if he can remain a hero.
At the time of release the game was promoting these choices between Light and Dark as being significant for how the game would play out, yet this isn’t as stark a difference in the game as the developers led people to believe. The biggest difference to the story comes at the end of the game, where players are allowed to choose a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ending, having Kyle join Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy, or having him absorb the power of the Valley of the Jedi and becoming the new Emperor respectively.
Despite this lack of diversity in the story the game still manages to be exciting and engaging, with a number of huge set pieces for the player to enjoy, such as running through a crashing cargo ship, or dodging attacks from TIE Fighters whilst on top of a space station.
The level designs help with this sense of scope and hugeness of story, as it quickly becomes clear that they are much bigger than the previous game, taking full advantage of the extra movement and agility that comes with having a character that can use The Force. Whilst not the biggest levels you’ll ever play in a video game, there is enough of a sense of freedom to them that they feel new and exciting compared to Star Wars: Dark Forces.
One of the features that makes the game stand out, and is definitely a product of the time that it was made in, is the use of full-motion video cutscenes. Whilst the prospect of live action video cut scenes set within the Star Wars universe may at first seem like an exciting idea, please bear in mind that this is mid-90’s video game acting and effects.
At the very best the acting in the cutscenes are mediocre, thoug more often than not it’s just plain bad. The actors don’t quite look right for the role, with Kyle Katarn looking more like a daytime soap character than a grizzled warrior. Despite this, there is something rather charming about these poorly acted moments that will endear them to you in a ‘so bad they’re good’ way.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 is an improvement over its predecessor in a lot of ways, with a better story, bigger levels, and improved game design. By introducing The Force to Kyle Katarn, however, the game sets the series on a new course, one that leads to some amazing games such as Star Wars Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, and Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, as well as establishing Kyle as one of the most beloved characters in the old expanded universe.
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