The Gamefather: Video Games to Play with Your Kids — Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
The Gamefather is an occasional column from JDR's papa-in-gaming, giving his opinion on titles you might want to play with your children. He has a ten-year-old son, Charlie, who is far better at gaming than he is.
Well, I finally became a proper modern gamer again, back to the front lines, right on the cutting edge.
I now laugh in the face of my decrepit, dusty PlayStation 3. No longer am I residing back in the dark old days of a console released back in 2006. Pah!
I am now the proud owner of an (almost) brand new, (practically) gleaming PlayStation 4, along with a disgustingly huge new television (in order to allow my tired eyes to see where all the tiny icons in these unfathomably fast games are going). Welcome, my friends, to the new age. Well, 2013 anyway.
Yes, now that the rest of the world is counting down the days to the release of the Playstation 5, I am gazing with wide-eyed wonder at the games that everyone else got bored of several years ago.
My son and I spent our Easter holidays glued to the screen, playing Overcooked and Overcooked 2 until we were zen chefs, able to issue calm and controlled instructions to each other by sheer thought, never losing our temper, and calmly fulfilling orders while attaining culinary nirvana. Except for all the times we yelled at each other and nearly smashed up the TV with our controllers. But that didn't happen often, certainly not more than every few minutes. Over the course of a few days, we worked our way steadfastly through both games, utterly addicted.
And for those who say it leads to huge family arguments, we are still talking, with barely any sulks, because we managed to diffuse any tense arguments with a well-placed bed fight. A smack in the chops with a pillow is a great cure to the frustration felt when someone adds broccoli to a roast dinner that called for carrots, when it already had broccoli. Nobody had ordered a dish with two broccoli. It really doesn't take much to look at the orders at the top of the screen and see just the one broccoli on the order. I mean, would you want TWO broccoli on your roast dinner? No, I thought not. Nope, we're both totally over it now, and absolute best friends again.
We also bought Untitled Goose Game, and couldn't stop playing it. We smashed through all the levels, and the extra challenges set at the end, and even once it was completed, we both wanted to go back and play it again. For such a short game, it was incredibly addictive and fun, and we took great delight in timing our honks for maximum cheekiness, as we swaggered away from another well-designed and mischievous prank that would have us in fits of laughter.
Other games that have captivated us since buying this newfangled contraption of technical wizardry include Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Speedrunners, Spider-Man and Shadow of the Colossus. Fantastic and excellently executed game worlds that just scream "come on, just one more go" every time you know you should be going off to do something more constructive with your life. Not that these are probably recommendations, more nostalgic references to games you stopped playing five years ago, so I decided that this wasn't cutting edge enough for the new PS4 me.
No, now I had the same technology as everyone else, I wanted to play what everybody else was still playing. So, when I decided to get more ahead of the curve, and review a game only just released, I looked at a list of titles, and enthusiastically chose Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, because Charlie and I love Star Wars as much as anyone (in that he thinks they're all fun yet forgettable, and I moan that none of them have characters as good as in the original trilogy, and that come to think of it, good TV and films ended in the 80s, and then I try to make him give Knight Rider another go). But still, we all love lightsabers, right, so I loaded it up, preparing to be wowed by new age graphics that would immerse me into a new, scary, yet exciting world.
Hmm. It seems the gaming world hasn't advanced as quickly as I'd thought. The clunky menu and dated Quake engine graphics quickly gave me the horrible feeling that I'd fallen into one of the traps that being horribly out of touch with the gaming world can leave lying around.
I didn't know, of course, that the game is a re-release of an old and apparently much loved game that originally came out seventeen years ago. Oops. Yes, after finally moving from a console released in 2006, in order to enjoy my new technology, I got a game that came out in 2003. Well done, me. Really, very well done.
It feels therefore very unfair for me to review the game by the graphical standards I have seen in the rest of my hastily acquired PS4 library, so if this review makes you gnash your teeth together in anger at the thought of me besmirching your idyllic childhood memories, I humbly apologise, but I already feel punished, not least because the Quake engine makes me feel really sick really quickly.
Anyway, I can forgive dated graphics, no problem, if the gameplay justifies it, and I still play games a lot older than this one (hell, we still fire up Warcraft 2 and Theme Hospital from time to time, as well as having completed Beneath a Steel Sky, the Monkey Island adventures and Day of the Tentacle in the last couple of years), so I decided to hold fire on declaring the whole thing a massive mistake.
We played the training missions, enjoying swinging lightsabers, though the engine seemed a little too clunky for close combat. Too often your swing seems to go through them without hurting, or they just disappear off your screen and then you're turning trying to find them, and it all feels kind of fiddly.
Combat at first seemed to consist of just running up to people and pressing R2 a lot and seeing whether your wild swing hits your opponent or if you run past them. I sometimes found I'd jump attack, and seemed to land on their head, and I'd be turning around trying to get off them, so I could hit them. Not sure I saw that happen in the film.
We definitely found this a big turn off early on, and couldn’t seem to get any smooth attacks going on, rather just swinging helplessly at an enemy standing patiently a couple of yards away. However, I gradually found the nuance of the different attacks, and I definitely began to feel more Jedi-ish as the game went on.
Another problem that took us longer than it should have was that we didn’t notice the force heal power, where you can “recharge” your health between rounds of fighting. This meant we relied on finding medpacks, which led to us dying quite often, and that opened up another problem.
The checkpoints were so far away that when we died, we would go back a huge chunk of the mission, and would have to go and kill all the same guys that we had just killed. This got old fast, and was a main reason in dampening my son’s enthusiasm. We found that if we saved the game past a checkpoint, we could go back to that, so we were reduced to saving the game after every couple of baddies, which really takes away from enjoying the game.
Once we got to grips with self-healing, these problems went away to quite a large degree. While that was our own fault, seeing as the game had just done a bunch of training missions, it could have included that part in it, as it had quite an impact on the key “first impression” stages of the game.
I kept getting compliments from my trainer as I limped past missions that were surely far easier than I was making them look. If my awful lightsaber swinging was enough to make me seem an excellent recruit, then no wonder Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Luke all ended up giving the whole thing up and heading off to try and see out their days on far-distant planets.
Luckily, you're helped in the early missions by facing a bunch of rather stupid opponents, whose attack patterns are to either run until standing in front of you and then make an attack every few seconds, or to stand still, shooting every now and again, when they remember, and refusing to move or try and take cover, even when you are shooting them repeatedly in the leg. With that kind of attack being standard, no wonder our weird green alien guy stands out as such a hot prospect.
The dialogue and script were kind of flimsy, but nobody really expects much from that sort of thing in a Star Wars game, do they? I mean, the films haven't exactly set the bar high, so this at least beats the romance scenes of Attack of the Clones, for example, but it felt perfunctory at best, and I didn't really gain much of a relationship with my character. It did forward the plot and give you a feeling you were in an actual world with stuff going on beyond each little mission you were on, so it certainly serves a purpose, but the delivery is pretty awful, and it didn’t really draw me in.
The missions seemed varied of a sort, and I liked the in-mission dialogue telling me what the next objective was. I also began to enjoy the game more and more, the better I got with my lightsaber, and there’s definitely a bit of a thrill when you manage to dice up all the opponents in a room, dispensing lightsabery justice all over their evil empire-loving guts.
Ultimately, however, the game lives or dies by whether you enjoy the repetitive hack'n'slash combat, and I just didn't enjoy it enough. I realised I just didn't want to keep at it enough to see how my character might level up, or how the obviously over-ambitious, sulky Jedi guy training with me was going to become a problem.
Charlie's enthusiasm was high early on, and became more dulled when the clumsy controls and repetitive gameplay became too much. Eventually, we started playing other games, and there wasn’t much enthusiasm to pick this one up again. I will flick it back on occasionally, I’m sure, but it isn’t one of those games that has me itching to play it and find out what happens next.
A lot of my struggles with this game came from not being aware of its age, nor of its reliance on the old Quake engine which I have never enjoyed very much (I don’t play this sort of game a lot), so if you enjoy the genre, I’m sure you’d get on with it a lot better than we did. I will choose our next title more carefully, and try to at least choose one from the correct decade.
Charlie says: When I first played it, I thought it was amazing. We chose to be a green alien, and had a purple lightsaber. The story was quite good, and I loved the first two levels. We got through the third, but had some problems on the way. The fighting was really weird because when you hit people it sometimes hurt them and sometimes didn't. The checkpoints go back a long time and when you die because the controls let you down, it feels annoying to have to play the same bit of the game over and over again.
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