When Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy originally released in 2003 the Star Wars franchise was still owned by LucasArts. That’s why they published this game, and got Raven Software to develop it.
With the game recently releasing on PS4 on March 26th of this year, we got a review code provided to us, so I’ve taken it upon myself to review it.
This is going to be interesting, as I’ve never played Jedi Academy despite it being 17 years old. I’ve played both Force Unleashed and Jedi: Fallen Order though, It was never that I had no interest in this game, I’d just never heard of it.
So with this review I’m aiming to take myself back in time – I’ll image I’ve been playing Wind Waker, Prince of Persia, Call of Duty, and even Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. All of which came out in the same year. It’s with fresh eyes I tackle this Star Wars adventure, and I shall be treating it like it came out 17 years ago, not today.
So let’s dive in.
Expanding the Universe
The first thing that jumped out to me was that this game cements itself as part of the old Star Wars expanded universe. Harkening back to Shadows of the Empire, and many other original stories. You are Jaden Korr, a force sensitive who built his own lightsaber and has been recruited by Luke Skywalker 10 years after Return of the Jedi. With Yavin 4 as his base of operations Luke aims to train the new generation of Jedi, but when a strange new Dark Side worshipping cult emerges, the whole academy starts an investigation.
You’ll be seeing more familiar faces too! Almost all of the famous Star Wars characters either get a mention or directly interact with you. This great! It feels oddly refreshing to go back in time and see LucasArts unapologetically engage with what makes this franchise so great.
Characters from other games, like Kyle Katarn, also make an appearance. Jedi Academy seems unafraid to engage with the old, the new, and create its own lore. Compared to what I’ve played in this universe this is a nice touch. You’ll be seeing strange new forms of Storm Troopers, Dark Side users, alien and familiar planets, and more!
This is to say that the established universe is used to great affect in both gameplay and story, whilst expanding it to keep it unique.
A True Jedi in Training
Jedi Academy has a surprisingly slow start, it gives the player very little to work with in terms of light sabre skills, force powers, and weapons. Because I had no expectation of this game I was worried at first, but the game does an excellent job expanding its core gameplay. You’ll have a massive choice of familiar and new weapons to use (in first-person), many ‘styles’ of lightsaber wielding, and plenty of force powers.
This presents a large amount of choice in how you tackle each gameplay scenario. All the famous force powers are there, with some extras that translate well to gameplay. Sadly though it’s only what the player can do that spices up gameplay. I realised after a while that you could just run past most enemies, who take one lightsaber swing to kill. There are other lightsaber wielders and some more interesting enemies, but the lack of urgency in battles removes any need to defeat them.
On top of that the save points aren’t the most generous. After you play through a segment normally, and die, you might then find yourself just running past raining laser fire. You can save whenever you want though, so I recommend this as much as possible to avoid repeating long segments.
Doesn’t always feel the force
Jedi Academy isn’t glitchy as such, but releasing in 2003 means it has a fair few issues. You’ll find yourself struggling with the third person camera from time to time. Missing jumps that aren’t clear, and getting lost in environments that look too similar. None of this massively detaches you from the experience, but the level of polish and environmental direction is sometimes missing. Which is understandable for a game from 17 years ago.
The game often doesn’t communicate well enough what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Leading to undeserved deaths and moments of getting lost in environments that blend together. This oversight doesn’t always affect your play, but when it does you can end up feeling frustratingly lost.
But when it does
Every level of Jedi Academy is completely different. You might be on a high speed space train one moment, or fighting a Rancor, then storming on of Vaders old castles. There’s tremendous effort by Raven Software to keep everything fresh and interesting. With the Star Wars universe acting as a fabulous backdrop.
The level design itself isn’t anything to write home about, but the constantly changing mechanics and presentation give the game a breakneck speed, every idea stays around just as long as it should. Provided you don’t forget to save.
Jedi Academy looks exactly as you’d expect a game from 2003 to look. Knights of the Old Republic doesn’t exactly look any better or worse. It’s the constantly changing environments that stretch the graphics as far as they can go. You’ll easily recognise the familiar iconography and the new designs feel right at home too.
The same can’t be said for the voice acting sadly. In comparison to KoTR, which apparently had great voice acting for the same year, Jedi Academy is horrific. A handful of the side characters like Luke and Kyle are okay, but there a couple of standouts. The first two people you’re introduced to, Jaden and Rosh, are abysmal. Considering you’ll be listening to Jaden the whole game, I don’t know how his performance was kept so flat. There’s literally nothing to it. When a situation calls for some sort of emotional response it’s met with phrasing that doesn’t match the feeling.
It’s a shame too, so much of the presentation really immerses you into the galaxy, and then as soon as characters speak you’re taken right back out again.
The Sounds of a Galaxy Gar, Far Away…
One thing that’s synonymous with Star Wars is John Williams soundtrack. It’s used to great effect in Jedi Academy. All of the familiar tracks are placed in contexts that fit, illustrating just how versatile the music really is. It doesn’t help though that a lot of these songs have recognisable loops, meaning you’ll be hearing the same melodies over and over again. Luckily there are enough tracks and the levels are over quick enough that this doesn’t become a massive problem.
The sound design also borrows heavily from the franchise, with iconic blaster fire being punctuated by the hum of a lightsaber. Most notably the sound of lightsabers clashing is absolutely brilliant. Despite not looking the part 17 years later, Jedi Academy still sounds it.
Problems can arise though when the music just… stops. Often there will be no sound apart from the repetitive grunts and call-outs of enemies, and the sounds of the wind and environment. This can really pull you out of the cinematic presentation that the Star Wars universe provides.
Even then the sound design and music isn’t bad by any stretch. It’s Star Wars, when used correctly of course it’s going to sound good.
Despite being 17 years old Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy stands the test of time. If you aren’t a fan of Star Wars you’ll get very little out of this, and the problems present will be accentuated. With that said the progression of Jedi powers and weapons keeps the gameplay feeling fresh. Couple that with constantly shifting environments and set pieces and you’re met with a game that’s unafraid to have Jedi twice in the name.
There are still problems though, a shaky camera and not-so-tight controls being the biggest. None of these are so bad that they make the experience unbearable though, you just need to adapt to the games age. What you shouldn’t be expected to adapt to is the voice acting. Flat and embarrassingly dull lines don’t even come around to being funny. It’s a shame too because the narrative of ancient force artefacts and cultures is strong.
You might notice that I neglected to mention the multiplayer in this review. This because I couldn’t find a match. As of last year you could find around 250 players at any given time, so the community just isn’t there anymore. There is some cross play opportunities for those who can get in a lobby, and I’ve heard it requires a steep learning curve. So if after playing the story you’re interested see if you can get in a match!
Any Star Wars fan who happened to miss this game shouldn’t sleep on it now it’s on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. It’s a great experience that’s accentuated by the power you’d always thought you’d have as a Jedi. It leans heavily into the visual and thematic sides of Star Wars instead of trying to differentiate itself too much.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy might not look better with age, but it still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve for anyone who’s never played it.
Have you played Jedi Academy? If so let us know what you thought in the comments or on Twitter @thecognetwork. You can check out many of our editorials here. I’m @WillNelson1998 on Twitter and I have a podcast about video game development called Retro Release! Check it out. As always thanks for reading COG!
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- THE GOOD
- In-depth combat choices and progression
- Leans into everything Star Wars to great effect
- Constantly fresh gameplay
- Incredible atmosphere, when it’s there
- THE BAD
- Terrible voice acting
- Aged control and camera system
- Lack of player guidance
Despite its age and some technical/gameplay issues that have only been improved over the years, Jedi Academy is a great Star Wars experience that comes from a time when the franchise was unafraid to truly expand on itself. If you never got around to playing it in 2003, now’s the time!