Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is the first game in the series not developed by LucasArts; instead released by Raven software, known for their FPS games such as Hexen, Soldier of Fortune, and Star Trek Voyager Elite Force. Raven absolutely swings for the fences in their first outing in the Jedi Knight series. Taking clear inspiration from Dark Forces 2, Raven tells a story of Kyle Katarn's path from a bounty hunter to a Jedi Knight while following a lot of the same story beats as DF2. However, Jedi Outcast stands as its own entry by delivering the tightest gunplay that the series has ever seen and refines the lightsaber duels to make them absolutely magical.
Raven comes out with the big guns packing in as many cameo appearances as possible. In Jedi Outcast we see Lando Calrissian, C3PO and R2-D2, Mon Mothma, and of course Luke Skywalker. These characters go towards making this game feel more like it is a part of the movies and the introduction of Luke and the Jedi Order gives the main story a much grander scale.
The gunplay in Jedi Outcast has been incredibly refined. For the first time in the Jedi Knight series you can dial in a precise headshot and actually feel the weight of the weapon firing. Whereas in other titles in the series the target had a very sensitive auto aim that would snap your reticle to a random part of the enemy, Jedi Outcast gives you the freedom to choose parts of the enemy to shoot without yanking your reticle out of your control. but the best improvement here is the lightsaber.
The lightsaber has never been more fun to use in the series. The little details of the lightsaber mechanics such as leaving burn marks on walls and the motion blur as you swing the saber to block shots makes the weapon feel incredibly satisfying. Dueling other lightsaber wielders has seen a serious upgrade. In Dark Forces 2 and Mysteries of the Sith it felt more like spinning in circles clicking wildly, which made the duels a chore. Raven saw this and made you feel more like a Jedi. You plan your strikes and blocks as well as your force powers. If you have a good strategy you can dispense of most enemies quickly. In fact, I beat the final boss in roughly one minute because I hit him with the right power at the right time.
` It's worth noting that the update to enemy AI really takes a lot away from what the game could be. In the other games enemies reacted in a similar way of staying in eyesight to attack. In Jedi Outcast enemies will scatter all over the place at random. I chased a stormtrooper across three rooms until he finally turned around to fire. I wish I could say that was an isolated incident but it happened in over half of the encounters. Enemies would run in all directions with no plan of attack; some would even run directly into my lightsaber, killing themselves.
Jedi Outcast hits a lot of similar notes to Dark Forces 2. It's been 3 long years since Kyle Katarn left the way of the Jedi behind. The end of Mysteries of the Sith left him a broken man and completely derailed our journey to knighthood. We were so close, but the call of the darkness was way too strong and Mara Jade had to pull us back. Since then Kyle severed his connection with the force, gave his lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, and fell back into his mercenary ways. This leads us to restart the path in Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, probably the most intricate plot the series has produced so far.
In Jedi Outcast Kyle and his more-than-just-a-friend Jan Ors pick back up what they left behind after Dark Forces, cruising the galaxy and completing odd jobs for credits. This is when they were contacted by Mon Mothma, much like Dark Forces, to investigate an Imperial outpost. In the outpost Kyle finds crystals with the ability to store force energy as well as a transmission that hints at someone trying to use the Valley of the Jedi to make an army. The two mercenaries trace the crystals back to Artus Prime where they find that people are being used as experiments to try and give a non-force sensitive person force powers; which often led to the test subjects death.
After freeing the surviving test subjects Jan is kidnapped by two dark Jedi, the dinosaur man Desann and his apprentice Tavion. Desann recognizes Kyle as the man who found the Valley of the Jedi and proceeds to duel him. Kyle who no longer has a connection to the force quickly loses the duel. Desann spares Kyle and instead orders his apprentice to kill Jan. We hear her scream off screen and it is implied she dies. Failing to a relative unknown dark Jedi and losing his girlfriend(?) enrages Kyle. So much so that he goes straight to the Valley and uses its power to gain all of his force strength back so he can whip Desann's Jurassic ass.
With his connection to the force strong as it ever was, Kyle goes to Yavin where Luke has established his new Jedi Order. Here Kyle goes on a mission through ruins to find his lightsaber, very similar to Dark Forces 2. In order to retrieve his lightsaber and get some more info on Desann, Luke puts him through some tests which Kyle passes incredibly easily. Luke realizes Kyle went to the Valley to power up and warned him about using his anger to make hasty decisions. With that bit of advice Kyle was sent to Nar Shaada where he coincidentally runs into Lando Calrissian who sends him to Cloud City to quell the battle between natives and remnant forces.
While in Cloud City, Kyle defeats the dark Jedi apprentice Tavion in a duel and in a fit of rage over Jan's death begins to force choke her. Tavion desperately pleas with Kyle to spare her as she says Jan's death was staged to get Kyle to lead Desann to the Valley of the Jedi to build his army. Kyle let's Tavion live after she tells him Desann's plans to destroy the Jedi Order on Yavin and how to get to Jan. After this Kyle rush's to destroy Desann's ship ran by his general(think of him like Grand Moff Tarkin or General Hux)Galak Fyyar, then saves Jan, and then saves the Jedi temple by tracking down and defeating Desann in a duel. At the end we see that Kyle and Jan take a break from fighting to go on a holiday, while Kyle keeps hold of his lightsaber so he could join the Jedi Order once more.
With the completion of this path in Kyle's life he is officially a Jedi Knight. He has completed all of the tests laid in front of him, stopped 2 seperate dark Jedi uprisings, and even resisted the dark side in a dark force temple. Kyle Katarn has ascended farther past the rank of Knight. I believe at this point Kyle is a Jedi Master and this is proven in the next game, Star Wars Jedi Academy, where he takes the role of a mentor to a brand new protagonist, Jaden Korr. With that, let's take a moment to revel in Kyle's accomplishments and give him a deserved break.
Check out my experience with Dark Forces here
Read about how I first became a Jedi in Dark Forces 2 here
See how I almost fell to the dark side in Mysteries of the Sith here