"Outcast" is the 3rd of the "Jedi Knight" PC games - or the 4th of the "Dark Forces" game, and the 1st of the series built using the "Quake III" engine. A sequel to `97's "Jedi Knight", "Outcast" reunites you with ex-Imperial Commando, ex-Rebel Mercenary Kyle Katarn. Now firmly working with the "New Republic" (established by the rebellion after their victory over the Empire), Katarn is also an ex-Jedi by the game's first mission. With Jan Ors, his lovely & trusty sidekick, Katarn infiltrates a stronghold belonging to holdout Imperial forces known as "The Remnant". What appears at first to be a routine battle with Remnant forces reveals signs of a larger and more ominous plot to create an army of Dark Jedi - a plan that includes an ambitious Imperial governor, an outcast of Luke Skywalker's Jedi academy, the Valley of the Jedi (from the last game), hundreds of evil - if inexperienced Jedi Knights - and a form of armor impervious to lightsabres. In confronting the plan, you'll travel to many locales both familiar and new to SW fans - from an Imperial prison to the Bespin cloud city of "Empire Strikes Back", from the "floating city" of Nar Shadaa to a Remnant base hidden in an asteroid belt; from the corridors of a huge Remnant battlecruiser to the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4 (last seen at the end of the first SW movie). The story is tight - you don't choose missions, the plot will direct you. Along the way, you'll encounter familiar SW characters like Luke Skywalker & Lando Calrissian. Cut-scenes (using the game-engine, and not the FMV of "Jedi Knight") drive the story. (Everybody hated the video scenes from "Jedi Knight" - everybody but me; compared to the second trilogy, the FMV scenes of "Jedi Knight" were pure SW gold.)
The game is intense - the handful of evil Jedi from "Jedi Knight" are replaced with hordes of "Reborn" here, many in that special armor; even stormtroopers - reliable blaster-fodder from the movies and the older games - are tougher than before. To get through the game's many levels will not infrequently require special puzzle-solving skills. Individual levels are very long, and the game itself may consume about a month's worth of late-night Jedi-frag sessions. (Comparable gameplay wrapped up "Voyager: Elite Force" - the "Star Trek" Quake3 game - in about a week.) Some challenges seem needless - with players being forced to re-play the same the moment because they couldn't handle simple things like walking a ledge or jumping. The game could also have done without sniping - where you're picked off by some distant shooter you'd never even know existed until after he'd killed you. Lastly, the story - while governing the game - isn't all that compelling. It's your basic One-Jedi-versus-many-evil-Jedi-and-Imperial-stormtroopers story - an afterthought guaranteed to have you prowling many corridors in search of power-ups.
The Quake3 engine is breathtaking - smoke/vapor and laser effects are beautiful, and the smooth animation means that saber duels are much closer to those in the movies than to the saber battles of "Jedi Knight". The game also excels in visualizing vast distances (like the insides of the huge Bespin ventilation shafts) and the sounds of distant characters, and different atmospheric settings - from the claustrophobic corridors of a starship, to the sweeping avenues of Bespin; the steamy jungles of Yavin 4 to the hallowed halls of the Massassi Temple.
The obvious question is whether you should get this game instead of "Jedi Academy" - the other SW/Quake3 game, or whether your owning that newer game obviates having to get this one. "Outcast" is more challenging than "Academy" in almost every way - tougher Jedi battles, longer levels, more of them, more tenacious AI, hard puzzles - resulting in many moments that have to be re-played as apparently insurmountable. Casual players will probably be turned off by "Outcast", and should stick with "Academy". Those who feel ready for something more than stormtroopers and jedi mind-tricks will be more than satisfied with "Outcast". Also, while I may just be jaded, I've yet to find a SW game that matches the experience I enjoyed playing "Jedi Knight" back in 1997.
MY FULLY ARMED AND OPERATIONAL BATTLE-STATION: a P4 running 2 GHz, with 512MB of RAM and a GeForce III card kept the force (and the action) flowing smoothly on my system. Though an old game, prospective buyers should check the LA website to make sure their graphics cards are supported. My original Savage card, ably handling "Elite Force" was hamstring by this game despite both using the same graphics engine.