Will we ever get another ‘Star Wars’ game as fun as ‘Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast’?

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, we look back at one of the quirkiest 'Star Wars' games in the galaxy

Star Wars buffs are hard to please. As the saying goes, “no one hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans.” Still, few games in the past 20 years have truly given wannabe Jedi the chance to swashbuckle their way through the Outer Rim with a liberating lightsaber combat system. Not like Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast does.

In 2002, LucasArts and Raven Software’s Jedi Knight 2 (JK2) put mercenary-turned-Jedi Kyle Katarn in your hands. In the campaign, you take the Jedi Trials and become free to dismember stormtroopers, force choke Dark Jedi, and clash sabers with a Sith Lord that’s half-man, half-lizard (that doesn’t seem so weird after The Rise Of Skywalker, does it?). It also tests your puzzle-solving skills and promises nostalgic fan service moments with Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian and, briefly, your two favourite droids R2D2 and C3PO.

Initially released on PC, Xbox and GameCube – and remastered for PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch in 2019JK2 garnered a cult following for its rewarding campaign. But, more intriguingly, for its unique online multiplayer experience that spawned clans, player-made maps, custom game modes, and baffling combat techniques. Even now, you can still find the dozens of ‘movies’ that show off mindboggling lightsaber acrobatics, bunny-hop chases, trip mine explosions, and force battles. JK2’s reign was a period of Star Wars fans at their nerdiest – and at their best.

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JK2’s story starts out as a first-person shooter, with Kyle Katarn and his partner Jan Ors fulfilling a “blue milk run” tasked by Mon Mothma – you might remember her from Return Of The Jedi and Rogue One. What’s supposed to be a swift raid of a remote Imperial outpost reveals the Imperial’s sinister plans to overthrow the New Republic and Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy using warriors jacked up with artificial force powers from the Valley Of The Jedi (let’s not overthink this one, eh?).

After you’ve ploughed through a couple of infuriating planets with blaster rifles, thermal detonators, rocket launchers and vaporising sniper rifles, you’ll confront Desann, the antagonist. This Sith serpent, who Kyle describes as an “overgrown Kowakian monkey lizard” – ouch – throws you around a landing pad and force chokes you to near-death. He captures Jan Ors and orders his apprentice, Tavion, to kill her. From here, the chase is on.

Kyle takes a trip to the Valley of the Jedi for some quick force power acquisition and visits Luke Skywalker to earn back his lightsaber in a set of Jedi Trials, which are actually surprisingly tricky puzzles. Once you’ve retrieved your lightsaber, you’ll gradually learn new force powers and improve the ones you know.

JK2’s story is an enjoyable and nostalgic story – despite some frustrating moments, such as a failed attempt at a stealth mission – but it certainly shows its age 20 years on. For one, you’re reliant on quick saves because progression through the far-spread checkpoints alone is gruelling.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast. Credit: Raven Software.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast. Credit: Raven Software.

The game is redeemed by its deep lightsaber and force combat system, with multiple stances, slashes and moves. And, thankfully, it’s pretty easy to apply cheats and max out your force powers on the first level and grant yourself an early lightsaber, should you wish. The original John Williams score playing throughout makes the whole journey pretty badass, too.

But the wacky multiplayer mode for PC is where most players became infatuated.

JK2’s online multiplayer is fantastic. Now 20 years old, it might feel primitive compared to the class-based arena games and battle royales we have now. But you can play as any character that appeared in the campaign, decide whether to be on the Dark Side or not (which in turn dictates which force powers you can use), and play on 19 maps across seven game modes.

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What erupted from this limited palette of opportunity is, frankly, unbelievable.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast. Credit: Raven Software.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast. Credit: Raven Software.

Player-regulated duelling modes flourished; capture the flag ‘captain’s games’ and manhunt games became a weekend ritual. Savvy players made custom maps, mods and skins, minor bugs were intelligently abused to perform new tricks and saber parries; and a tight-knit community of Star Wars fans formed via in-game chat and myriad online message boards.

As one player called DarkLord tells us: “Even if you were a veteran player, there were still new moves and techniques to learn years later.

“Removing force in certain servers gave focus to different strategies and saber skills and vice versa. But the community was a huge part. The fact that it was a ‘smaller’ game was what made it great…Even if I went into a game with a disguised name, people could figure out who you were just by your play style and skill.”

For kicks, you can watch a player called {FT} Crash take down DarkLord a ton of times in his music-synchronised movie below.

Your playing style and skill would also depend on which version of JK2 you had. The multiplayer game had three public iterations: 1.02, 1.03 and 1.04. Each version had its own quirks and bugs that would determine how you slash, jump and force pull. In 1.02, for example, you could execute a DBS (double backslash) and RDFA (rotational death from above), two strong moves that are ubiquitous in frag movies. Naturally, these weird and wonderful moves were labelled by the players, not by LucasArts.

Player eXalin says they prefer “1.04, all day. There’s nothing fun about being yeeted by a multi-directional RDFA or not being able to roll seamlessly into an attack.” Yeah…Fair enough. For many players, though, learning these moves was essential in becoming a better player and getting those big wins and cinematic kills. Some players even scripted the movement commands to instantly perform them – a practice frowned upon by the community as it is quite literally scripting, cheating the game to get an edge on honest players.

Scripts, mods, maps, models, and more could all be downloaded from JK2 Files, the community’s online library. So long as a player had made one, you could download a skin to play as Darth Vader, Neo from The Matrix, and even Homer Simpson. You could download huge maps based on LOTR’s Helm’s Deep, various Star Wars planets, and more bizarre maps – such as the pop punk-soundtracked FFA_TMBJ or the farmyard-inspired Country Roads map. Sadly, this archive of fantastic .PK3 files is long gone but JKHub still hosts an abundance of old downloads.

JK2’s players did everything they could to keep the game alive. Whether it was through server-side maintenance and upgrades or through creating slick mods, their goal was always to keep the game fun and friendly.

A longtime 1.02 player since 2002, Some Guy Named Dave fondly remembers “the relationships [he] created over the many years playing this game.”

Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy was the 2003 sequel to JK2, boasting some slight improvements in the combat system. But JK2 players bemoaned the complexity and weren’t ready to leave their favourite game behind.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast. Credit: Raven Software.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II – Jedi Outcast. Credit: Raven Software.

“Once Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy came out, a lot of the community left for a newer game,” continues Dave. “I’d say there were still 400 of us on the US side that stayed. We continued to create new maps, new skins, new skies and continued modifying the game so that one day a new group of gamers will see that this game has class.”

We imagine that LucasArts wasn’t counting on JK2 thriving for as long as it did. No other Star Wars games have influenced such a community-driven playerbase and even EA’s Jedi: Fallen Order hasn’t come close to the deep lightsaber and force combat systems of JK2.

“I do not believe the creators of this game knew how monumental this game could have been long-term,” says Dave. “The abilities that this game adapted to are completely outside of any fast-paced game for the past 20 years…The parrying for one is something that is only possible with quick reaction speed.

“Another reason I was hooked was the community that stayed playing this game. Everyone would come back, we’d be hanging out at the pad waiting to duel and someone would crack a joke and it would make the whole server chuckle. The clans and groups that were formed early on are now relics of JK2’s past. I surely can’t put this on my resume, but I can say here that JK2 gave me an opportunity to learn how to form a group of people, organise matches, learn some technical skills developing video, in-game content and, most of all, develop relationships with people all over the world. At 15, I should have put that on my resume [laughs]!”

A long-desired JK2 remaster or AAA remake seems farfetched at this point. Instead, players have taken it upon themselves to create their own remasters and VR versions. If you’re looking for some good ol’ classic Kyle Katarn adventures, though, you can purchase the game on Steam, PS Store and the Nintendo Store. We’d also encourage you try the JK2MV multiplayer game and join the JK2 Discord. It’s not too late to start creating your own wicked frag movie with DBS, DFAs and bunny hops.

Star Wars Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast is available on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. 

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