A Joint Playthrough & Review of Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight by Austin Simpson & Brandon Hovey
Austin: Played through on Hard
Brandon: Played through on Easy
Brandon: Nar Shaadaa is known as the smuggler’s moon. In Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (1997). You start your adventure there as Kyle Katarn. Frankly, in hindsight this start is mediocre at best. While these levels captured my imagination at age ten, they hardly keep my attention at age twenty-nine. This is not the smuggler’s moon of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy in Dark Empire—a bustling city filled with intrigue and adventure. But, I don’t miss their color palette. This is an industrial facility with a few snack bars to break it up.
Austin: “An industrial facility with a few snack bars to break it up.” I read Brandon’s review before I started my own playthrough, and I think this really covers it. It certainly colored how I looked at the landscape of Nar Shaddaa. In stark contrast to the planet portrayed in the excellent opening cutscene (the first live action Star Wars footage filmed, at that point, since Return of the Jedi), there just isn’t that much to the game’s Nar Shaddaa.
Brandon: You start out in a bar, you venture across several towers. Solve a puzzle involving an elevator, and end up in a cargo facility. Were you in this facility the whole time? Its hard to say. I will admit that the ammunition shortage is problematic. And your fists are useless. Every dropped stormtrooper rifle yields twelve rounds. I never realized that it gives more credence to my comparison on a stormtrooper’s rifle to a Glock 22 or Glock 23 semi-automatic handgun chambered in .40 S&W. I was not particularly impressed with the first level. I have seen better urban environments in user made levels for Jedi Knight.
Austin: My read is that Nar Shaddaa is a really informal smuggling spaceport, and, since crime is the only business, centers of work and pleasure bleed into one another constantly, hence Katarn’s constant stumbling between bars, corridors, docking areas, and cargo zones. I have a lot of nostalgic fondness for this level, but I can’t imagine I’d have been enamored if I encountered it for the first time in 2020. As Brandon noted, there are better urban environments in user-made JK levels, and there are better urban environments in earlier FPSs.
Brandon: The second level is rather dominated by pipes. And like Mario, you’re navigating them. Except you aren’t after Princess Peach, you are chasing a way out to topside to be picked up by Jan Ors and the Moldy Crow. All in all, though these two levels were likely quite impressive in 1997. In 2020, they are dated, boring, and a little too difficult on easy.
Austin: Thinking closely on level design, the second level is truly a baffler. Yes, you’re in pipes, but what are they being used for? Until the latter part of the level, there’s no sign of cargo, and there’s no sewage. And what are all these Gran and (even more confusingly) fully-outfitted-for-Tatooine Gammorean guards doing here? I heartily appreciate the choice to bring many classic Star Wars species into the game, but they frankly don’t make sense. Who stationed the Gammoreans here? And why largely on staircases, particularly when it looks like they’re guarding already-guarded, mostly empty cargo holds? There isn’t a mystery, I don’t think, just some arbitrary level design. That said, some of the jumping segments of this level were a lot of fun (and very difficult to navigate on Hard). It’s beyond me why Jan Ors couldn’t have flown in at one of the many points where you have open sky, but maybe that’s besides the point, too. Overall, the Nar Shaddaa duo of levels present a somewhat underwhelming introduction to Jedi Knight, but, given limitations of 1997 and how great the game gets as it goes along, I still don’t feel too disappointed.