A Joint Review of Dark Forces Jedi Knight II, the Sulon Levels by Brandon Hovey & Austin Simpson

Brandon: The third level of the game is a real terrific highlight of the game. The Sulon levels have to be my favorite setting of this tale altogether. Kyle’s home is not a hovel. Nor is it a mansion. The place has been occupied by horrible Tusken raiders that seem less tame than the ones Luke ever encountered. These Tuskens have likely my favorite weapon of the game in their possession: the bowcaster! As I stated in aprior installment of this blog, I did a post on the weapons earlier and here’s the link. I compared it to a
lever action rifle of the 19th century in amodern caliber, like .44 Magnum.

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Austin: I totally agree with Brandon. The third level of the game, Return Home to Sulon, is a definite highlight of the game. I always found the inclusion of Tusken raiders as the most common non-Imperial enemy type on Sulon to be a little strange. Strange, too, is their use of the bowcaster, a weapon exclusive to Wookies as best as I can tell elsewhere in the Star Wars universe. This feels like a way to shoehorn in some more classic Star Wars imagery, though, and that’s certainly welcome. The architecture of the Katarn house makes for a great level, but, outside of the initial rooms, it seems like it would be an odd place to live. Even odder is the incredibly dangerous and roundabout path to Morgan Katarn’s workshop. While the house is supposed to be in disrepair, it’s almost impossible to imagine a non-deadly route the old man could’ve taken even in the best of times. Stripping realism away, though, this is an incredibly fun stretch of game.

Brandon: The house itself is an intense battleground of exploration and close quarters fighting. However, this pace changes to the maze like waterpark of the fourth level which is essentially a training center for lightsaber use. And then there is level five! Baron’s Hed: where Kyle remarks “the empire sure knows how to ruin a good city.” Unlike the Nar Shadaa levels, this is a truly ruined city. Let’s explore why.

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Austin: Level Four, The Jedi’s Lightsaber, is the throwaway level of the Sulon set, as Brandon kind of alludes to here. It’s a good training ground for the lightsaber, but it’s fairly linear for a JK level and the level design isn’t terribly interesting. It’s a good bridge, though to the first level in Baron’s Hed, which is another highlight of the game.

Brandon: First you experience the urban environment right away. You fight in what appears to be a small apartment building, and then you end up entering a marketplace where you can see Gran and Tusken mercenaries terrorizing the civilians. The shootouts between yourself and the mercenaries get quite nasty
and frantic. It really is a great set up to the following levels.
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Brandon: I only ever found Max once.

Austin: The urban environment of Baron’s Hed is perhaps the first “believable” level of the entire game. While the population is low and the building types are somewhat homogeneous, there is life here and you can stumble through a marketplace, a bazaar, a home, and so forth in your quest to get through the city. I liked this level a lot more than I remembered, and I appreciated that it was at least somewhat non-linear. Like Brandon noted, some of the shootouts become quite frantic as time goes by.

Brandon: The screenshots that I attached though are going to be a testament though to the fact that whilethis is a better environment than Nar Shaddaa, it is not real winner over it in 2020. I am discovering that while I love this game, it has become quite dated. Maybe other levels will prove me wrong…
Austin: I’d disagree with Brandon and say that, if we’re applying the lens of 2020 level design, Baron’s Hed is far superior. Both are great for the time, but Baron’s Hed is still an interesting level even knowing what we know now about level design. A caveat from me: I tend to think, for example, Doom maps are far more interesting than anything produced in the last decade of FPS gaming, and I prefer to play games that have to deal with extensive technological limitations when it comes to graphics and mapping abilities. You might say that I have something of a retro-positive bias. I know that Brandon enjoys retro gaming, too, which should be obvious from the fact that he’s co-authoring this review series, but he certainly enjoys and plays modern games more than I do. So, while I love this game for nostalgic reasons, my biggest problem so far is that, even in the context of games from its time, it’s a little boring and monotonous in places. That said, I’m looking forward to diving into the next set of levels, which include the first lightsaber battle of the game, in our next installment.

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