There are dozens upon dozens of Star Wars games. From story-oriented RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic to real-time strategy in Empire at War, from space dogfighting simulators like X-Wing to the massive multiplayer battles in Battlefront, Star Wars games have covered nearly every genre in pursuit of bringing the film franchise to life in interactive form.
However, for all the Star Wars video games out there, very few have tried to tackle the lightsaber. It's one of the most iconic weapons in all of cinema history, immediately identifiable just from the sound of the blade igniting. It is the universal symbol of the Jedi ... or the Sith. The lightsaber duels from across the Star Wars saga keep us on the edge of our seats, whether it be Luke's fateful battle with Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi or the duel of the fates between Qui-gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul.
Why, then, have Star Wars games largely ignored one of the most iconic aspects of the films? It's a good question, though a few have tried over the years. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed looked to give players a means to live out their overpowered Jedi/Sith fantasies, but the game placed more emphasis on its completely absurd force powers than lightsaber combat. When Kinect Star Wars was first announced, more than a few fans dreamed of a motion controlled lightsaber game, in which players could finally participate in epic duels as seen in the films. Instead, they got this.
There was one game series, however, that perfectly captured the feeling of battling with a lightsaber: the aptly-named Jedi Knight series, specifically Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.
It was, and still is, the ultimate lightsaber fighting game. Players could choose from different lightsaber styles, each with their combos, strengths and weaknesses. Rather than employ a block button, players instead swung their lightsabers with the intent to harm, requiring the enemy to "block" by attacking with their own weapon and making the two blades collide. Occasionally, the blades may become locked in a standoff just like the films, until one of the duellists breaks free. Special moves and combos were done by performing attacks in combination with different movement commands, letting players attack while in the air, perform saber flourishes and engage in deadly lightsaber cartwheels. Just like in the films, players can deflect blaster shots with their sabers as well, making non-force wields a trivial concern.
When coupled with the game's force powers and force-enhanced acrobatics, it was the first time players truly felt like like they were wielding a lightsaber while playing a video game. There are few feelings more satisfying than being locked in a lightsaber duel with a worthy opponent, only to eventually get the better of them and strike them down with all your anger.
It helps that the game featured a satisfying, if slow-starting, single-player campaign starring original Star Wars video game character Kyle Katarn. The game begins as a shooter, with Kyle having forsaken the Force in a previous entry in the series. Within a few levels, Kyle finds a lightsaber, and from that moment onward, the game shifts from a competent Star Wars third-person shooter to an immensely satisfying lightsaber simulator.
That is just the game's single-player. The multiplayer is where the true fun began, as duellists from around the world went online to fight to the death. Players had the ability to pick their avatar as well as a limited number of points in which to assign Force powers at the start of a match. From there, it was off to the virtual arena, where countless hours have been spent perfecting strategies and lightsaber fighting tactics.
Watching this game in motion is pure joy for anybody who has ever wished lightsabers were real. The lightsaber clashes, the sounds, the acrobatics ... I can't tell you how many hours I've spent just scraping my lightsaber across walls, watching as the blade emits a shower of sparks as it cuts into the scenery. Or how I felt like a complete badass when cutting down another player for the first time in online multiplayer.
There is simply nothing like it, and most critics at the time of its release in 2002 agreed. They praised the game for its lightsaber mechanics, single-player and multiplayer. Brian Gee of Game Revolution, in his original review for the game, states, "you actually feel like a Jedi when you play this game." GameTrailers declared it the number one Star Wars game of all time in 2007, saying the game wasn't the first time players were able to be a Jedi and use a lightsaber, but that it was the first time players actually felt like one.
However, for all its success and popularity, the series ended a short while later with Star Wars: Jedi Academy the following year. Jedi Academy, in many ways, expanded on the successful formula of Jedi Outcast by granting players even more choices when it came to lightsaber combat, but the franchise never received another entry.
It really is a shame. While we have a new Star Wars Battlefront on the horizon that looks to fulfill the fantasy of fighting in the saga's biggest battles like never before, those who prefer using weapons from a more civilized age don't have a game to look forward to. EA is the sole provider of Star Wars games for the immediate future. We know their next Star Wars title is likely to be an Uncharted-esque adventure, likely starring Han Solo or a similar smuggler-type.
That's great news for fans to be sure, but its hard not to fantasize about what a modern day entry in the Jedi Knight series might look like. If not Jedi Knight, a brand new Star Wars game franchise that places an emphasis on the most iconic sci-fi weapon of all time. It could be on the Oculus Rift, letting players truly step into the shoes of a Jedi. Or it could be another third-person action game with a focus on multiplayer combat. No matter the avenue, the simple truth is that a new lightsaber sim needs to become a reality. Until it does, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast will remain as not only one of the best Star Wars games, but the best lightsaber simulator ever made.