Ever since Doom first appeared at the end of 1993, gamers had been longing for a first person shooter set in the Star Wars universe. They got their wish with the release in 1995 of Star Wars: Dark Forces. This introduced the character of Kyle Katarn, a former Imperial agent, who became a mercenary for hire in the service of the Rebel Alliance - hey, it happens. In the sequel, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Kyle discovers that his father was killed by a Dark Jedi, and then finds his father's Lightsaber, which leads him on a path to discover his own latent abilities with the Force. Hmm, remind you of any one else we know?
Sub-Luke Skywalker plotting it may have been but the sequel is, next to Half-Life, the best single player first person shooter of the nineties. Not only was the story gripping, but it was propelled along by Full Motion Video (FMV) the last time that such a technique was used successfully in the game. The acting might have been hammier than your local butchers, but it was the first time new Lightsaber footage had been filmed since Return of the Jedi.
Enjoyable even for non hardcore Star Wars fans, Jedi Knight featured some stunning level design, with a great combination of puzzles and platform jumping. The sheer scale of the levels was enough to give you vertigo, and the level design was highly imaginative. One of the most memorable levels had you trying to get to the docking bay pod of a cargo vessel that was falling through the air, with corridors shifting from side to side, and debris flying at you - positively thrilling.
By far the most exciting aspect, and the one that had people queuing up to play, was that you finally got to fight with a Lightsaber - the coolest weapon of all time. This was the first time that 3D technology had advanced to the point where it was feasible to have an in-game Lightsaber, and the gameplay was enhanced by Kyle appearing in third person perspective when you wielded your laser sword. Taking down stormtroopers and hearing the slash and hum of the Lightsaber was the gaming moment that Star Wars had been waiting for.
Speaking of graphics, I can clearly remember the first time I launched the game on my PC. Set in a Mos Eisley style canteen, I was immediately drawn into the action and was enjoying blasting Gamorrean guards and the three-eyed Gran. But I suddenly realised that I'd been playing without even having 3D acceleration enabled. Turning this on, the game went from good to seriously cool, even though it looks primitive by todayâ€™s standards.
Another ground-breaking feature was the use of Force Powers. These increased as you went along and before long you were hurling StormTroopers from super high ledges or sending forth cracking bolts of lightning from your fingers. To keep things interesting you could choose to follow either the light or the dark side, though in reality this made little difference to the storyline or gameplay. The audio was great too, If you snuck about, there were nice touches such as being able to eavesdrop on long and amusing conversations between Stormstoopers.
Pleasingly, an expansion pack for the game followed only a few months after the initial release, adding enhanced graphics and letting you play as classic Expanded Universe Star Wars character Mara Jade. The success of Jedi Knight ensured two more high quality sequels, each of which dropped the Dark Forces moniker and instead came under the Jedi Knight title, a clear indication of the effect of Jedi Knight. If there's one game I hope is announced in the future it's a straight Star Wars FPS based on the Unreal 3 engine or perhaps iDs next. All Lucasarts needs is a little inspiration to create a game that matches the design and storytelling ambition of the classic Jedi Knight.