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‘Jedi: Fallen Order’ is a harsh, fascinating Star Wars escapade

Image from TechRadar
Image from TechRadar

Disclaimer: This review is of the PS4 version of the game and was played on an original PS4.

Arguably, one of the greatest losses the video game industry has suffered after Disney’s wholesale acquisition of the Star Wars franchise  and George Lucas’ Lucasfilm was that of Lucasarts. Known for being the  breeding ground for oddball adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island, the Sam & Max series, and Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango, the company also worked on a bevy of titles based on Lucas’ works, from Star Wars to Indiana Jones…  and mostly just those two. After Lucasarts was unceremoniously shut  down in 2013, lingering only as a licensor with all staff fired and  multiple in-development games stuck in Development Hell, Disney sought  out third-party publishers to bring a galaxy far, far away to home  consoles and ultimately gave the keys to a most unexpected successor. 

Enter Electronic Arts (EA), a game distribution company known  for two things: their heavy reliance on microtransactions and forcing  developers to hit unreasonable deadlines, along with being voted one of  the worst companies in America multiple times. Their first whack at Star Wars came in the form of DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront  (a revival of Lucasarts’ own multiplayer shooter), where fans at launch  derided the game’s severe lack of content. The second go-around, Star Wars Battlefront II, suffered  the exact opposite problem. The game relied extensively (at launch) on  microtransactions and glorified gambling through loot box mechanics to  better oneself in the game or even unlock franchise mainstays like Darth  Vader without needing to play for over 40 hours first. The situation  was so extreme that it literally forced the hand of legislators across  the globe to examine loot boxes as a whole and famously decry Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino.”

With a new Star Wars game  having recently fallen into our laps, all of this begs the question:  given EA’s exclusive rights to produce Star Wars games and the shadowy  board of investors and stockholders that force EA’s hand into meddling  with projects to “maximize” profits, is it possible for a Star Wars game in 2019 to avoid these missteps? Is there hope that it can actually be good?


Image from Steam

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, aside from  being a fair contender for one of the jankier full titles in video game  history, is a third-person action-adventure game from RESPAWN  Entertainment, hot off the heels of the Titanfall franchise. Five years after the fallout of Revenge of the Sith  and Order 66, former Jedi Padawan and walking sack of emotional baggage  Cal Kestis has been hiding out from the insidious Empire as one of the  last Jedi still in existence. However, after being outed and discovered  by the Second Sister—a lightsaber-weilding savant in a dark helmet and  slick cape who hunts Jedi alongside her band of like-minded  Inquisitors—Cal goes on the run with Cere and Greez, a former Jedi and  her wisecracking alien pilot, to find an artifact that could save the  Jedi order… or lead to its’ very destruction. 

To put it lightly, I genuinely didn’t expect myself to take to  this game as much as I did on both a gameplay level—and a narrative  level. Of course, this stuff isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s largely through  dialogue and action how I gradually grew close to the rest of my motley  crew and BD-1. BD-1 is, objectively, a glorified reason as to how you  can regain health mid-fight. However, this little droid (that feels  one-part shoulder parrot and one-part excited lapdog) genuinely grows on  you, aside from the fact that it spends most of the game clinging to  your back. 

However, what astounded me about this Star Wars take was simply how groundedly dark it was. That’s not to suggest that the whole thing is a doom-and-gloom affair, no, but Jedi isn’t  afraid to confront the true physical and emotional damage caused by  George Lucas’s space wizard holocaust in a way that feels honest and  unflinching for the most part. The ending does feel somewhat  anticlimactic and sequel-bait-y, especially in comparison to the rest of  the yarn, but I mean it when I say that this is the first Star Wars anything that genuinely moved me. 

Using a little Force

Image from Steam

Let me get this out of the way first: Jedi is far more than your typical Souls-like RPG. I’d dare say that the Souls-like  elements of the game (losing all your experience after you die and  having to land a hit on the guy who whacked you to get it all back  without dying) are the weakest at play. In all honesty, this game has  more in common with games like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Mass Effect, and Banjo-Kazooie  of all things. The basic gameplay loop largely consists of going to a  planet, fighting your way to an abandoned, dungeon-like temple, fighting  off more guys, gaining a new ability, doing puzzles with said ability,  and ultimately fighting your way back to the Mantis to shove off to  another planet. Throw in a surprisingly large amount of platforming,  mini-bosses, and backtracking, and that’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

However, Jedi is far more  expansive than that. Fights in this game are just as many puzzles as  they are life-or-death squabbles with bucket-headed goons. Especially  earlier on in the game, you’re forced to rely on just your saber and  your quick wits to make mincemeat of your foes. As you go on, you and BD  gradually gain more and more power, and it just continues to spice up  combat or exploration in new and satisfying ways. The Force powers you  get in this game feel just as weighty and powerful as each swing of your  lightsaber. By the end of the game, you’re practically a master without  even thinking.

Image from Steam

Yet, just as much as the gameplay amplifies the experience,  it’s the little things that truly sold me on this game. Every planet you  visit is lush, stocked to the brim with detail and unique flora/fauna  you can actually collect to plant on the Mantis’ miniature garden. The  fact that you can fully customize your lightsaber down to the grips is a  welcome touch, and I’m sure the people who dropped $200 to build a  saber at Disneyland will be pleased to know that they can perfectly  recreate their blade in-game—provided you find the parts, of course. The  way BD-1 interacts with Cal’s body as he moves and oftentimes goes off  on their own to scan things for your personal databank genuinely gives  you the feeling that you aren’t alone on this journey as you face off  against ever-increasing odds. Heck, you can customize everything down to  the clothes on Cal’s back. The only minor gripe I have of the  customization here is that you can’t switch Cal into anything besides  his jumpsuit or his poncho. I fully realize that being chased down by  space Nazi laser-swordsmen is no time to complain about fashion, but if  I’m going to be gunned down a million times regardless, I’d at least  like to look good while doing so.

As much as the presentation elevates the material beyond its  relative simplicity, it’s those very same bells and whistles that often  bring the ship crashing down to Earth. While I didn’t experience these  issues judging from the playback of Jedi  on a PS4 Pro console, playing the game on a regular-degular PS4 led to  graphical hiccups around most every corner. Rapidly running through  levels led to multiple instances of graphical pop-in, especially if the  screen was dotted with Stormtroopers. The physics regarding Cal’s poncho  were wonky at worst and unrealistically clingy at best, sometimes  clipping through his shoulder and always clipping through his chair on  the Mantis. On one occasion, I literally clipped through almost the  entire level and ended up on the ground floor. 

However, even with the scrappier elements of my experience with  the game (both as intended by the developers and wholly unintended), it  all felt perfectly in-character with the ragtag band of goons and  weirdos I gradually amassed over the course of my playthrough. Sure,  they diminished the interior facade of this being “real,” but it’s this  scrappiness that ultimately reinforced what I feel this game truly is.

Truly, they were, a Star War

Image from Steam

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order reminds me most of the movie tie-in games that plagued the early 2000’s gaming market. It’s akin to games like Ice Age 2: The Meltdown: The Video Game, The Ant Bully: The Video Game, and James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game,  where the aim was to attach the iconography and branding onto a jumble  of vaguely related game mechanics borrowed from big name titles, all in  the hopes of taking advantage of kids and naive parents (while hitting  close deadlines on shipping). However, whereas those games lacked  budgets, development time, and ultimately identities of their own, Jedi has them all…for the most part. 

I stand by this game being a genuinely fun (and oftentimes  rewarding) experience with interesting characters and an emotional core  that even the movies haven’t tapped into (if not properly). It’s the  first piece of Star Wars media I have  seen in a long time that has left me genuinely shocked and emotionally  invested in its plot. While I had to deal with multiple glitches on the  standard PS4 version, some obtrusive design choices (unskippable  cutscenes, no New Game +), and ultimately unnecessary gameplay  mechanics, it’s all sour grapes in comparison to the sheer care and  effort on the part of the developers to deliver a definitive Star Wars experience  anybody can enjoy. If anything, it’s one of the greatest expressions of  the potential for this world I’ve seen. It commands with the heart of a  fan, and the soul of a creator. The dark side, and light. Now, that’s podracing. 

Image: Steam

Featured Image: TechRadar

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