Star Wars: Jedi Knight – Mysteries of the Sith

Star Wars: Jedi Knight – Mysteries of the Sith
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Game Name: Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Mysteries of the Sith
Platforms: Windows 98
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Developer(s): LucasArts
Genre(s): First Person Shooter
Release Date: Feb, 1998
Notes: Steam sells a stand-alone version

The extremely reliable and peer-reviewed source of my own memory doesn’t recall much chatter about the official expansion to Jedi Knight. Released about four months after the original, it wasn’t exactly late, but was going against a well-established Quake II and an Internet that still wasn’t completely kind to high-stakes, fast-action multiplayer battles. I’m sure it was popular in some circles, but I get the impression its release was met with a collective “meh.” As you can tell from that star rating up top, I’m about to tell you how it’s not too shabby.

Mara has a purple lightsaber. Samuel L. Jackson might have something to say about this.

Mysteries of the Sith takes place five years after the events of Jedi Knight, and deep into the territory of the Expanded Universe. You will play as swashbuckling series hero Kyle Katarn for the first four levels of the pack, now a greying instructor in Skywalker’s new Jedi order. You’re the mentor to the character you’ll control through the last part of the pack – Timothy Zahn’s fan-favorite, the sassy Mara Jade. Mara is a fiery, Force-sensitive redhead and ex-Imperial, who has a penchant for skin-tight black leather and covert operations. You’ll be taking both heroes through a menagerie of tough jobs on behalf of the New Republic.

The plot works out to a pretty wide variety of locales across 14 levels. The storyline isn’t exactly contiguous – in fact, it’s more like The Chronicles of Mara Jade – so you’ll be hopping around to more significantly different areas that you did in Jedi Knight’s comparatively linear tale. Initial levels have you escaping a Republic base under siege and making your way up to two asteroids turned into battleships. After trying to sabotage various systems to shut them down, Mara takes over and chases a smuggler through an active city, recovers a stolen holocron, and searches for Kyle after he disappears on the Sith homeworld of Dromund Kaas. You’ll see starships, star bases, Hutt palaces, uninviting swamps, and more. There’s even a secret level where you play as Luke as he duels with Vader in Empire Strikes Back. The levels are certainly one of the expansion’s best points.

Mysteries also has a laundry list of general improvements over the original Jedi Knight. There’s a surprising amount of new (and clearly recognizable as new) textures and models, including new enemies and friendly NPCs. You can now control stationary turrets and mow down rushing groups of attackers. Levels themselves seem larger and more elaborate, from the markets in the city levels to the many twisting and vertical pathways in the asteroid base. You’ll also see much more use of flying 3D models and similar shuttle activity around the levels and in background. A few AI tweaks mean that enemies can fight among each other and will switch to fists when you Force pull their guns away. There are also some limited “disguise” sections where, basically, guards of a place you’re infiltrating won’t attack you until you fire first.

Most interesting is a redesigned Force system. All of the powers from Jedi Knight return, with a scant few additions. Most of these seem multiplayer-centric – as before, the AI isn’t duped by the distraction powers, like the new decoy projection ability. You have a Force seeing power that allows you to leave your body and scout ahead for a limited time, but it’s overall not that useful. The best new addition is Push, which lets you toss enemies off platforms or knock charging ones back. Still, while it’s more satisfying, it’s not as useful as outright disarming them with Pull. You also start to accumulate so many powers that it makes them a hassle to cycle through.

Zero-gravity sections offer something new and cool.

The Light Side/Dark Side affiliation mechanic has been completely dropped. Instead of picking powers that match your morality, you unlock four tiers as you progress. Each tier has 4-5 powers to choose from, but you can only pick one or two from each tier. This allows you the freedom to mix and match whatever powers you choose, while also eliminating any sense of consequence. Accordingly, killing innocents will now just temporarily drain your energy pool instead of locking you out of powers. Since there’s no lasting penalty anymore, it might also explain why there are many more civilians milling around than there were in Jedi Knight. Some powers are also automatically granted (like Jump and Pull) which now allow for Force-based puzzles, like remotely pulling a switch in an inaccessible room.

The large, open maps of this expansion support fast-action running and gunning more than the original did. There’s literally less to stumble over, and more advantages to dodging than there is cover. That’s not to say there aren’t puzzles, because they return and are even more nefarious than before. Also returning from Jedi Knight are the mechanical timing challeges, where you’ll have to stop a fan or electric arc and rush through before it reactivates. There are more zero gravity areas, including parts where you’ll fight bad guys as everyone floats around.

There are also a few tricky puzzles that are manageable, but obtuse. In one area, you have to trick a turret into blasting a barrel to disable a force field. In another, you have to shoot a camera to prevent a door from being locked. You won’t have to do these kinds of tricks anywhere else, so it may take you a bit of time to think to try something in the sole instance when it will actually have an effect.

New weapons are present, but limited. The rail launcher gains a few new charge types, and you now have flash grenades which work exactly like the blinding Force power. The blaster rifle gets a collectable scope upgrade you can toggle by pressing the 3 key twice, turning it into a proper sniper rifle. This is easily the best new addition, and is even required to solve a few puzzles (such as shooting a door control panel before the door closes). The other addition is a carbonite freezing gun, which is totally useless in single player. It takes far too many shots to actually freeze an enemy, and other than getting to shatter them, there’s never a point. I imagine it has its griefing uses in multiplayer though.

Plenty of new textures do help make the new maps feel distinct.

A nice tweak here is that using blasters and relying on your lightsaber both seem equally viable. A larger suite of Force powers (and no morality restrictions on the powerful ones) means it’s a little easier to exclusively rely on the saber. New powers like Saber Throw and Chain Lightning also give you more ranged options, making up for one of the saber’s main weaknesses. Unlike Jedi Knight, however, there will come a time when you have to put your blasters aside. The final three levels are lightsaber-only, and there will be a few moments in earlier levels where the saber is all you have (such as a Rancor fight hearkening back to the creature battle in Dark Forces). I still much prefer the guns, but the Force additions here do help. And, knowing you’ll be required to use them at the end, you might as well get used to the Force and your blade early on.

Graphically, not much has changed. The engine is mostly the same, except possibly tweaked for those larger levels. Contemporary reviews say colored lighting is added here, but it was definitely in the original Jedi Knight, so it may have been added there in a patch. As said, there are lots of new textures here that help keep the game feel fresh, and the new enemy models look great and quite distinct. The expansion also drops the cheeseball FMV cutscenes completely, and replaces them with plenty of in-engine ones. They tell the plot well enough, though graphically, they’re not all winners. Cutscenes will also appear even in the middle of levels, so be prepared to have control yanked away from you from time to time.

Overall, Mysteries is a strong expansion pack. It brings a surprising amount of new textures, models, levels, locations, and voice work, and is an excellent campaign on its own right. Though the Expanded Universe setting feels a little strange to someone who’s only seen the films (how did pirates get a Star Destroyer?) the story weaved here is punchy and engaging. The only real disappointment is a ramp in difficulty both in some quirky puzzles and the lightsaber-only restrictions of the final levels. Sharpen your Jedi skills early, and otherwise enjoy a fitting companion to the first Jedi Knight.

 

The Good

Plenty of variety along with the shooting and puzzles that made Jedi Knight enjoyable. Extra Force powers give you some options at range, and dropping the morality system gives you the freedom of choice. New multiplayer maps and game modes.

The Bad

Some puzzles that aren’t introduced well will require you to do some things you didn’t even know you could do. No new weapons to speak of, and forcing you to use the lightsaber in the final levels takes away your ability to fight as you wish.

 

3 Comments

  1. carlmarksguy says:

    “(such as a Rancor fight hearkening back to the creature battle in Dark Forces)”

    Ahhh! I remember those giant woodchuck-shaped lizard-rancor type monsters from Dark Forces. For some reason I remember trying to punch them to death, by sprinting up, bopping them on the nose, then retreating as fast as possible. (I don’t remember if it was because I was out of ammo, or if I was just trying to see if it was possible).

    The City level, and its NPCs, seem intriguing — a first person shooter where you DON’T have to laser-blast every moving object? Weird!

    • The J Man says:

      Your memory serves you well. Kyle had been captured by Jabba and thrown into a pit at the start of that level, meaning you were stripped of all your weapons. You were forced to punch the green dragon monster to death, using that sprint and retreat tactic, and also some columns to try and break its pursuit.

      Similar deal here, except it’s an actual Rancor, and you can Force Pull your lightsaber from behind a grate and then thrash away at its back. Wish I had that in the Jabba level in Dark Forces.

      The city level was actually surprisingly well done. Bearing in mind it’s an old game, they still had a scripted encounter at a cantina that gets busted up by some Stormtroopers, a scripted chase and a few ambushes, and a whole lot of howling, fleeing civilians.

  2. Miles says:

    More than the gameplay and graphics, what I remember most about this was the cool tone it established, which really ramped up in the final few levels. There’s just something about the darker color schemes, the seedier seeming universe, and the really well done mixes of lesser-known Star Wars music that makes the whole thing kind of epic and haunting.

    But those final few levels, in the Dromund Kaas swamp, with all the Sith ghosts and the f-ing tigers that use the force…yikes! It was creepy, maddening, and lonely since all the previous levels were very populated.

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