By Joseph Walter
The main story, which features hideously compressed cutscenes (including an audio mix that begs for death) is interesting in concept, delving into the now non-canon "expanded universe" of a post-"Return of the Jedi" world, where the Imperial Remnant, among other players, are still causing galactic unrest in the face of a dead Emperor and no Death Stars. You play as Kyle Katarn, a rogue Jedi and smuggler.
The levels are a disaster from start to finish: Each one is long, boring, ugly and huge, along with being pitifully, illogically designed. The progression of moment-to-moment gameplay is illogical at best, and you'll often find yourself confused as to where you're going or what your objective is (the in game "hints" are far from helpful.)
Adding to the dilemma of mindless level design, there are no checkpoints. Yes, someone thought there should be no checkpoints. Instead, there's a system where you can save at anytime, anywhere, for 28 blocks of your memory card. In theory, that's great, but with levels that are as lengthy as these, with unforeseen challenges (suddenly having to protect an NPC, for example) there's a good chance you'll be losing a lot of progress simply because you're not actively saving every few steps.
To make matters worse, the difficulty is fairly crushing as well, but not for the right reasons. The enemies can be hard-to-impossible to see and do quite a bit of damage. The levels are also pitfall-happy and occasionally platforming-focused. Not a good mix with no checkpoints and a self-regulated save system.
Controls make things worse. Much worse. The gunplay is overly twitchy, and lining up shots is like nailing yourself to the cross. Yes, there are sensitivity controls, but good luck finding one that isn't too fast or too slow.
Graphically, it's a mixed bag to an extent. As mentioned, the stages are ugly, with far too many dark sections (luckily, you have night vision goggles that make it worthwhile... except they run on hard to come by batteries, so it's not that lucky after all). The character models themselves run from terrible (Kyle Katarn, Lando Calrissian) to shockingly outstanding (Stormtroopers). As mentioned before, the cutscenes are pre-2005 Youtube quality, and have an eerie, marionette look. Characters don't often blink or move their mouths, and will often jerk into various positions.
The audio realm is somehow ear-bleed-worthy, despite using John William's famous scores. The issue is that they take very short snips and loop them indefinitely. Somehow, the N64 "Shadows of the Empire," a cartridge based game, managed to loop orchestral John William's music and not be terrible. I guess that was too much for something as powerful as the Gamecube. One very bright spot is Billy Dee Williams reprising his role as Land Calrissian. He's a joy to listen to and I'm hoping we see him (and his character) in Episode VIII! Kyle is played by Jeff Bennett, who I know as Brooklyn from "Gargoyles," but has done so much more. He does a respectable job here except for his obnoxious death scream, which you'll be hearing a lot.
I've been avoiding one major component of the game, but it's time to address it: The lightsaber and your Force powers. As the story goes on, you'll be able to use Kyle's lightsaber and start to unlock various Force powers, such as lightning, the push or even the mind trick. That's all well and good, and the saber looks, sounds, and feels, great but the single-player experience just doesn't seem designed to properly handle the game suddenly going third-person, and the enemies are still a hassle.
So, that's the 80% garbage part. Now for the 20% brilliance: The Multiplayer.
Simply put, if you've ever wanted to experience what is was like to engage an army of lightsaber-wielding, Force-powered foes in one gigantic melee, this is the game you have been looking for. Nearly all of the issues with single-player dissolve in the multiplayer experience. The levels are well-designed and well-lit, for one, and the AI feels difficult but fair. You'll soon learn that the art of lightsaber combat is just that: A skill that needs to be honed. Going into the fracas blindly swinging will result in failure. However, by the time you've learned how to properly wield the sword of light and its three styles, you'll be able to jump into the madness, engage multiple adversaries, and come out on top. It's an empowering feeling, and one that nearly makes up for the entire experience. Better yet, you can customize your entire repertoire of Force powers and their strength levels, pick your saber color (I'm a fan of orange, myself) and also your character (I prefer TK-421, but it's a thrill to see Lando go wild with Force lightning.)
So what's the verdict? That's hard to say. The main game is such a terrible, garbage-fueled experience. It's not worth the slog to become more proficient in the Force. The multiplayer, on the other hand (which can be enjoyed with bots, another human, or the human with bots) is almost worth the price of admission.