Back in the old days there was Star Wars: Dark Forces which was a nice treat for the rabid fans out there, it promised FPS action in a world populated by Imperial Stormtroopers and Rebel Scum. Then we were given, by Lucasarts; Jedi Knight which further expanded on our hero from Dark Forces (Kyle Katarn) and his background, we learn that his father was once a great Jedi and we know that eventually we're going to be swinging that saber with the best of them. I must mention that DF's was a 3d/2d game in that it had 3d levels but mostly ala Duke Nukem - 2d sprites for the bad guys, but it was a lot of fun.

Jedi Knight had fully 3d levels, and 3d models; it was also possible to sever the arms off your enemies with the lightsaber - having a whole bunch of force powers and the ability to charge around with the weapon of the Jedi Knights made for some amazing gameplay and some kick ass multiplayer...but it never quite hit the mark, it was lambasted in places for being overly complex and relying on jumping puzzles and various tricks with the force. The same as the mission pack/sequel - Mysteries of the Sith.

Now we come to the latest in the series, so let's give a warm and welcome hand to the sexiest combination of publishing might and talent in the computer games world...Raven Software and Lucasarts together - Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast.

I personally love Star Wars so I buy, get or generally borrow the games when they come out. I mean I loved Shadows of the Empire on the old N64 - it rocked to be honest, go ahead throw a Thermal Detonator at me I don't care!!! I speak my mind as some people have found out. But JK II makes all the other games pale in comparison. Raven knows their stuff, and they know how to make a good game - they brought us Heretic, Heretic II and Soldier of Fortune. They took the Quake 3 Arena engine and gave us Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force...and now they've taken the Q3A Engine to new levels of excellence with JK II.

This is the game that I've been waiting for, this is the Star Wars game that I was hoping Raven would let's take a look at why I'm losing sleep, hair and my life to a small box and disc that's safer and cheaper than messing with raw TNT...

Kyle's back and he's given up the force, his lightsaber and any desire to be a Jedi after his fall to the darkside in the last game. He's now partnered up with his old friend and companion - Jan Ors. They've got a new ship, the Mouldy Crow is gone replaced by the sleek and nifty looking Raven's Claw - what a nice homage eh guys? And he's back to his old Mercenary ways; working for the New Republic...assigned to check out a long abandoned base on Kejim, Jan and Kyle stumble into something that will have them wishing they'd have stayed at home.

Raven have provided us with a richly detailed look into the Star Wars universe and have left no stone unturned in their pursuit of Jedi perfection, this is where the game really shines for me. I used to loathe the Quake 3 A engine, but Raven's modifications, tweaks and bells, whistles, have really made the whole thing shine brighter than one hundred suns...They've taken the old style of Jedi Knight and whipped a brand new gorgeous graphics engine, sound and gameplay around it all. I can't fault it, I could find lots of little nitpicks if I wanted to but they're really minor ones I won't mention.

If you put on Volumetric shadows for instance you'll see some impressive shading on the models, there are a few graphical glitches; but if you can put them aside it really does add a nice dimension to the already fantastic models. You see Raven have taken the models and skeletal animation to the next level, they are some of the most detailed and gorgeous I've ever seen in a game on the PC yet - astounding I would say and I really mean this. I'm pretty jaded as a game reviewer goes and this is the kind of game that I like to see, one that puts my faith back into games made around famous films and media. You only have to look at the way they hold onto the weapons, the individual fingers and the detail of the guns and various clothing items. Backpacks, belt pouches and weapons have all been modelled and textured into the next era of realism. It's a sumptuous feast for the eyes and mind, it's nice to see and I thank Raven greatly for it.

The animations on the models are top notch, they have real personality and the combat AI brings them to life in many ways. They of course strafe a little too much for some people's liking but at least they run off when outnumbered, try to get reinforcements, take cover and kneel. All the while giving you verbal feedback as they talk to each other. I've never liked being called Rebel Scum so I tend to hunt down any Stormtrooper or Imperial Officer who dares it...and pay them back with a serious whupping.

Of course what really sets JK-II apart from the rest is the actual key weapon of the Jedi, the Lightsaber - while it was moderately ok in JK in the sequel Raven have studied the weapon from the movies and given us a bloody beautiful rendition of the blade. From the glow as the saber ignites to the motion blur and flash as it moves, connecting with an opposing saber or object - the whole thing as been done with flair and style; easily scooping the Wolf award for best damn weapon in a game ever! Anyone who can animate the models and weapon moves right down to the last T including the sneaky back thrust if an enemy is standing behind you, deserves as much praise as you can lavish on their heads. You have to see it for yourselves though really, I can't give too much justice to the majesty of the weapon in action in pure text. They've even added a tug of war to the saber, when it locks against an enemies blade you're in a button pushing war of primary attack and you get the chance to hit them hard, lose and you're going to end up being in a world of pain. Clever Jedi can use the Force to break a lock such as this.

Raven has also developed 3 styles of Lightsaber combat for the game and they all have advantages/disadvantages to their use. Add to this a totally kick ass use of Force jump to perform some of the most wonderful acrobatic stunts in combat with other Jedi and badguys and you have THE game to get for action and adventure. They even included a wall run and flip similar to the matrix, saber throwing which you can learn to control how and where the saber flies and last but not least in Single player - cinematic slow motion rotational cameras (which can be turned off or on all the time)

Weapons are nicely done, there's the usual mix of Star Wars guns and stuff like that, and I'll leave you to find out what's there and what's not. Rest assured they're all lovely models and work just as you might expect the actual weapon to work - Raven have shown great attention to detail once more in the models and textures. Just before I move on though they did add wall decals (which don't stay around) for the Lightsaber and other weapons of destruction...and yes before you ask you can lop limbs off with the saber too, some clever bod out there has already changed the probability values to make it so you can lop off heads, arms and legs, even cut people in half - some people have too much time on their hands (shhh, nice one)

Before I get too carried away with talk of lightsabers and limb lopping let's move on to the environments? Yes! They did it; they made them with all the joy of curved surfaces, and realistic looking rooms/buildings. I love you Raven you've made the bland environments a thing of the past, they've really gone to town on the actual levels - Imperial installations are sprawling complexes of grey metal and flat neutral, cold efficiency. The outdoors levels are suitably lit and created to exude the atmosphere of being on another world entirely - rocks look like rocks and mountains rise with a jagged fearful symmetry. Nar Shadda is well, pretty frustrating and amazing all at once - too many jumping puzzles for me, but well - if you like that kind of thing then don't let me stop you...the ground might * evil laughter *

Raven have an eye for detail and texturing, they've got their finger on the trigger in that respect and the world textures are just as gorgeous as the model textures - they leave you feeling as though you just walked out of the Carbon Freezing chamber on Bespin...rather than a bunch of polygons that might be shaped like it. You'll see when you play it, what I mean and it'll take you there as it did me.

Sound? Yes it's all there and in great abundance, the whole of the Star Wars music in perfect reproduction, dramatic and as uplifting as ever - the sounds of the blasters and weapons, the roar of the Raven's Claw's engines...they even got old Billy D' Williams to do the voice of Lando just to add that little extra to the game. The lightsaber (here he goes again) is perfectly reproduced from the igniting of the blade to the soft whisper as it dies...the clash against the other and the distinctive sizzle as the blades lock (I'm in heaven here leave me alone!) Sonics are perfect and Raven has reproduced them all to a fine quality, I once again can't fault them at all.

Raven's storyline is pretty much damn fine and doesn't seem too contrived, sure there's a couple of events that will have you screaming - here we go again and reaching for a Dl-44 (That's Han Solo's blaster pistol) to shoot their mission designers with a stunbolt...but all in all there are some nice surprises and some hellishly evil puzzles (jumping and non jumping) remember that the Force is also your ally so look to use those powers if you've reached that point. New levels bring new abilities and upgrades to old ones. Again I'm not going to spoil a thing about the game by telling you what, where and it...(waves hand all Jedi like)

But not content with giving us a kick ass single player game, Raven have also dropped in a Multiplayer game which to be honest is just as polished as the Single (About time that happened) and utilises the Quake 3 Arena Engine + Raven's code to provide a stable and wonderfully addictive Multiplayer experience. There are a number of great gametypes available which are playable as Free for Alls or Team based games...the usual Capture the Flag and a couple that you really have to get the game to play, once more I'm not going to spoil the surprises - all I will say is that we Lan'ed it up and had a blast playing vs the Bots. Yes Bots, Raven have kept the Bots in and each has unique traits and likes/dislikes...Luke won't attack Lando etc unless you beat the crap out of him first.

Raven's Multiplayer is so configurable you can set up any match with a number of options and a number of bots, you can also configure the game via the server to accept and disallow weapons, force powers and other such things so you don't like a certain power or weapon...take it out (of course you have to know the server commands and bitfields) The main thing is that the whole range of saber moves and actions is supported in Multiplayer so you can have some truly epic fights. If you really want action in a Free for all, just challenge a player to a duel if they accept the music changes, and you both become immune from other player's hits and weapons's just you and them. Win and you're healed up to max health and full shield, lose and you must suffer the defeat at the hands of a better Jedi than you. Everything is so smooth, with some great levels and the chance to configure your Force powers, lightsaber colour and player model in game - it's got everything you'd ever want and more.

Take it or leave it, love it or hate it, if you don't give this game the chance it deserves you're not giving Raven the credit they deserve for giving us such a kick ass title. Put simply JK-II rocks more than a Bith Band in the Cantina on Mos has more power than a Dark Jedi on Glitterstim spice and more features than Darth Maul's lightsaber (Which I heard might be a special Easter egg in the main Multiplayer game) It simply oozes style and panache and should be up there with the likes of Quake 3 Arena or Unreal Tournament for sheer addictive quality. Thank you Raven you've made this reviewer extremely happy...and with a patch on the horizon that fixes saber dismemberment in multiplayer it should be a happy day for all Jedi, light or dark.

This is Darth Lupus signing off, and going to kick some Imperial buckethead ass...