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Blade Runner

Blade Runner PC Game Review

The Blade Runner PC game is a 1997 adventure game from Westwood Studios. Rookie Blade Runner Ray McCoy is  investigating a mass-murder of animals – which is a big deal in the nightmare future of 2019 as real animals are practically extinct and are very expensive. McCoy soon finds out that this one crime is just one part of a much bigger plot. The animals were killed by a gang of rogue Nexus-6 replicants (I will assume you have seen Blade Runner and know the ins and outs so I hope I don’t have to explain what replicants are etc.) who have just started on a mad crime spree. McCoy’s job is now to hunt these naughty robots down.Blade Runner 1997 PC game review Blade Runner Westwood PC gameWestwood’s Blade Runner PC game from 1997 isn’t your usual movie tie-in. The story runs concurrently with the original 1982 Blade Runner film but it came out 15 years after the cinema original. Westwood’s game pitched an original story set in the same Blade Runner universe, happening at the same time and even in the same city as the original Blade Runner film. At times it feels like you’re treading in Rick Deckard’s footsteps. The plots of film and game dance and spin around each other beautifully, at times it feels like McCoy walks into a room just as Deckard has walked out of it. It’s like you just keep missing each other. Getting to cut about in the same locations as the film is a bit of fan service which is welcome to me, I really liked it. I love the original Blade Runner film. But there is a cynical part of me that thinks Westwood could have done anything with the Blade Runner game. The story could have been a sequel to Blade Runner. It could have been a prequel. They could have set it in another city, another country even. It comes off a smidge derivative, but the Blade Runner game story is still dark and unusual for a PC adventure game from 1997.The game design present in the Blade Runner PC game is also atypical for a 1997 adventure game. McCoy is an LA detective, even though a future one, so nearly all of the gameplay is driven by dialogue. Blade Runner replaces the traditional PC adventure game inventory with a database of evidence which then generates dialogue options. By putting the onus on sleuthing about for clues and performing detective work the Blade Runner adventure game feels a lot like a procedural cop drama, which is a perfect use of the Blade Runner IP. None of that trying-everything-on-everything stuff you’d get in other adventure games. There’s a small amount of shooting in Blade Runner, which is great. Keeping the violent encounters few and far between creates maximum impact, because when it happens you know it counts.Blade Runner Westwood PC game Blade Runner adventure game review

Blade Runner PC Game Story

The best feature of 1997’s Blade Runner PC game is the impressive branching story. All of your in-game decisions, your conversation options and the quality of your detective work will impact the story. Depending on whether you arrest, kill or let your targets go; the way you speak to NPCs, the clues you find (or miss) all stack up and lead to one of 13 different endings. That’s already a formidable amount of development but Westwood doubled down on the opacity of your decisions in Blade Runner. At the beginning of every game, every cast member is randomly assigned as human or replicant. Each character assigns behaviours based on whether they’re a replicant or a human. They’ll go about achieving their objectives in the background, whether you’re witnessing it or not. You can play the same game twice and make exactly the same decisions but still get a different ending because of the random nature of the character spawning. I’ve not played a game from the last decade that attempts that level of complexity and opacity. It’s a fantastic concept! I will say though, that on our first playthrough it did feel quite vague. Some of the characters I barely spoke to and I only met one of the replicants I was supposed to be hunting once. By the end of Blade Runner’s story, I was sure there were loose ends I hadn’t tied up. It didn’t feel like a neat closed book. I think in order to have that branching storyline some of the finer details needed to be glossed over, so that Blade Runner would still work in a wider set of scenarios. You’re successful no matter which route you take, though. The game never paints you into a corner. There’s no right or wrong decision and a different play style would undoubtedly uncover more info.Blade Runner 1997 PC game review Blade Runner 1997 PC game reviewBlade Runner’s graphical style is great. Easily among the best of this era. For 1997, Westwood made the correct choice and stuck with prerendered 2D backgrounds with voxel-based 3D characters. Voxels is a bold move. It’s worth remembering that at that time the PC games industry was fast moving over to adopt full 3D games. 3D was seen as the next big paradigm in PC games, but 3D hardware was still finding its feet in the PC market. Graphics cards were still fairly primitive and very expensive. Historically we can look back and see how in a lot of cases jumping onto the 3D bandwagon early was a bad move. Plenty of 1997-era 3D PC games look awful now. It would have taken a developer with confidence to push back against that tide and say “No, this will look better in 2D”. Every detail of Chinatown and the Tyrell Corporation pyramids are beautifully represented in rain-soaked, dystopian detail. Best of all the wet, crumbling Bradbury Building perfectly recreates Ridley Scott’s gloomy vision of future LA. I’m so glad Westwood chose this graphical style for the Blade Runner game. We praised this game for nailing the Blade Runner neo-noir atmosphere, something a basic 3D game just wouldn’t have been able to achieve.The gloomy dystopian Blade Runner tone wouldn’t be complete without the same care and attention to sound and music. Frank Klepacki’s Blade Runner score is brilliant. Klepacki was a Westwood Old Guard, probably best known for scoring Dune II and the award-winning music for the C&C series. Klepacki wasn’t allowed access to the original Vangelis master recordings, so instead he reconstructed the original Blade Runner score by ear, and it’s perfect. There’s a few new tracks too, with Klepacki again nailing that cyberpunk synthwave vibe. The assembled voice cast is fantastic, as I’d expect from this era. Westwood did a great job of assembling new and original cast members. Actors such as James Hong, Brion James and William Sanderson as JF Sebastian. They even convinced Joe Turkel and Sean Young to briefly appear as Dr Tyrell and Rachael. Sadly they couldn’t nail down Eddie Olmos, instead opting for a rough soundalike to play Gaff.Blade Runner Westwood PC game Blade Runner adventure game reviewBlade Runner 1997 is a really enjoyable adventure game. The random generation of the cast and items means the story plays out differently every time, even before we get to player agency. The idea that we will all get a slightly different experience is an exciting one and is ambitious for 1997. Blade Runner’s high points are the excellent attention to worldbuilding and the richness of those branching paths through the game.Despite selling over a million copies, the Blade Runner PC game made bugger all profit so any hope of a sequel was made untenable. Further to this, this Blade Runner PC game is likely to never be available on Steam or GOG. Westwood were acquired by EA in 1998 and then liquidated in 2003. When the remains of the studio moved to EA’s headquarters, the source code and assets to Blade Runner were lost. We’re talking about a terabyte of data in 1997 money. Despite EA owning the rights, the odds of a sequel or an HD remake are remote. To play the Blade Runner PC game you’ll need to track down an expensive physical CD-ROM copy of the game. For the effort though, I’d say it’s worth it. Blade Runner is one of the best adventure games from the 90s and it’s a genuine shame it’s so hard to track down and play.You can watch a video version of my Blade Runner PC game review on YouTube.

Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango PC Game Review

This is gonna be a long PC game review, because I love this adventure game! Released for the PC in 1998, Grim Fandango is the pinnacle of the adventure game genre and is probably the best game to ever come from LucasArts. Bold claim, I know. Grim Fandango’s high concept is: Film noir meets Aztec mythology and Art Deco in the afterlife. Also there’s giant bees.The Grim Fandango PC game is set in the Land of the Dead. Turns out the Aztecs were right. Everyone in the afterlife looks like those cute little Mexican folk art skeletons. You play as Manny Calavera, the Grim Reaper. Well actually, he’s one of several Reapers, and in this world Death is more of a travel agent. In the original Aztec mythology, the souls of the newly-departed face a perilous four-year journey through limbo, before they reach what’s called the Ninth Underworld. On foot, the journey is dangerous, with a high chance of being eaten by demons or smashed to smithereens by supernatural forces. Now, Manny’s job is to upgrade these souls to a better travel package. If you’d lived a virtuous life you might qualify for a Golden Ticket on the Number Nine express train, which zips you straight to Heaven in just four minutes. Grim Fandango creator Tim Shafer is known for having a bizarre imagination and a taste for the oblique, with Grim Fandango showing you can clearly add a dark sense of humour to that list.grim fandango pc game reviewgrim fandango game reviewManny’s big problem is that he just keeps getting deadbeat clients, who have to make the four-year journey on foot whereas his work rival Domino is getting all the Gold Ticket clients. Domino is one of those sales wankers, you know the type and poor old Manny just can’t catch a break. Manny starts to suspect that something fishy is going on, and so begins a story of love, betrayal and tiny skeleton birds with human faces. I’m making light, but really, there’s some really interesting themes at play here. The characters Manny find himself up against are really despicable. These people were obviously gangsters in life, and they remain gangsters in death. And so why move on? They know that whatever waits them in the next life is almost certainly going to be worse than where they are now. They’ve figured they might as well stay in limbo forever. By exploiting innocent souls, they can elevate themselves into positions of power, money and influence. Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, right? Scratch below the surface and that’s some pretty dark subject material, and I originally thought Grim Fandango was a goofy story about skeleton travel agents selling train rides!Manny’s an interesting character, too. He’s working as a Grim Reaper, he’s not on his own four-year journey. He did something when he was alive which left him with a debt to the “powers that be”. We never find out what it was, but I can’t help but wonder what Manny did when he was alive that means he’s not allowed to leave purgatory. He starts the game as your quintessential noir protagonist; bleak, cynical, aloof. But in classic Film Noir fashion, over the course of the story he grows into a better person and the finale to the story is that much more satisfying. I don’t want to say anything else, because Grim Fandango has honestly one of the most original and charming stories in any computer game.grim fandango pc reviewWhat really sells that story though, is the atmosphere. Tim Shafer and the LucasArts team somehow managed to combine Aztec mythology and Film Noir and not make it shit. You’d expect those themes to be like oil and water but they pulled it off. Most of the Land of The Dead is decked out in art deco, but realised through that LucasArts lens. All the skeleton characters are so strikingly individual and all the fashion is just flawless mid-century, reiterating that brilliant Film Noir atmosphere. Visually, Grim Fandango is still one of my favourite PC games. In 1998 LucasArts had some fantastic staff members like Leslie Aclaro, Peter Chan and Linda Grisanti, who did sterling jobs making sure all the disparate, exotic locations in the game are all pinned down with a consistency and detail that only LucasArts could muster.Added into that mix is a brilliant soundtrack of 1930s/40s style music. A wicked blend of swing, big band and mariachi, again somehow all working in unison to give this game identity. Grim Fandango’s music was composed by Peter McConnell and that man’s CV is unreal. He’s done it all. From Monkey Island 2, Sly Cooper, Brutal Legend and Hearthstone. Chances are you’ve heard and loved this guy’s music and Grim Fandango is possibly his strongest work. Pulling together those disparate styles and giving the soundtrack its identity echoes that “We can do it” attitude that bled out of these LucasArts games.While we’re on the subject of audio, the voice acting is flawless. In my opinion this is  one of the most important factors of an adventure game. Manny Calavera is voiced by Tony Plana, who was Omar in 24 and Rafael Hernandez in The Punisher. Grim Fandango’s voice cast members include Maria Canals (who is Hawkgirl in everything), Pamela Adlon (who won an Emmy for her performance as Bobby in King of the Hill), The voice of Rita Repulsa Barbara Goodson and Ultra Magnus himself, Jack Angel. Alan Blumenfeld is the standout performance though, as Manny’s sidekick Glottis. I just love him so much and he still has me laughing out loud after all these years.grim fandango pc gameA lot of talk about a computer game so far, and I’ve not even spoken about the actual gameplay! Like most LucasArts adventure games, gameplay in Grim Fandango is moved along by solving puzzles. By and large, the solutions follow the usual adventure game logic, so if you’re getting stuck, there’s probably something you’ve missed. There is always the classic “try everything on everything” school of thought which usually works, but you should be able to figure most of the puzzles out. A brief warning though, the puzzles in Grim Fandango are all a bit knottier than other LucasArts games. Monkey Island might have a few obtuse puzzles, but there’s a couple in Grim Fandango that really take the piss! Overall though, Grim Fandango has some of the most rewarding puzzles. The game knows it’s hard, but when you put two and two together it’s a great feeling.grim fandango pc review

Grim Fandango Remastered

As much as I love adventure games, by 1998 the scene was dying out. Shooters were still in their infancy, but they were poised ready to dominate the face of PC gaming for the next twenty years. Grim Fandango was Tim Shafer’s attempt at rejuvenating the adventure game genre, but it ended up being something of a swansong. LucasArts invested a massive 3 million dollars into the game’s budget but sales did not do the game justice. Despite absolutely smashing reviews and winning awards across the board, some reports claim as little as 100,000 units were sold. As far as I can tell, Grim Fandango is the only LucasArts game that didn’t turn a profit.LucasArts forever moved away from the adventure game genre after Grim Fandango, but we’ve seen some great new titles come up recently. Grim Fandango received a Remastered edition courtesy of Tim Shafer’s company Double Fine, after they acquired the rights from Disney after they closed LucasArts in 2012. The remastered Grim Fandango has upscaled graphics, new character models and lighting and includes a more traditional point and click mouse interface. It’s every bit as good as the original and in some ways it’s improved. Grim Fandango Remastered can be bought from Steam or GOG for the bargain price of a tenner. When I started doing these Second Wind PC reviews, it was my intention to celebrate the past, and to showcase great PC games that you might have missed. And with these classic old games getting HD remasters and such, it’s a great opportunity for you to give this game a Second Wind yourself. If you’re a fan of adventure games and you’re looking for something with a bit of panache, then you’ve found it. I’ve played a lot of adventure games, but I’ve never played as good an adventure game as Grim Fandango.grim fandango pc adventure gameGrim Fandango is in my top three PC games of all time, on a good day I’ll say it’s my number one. It’s not perfect, no game is perfect. But the atmosphere, the storytelling, the creativity and the excellent worldbuilding make Grim Fandango an experience that I just cannot get enough of.Watch my Grim Fandango adventure game review here.

Fury 3

Microsoft’s Fury 3 PC Game Review

This is a game that’s full of nostalgia for me, and probably for you too. You might not have known that Fury 3 was the game that helped to sell Windows 95, even though today it has faded into complete obscurity.

Is it Fury Three? Fury Cubed? There isn’t a Fury 1 or 2 and the manual says it’s “Fury to the Third Power”. But I don’t want to sound like a total bellend so I’m going to go with Fury 3. Along with POD, Fury 3 came with my first computer, our family Pentium 2 PC. I have really strong memories attached to that. I can remember playing Fury 3 at about 11 years old, using the terrible beige Quickshot joystick that also came bundled with that PC. In fact, I remembered while making this video. I can tell you how I was first exposed to Fury 3. It was on the Microsoft CD Sampler that came with that old Pentium 2 PC.

Fury 3 Windows 95 Development

But wait. Let me take it back. It’s autumn 1995. Bosnia was in the news a lot. Pocahontas was the big Disney film that summer. Take That’s “Never Forget” spent 3 weeks at the top of the chart, before Blur’s “Country House” knocked them off. The new must-have item was the personal computer.

Bill Gates had got this idea into his head that Windows 95 was going to be this shiny all-singing gaming platform. Before Windows, gaming on a PC was a bollock ache. Things like getting DMAs and IRQs set up for your sound card needed doing for every game. There were no central drivers or global settings. Even something as simple as calibrating your joystick was much harder that it needed to be. Big Bill’s idea was to move away from the wild west that was DOS development. He wanted all PC software developed to a set of specific standards. This would (almost) guarantee a game’s compatibility, rather than it being a blind guess as to whether it would run on your hardware. The name of this standard was to be DirectX.

3D cards like the Voodoo and ATI Rage were on the horizon and Microsoft were gearing up to unveil their Direct3D API to leverage this new 3D frontier. All they needed was some killer apps to package in with Windows 95.

Microsoft turned to Mark Randel, the lead programmer from their Microsoft Flight Simulator. Randel had founded Terminal Reality the year before and released a 3D space shooter called Terminal Velocity in May of 1995. Terminal Velocity was a DOS game but its 3D engine could be modified to run natively under Windows 95. Not DOS mode, but actually running in Windows. This was a big deal. For the first time gamers would be able to put the disc in and the game would just work. Microsoft would be able to use this to show consumers how easy gaming on Windows 95 was, and they could use the technology to promote Direct3D to other developers. Terminal Velocity had got some decent reviews on its first release. So Fury 3 was going to be more of the same but a Windows 95 overhaul. Sharper graphics, higher resolution, better sound.

Microsoft Fury 3 is an arcade-style space shooter. These were big news in the early 90s. TIE Fighter, Descent, Wing Commander had all been mega popular on DOS. This would be the perfect genre for a Windows 95 launch game. You play a hotshot pilot called The Councillor. You’re tasked with saving the galaxy by taking down the evil Bion empire.

Fury 3 Game Story

The story is literally what’s in this advert from 1995. Robots bad. The evil Bions have annexed nine planets which you’ll need to liberate. You have to go through all nine planets in a linear path. I would have liked to be able to choose the order, but never mind. Each planet has its own unique look and also its own unique enemy types. You’ve got your red planet, your mining colony. Ancient-Egypt planet with little scarab ships, underwater planet with robot sharks. You’ve got the whole planet is a city planet. It’s nothing super creative, certainly nothing we haven’t seen before elsewhere but Terminal Reality weren’t planning on going mad. It’s a nice/10.

I will say, each level is surprisingly big. They’re peppered with little hidden areas and secret power ups. Hidden underground tunnels are dotted about every planet. These can be pretty challenging to get through. They definitely get the old heart pumping and they’ve usually got loads of weapons and ammo in them to incentivise looking them out.

Speaking of weapons, your spaceship has got seven different weapons in Fury 3. These range from lasers and missiles through to big smart bombs and even a BFG. There’s not exactly a lot on offer here, but for 1995 I think this is some pretty decent stuff. If you wanted to compare Fury 3 to deeper flight simulations like TIE Fighter or Wing Commander, then you’d notice is that Fury 3 is a lot more shallow by comparison.

The only goal on each level is just to blow everything up. As I said right at the beginning, Microsoft pitched Fury 3 as an arcade shooter. Back in the 90s “arcade” was basically a codeword for short games which didn’t have any real depth. They were fun to play and usually had a fair bit of replayability because of the pick-up-and-play nature of them. Fury 3’s focus was on being a cool guy, not a serious sally simulation.

Giant spiders, big stompy robots. All of the enemy designs are good. The sound effects are chunky, the music is wicked. It all suits the style of the game and it feels like a product of its time. If you view it through the perspective of it being a short-lived but bombastic experience, I think Fury 3 was a pretty wicked game. It’s like Wing Commander The Movie but if it was a game.

The Windows 95 Launch Game

But it wasn’t enough for it to be a wicked game. For Microsoft to convince people Windows was a good gaming platform, Fury 3 needed to work without any mucking about. Terminal Reality’s job wasn’t just making a good game. Fury 3 had to sell the Windows experience. So the game runs windowed, because its Windows. You’ve got File and Edit dropdowns. File new, file save, file load, all that stuff. The joystick config menu is right there in the menu. Sound is calibrated without any headaches.

PC Zone specifically mentioned in their 1995 preview of Fury 3 about how it all just worked out of the box. They also mentioned how impressed they were about being able to move a game running in windowed mode around the screen. They even mentioned the ability to ALT+Tab out, as if this was a feature of the game! Seriously, imagine that.

It can’t be overstated how important Microsoft’s Fury 3 was for showcasing Windows 95. It seems funny now because you’re thinking well my computer can do all that but in 1995 your computer really couldn’t. An inexpensive Playstation could easily supply 3D games. Big Bill knew if he could just make the PC a bit more friendly then they’d be on to something.

Windows 95 Launch and Reception

Fury 3 launched to retail in August 1995 in the USA alongside Windows 95. A bundled demo came with Windows 95. Fury 3 being essentially a launch title for Windows 95. Fury 3 was bundled with Microsoft Sidewinder joysticks as well as new PCs. Bundling the game with joysticks, new computers and with copies of Windows meant Fury 3 shifted a lot of copies. But I don’t think the game sold well at retail at all. With a shocking 40 quid price tag (adjusted for inflation that’s over £75), Fury 3 would have been going up against Mechwarrior 2 and Dark Forces in that Christmas window and given the choice you’d choose Dark Forces wouldn’t you? Especially as there were thousands of copies of Fury 3 floating around for nothing!

I think Fury 3 was released here in the UK around Christmas ‘95. I can’t find reviews in the mags until early 1996. The few reviews I have dug up praised the game’s smooth framerate and the sharpness of the visuals. More often they say how impressed they were with Windows 95! The few that did review it do mention that Fury 3 is essentially the same as Terminal Velocity. Hardly any press outlets seemed to have covered it at all though.

With the focus squarely on launching Windows 95, Microsoft did no favours to Terminal Reality and apparently welched on the marketing spend. The bottom line is Fury 3 is a good game. The shooting is solid, it’s colourful and it’s fun. Nobody had any real issues with the game, but selling a reskin of a six-month old game for £40 was probably a bit of a pisstake. It might have faded into obscurity with the mainstream press but Fury 3 left a lasting impact on me. I love PC space shooters and whenever I think of this genre I always think of Fury 3.

Running Fury 3 on a Modern PC

If you do remember this game and want to play it again, or even if you didn’t and you’ve just curious about some random 20-year old PC game, then I’ve got good news for you. Getting Fury 3 running on a modern PC is staggeringly easy.

The only real obstacle between you and playing Fury 3 is that fact that it is now abandonware. There are no digital storefronts selling legal copies of this game. Microsoft Game Studios (recently renamed Xbox Game Studios) have made no indication that they’re interested in selling their back-catalogue of PC games, and this is unlikely to change. The only legal way to play Fury 3 is to go and buy the CD-ROM, but it isn’t expensive.

Once you have a copy, it’s quite unbelievable how easy it is to run this on modern Windows. Installing Fury 3 is much easier than getting Terminal Velocity running on DOSBox, and it comes with that nice familiar Windows interface. You can even use a 360 controller out of the gate. Fury 3 paved the way for windows games. It can’t be understated how important that was for market confidence. Buying a game that was guaranteed to work was unprecedented. And how poignant is it that that legacy of compatibility still holds up today?

Is Fury 3 Still Worth Playing Today?

Microsoft Fury 3 doesn’t exactly contain a ton of content. I’m man enough to admit that. If you’ve played the classic PC space shooters and want something more, it would be hard to recommend Fury 3 on the basis of its content alone. In 1995 I thought this game was super. Something about the pixelly, exploding spaceships and the aggressive electro soundtrack pulled me in and kept me there. Today it’s mad to think about what this game represents. Bridging the gap between DOS and Windows. This one game helped to sell the PC as a gaming platform.

I don’t think any other operating system ever launched with launch titles? But then again maybe no other operating system has been as significant a leap forward for gaming as Windows 95.

Terminal Reality had a fantastic run. They followed Fury 3 with a sequel, Hellbender, and then went on to make BloodRayne, the good Ghostbusters game, Kinect Star Wars and a lot more. They’ll forever be a part of PC gaming history, even if it is a bit hazy.

Jedi Knight Series Review

The Jedi Knight series is LucasArts gold. After LucasArts’ success with the X-Wing and TIE Fighter series of PC games, LucasArts went from strength to strength in establishing what we now call the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Over the next decade we’d see comic books, novels, video games and more. All crossing over with each other to tell a story much bigger than three movies could possibly imagine.

Dark Forces

Star Wars Dark Forces was released for DOS and Mac in 1995. LucasArts had scrapped the idea of an FPS where players controlled Luke Skywalker. Dark Forces introduces us to Kyle Katarn and his partner and pilot Jan Ors. Katarn is a defected Imperial Stormtrooper turned mercenary, selling his services to the highest bidder. Straight away, what a great character to bring in, he’s even edgier that Han Solo! Kyle is hired by the Alliance after having successfully stolen the Death Star Plans. He is tasked with infiltrating an Imperial cell. This cell are developing super battle droids called Dark Troopers. Dark Forces anchors into the Star Wars universe with cameos by Jabba the Hutt and General Crix Madine.

star wars dark forces dos pc game review

Dark Forces came out two years after Doom. It was bemoaned on its release as being another “Doom Clone”. But in a lot of ways Dark Forces was more sophisticated than ID’s shooter. Throughout the 90s LucasArts were known for innovating in games and pushing the boundaries. Dark Forces ran on LucasArts’ own 3D engine, called the Jedi engine, and allowed for a much more “3D” experience. Unlike in Doom, players could look up and down, duck and jump; these features were groundbreaking at the time. The game’s level design had way more vertical movement. The raycasted environments also contained “real” 3D geometry and atmospheric shaders. LucasArts’ own iMUSE interactive music technology meant the in-game music would change depending on player action. Dark Forces even had its own original Star Wars score.

star wars dark forces dos pc game review

Dark Forces made one hell of a splash, selling near enough a million copies over its lifetime. It almost made it into the top ten selling PC games of the 90s. It remains the best-selling game in the Jedi Knight series.

Dark Forces 2 Jedi Knight

After that critical and financial impact, Lucas wanted to follow up as soon as possible. Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight followed on in late 1997. The FPS genre had changed considerably in the two years since Dark Forces. Once again LucasArts had built their own in-house 3D engine. Much more powerful than before, this time called the “Sith” engine. Sith was competing against powerful 3D engines of the time such as ID’s Quake. The market was crowded, Jedi Knight needed serious chops. A lot of FPSs were still sprite-based, but Sith was full-3D using polygonal characters over sprites and supporting mouse look. Sith supported hardware acceleration, one of the first engines using Direct3D.

dark forces 2 jedi knight pc game

Once again you’re playing as Kyle Katarn, alongside his partner Jan Ors. Jedi Knight is set after the original film trilogy. Darth Vader and the Emperor are dead. The power vacuum left behind has allowed a sect of Dark Jedi to start a Sith Crusade. Jerec, the leader of these Dark Jedi, captured and murdered Kyle’s father to find out the location of “The Valley of the Jedi”. After Kyle finds this out, Kyle picks up his first lightsaber and starts a quest of revenge; tracking down and killing every member of Jerec’s cadre before facing him down in the Valley of the Jedi itself.

As the game goes on, Kyle develops Force powers which the player can upgrade between levels. This is the real roots of the Jedi Knight series. From both the Light and Dark sides of the Force. The game has two endings, depending on whether the player chooses to focus on the Light Side or the Dark Side.

dark forces 2 jedi fps

Full motion video (FMV) cutscenes move the story along between levels; which LucasArts had first in Rebel Assault 2. The cutscenes included the first lightsaber footage filmed since Return of the Jedi in 1983. The game received tremendous reviews. The single player and the online multiplayer were both excellent.

Jedi Knight Mysteries of the Sith

A few months later, LucasArts followed Dark Forces II with the full expansion, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith. Now competing against Quake 2 and Unreal and with Half Life just over the horizon, the Jedi Knight series had to improve. LucasArts updated the Sith engine to include coloured lighting and added a few extra tweaks to sell the game. Set after the good ending in Dark Forces 2, Kyle Katarn has taken on his own troubled apprentice: Mara Jade. Together they work for the Alliance. They discover the Imperial Remnant’s interest in an ancient Sith temple on a planet called Dromund Kaas. Mysteries of the Sith has some of the most significant crossovers with the EU; this is the only time Mara Jade appears as a playable character in a Star Wars game.

jedi knight mysteries of the sith screenshot

Mara first appeared in the Heir to the Empire novels. She is a fan favourite character, appearing in dozens of comics and books. The planet Dromund Kaas goes on to be a very significant planet in the Legends continuity and the Old Republic storyline. The game features Jedi Holocrons, Vornskyrs and Noghri, which are all now turning up in the Rebels TV show. Mysteries of the Sith is even better than Jedi Knight in my opinion. The story is fantastic, and the way it weaves into the Expanded Universe is second to none.

star wars mysteries of the sith rancor

You don’t need to read the books or play these games to enjoy the movies. But the attention to continuity across all those different platforms is what makes me love Star Wars. It’s so unique, there’s nothing else quite like it and the Jedi Knight series is the best example.

Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is. the third game in the Jedi Knight series.
Raven Software developed Jedi Knight 2 on ID’s Quake III: Arena engine. This is one of the first instances of LucasArts recruiting help from outside the Ranch. Jedi Outcast’s lightsaber combat is what separated it from everything else. Up until this point, lightsabers in games always felt like big glowing bats. Jedi Knight made it feel like you really were controlling a more elegant weapon from a more civilised age.

Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast Review

After the Valley of the Jedi thing and then the Sith Temple thing, Kyle has had enough of the Force. Kyle and Jan go back to merc work. The Force was not done with him. A fallen Jedi called Desann hurts someone very close to Kyle and he comes back swinging. Jedi Knight II features upgradeable Force powers but this time Kyle’s powers reflect his rage-filled state; they unlock with no decision-making from the player.

Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast Review

Kyle once again develops light-side powers like Force Heal and Mind Trick. He also learns Force Lightning and he learns how to choke people, Darth Vader style. Easily the best story in any Star Wars game. Raven did a tremendous job of framing a flawed, human Jedi. Voice actor Jeff Bennett delivers a great performance, Kyle’s anger always bubbling just below the surface.

Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast Review

Jedi Knight 2 launched on PC and was ported to Xbox and GameCube. It smashed the reviews on all formats. JK2 is my favourite Star Wars game ever and I’m not alone in thinking that. The story and lightsaber combat is still absolutely incredible. It’s what gamers still rave about now. Jedi Knight 2 is the Star Wars equivalent to Deus Ex. Now I’ve mentioned it, someone WILL reinstall it.

Jedi Knight Jedi Academy

Following from that success, LucasArts gave Raven one year to develop the sequel. Powered by the same engine as its predecessor, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy had a focus on customisation and player agency. Kyle Katarn is not playable at any point in Jedi Academy. Instead he’s a teacher at Luke’s academy on Yavin IV. He teaches Jedi Academy’s protagonist Jaden Korr in the ways of the Force. When Jaden discovers a new Sith cult is harvesting Dark Side energy from places like Hoth and The Valley of the Jedi, Katarn joins his protege on missions around the galaxy.

EU locations such as Byss and Bakura feature as playable locations. Most significantly though is the final mission to Korriban. First mentioned in the Dark Horse comics, Korriban is now one of the most significant planets in Star Wars lore. I’m sure that its first video game appearance is in Jedi Academy.

The player agency is what made Jedi Academy. Players were able to customise their look, choose from a variety of lightsaber styles as well as develop their own character over the course of the game. The ability to wield dual sabers or the saberstaff for the first time blew gamers away. This keeps people coming back to the game even today. The story is a bit of a letdown. The final boss in particular is a bit like a Scooby Doo villain. The lighsaber combat in Jedi Academy is the best lightsaber combat in any game. Nothing since has captured the variety and depth of gameplay that was on offer here. A fitting end to the series, it’s just a shame we’ve not seen any more of these games.

The Jedi Knight Series review

The Jedi Knight series was of a consistently high quality. It had survived the jump to consoles. This had killed off other Star Wars series. There was a planned Jedi Knight III. LucasArts entered into a period of uncertainty for the next few years though. So external development was scaled back. The focus moved squarely off of Star Wars.

Kyle Katarn’s story remains one of the shining lights of the EU. Dark Forces and Jedi Knight are novelised in three parts by William C. Dietz, with Kyle going on to play a significant role in the New Jedi Order books. Similarly, Mara Jade is a massive part of the Legends continuity, as significant a character as Han or Leia in her own right. The Jedi Knight series of games proved that a good story and the richness of the Star Wars universe was enough to make a great video game, that the Expanded Universe was fertile soil for great new experiences.

You can watch a video version of this Jedi Knight series review on our YouTube channel.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

Lament of Innocence review

Not everyone seems to know that there were two Castlevania games on the PS2. The thing is, when Castlevania Lament of Innocence launched in 2003, Castlevania had little pedigree on consoles. It had been six years since Symphony of the Night had come out and Konami had struggled to bring the Castlevania series into 3D. Not just that, but new franchises like Devil May Cry were beating Castlevania to the PS2 punch.

Konami closed two studios in 2002 and they certainly weren’t about to throw good money after bad. Lament of Innocence’s PS2 development budget would have been very limited. Despite the obvious low rent, Lament of Innocence ended up being a real diamond in the rough. I want to look at how Castlevania Lament of Innocence did so much with so little and wonder if there’s a lesson for games developers even after all these years.

lament of innocence ps2 game

Castlevania PS2 development

Series producer Koji Igarashi originally conceived of Castlevania Lament of Innocence as a sort of soft reboot, telling the origin story of the Castlevania series. Making an origin story makes logistical sense because after 20 years of making Castlevania games, the Castlevania storyline was packed. Plus it makes thematic sense to start fresh on a clean slate. In fact in Japan and Europe, the game was just called “Castlevania” as a way to show this was a new beginning. Here in the UK, the game shares its name with three other games. To avoid confusion, this review will be referring to the game by its US title, Lament of Innocence.

The origin of Leon Belmont

leon belmont in lament of innocence

Lament explains the origin of the Belmont clan, the Vampire Killer whip and Count Dracula himself. Lament of Innocence is about Leon Belmont, the first ever Belmont to take up arms against the spooky creatures of Wallachia. You might have seen Leon Belmont mentioned in the Netflix Castlevania animated series. He’s treated like a saintly figure, the founder of the Belmont clan. Leon was originally an ordained knight, in the employ of the Church during the 11th century. When he hears that his betrothed has been kidnapped by a vampire lord called Walter Bernhard, Leon petitions the church to go after her. The church refuses his request, saying he needs to concentrate on fighting the enemies of the church. Leon turns his back on the church and goes it alone, losing all his power and influence to go on his quest.

Early on he meets Ronaldo Gandolfi, an old alchemist wizard trader living in a hut in the forest. Gandolfi tells Leon that Walter Bernhard lives in a castle in the middle of the forest called Endless Night. He’s been kidnapping damsels for decades. Luring brave adventurers to his castle so he can kill them as part of his hedonistic games. Vampires mate. If you’ve played a lot of Castlevania, the name Gandolfi will mean something to you. He’s the bloke who invented the Vampire Killer whip. And so Gandolfi gives Leon the “Whip of Alchemy” and send him on his merry way.

Lament of Innocence story

The story is good. It’s mature, one of the more involved stories. Not a game franchise famous for involving narrative. Jumping ahead to Lament of Innocence’s finale, there’s a pretty good twist right at the end which helps to set up the franchise’s roots. It lifts concepts whole cloth from Bram Stoker’s novel but that doesn’t matter, the book is canon with Castlevania lore. John Morris from Bloodlines (and his son Jonathan Morris from Portrait of Ruin) are descendants of Quincy Morris, the Texan who stabs Dracula in the heart in the book.

lament of innocence review ps2

The story’s execution is hobbled by that low budget. The opening cutscene is a mega long text intro. If you skip it (totally understandable) you will miss out on the games surprise ending. The writing is worsened by poorly directed voice acting. Most of the English voice cast are bit-part actors who had little to no principal cast experience. I’m not slating the actors, I certainly couldn’t do better. You can see Konami were hampered by budget constraints here, which explains why they were hiring in cheaper actors. It is a shame, because the story is surprisingly deep and sticking with it will reward you with some pretty solid twists. If you skip the cutscenes though (and I wouldn’t blame you) then those twists will be wasted on you. The good news though is that Konami spent the money where it matters. Gameplay.

Castlevania Lament of Innocence game

Leon finds that Walter’s castle is divided into five stages, linked by a central hub room. The final sixth stage won’t unlock until the bosses of these dungeons have been defeated. This is really cool, and unique among Castlevania games. Leon can tackle the stages in any order and each stage is different. You’ve got all your horror classics in there – the spooky theatre, spooky gardens, spooky science lab. I love it. Each location has your classic Castlevania baddies but each area has its own variations and unique enemy types.

castlevania lament of innocence medusa
castlevania ps2 game review

In classic Castlevania fashion you’ve got pretty big levels and big bosses but also plenty of variety and creativity. Simple stuff like pallette swapping enemies keeps costs down, but still gives us variety. Konami weren’t capable of delivering on the N64 games. Regrouping on the PS2 and focusing on what makes Castlevania Castlevania gave Konami the opportunity to realise a true 3D Castlevania game, this time working with the hardware instead of fighting against it and spending the smart money due to that budget constraint.

This is where Lament of Innocence sings. Action, level design, creature design, sound and music. For the most part, Lament of Innocence is classic Castlevania gameplay. XP and levelling from previous games has been dropped. Lament is all about explorating a spooky castle and whipping a ton of skeletons. The whip is Leon’s main weapon and he can carry one sub-weapon. The types of subweapon are your usual knife, axe etc and as expected holy water is by far the best. Sub-weapons use hearts for ammo and whipping candlesticks gets you hearts and/or money. Where Lament of Innocence departs from the classic Castlevania formula is by adding the hallmarks of the PS2 3D platformer. Things like combos, block and a dodge roll.

lament of innocence bosses

What Lament of Innocence does differently

Crucial differences are the addition of accessories, relics and orbs. Accessories grant passive buffs or damage resistance. Relics are active, doing anything from setting the ground on fire to recharging Leon’s HP. The big unique different in Lament of Innocence is the use of orbs. When each boss dies, it drops an orb which Leon can equip. Each orb alters your chosen subweapon with a unique attack. HERE YOU CAN SEE. The full combination of orbs and sub-weapon gives Leon a potential of 42 unique special attacks. Each one ranging from area of effect attacks, projectiles, crowd control and more. Once you have a couple of orbs, switching between them and your subweapons makes the combat really stand out.

lament of innocence review

Finally, the Whip of alchemy which Gandolfi gave you at the beginning can be upgraded. Three alchemical elements (fire, ice, thunder) can be acquired by fighting three very well hidden boss fights. I like this a lot. What’s mad is you could complete the game and not even know they’re there. The alchemical whips do increased damage as standard, but they deal extra damage to enemies weak to that element. It would have been nice to see some custom combos. Maybe some freezing solid or bursting into flames finishing moves. Again, I think Konami spent the smart money here.

It’s just enough. There’s a lot of content, but it’s not bloaty. Castlevania Lament of Innocence’s levels aren’t enormous. But there’s enough to them that you can get to the boss without fully exploring. Hidden bosses, relics and special items help to incentivise backtracking and reward spending more time with the game. Sort of that metroidvania vibe. Most of this is optional, but having it in helps to level the playing field. Because Lament of Innocence gets hard. If you’re not looking to upgrade your gear and improve Leon’s skills then the game will be harder than it needs to be.

castlevania ps2

That said, then end game is loads of fun. The last 25% of Lament of Innocence was really rewarding for me. Revisiting the dungeons, seeking out hidden areas really got me into the swing of things. Switching out orbs, relics and whip types on the fly. It gives the combat a lot of depth for comparatively little work. This was the most addictive part of the game for me. The downside to that was that the first 25% of the game was so stark by comparison. Without knowing the endgame, it would be hard for someone to put hours into Lament of Innocence. Symphony of the Night and Lords of Shadow 2 gave us the prelude tease. Lament of Innocence had the opportunity to do the same thing with the character of Joachim.

Castlevania 2003 PS2 reception

Castlevania Lament of Innocence was released late in 2003 worldwide, early 2004 here in the UK. Manhunt, Star Wars and Return of the King would have made launching at Christmas a big ask. Just one week after Castlevania launched, Ubisoft released Prince of Persia the Sands of Time. Prince of Persia absolutely killed it, far overshadowing other Christmas releases and is still getting praise to this day.

Castlevania’s launch marketing must also done on a shoestring. Games like Jak & Daxter, Beyond Good and Evil and Ratchet and Clank were all definitely on my radar that year. I don’t even remember hearing about a Castlevania game on PS2. Devil May Cry 2 had released earlier the same year too. Along with Prince of Persia, DMC2 was one of the top best-selling games of 2003. Here were these newcomers that did everything Castlevania did, but better and sexier.

castlevania fire whip

Reviews at the time gave Castlevania a solid “alright”. Your 7s and 8s. Lament of Innocence didn’t set the world on fire. It did make enough to warrant Konami making a sequel, which is a small victory in itself.

If you’ve followed the wesbite and YouTube channel you know I champion this ideal. By keeping their development costs down and making realistic targets, Konami stopped Lament from being a total flop. Lots of great games fit into this category and I guess I love an underdog. Lament of Innocence isn’t the best PS2 game from 2003. It’s certainly not the prettiest PS2 game from 2003. But it’s more than serviceable and running in 1080p 60fps in PCSX2 it’s not a bad little game at all.

Michiru Yamane’s soundtrack was praised at the time and is the part of the game which has aged best. Yamane composed Symphony of the Night and Bloodlines. The score has none of the Castlevania bangers, but it’s still very good.

Is Lament of Innocence worth playing today?

Konami tried with the N64 Castlevania games, but they couldn’t nail it. A lot of franchises which jumped to 3D suffered from the same issues in those early days. Lament of Innocence is Konami hitting their stride with a 3D action game, despite the obvious lack of resources. By having just enough money to make a focused action game kept the team dialled in on a small range of achievable goals. The same thing which made the Lords of Shadow games so good. I’ve played Castlevania Lament of Innocence through twice and there’s no fat on it. I recommend you try it, especially if you’ve already played those flashier titles from 2003.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island Review

My name’s Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate! Probably the most iconic opening line in any PC game. We’re given everything we need to know about this character and what to expect from this game. Nearly 30 years on, The Secret of Monkey Island is still a banger.I am going to be short because there’s plenty of Secret of Monkey Island reviews out there. The Secret of Monkey Island is about Guybrush Threepwood, a happy-go-lucky moron. He actually wants to become a pirate some time during the 17th century. It’s a decision he would live to regret were he blessed with enough intelligence to understand the gravity of the situations he finds himself in. The first chapter of The Secret of Monkey Island’s story sees Guybrush attempting to complete three challenges in order to become a fully-fledged pirate. Before long though he’s caught up in a swashbuckling story of love, adventure and spooky ghost pirates. Clearly inspired by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, The Secret of Monkey Island’s number one asset is the quality of the writing. Guybrush is your typical hapless adventure game protagonist. His ignorance and stupidity never fails to surprise and I found completely charming.

Monkey Island 1 PC review

Threepwood’s love interest Elaine Marley is one of the most kick-ass women in computer games. Even though she’s barely on screen before being kidnapped by the ghost captain LeChuck. It’s a cool trope to have inverted in the game. Elaine is more than capable of taking care of herself but keeps finding herself in deeper water due to Guybrush’s repeated bumbling attempts at rescuing her. Left well alone, she’d be better off. It’s the opposite of the kind of stuff seen in films of the time like Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone.The principal cast are just deep enough to keep the story going. I found it’s the supporting cast who really shine in this game. The colourful characters Guybrush meets on his adventures on Melée Island and beyond are what makes The Secret of Monkey Island worth playing today. That’s where most of the laughs can be had. And I did laugh at this game, out loud and often. I was actually surprised at how often the game made me laugh, considering I’m reading silent text off my laptop screen. That’s a testament to good comedy writing.I’d say the irreverent 90s humour is probably The Secret of Monkey Island’s strongest suit. The principal cast and the story are fine but the jokes are top of the shop. It was clearly funny in its day but crucially it’s still funny now, which can’t be said for everything from 1990. The Secret of Monkey Island was created as a collaboration between Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, three giants of the adventure game world and their work here makes Monkey Island a seminal game.It’s the adventure game design which makes The Secret of Monkey Island fun to play today. Adventure games before Monkey Island, like those from Sierra On-Line and Infocom, tended to be pretty unfair. Players could be killed for making the wrong decision and would often find themselves painted into a corner because of an earlier mistake. They’d have to start the whole game over. Monkey Island changed that with what I’ve come to refer to as the LucasArts method. You can’t fuck anything up so badly you fail the game and it’s really really hard to kill Guybrush.

Is Monkey Island 1 still good today?

The action menu at the bottom is archaic compared to modern adventure games. Most games since the mid 90s have adopted a contextual mouse which offers sleeker gameplay and less redundant options. With that said this menu is a massive step up from text parsers, something which the game’s creator Ron Gilbert was always dead against. The gameplay was designed to be player-friendly first and for a 1990 title it definitely succeeds. Even now, nearly 30 years on, the game is beautifully simple to get through. Adventure game puzzles do require a bit of moon logic sometimes, it’s like a vocabulary you need to learn. The Secret of Monkey Island’s puzzles tend to follow that LucasArts adventure game logic, so as long as you’re able to think laterally you won’t be left scratching your head for too long. I didn’t struggle with the game and I’m not a smart man.As a testament to the legendary status of this game, its three creators are all heralded as geniuses in their own right. Playing The Secret of Monkey Island is like watching a film written by Francis Ford Coppola, Shot by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg. The Secret of Monkey Island was remastered in 2009 and was re-released for iOS, PC and Mac, Xbox and PS3. The updated version has higher resolution digital painted art and features a full voice cast. The high res graphics feature the same number of animation frames as the original game. I don’t actually like the look, I find it kind of janky. I prefer the look of old pixel art. The good news is you can play Monkey Island Remastered in the original format, which suits me perfectly. I’ve played it both ways and I prefer the original. And that’s without nostalgia, I only played it this year remember?

Monkey Island theme music and sound

Despite the game being an early DOS game with no sound, I have to give a shout out to that music. One of the most iconic midi themes of the DOS era, the Monkey Island theme is a cracker.The voice actors LucasArts brought in were a mixed bag but with some real standouts. The great Earl Boen plays a brilliant LeChuck but again, the supporting cast shines here. Cam Clarke (better known as 80s Leonardo) is great as Meathook. It’s the workhorses who are taking on multiple roles who really sound like they’re having fun. Wally Wingert, Jess Harnell, Roger Jackson and one of my all-time favourites, Rob Paulson all get stuck in with ensemble characters. LucasArts old guard David Collins even sticks in an appearance. I love me some voice acting. Especially when Mojo Jojo is playing a rat.

Where to buy Monkey Island PC game

You can buy The Secret of Monkey Island remastered on all digital storefronts. I suggest Steam or GOG because even with the new contextual cursor the game is far more suited to the PC. The Secret of Monkey Island remaster is a great way to celebrate adventure games of the past. That’s what I’m all about here when I make these Second Wind reviews. If you’re keen to grab a physical copy for your old PC, I’d try to get hold of a CD copy as they tend to be cheaper. It’s not a cheap game to get hold of though, so prepare your wallet.You can watch my The Secret of Monkey Island PC game review here on YouTube.

Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith

Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith

Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith is an official expansion for the 1997 FPS Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. The visuals and the gameplay are largely identical to Jedi Knight but there are a few differences, including the addition of sweet Quake 2-style coloured lighting. You start the game controlling Kyle Katarn, five years after – but still deeply affected by – the events of Jedi Knight. In the intervening years the remnants of the old Empire have continued to plague the New Republic and in the opening sequence Kyle is helping to protect a New Republic base which is under Stormtrooper attack. During the Imperial attack, Kyle learns about a planet called Dromund Kaas which is somehow significant to the Imperial Remnant. So Kyle takes himself off to investigate this Dromund Kass and in his place he appoints his ward, a young Jedi by the name of Mara Jade. Yeah that’s right, THE Mara Jade.mysteries of the sith pc screenshot mysteries of the sith pc gameThis is the first and only Star Wars PC game where Mara Jade is the lead role. The Star Wars Expanded Universe was well-established in 1998 and LucasArts borrowed liberally from the existing continuity of novels and comics to tell a story that would appeal to Star Wars fans. Mara first appears in the Timothy Zahn Novel Heir to the Empire where she’s brought over from the Dark Side by Luke Skywalker. This ends up being significant to the plot, and in my opinion is a really cool thing for Lucas to have done; to take Kyle Katarn from the Star Wars PC games and pair him up with Mara Jade, a character from the novels. Other elements of the EU are used to ground the game in the Star Wars universe. Even better, Dromund Kaas has become a really significant part of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which cements these games together ever more into one big contiguous volume.I just want to take a second here to talk about the fact that Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith was an expansion to Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. In the 90s, our equivalent to DLC was the expansion pack. Unlike DLC, expansions came on a physical disk, in a big retail box and with a physical manual. To boot, they were significantly cheaper than the original game. Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith retailed for about half the cost of the base game and has at least as much content as Jedi Knight. Cramming in all this attention detail and putting in all this development effort for what essentially amounts to a DLC episode is a testament to the from-the-heart attitude which pervaded LucasArts at that time.star wars mysteries of the sith review jedi knight 2 mysteries of the sith reviewSimilar to Jedi Knight, Mara travels to exotic faraway locations. She meets interesting aliens and shoots the heck out of them. At first Mara Jade is just undertaking missions for the New Republic. Honestly this part of the story is a bit crap. Going from planet to planet to shoot different aliens lacks the focus of Jedi Knight. It’s a jumble sale of different ideas all crammed into sequence. It takes getting about 75% of the game before the title even makes any sense. The final act really picks up the pace though. Mara travels to Dromund Kaas in search of Kyle who hasn’t been heard from since the opening sequence. The game’s final showdown (no spoilers here) is a brilliant showcase of the game’s mechanics vs storytelling. It’s a real “Aaaaaahhh” moment that I will probably remember as a favourite boss encounter.Mara has her awesome purple lightsaber from the get-go, and starts the game with a few basic Force powers. There’s even some level design and puzzle solving which requires the use of Force powers. This made the game more enjoyable to play. Jedi Knight didn’t dig into the idea of Force powers as heavily as Mysteries of the Sith. That gives this game a big bonus. Mechanically, Mara Jade is much weaker than her master Kyle. Her Force powers take longer to charge up and you’ll need to choose your upgrades very carefully as Mara will only be able to take about half of the available powers over the course of the game.Of course, Mara is younger than Kyle. She’s less experienced which makes for a different gaming experience. It made me pay far greater attention to the playstyle I was trying to accomplish. The end of level bosses in Mysteries of the Sith are markedly worse than in the previous Jedi Knight though. They’re nearly all cramped into tiny locations with barely enough room to manoeuvre. This makes them far more frustrating that they need to be. Experimenting with Force powers and flexing lightsaber skills are made a lot harder when your environment is working against you.mysteries of the sith screenshot star wars mysteries of the sith rancorThe guns from the Jedi Knight series are all still included in Mysteries of the Sith and you can play the whole game as a first person shooter if you preferred. Like Jedi Knight before it, Mysteries of the Sith is competent shooter, whether played in first or third person.As is customary, the levels in Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith are absolutely huge. The wide open expanses encourage you to explore each level. Each map is littered with secret areas and alternate paths to your destination. It’s a curse when compared to more modern games. Modern games hold your hand right up to the point of showing you the direction to travel in. In previous reviews I made this level design method sound like a flaw. Now I’ve got a few games under my belt I think I actually prefer this way of doing things. It makes me engage my brain a bit more and it’s arguably more realistic. There’s no dotted white line in real life! I feel more connected to Mara Jade, as if we’re both exploring each location for the first time. Even on the later stages I felt like I was actually unearthing the Mysteries of the Sith, rather than just following a map marker. I’ve enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of all these Star Wars locations, even if it took me much longer than it could (or should) have. Besides, upgrading Mara’s Force powers between levels is dependant on how many secret locations you’ve found. The more you explore each level, the faster Mara’s powers can grow.jedi knight mysteries of the sith mysteries of the sith pc gameI was underwhelmed with Jedi Knight because I was so enamoured with Dark Forces. Playing Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith has allowed me to re-evaluate this situation. Both Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight and Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith suffer from the same flaws of games of this age. Hokey controls, irritating bosses, awkward graphics. But these games were necessary to get to where we are now. Actually, a lot of the good design choices made in these games are absent in more modern PC games. Where the technology has been superceded, the gameplay in these two Star Wars PC games is sorely lacking in modern titles. Both Jedi Knight and Mysteries of the Sith get a solid thumbs up from me. If you like old PC games then these are must-play Star Wars PC games.You can watch this Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith review onYouTube. As with all games I review for our YouTube channel’s Second Wind series, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith is available to purchase on GOG and Steam.

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

Jedi Knight 2 mate. It’s my favourite Star Wars game ever. And probably in my top 10 PC games ever for that matter.Unlike Dark Forces and Jedi Knight, which I either hadn’t played or hadn’t played much of; I’ve played Jedi Knight 2 a few times before. Now, I haven’t played this for a few years and I can say without any nostalgia that Jedi Knight 2 is actually better than I remember.The story is set two years after the last game. Kyle Katarn has fought the Empire, the Dark Troopers; in Jedi Knight he found out he was Force-sensitive and he nearly fell to the Dark Side TWICE. Because of that he’s completely turned his back on the Force. He’s already lost too much to the Dark Side and he doesn’t want to involve himself in that fight. Cutting off his connection to the Force, he leaves it all behind and goes back to mercenary work with his old trusty pilot, Jan Ors.Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast ReviewJedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast ReviewJedi Knight 2’s story is pretty solid and follows the usual template for games of this type. After taking on what looks like a pretty standard job, Kyle and Jan uncover some mysterious goings-on. The Imperial Remnant are trying to artificially infuse the Force into people using magic crystals, to make an army of Dark Jedi which they call the Reborn.Kyle eventually runs into the Dark Jedi, Desann and boy is he outmatched. I’m trying not to give away too much but Kyle is soundly beaten and is given a lot of motivation for revenge. Kyle is motivated to get his Force powers back and he spends the rest of the game tracking down Desann with the intention of killing him.That’s a pretty cool edge to a central Star Wars character. What I love about Kyle Katarn is that he isn’t your clean-cut Jedi Knight hero. We’ve already seen in the previous games that Kyle wasn’t ever really a good guy. He’s motivated by revenge more often than not and now we see him brought back into this fight against his will. Kyle’s not an optimistic goody two shoes like Luke; he’s seen what the Dark Side can do. He’s jaded, angry, out for revenge. Obviously you’re not playing a villain, but you’re playing as a real, flawed human being in a universe of impossible superheroes.Kyle Katarn is my favourite character from the Star Wars Expanded Universe. He was my first exposure to the concept of the Grey Jedi; a Force-user who walks the line between light and dark. Something which would later be explored further with characters like Revan from KotOR or Asohka Tano from Rebels. Kyle is taking the fight to the Dark Side, fighting fire with fire. Given enough time he’ll probably fall to the Dark Side too, but he can’t see any other way.In terms of the way this plays out in the gameplay, Kyle’s Force powers develop on a linear path from beginning to end. Jedi Knight 2 doesn’t waste time telling you if you’re being good or evil, it embraces that grey Jedi idea and just lets you get on with playing. The skilltree just opens up as you play the game with new powers – a mix of both light side and dark side – getting unlocked or upgraded between set missions. It’s a very linear story, there’s no branching good or evil options like in previous games. And I guess the Force powers are part of that experience so there’s no branching skill tree either. On this level you’ll need Jedi Mind Trick, and so it automatically unlocks. Raven could have gone with a Morrowind open world style, but they didn’t and the game doesn’t suffer at all. They wanted to tell a specific story so they stuck with it.Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast Review Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast ReviewAnd it works. It’s pretty much like the games which came before it; following the clues from planet to planet, unravelling the mystery of the Reborn. Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast really captured that Star Wars adventure game feel, with Kyle going all over the galaxy, getting into scrapes and hunting down the bad guys. This is helped by a brilliant voice cast; usual suspects like Steve Blum, Bob Bergen and Kevin Michael Richardson deliver brilliant performances but of course for me the standout is Billy Dee Williams himself appearing as Lando. My two favourite Star Wars characters, smashing shit up on the Lady Luck. Every location in this game is big and rich and detailed, but not so completely directionless like in previous games. Levels are way more linear but they’re laid out perfectly. The level design is the best it’s been in this series; there’s still hidden areas dotted about but I don’t think you’ll get lost at all unlike the massive levels from Dark Forces or Jedi Knight. The puzzles, too, are good. Not too obtuse like in previous games, by and large they’re easily solved with a bit of Star Wars logic and careful application of your Force powers and/or lightsaber.And now we get onto the bit that I really want to talk about. My GOD are lightsabers good in this PC game. Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast is the gold standard for lightsaber games. Force unleashed may have all that mad technology going on but Jedi Knight 2 is the king. OG. Just an incredible lightsaber game.Mate, to say it’s better than the previous games isn’t enough. It’s the best it’s ever been and it ain’t ever gonna get that good again. Kyle starts out with one lightsaber form but as the game goes on he’ll unlock three. It’s your usual fast-medium-strong setup, but each style does actually have a part to play in the combat. The fast form carves mad combos and it deflects incoming fire with a comedic level of accuracy. Strong stance will fuck anybody up with one hit but leaves Kyle wide open if it whiffs. You can even spot what style the bad guys are using and you can change up your style to better fight them. You can switch form mid-fight and obviously combine lightsaber attacks with force powers or other weapons if you want. It’s so flexible, man. It’s the best lightsaber experience ever. You will feel like you’re controlling a legit Jedi. The only crime is that the system hasn’t been built on by newer games; Force Unleashed was all piss and vinegar compared to the finesse of Jedi Knight 2.Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast Review Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast ReviewThe intricacy of the lightsaber combos, the stacking of those combat forms and powers has not been beat. There is still a competitive online scene for Jedi Knight 2 and mate, the things these guys are able to do. The actual depth of the lightsaber combat is like Smash Bros; pro players have found almost like glitches or exploits in the engine to take multiplayer to mad limits.The lightsaber combat alone in enough to make sure Jedi Knight 2 will always feature in my top Star Wars games. But add into that a wicked character who you can get behind, and the kind of heart and soul – the sense of fun – that developers used to put into these games, you’ve got something which is more than the sum of its parts. If you’re only ever going to play one Star Wars game, play Jedi Knight 2: Jedi OutcastYou can also watch my Jedi Knight II review here too.

Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight

Star Wars Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight

A quick-fire retro PC review, where Kyle Katarn learns the ways of the Force. For the time, the technology in Dark Forces 2 is impressive but the level design suffers from the 90s PC game cliché of big maps and no clear objectives. Gameplay is fun, especially once you get the lightsaber but the best part of the game is getting to play as Kyle Katarn, the Star Wars EU’s best character.The first couple of levels of Dark Forces 2 are essentially the same run-and-gun gameplay as the first Dark Forces game. You play Kyle Katarn again, and after the third or so level of blasting stormtroopers with his Bryar pistol Katarn meets 8t88, a droid who makes his living by trading information. 8t88 tells Katarn that his father was killed by a Dark Jedi named Jerec. Kyle returns to his home planet of Sulon to watch some old holo recordings of his dad. Turns out his old man was pally with a Jedi called Qu Rahn. Qu Rahn had survived Order 66 but was also recently killed by Jerec. Kyle’s dad had been keeping hold of Qu Rahn’s old lightsaber and he gifts this lightsaber to Kyle, telling him to “use it for good”.Now apparently by virtue of owning a lightsaber, Kyle then starts to develop Force powers. Yeah, this is an early part of the EU and while it’s never been explicitly explained how the Force works, I’m pretty sure it’s a bit more complex than “have lightsaber, will travel”. I mean, there’s not even any midichlorians.dark forces 2 pc reviewJedi Knight is set in the wake of the destruction of the second Death Star and pits Kyle against the Dark Jedi, a sect of evil Force-users who formed in the power vacuum left after the death of the Emperor. The leader of The Dark Jedi, Jerec, is looking for the Valley of the Jedi, a place of unimaginable power which Jerec wants so he can re-shape the Empire in his own image. It’s also a place that Kyle’s dad used to have a map to.In customary fashion, Kyle travels from planet to planet, tracking down Jerec and his Dark Jedi, occasionally fighting one of them as an end-of-level boss. Each Dark Jedi has a different fighting style, which can be countered with some lateral thinking. Qu Rahn guides Katarn as a force ghost, and while you might try and listen to his voiceover for each boss, telling you their strengths and weaknesses, the easiest method is just to circle strafe around them whacking them with your lightsaber, with Force Protection turned on. It’s a silly exploit but it worked with every single boss in the game.Like Star Wars Dark Forces before it, Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight features huge levels, again suffering from same problems Dark Forces did: no clear level design. You’ll be flapping about with no real sense of direction, and will more often than not stumble upon the right way to go, thinking you’re off-piste. It’s a mixed curse and a blessing as exploration earns Kyle Force Points which he can use to upgrade his powers between levels, but the levels are so vast and with no idea where you’re supposed to be heading you’re exploring by accident rather than by choice.Guns from the first Dark Forces PC game are present and a few extra ones to boot, complete with the same alt-fire modes as before. The game massively changes on that third level though, with the lightsaber and force powers taking centre stage. Guns remain useful throughout but the lightsaber and powers are lots more fun and are essential for the boss battles. For the first time we’re offered a light or a dark path, each with their own force power sets and even a branching story based on which powers you choose. It’s worth pointing out though that Kyle’s punch has been massively nerfed since Dark Forces, he’s barely able to punch his way out of a wet paper bag now. The Force must have made him soft.dark forces 2 jedi fps dark forces 2 jedi knight pc gamedark forces 2 jedi knight pc review dark forces 2 pc reviewOne thing that Dark Forces 2 Jedi Knight is well-remembered for is the Full Motion Video cutscenes. There was a period in the 90s where they thought live-action FMV was a good idea and Jedi Knight was infamous for its campy cutscenes. Sure, it looks a bit dodgy now but LucasArts were trying to make Jedi Knight feel like a real episode in the Star Wars saga. Greenscreen compositing and lightsaber VFX would have cost a fair bit back in 1997 so fair play on them for adding a level of polish that other games developers wouldn’t have been able to. Having ILM next door probably helped in that respect.Jedi Knight is a decent sequel to Dark Forces, but in my opinion is more of a stepping stone to a better era of games. For a PC game from 1997 it’s a genuine revelation, competing FPSs at the time were still largely sprite-based. Jedi Knight had full D3D support, mouselook and 100% polygon models. In the 21st century though, it’s a hard game to play. If you want to boot up a late 90s FPS you’d have to ignore Quake 2, Unreal, Half-Life, Sin etc or Jedi Knight starts to look a bit basic. If you’re into Star Wars it give you enough of an incentive and I enjoyed it for what it was. Like I said though, the late 90s was an awkward phase for PC games as the transition to full 3D looked pretty awkward in its early stages. Dark Forces 2 is available to purchase on both GOG and Steam, patient gamers you can wait for a Humble Bundle or a seasonal sale. If you liked this, check out my review of Dark Forces 2’s “Mysteries of the Sith” expansion, the best Star Wars game ever made, Jedi Knight II and my full rundown of the Jedi Knight PC game series.dark forces 2 lightsaberA lot of the screenshots in this review were nabbed from oldpcgaming.net, check them out.Also, you can watch a video review of Star Wars Jedi Knight 2 PC game here.

PC Gamer Weekender 2018 Roundup

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PC Gamer Weekender 2018

Well we’re off to London’s Olympia tomorrow for the 2018 PC Gamer Weekender! According to the press release:
The PC Gamer Weekender played on OMEN by HP is returning to London Olympia next weekend. With access to new pre-release PC games, exclusive developer presentations, tournaments, workshops, careers advice and even an exclusive OMEN by HP eSports Bootcamp, it is a must for any PC gaming fan.
 

PC Gamer Weekender 2018 Stage Talks

I’m hoping to catch Julian Gollop’s talk about Phoenix Point. I mention I’m a top-tier backer of the Phoenix Point Fig campaign in out 2017 roundup, so am very interested in how this game is shaping up. I’ll be playing it on the day so we’ll see if my money went to the right place! The full schedules can be found here: PC Gamer Stage and Developer Stage  

Over 40 PC games all under one roof

The PC Gamer Weekender was always a place to check out indie PC titles, and this year they seem to have added some retro PC games. If you follow the site or the channel you’ll know we’re pretty keen on the old stuff. I’ve seen Star Wars: Dark Forces is playable on the day and I dare say I’ll fire it up for a stage or two. Half-Life is also up there and I never turn that game down. Some of the more modern titles include some pretty cool first UK  playables like Biomutant and Phoenix Point, both of which I’ll be looking to have a blast on. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is up there but as we’re total Warhammer nerds here (lol), Raff’s already signed up to the beta. There’s a bunch of other stuff up there too like  Guns of Icarus: Alliance, SpellForce 3, Metamorph Dungeon Creatures and Puyo Puyo™ Tetris®. For the full list of playable games click here 

Other PC Gamer Weekender 2018 stuff

There’s a eSports masterclass sponsored by OMEN by HP, focusing on Overwatch, if you’re keen. Full details here. There’s also some PC building workshops which might work for you if you’re looking to upgrade or build a machine for the first time. More here. As usual with UK gaming events, there’s ‘Get into Games’ sessions, offering advice for anyone looking to start a career in the games industry. They’ll be running prize tournaments all weekend and there’s now an arcade with a bunch of old machines and games consoles. Good to see my old mate Andy at Replay is getting business! See you there, nerds.  

PC Gamer Weekender tickets start at just £12.99 from http://weekender.pcgamer.com.

POD (Planet of Death)

POD PC Review

POD is a 90s post-apocalyptic futuristic racing PC game. Remember when there was loads of these futuristic racing games back in the day? You’ve got your wipEouts, your F-Zeroes and among them all you’ve got this classic from Ubisoft, POD. The reason I remember POD so well is that we got this game free with our first family PC. Read my POD PC review below.When the Pentium 2 PC processor came out, a big deal was being made over its MMX technology. My parents bought a Pentium 2 PC 1997 and it came with a bunch of bundled PC games, optimised for these MMX processors. Among them was this futuristic PC racing game by Ubisoft, POD. Mate, this game. It blew my mind. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing. Crisp 3D graphics, CD quality sound and music; it had it all. I played that game for hours and hours with a Logitech Wingman joystick of all things. The worst part about POD though, is that because it was so optimised for MMX processors it basically didn’t work on anything else. Since my parents scrapped that Pentium 2 PC years ago, I never managed to play POD again. One of the reasons I built my MMX Pentium 3 retro gaming PC was because I wanted to run POD. I’ve kept the original CD-ROM all these long years, waiting for this opportunity.pod pc game 1997pod racing game for pcIf like me you have a physical version of the game, there’s a minefield of PC patches. There is a 3DFX patch for your 3D accelerators (In fact, POD is one of the first PC games to support 3DFX). POD 1997 can run in 800×600 with a regisrty fix, but it’s otherwise locked to 640×480 as seen in the screenshots. The GOG.com PC version of POD Gold is also locked to 640×480 but is all patched up ready to play.The story is pretty bonk, but then again driving games don’t need a story. POD is set on the planet Io. Some miners dug down into the deep and OH MY GOD they unleashed an ancient evil. It’s – I dunno – a big all-consuming virus that’s taking over the entire planet and killing everything. So everybody gets on ships to leave the planet behind. But there’s eight people left, and there’s only one seat left on the last ship leaving. So they do the only sensible thing imaginable in that situation and they have a death race by modifying and adapting mining equipment into SUPER AWESOME RACE CARS. Seven people will be left to their doom while one lives to race another day I guess.The cars themselves are excellent. All weird shapes and grungey textures. Each car’s specs can be modified and customised by the player which I like. So essentially you choose the car you think looks the coolest, you don’t have to trade off. Set the speed / acceleration to your preference then get racing! You choose one of your eight cars (12 iirc in POD Gold), you go through all the fifteen courses. The courses are all absolutely bananas. They’re brilliant. These post apocalyptic, almost Mad Max-esque tracks are all built around the themes of abandoned cities or ruined mines etc. Fitting to the silly backstory, and a detail that’s probably better-realised than it really needed to be. The courses are pretty detailed for a 1997 PC game and they’re all tied together with this great 90s grungey aesthetic that 12-year old me just loved. Oh, there is also a giant spiders nest though, which I have no idea about.pod gold pcpod game for pc pod gold racing pc gameThe game plays out in a very typical racing game fashion. First place gets 8 points, second place gets 7 points; all the way down to 8th place who gets one point. After 15 races whoever’s got the highest score is the one who gets on the shuttle. Quality. Physics was a bit of a novel concept in 1997 and so Ubisoft are clearly trying to show off here. Heavier cars stick to the road like glue but lighter cars skate around corners as if they’re driving on glass. The cars lose LOADS of momentum going uphill, but they don’t half put some mustard on it when they’re going downdale. Hitting two cars together causes them to rattle off one another like snooker balls which can be pain in the arse or a massive bonus depending on which car benefits from that inertia. On the higher difficulty levels the cars will even take damage, with a damage model dividing up sections of the car. The physics calculations even go toward how much damage is dealt out. Not a big deal now, but for 1997 it’s worth mentioning. But in a way, by adding in the damage model I feel that Ubisoft needn’t have bothered with all the physics stuff if they didn’t want you to be banging into each other.One thing of note is the game had online multiplayer. In 1997. Don’t think servers are still up but you can do local split screen too which is really rare for PC games.pod game ubisoft 1997 pod pc game mmxPOD is still a really fun PC racing game. For me there’s a lot of nostalgia attached, but objectively it’s up there with the best arcade racers on a retro PC. Arcade racing PC games are always fun and it’s a genre we don’t see too much of. I love a bit of Killer Loop, I love a bit of Rollcage and it’s nice to have some extra variety on that racing retro PC game front. I’ve got quite a lot of these 90s futuristic racing PC games so I’ll be doing a bit of a rundown or a best of at some point because this is a wicked genre, man. The reason I started Second Wind reviews is to talk about old PC games that you can play on both new and old machines, to give them a Second Wind yourself. POD is available on GOG for less than a fiver so for the price of a pint in a London pub you’re getting something that will last longer and almost certainly be more fun. Cheers!Screenshots for this POD PC game review were taken from the GOG.com product page and from oldpcgaming.net