A new loop

I’ve been lucky with Star Wars games. I played X-Wing and Tie Fighter in the early 90s. both of which are now regarded as classics of their genre, and when it made it onto Mac I played the RPG Knights of the Old Republic, which is sometimes cited as one of the best games of all time. According to the reviews I’ve read of Jedi: Fallen Order, however, the franchise has been ill-served by many of the subsequent games. I’m happy to report, then, that this third-person action RPG is both an excellent game, and a very worthy addition to the Star Wars canon.

As a game, Jedi: Fallen Order is both straightforward and quite short, in comparison to the sprawling open-world epics that seem to be de rigueur currently. Much of the game play is puzzle platforming, interspersed with combat, with little or no opportunity for stealth, although some enemies can be pulled selectively. Combat is twitch-based, with a wide variety of special attacks and combos, which I have to admit I didn’t really get to grips with, being an elderly care-bear who can’t really be arsed with deep game-play any more. Level design is linear, with unlockable shortcuts, and makes no real attempt to disguise its status as a carefully balanced assault course: the fictional world exists solely to expedite the action.

Character advancement is through the accrual of skill points, which can be spent on a wide range of special attacks, health and force buffs, and so on. While it would be possible to load all of your skill points into one area, by the time you reach the end of the game you will have filled in most of the gaps, and I don’t think there’s really much potential for specialisation. I’m sure some players will get nerdy about their builds, but for such a short, single-player experience, I doubt there will be many of them.

All of this is totally consistent with the Star Wars setting, which has never really felt like an ‘open world’. Most locations, as in the films, consist of unexplained voids spanned by unnecessarily precarious footbridges, and conveniently positioned cables for the player to swing from. It’s never really been easy to imagine yourself in the Star Wars universe going off-piste for a meal out in Coruscant or whatever: the whole fictional domain has been transparently a pretext for action set-pieces, and so this game felt absolutely right. More so than the other Star Wars games I’ve played, it felt like the videogame equivalent of watching one of the movies.

The atmosphere is also nailed in the visual design, in the writing and in the voice acting. Actually, it barely makes sense to talk about voice acting, as the motion capture is fully integrated, and I imagine it was probably recorded at the same time. Character design is utterly convincing, of both aliens and humans—although the textures and polygon count on supporting characters isn’t quite what it could be—and the story is just the kind of thing we’ve come to expect. If any criticisms are due, they probably relate to the dialogue, which is just better than it should be, but it has the right general tenor. I’ve rarely seen a core gameplay loop recreate the feeling of a cinema or TV experience as precisely as this one does, and as someone who has been imaginatively inhabiting this world since he was a seven-year old boy, I felt very welcome.

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