This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
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Somewhere along the line, the reaction to AAA hype drifted from "Ooh, I'm excited for this!" to "Ooh, it's not immediately obvious how they're going to fuck this one up!" Such was the case with Jedi: Fallen Order: EA brings out a new Star Wars game, and after Battlefront II, I cringe like an abused dog expecting another newspaper across the snout, 'cos I expect them to charge micropayments for Yoda's every last misarranged sentence.
But no! For once, AAA is using its powers for good (by "powers", I mean "enormous wealth", but hey, it's never made a difference to Batman): they made a good, old-fashioned single-player action-adventure cobbled together from good ideas cribbed from other single-player action-adventures that people seem to like, and the result is a perfectly solid if somewhat unoriginal game that people seem to like that they barely even try to wring out for maximum cash. Although, I'm sure the only reason EA were willing to take the risk is because it's Star Wars; they could never have turned a profit otherwise, since publishers continue to insist it's standard practice that AAA games be developed on solid gold desks, with computers liquid-cooled by the semen of prizewinning stallions.
The story of Jedi: Fallen Allen concerns Cal Kestis, hitherto-unknown non-Luke Skywalker human Jedi-type fellow and radioactive ginge, not to be confused with Kyle Katarn, non-Luke Skywalker human Jedi-type fellow from the Dark Forces games, amongst others. Thus, Disney's sinister scheme is laid bare: scrap the Star Wars Expanded Universe, then replace it with something exactly like it but just distinct enough that they can claim ownership, thus successfully achieving what the evil Empire never could; if only Palpatine had thought to buy out the Jedis' parent companies instead of purging them. Anyway, Cal is forced to come out of hiding and embark upon an odyssey across the galaxy to find an archive of potential future Jedis that might spell the rebirth of the Jedi Order, although since this game takes place between Episodes III and IV, we know right up front that things aren't going to work out like that, since Episode IV was called "A New Hope", not "Another Hope to Add to the Pile".
Cal, who seems to have a problem with his jaw that makes it constantly jut forwards like he's trying to bite his own nose off, bears a number of suspicious parallels with other Star Wars protagonists: humble starting point, secret Force powers, has a robot pal who talks like Stephen Hawking learning to whistle. But Luke Skywalker was always a direct copy-paste of the standard heroic monomyth, so when I imply that Cal is cribbing him off, what I mean is that all the characters and story arcs in this game are tired and obvious tropes: the haunted mentor, the roguish captain with a heart of gold. We've even got our very own custom Darth Vader - A Lady Vader, no less; "Darth Lader"! - who has their very own "identity reveal" twist that, for the record, I called about two hours beforehand.
"Nothing wrong with falling back on Hero with a Thousand Faces as long as we have some decent swordfights, Yahtzee." If you say so, but sometimes, it feels like Fallen Hors D'oeuvres is trying to hit the checkpoints on the story arcs without putting in the legwork, if you see what I mean, like when our mentor sits us down mid-fast travel for some character building and goes, "I know you don't trust me anymore," and I'm like, "I don't? News to me; I've just been going up and down ziplines for the last two hours." And then there's the bit on the fourth planet, where we're literally outside the boss fight and the game slams the door in our face and says, "Where do you think you're going? You have to be at your lowest emotional point before the final act. Kapow! You are now sad. Go to this whole other fucking planet for a vision quest and don't come back till you've had an epiphany, asshole."
As for gameplay, it has been seduced by the Dark Side of the Souls, so you know the drill: exploration, difficult combat, enemies respawn when you use checkpoints, and they don't even try to explain why that happens in context; I guess while we're napping, the Empire just dispatches more soldiers to stand exactly where the previous ones were to try and figure out what went wrong with the faultless logic of a true middle manager. I went for the second-highest of the four difficulty settings to find the balance between a Dark Souls-y level of challenge and actually getting through the fucking thing over the weekend, and can report that it felt perfectly satisfactory. Fighting some of the melee enemies can be frustrating when they keep blocking your attacks - not because of the physics of the situation, but because "nuh-uh, everything-proof shield" - but two realizations eventually made the combat click: first, that the focus is on blocking and parrying rather than dodging, and secondly, you're a fucking space wizard; use space magic to cheat.
Force Push does a lot to counteract everything-proof shields, and if you get bored of parrying standard enemies, a Force Pull and a stab will one-shot most of them. Probably not a strictly "light side of the Force" sort of technique, making someone helpless and flash-searing their pancreas, but fuck it; the game doesn't judge. In fact, besides a couple of moments where Cal "I Play KerPlunk with Human Torsos" Kestis has the balls to call out other people for doing dark side-y things, the whole "light side/dark side" thing isn't really present as a theme. Cal doesn't come across as either noble or tempted by evil; he mostly comes across like a cardboard box with an underbite. I struggle to think of any theme the plot could be said to have; I wonder if this is related to the increasing AAA aversion to taking political stances for maximum broad appeal. "We'd hate to alienate all the potential buyers who think nailing helpless people to notice boards is the tops."
Anyway, the gameplay also features climbing traversal in the "Prince of Uncharted Persia" zone, which is executed well enough I can't even nitpick, whereas the 3D map and exploration reminds me pleasantly of Metroid Prime; it's got something Dark Souls has always needed: a device that clearly indicates what is and is not an exit from the room, so I don't miss out on entire zones 'cos I forgot to check behind a decorative hedge.
You get abilities that open new areas as you go along, Metroidvania-style, but it's the bad Metroidvania thing where the different zones don't interconnect, so you rarely have a chance to pass through old areas picking up newly-accessible items on your way to the next point in the critical path; you have to go out of your way to collect optional items, and then 90% of them turn out to just be fucking cosmetics, for your lightsaber! Oh, praise the bloated neck-folds of George Lucas; I can replace the bit on my lightsaber that looks like a harmonica with another bit that looks like a duck! Never mind that in general gameplay, it's about three pixels across and mostly concealed by Cal's fat, sweaty mitts! This is my motivation to engage with the optional exploring, is it, Jedi: Fallen Order? What's wrong with a nice concept art gallery, or unlockable heart-patterned boxer shorts costume?
So that covers my main gripes, but in my trademark backhanded, freewheeling, infuriatingly-hard-to-pin-down editorial style, I'm now going to recommend Jedi: Border Collie; it hasn't an original bone in its body, but it has mashed together several ideas from prior classics in a technically original combination and produced the expected result of a perfectly fine game. Looks nice, plays nice, story like stale loaf of Wonder Bread on a silver platter, but that's about as good as AAA can manage these days; good storytelling, after all, requires a soul, not the rotting corpse of a canary in a tiny cage made of share certificates.
- Suck My Sith: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I looked up the actor they digitized for Cal and turns out he was that dude in Gotham who was obviously the Joker but they weren't allowed to say so
- Man I didn't even check to make sure KerPlunk is still a thing