I use the term 'laser focused' a lot, both in my mumblings here and in my professional life. Most of the games I like can be described as possessing this attribute - knowing exactly what they want to be and having a scope and feature set that all pulls in the same direction. I use it as a complimentary term, as someone who appreciates that sometimes the process of zeroing in on what something needs to be and then doubling down to deliver it can be a challenge.
It's extremely rare that I come across a game that diverts away from this course and ends up being anything other than a confused and muddled mess - yet another 'jock of all trades and master of none' installed on my hard drive and hoping I don't notice. And yet, that's what's happened with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I was as surprised as anyone else, I can tell you.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of the bizarre combination of game styles it consists of, there are a couple of things that it does that immediately make it stand out, and all them are worthy of praise from the perspective of a gamer like me. It's a single-player story driven game. There is no tacked on, meaningless multiplayer - bundled in at the last moment to extend the game's tail and act as a sales tool for microtransactions. On the subject of them, they're absent. It's been made in Unreal Engine 4 instead of Frostbite - an indication of Respawn still getting to flout the rules that the other EA studios all have to live by. Overall, it's probably best and most imaginative use of the Star Wars licence that EA have delivered yet. How it's delivered feels decidedly last-gen - and in this case, that's absolutely wonderful. I've paid my money, and now I'm going to play my game and walk away to play something else when it's done... just like I used to be able to. Is it a lesson learned after the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 kerfuffle? I hope so. I really do. It's very pretty as well - although at this point, that's a given for most games.
I've said several times that this one's a mish-mash of game mechanics, pretty much each of which has been the defining mechanic of another game (or even an entire other genre!) in the past. On paper, they don't sit well together. Think cheese and marmite. Mixed together by madmen, but which work surprisingly well together - and a combination you'll only discover by being brave enough to try it. It's a fair comparison here - because Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order mixes Dark Souls, Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Metroid, and Mass Effect and somehow ends up not only working, but being excellent. The odds are always stacked against something that absorbs so many disparate influences in my experience... but Star Wars is the catalyst here, the glue that holds it all together. While it's busily being lots of types of games, it's that thread that makes it ONE thing. And that ONE thing is "an excellent Star Wars game."
The navigation of the various worlds you visit is reminiscent of Uncharted, with protagonist Kal Kestis running, jumping, sliding and climbing with an efficiency that would put Nathan Drake to shame. Hidden areas are there, waiting to be discovered while the environmental puzzles that conceal them wear their Tomb Raider influences in their sleeves. Backtracking to open doors and access new areas in old locations as you unlock abilities is pure Metroid. The combat tips its hat to Dark Souls - with even the smallest enemies needing to be treated with a degree of respect, and an emphasis on blocking, parrying, and getting the hell out of the way. A parried attack gives you opportunity to launch a counter-attack, played out in a glorious short cutscene of spinning lightsabers and falling bodies. Death leads you to lose all progress you'd made in terms of XP and upgrade points gained until you land a blow on the enemy that defeated you - at which point you earn it all back AND get a health bar and force bar refresh into the bargain.
The crew of the ship that you use to travel from one galactic hotspot to the next carry a chunk of the emotional weight of the story, and fulfil the traditional Star Wars character tropes - while the conversations you have with them flesh out the world and universe in a similar way to those in Mass Effect. The Mantis is effectively your SSV Normandy SR-2 - a nice example of source material taking cues from the progenitor it inspired. I loved the fact that the interior fits the exterior of the ship as well, with little recognisable pieces of other Star Wars ships absorbed into it. Later on, as you recruit new crew members, it's worth just wandering around the ship for a moment during hyperspace travel to hear the interactions between them. This lot feel like the beginning of a crew that could carry us along a variety of narrative paths for a good couple of years to come.
As I've been playing through Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, I've been having a lot of fun. It's challenging but never impossible. You can usually see a route forward; the fun is often in figuring out how to reach it. Reflecting a stormtrooper's laser bolt back into his own forehead is something that doesn't get old quickly, and the Star Wars vibe emanates from every pixel on the screen. It looks the part, and it sounds the part - both in terms of sound effects AND in terms of music. The lightsaber boss battles are some of the best I've come across in a long time, all speed and aggression and flying sparks. The set pieces are worthy of being movie scenes, the story it tells fully deserves to be a part of the Star Wars canon... and I can say hand on heart that it's the most interesting Star Wars game I've played in a long time - probably since Knights of the Old Republic, in fact.
There's just one thing that bugs me though - and that's that it could be argued that it's based on the wrong Lucasfilm franchise. As much as the Star Wars theme works with it and ties all the disparate parts together into a cohesive whole, I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like to be swinging through those massive Jedi temples not as a fairly generic young Jedi, but instead as Indiana Jones. I know, I know. Not as profitable or a desirable a franchise. I get it. I'm showing my age. I know. I can hope for the future, though. Right? It's a wonderful game though - and a refreshing new addition to the Star Wars canon. If it was a Star Wars movie, it would without doubt be one of the best ones. It's on sale at the moment - if you like Star Wars and haven't picked it up yet, now's the time. May the Force be with you.
Sorry. Couldn't resist.