Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Released: April 28, 2023
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox XS
I’ll always appreciate the success of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. After years of trying to turn the franchise into nothing but an online cash grab, Electronic Arts’ bafflement that people would want a story-driven Star Wars game based on the story-driven Star Wars films was rewarding to behold. It would’ve taught them a valuable lesson if game publishers were actually capable of learning a damn thing. Fallen Order just so happened to be a pretty good game, too. Not amazing, but it had its charm.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor continues the story of Jerome From Gotham as he uses his space magic to fight back against the nazi allegory that basic nerds with no media literacy claim isn’t a nazi allegory because they think the entertainment they consume isn’t ever political. Like its predecessor, Survivor’s rather charming, perhaps more so than last time, but any winsome qualities are held back by a low key shoddiness permeating a game that feels consistently… off.
It must also be said that the vast majority of Survivor’s charm is found in elements distinctly separate from the expected action gameplay, to the point of making me pine for a game set entirely in a classic Star Wars cantina. Oh, we shall most certainly be discussing Survivor’s cantina!
The PC version of this game is reportedly the worst one in terms of how poorly it runs, and while the PS5 alternative on which this review is based doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad, it’s still surprisingly below par for Respawn Entertainment’s usual fare. As I said a moment ago, there’s something not quite right that permeates every part of the production - an overall and overwhelming feeling of nearly complete. The feeling is vague, yet quite thorough indeed.
Rare is the console game that suffers from screen tearing, but Survivor is lousy with the problem. Turning the camera immediately initiates a rending line across the top half of the screen, and that line will prove a companion as constant as Jerome From Gotham’s marketably adorable droid buddy BD-1. Loading times can be lengthy by the standards of a console sold heavily on the promise of miniscule loading times, an issue most apparent when respawning after death or entering relatively small indoor areas. Collision detection is spotty at best, and there are moments where interaction commands don’t immediately respond.
Before I discuss the wacky physics, I feel I should switch to some positive points because I don’t want you to think I had a miserable time. There is in fact plenty to like, though as I noted, most of the likable elements have little to do with Survivor’s baseline offering of combat and platforming.
That aforementioned core aspect is perfectly fine, for the most part. There’s some awkward jankiness, but we’ll get to that later. Jedi’s “what if Star Wars but a tiny bit Dark Souls” structure is solid enough, though the Soulslike elements feel even lighter than in Fallen Order, mostly confined to enemies respawning when resting at manual checkpoints. The difficulty seems a little toned down to me, and while there’s plenty of fighting, the violence is broken up considerably by an increased focus on exploration and peaceful distractions.
Combat largely consists of the same lightsaber swinging and Force powers as last time. Once again, Jerome From Gotham can summon his astral wizardry to push and pull enemies, amusingly capable of yanking them close before firing them into their friends. The “confusion” skill also returns, able to turn humanoid enemies into temporary allies. The prevalence of Force resistant opponents often dissuaded me from using these powers as much as I could’ve, as even the rank-and-file mobs include opponents who’ll punish you with counterattacks if you pull them towards you or otherwise no-sell your galactic sorcery. It’s a shame that, in the name of challenge, one rarely gets a chance to feel particularly powerful as a Jedi. As a consequence, I’ve forgotten to use certain powers for considerable stretches of playtime.
Jerome From Gotham gains an increasing array of stances (fighting styles) as the game progresses, two of which can be equipped at any time and switched between on the fly. Joining the previous game’s options of single beamed, double ended (lol), and dual wielded are the blaster and crossguard stances - the former adds some ranged versatility and the latter provides heavy attacks with an extra pair of mini beams in reference to Kylo Ren’s iconic movie weapon. Cool as that heavy option may be, the blaster stance is easily my favorite, combining saber attacks with surprisingly viable gunfire. I expected the blaster to resemble the plinky-plonky peashooters found in other melee-oriented games that begrudgingly include a gun, but it’s actually capable of dealing respectable damage and its upgrades include a truly devastating counterattack. This is balanced out by the need to use rather mundane lightsaber hits to replenish ammunition, but otherwise it’s just as useful a stance as any other, and the one I most immediately took a liking to.
Stances and powers can be upgraded at checkpoints using skill points that unfortunately take a very long time to rack up. Some of these upgrades unlock cool new skills and useful boosts to health and Force reserves, but some of the upgraded moves require fancy attack animations or pauses in offense that just don’t work against the aggressive pressure with which enemies do battle. The risk presented by some of these offensive upgrades can often feel like a wasted skill point since any potential reward just isn’t worth it. Once again, death means skill point progress is held hostage by whatever killed you, and it can only be recuperated by respawning and landing a hit on your killer without dying in the meantime. Given how long it takes to earn a skill point, and the fact many skills need two or three points to acquire, the potential loss can be huge, though again Survivor is an easier time overall… save for a couple of truly infuriating bosses found in side missions.
I fucking hate that big toad thing. Hated it in the first game, still hate it here.
All of this action game nonsense is fine enough, but it’s not where I had the most fun. Pyloon’s Saloon, the cantina found on Survivor’s most visited planet, is the part of Jedi: Survivor I cared about most, despite it not even offering all that much to do. The further into the game you get, the more Pyloon’s is populated by friendly NPCs who hang out drinking (well, they mostly just sit or stand in place, but I like to think they take a swig when I’m not looking). Most of them can be talked to for flavor dialog and they’re genuinely interesting characters with fun stories to tell, such as the former smuggler whose initially hostile smarminess gives way to a more affable smarminess, or the cheeky little frog guy who’ll tell you about his various misadventures. I really enjoyed just wandering around and chatting with these people, as well as making use of the vendors and quest givers who often have neat stuff in exchange for collectibles.
Pyloon’s has an aquarium that can be filled by finding a particular fisherman out in the world(s), while the rooftop boasts a garden that you populate and expand by finding seeds that grow into all manner of weird plants. Neither of these features really do a lot, yet I was compelled to keep making the cantina more pretty by engaging with them. Pyloon’s eventually houses its own sub game, Holotactics, in which you deploy a little group of fighters and watch them battle an opponent’s group. It’s a concept held back by mandatory guesswork and luck-based results, but the fact BD-1 can scan enemies out in the field and use their data to unlock more fighters is just a bloody great idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if EA tries to turn Holotactics into a free-to-play mobile game, just to call that idea out now.
Oh, and obviously all these features are rounded out by a recruitable droid DJ for whom you can find or buy music tracks. You gotta love it.
To reiterate an earlier thought, Pyloon’s Saloon makes me wish for a fully fledged cantina simulator where you fill a fantasy space bar with decorations and customers. While there’s not a huge amount to do at Pyloon’s, I nonetheless loved visiting it just to soak in the vibe and chat to the punters. At times, I was playing the main game for the express purpose of finding fish, music, and side characters with which to populate my favorite dive. I’d have genuinely loved less of the game Survivor’s meant to be, and way more chill bar time with sarcastic bounty hunters and silly robot bartenders.
Right, back to the less positive stuff.
Jedi: Survivor’s physics are just plain confusing. The random ways in which stuff can fly around when flung is one thing, but the bizarre movements at play with Jerome From Gotham’s hair evokes thoughts of the WWE 2K Games and their semi-sentient manes. I know I’m quite new to having hair (thanks, hormones!), but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t typically float about as much as it does here, and I say that as someone with a very lightweight mop on my head! Our Jedi hero’s hair flies straight upwards when moving with any haste, any one of his mid-length hairstyles spiking to a degree I found distracting.
Compounding this is the animation in general, with a particularly awkward look to sprinting, and jerky movement overall. It’s the kind of rough movement I’d expect from a “Eurojank” game, the kind of production Focus Home Interactive publishes, and while I love a lot of those games, it’s just offputtingly weird in this particular title.
The sheer amount of jumping and climbing required to explore is marred by these dodgy physics and animations to the point where I can’t always trust that Jerome From Gotham will go where I need him to go. There’s no guarantee he’ll grab ledges properly or perform his leaps, wall runs, and various clamberings without the perpetual risk of missing his mark and ragdolling into a pit. Additionally, I’m pretty sure combat is less reliable than in Fallen Order, with lightsaber swings often failing to close enough distance to enemies, and a general struggle to be responsive enough with the controls and targeting system. None of these problems are enough to wreck the game, but they’re all just slightly wonky and contribute to the greater sense of offness I’ve described. Maybe it was like this in the last one - I have a memory disorder after all - but I don’t remember being so frequently irked.
Visually, the game isn’t massively impressive. It’s far from ugly, but the environmental details, character models, lighting, and effects are never anything to write home about, contently occupying the bog standard graphical prowess one would expect from a lower-tier “AAA” game. That said, the Jedi series’ commitment to in-game customization without exploitative monetization continues to please, as Survivor offers all manner of hairstyles and outfits for the protagonist alongside discoverable parts and color palettes to personalize his saber, blaster, and the lucratively darling BD-1. Just like my relationship with Pyloon’s, I was more compelled by the search for fancy saber grips or new eyes for BD-1 than I was moved by whatever it is the main characters care about. I don’t much give a shit for our determined Jedi’s heroic struggle against the evil Empire - I’d much rather hunt down a new batch of materials to give my gun a pearl handle and make my cutely bankable robot all shiny and chrome.
Voice acting ranges from solid to good, though the main cast has been given entirely flat characterization to work with and the plot isn’t particularly enthralling. I will say that enemy banter can often be damn funny when the foes aren’t aggro’d - hearing a Stormtrooper give himself affirmations to the bemusement of his colleague, or Battle Droids muttering to themselves about how they want to boss others around, is just plain entertaining. In keeping with my entire experience, the side characters, the fluff, and the inconsequential chatter is more interesting than whatever’s put center stage.
Basically, I just love that saloon. It’s the true star of the show, and I state that as objective fact.
I don’t know if it’s a credit or an indictment that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor’s best stuff is entirely ancillary content that doesn’t represent its core gameplay. While all the lightsaber twirling and space magic is serviceable enough, it’s the side corn that appeals most, and it’s not even particularly rich corn. Simply kicking back with NPCs at the cantina, filling its aquarium and customizing its garden, was not only a relaxing break from the main game, it’s what I’d rather be playing. The general jankiness, technical setbacks, and consistently unfinished feeling doesn’t help anything, and I can’t say the huge amount of slow paced platforming is enough to coax one out of the comfort of the saloon either.
I’m thrilled Respawn gets to make full, single-player Star Wars games. I want to see more, and I want more Jedi installments, but I desire a far more compelling baseline experience, and I bloody need the official cantina game that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has inadvertently filled me with a longing for.