Star Wars: Dark Forces

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Dark Forces cover

Star Wars: Dark Forces
MS-DOS and Playstation
Developed by LucasArts
Released in 1995

When I was a mere boy, the only thing I knew about Star Wars was that it has cool lightsaber fights and force powers. This was mostly thanks to my introduction being through Phantom Menace and that I did not speak English too well when I was 8 years old. As the years went on, I began to give Star Wars a fair chance by looking into its lore, watching all of the movies, checking out some of the shows, books, comics, and of course: video games. Because of this, I began to grow quite fond of its world, despite the ups and downs, and thanks to the internet, I rediscovered a series of games I never finished: Star Wars: Jedi Knight. With this, let’s take a look at the first game, that does not even have Jedi Knight in the title.

A better story than Rogue One

You play as Kyle Katarn, an ex-Empire supporter on missions for the Rebel Alliance. The plot takes place before Star Wars 4, with you even acquiring the plans for the Death Star. One year later, Kyle hears about “The Dark Troopers project”, which is basically Stormtroopers on steroids. This becomes the main-plot, taking him through a series of missions given mostly to him by his supporter and the Rebel’s double agent Jan Ors.

Dark Forces briefing

The story is pretty straight forward as you take upon missions to weaken the Empire’s new project and them in general. Despite being such, the feel of the Star Wars-universe is well represented here with missions that tie in with the main plot of the movies, as well as creating their own minor story with events that affect the main characters. The missions also connect well with each other, giving the journey a good flow. Kyle has an interesting backstory, however it is shun upon, which is a shame. He is a likeable character, with faults that make him believable, so it is unfortunate that the story could not give him, and perhaps even Jan, more room to develop. Actually, the story overall is not a huge focus, with few cutscenes and texts that will elaborate on what your next mission will be and why. Despite this, I still enjoyed the story that was presented to me, and since it can stand on its own well enough, it is sure to please both fans and newcomers alike. It is not a grand story, but it does not try to be either.

Story Score: 7/10

Not just Doom for Star Wars fans

It definitely borrows from the well known shooter Doom, with strafing, hotkeys for selecting weapons, shield and health to keep you alive, and a 3D environment with 2D enemies and items being present. Despite this, Dark Forces is much more than just a clone. First of, you can’t quick-save. Instead, you have a certain amount of lives to keep you going and saving will be automatically done after finishing a mission. Each life lost will set you back to a nearby checkpoint and when all lives are gone, you will have to start from the beginning. On one hand, it is a welcoming addition since the game feels balanced with its enemies and obstacles, and not relying on quick-saves makes it more intense. However, the levels can range from 10 minutes to half an hour, if not more, so the setback can be a big one. This is not just because the levels can be huge, but you can easily get lost, thanks to areas in the missions being a bit similar to each other, and keys and switches are at times hard to find. At least you have a map that can help you somewhat.

Dark Forces explosions

Another element, is the mission-setup. It is somewhat similar to getting keys and switches in Doom, but feels more interactive, thanks to a “to-do”-list, where you will get an insight on what you are looking for, and if you are going to blow it up or take it along. This makes the game more focused on exploration rather than just getting to the end goal, which is fun, despite the keys and switches being sometimes hard to find. All worlds you visit are different from each other. You might, for example, be surfing down the sewers looking for the right switches, or go more stealthy in darker corridors of an imperial facility. This makes the game have some good variety, while at the same time letting exploration and shooting be in focus. One thing that I did not expect from this title, however, was the amount of platforming. While I dreaded the thought of an FPS with platforming, no jumps felt too narrow or hard to distinguish, making the game flow much better when I wanted to do the mission or simply explore. The platforming was enjoyable, fast, and did break up the shooting well with level-design complementing this.

Speaking of shooting, you will be presented with a good arsenal of weapons throughout the game, from stormtrooper laser rifles and Imperial repeater guns to thermal detonators and packered mortar guns. The weapons were a joy to use, with even a few having a secondary firing mode, such as the repeater gun that could either shoot rapid plasma projectors or a cluster of 3 plasma balls. The Stormtrooper laser rifle will be your best friend, since it shoots fast, does decent damage, and ammo for it is much more common than for the others, but they all are fun and useful. You never need to reload weapons either, making the shooting fast-paced. The only one I did not use too much were the mines, since it was a pacebreaker to plant them despite how much damage they dealt. The enemy variety is also well done, with some having different ways of attacking or maneuverability, making them memorable and fun to shoot at. You can even aim up and down, which was a new thing believe it or not. It is clunky, thanks to using Num-3 and 9 for up and down, but it works decently since it was not needed often and auto aiming helps a lot. Besides the bunch of weapons, you can also gather equipments you can use, such as infrared goggles or gasmasks. Some must be found throughout missions and some you will have from the start. They are a nice extra that helps outside of the shooting, such as finding other hidden items or having an easier time to get through missions thanks to alternative methods.

Dark Forces troopers

Dark Forces has a lot to offer other than just being a standard Doom-clone, with fun levels, good mission-variety, and enjoyable weapons and platforming to deal with. The levels can be a bit long and a confusing hunt more often than I wished it was, which will definitely be a drag, especially if you lose all of your lives. Despite this clear flaw, I always had fun because of all the other positive elements. It says something when, after 7 hours of playing through with no help, I did consider playing through it again right after.

Gameplay Score 8/10

2D and 3D in a galaxy far far away

Dark Forces uses the Jedi game engine, which was developed specifically for this game. It uses 3D environments with 2D items and enemies, with all of them looking quite good, despite the game being over 20 years old. The environments capture the Star Wars look well and are fun to traverse through. Each mission will usually take you to somewhere new and interesting, such as the cold planet Anteevy, and the ruins of Tak Base. While they are intriguing, the areas themselves are a bit repetitive at times, making it easy to get lost in them. The enemies and characters look good and the sounds of your weapons firing is a treat, especially for fans of Star Wars. The cutscenes range from 3D-animations to 2D still images with minor movements. They work with each other as an artistic style, but the 2D images with minor movements can feel quite stiff in comparison. The music uses mostly familiar tunes from the movies with them all being a treat, despite the lower quality. The voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag unfortunately. Some do a great job, such as the impersonator of Darth Vader’s voice, but some lines feel definitely phoned in from others.

Presentation 7.5/10

Verdict

It is a shame that Dark Forces often got compared to Doom, since it does so much else to stand on its own. While it has aged in some aspects, it is still a very enjoyable shooter that should not be overlooked by fans of Star Wars or those that enjoy a good shooter in general. The force is strong with this one, and I am already looking forward to the sequels.

75/100

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