Star Wars: Dark Forces is a good reminder of how good Star Wars can be.
This year, Star Wars turns 44 years old. It’s an impressive age for something that still engages so many impossible people. Actually, it is not May 4 at all which is the first film’s debut day, though. The film premiered on May 25, 1977, but over the years, the fourth has become the official day of remembrance for our dear Star Wars, for a lot of reasons that I can not bear to go into here.
Personally, I get a little nauseous from the phrase “may the fourth be with you”, but if it gives me an excuse to play one of my favorite games in the Star Wars universe, then I might as well bite. The game in question is, as you probably understood from the title, Dark Forces. It is the first, and in my opinion still the most fun, game in what would become Jedi Knightseries. I like the sequels too, but the simple, fast straightness in Dark Forces classic fps action ironically lasts better than the somewhat rigid laser fencing in the sequels today. Regardless of which of the games in the series you like best, these are without a doubt some of the very best Star Wars games. It is probably mostly that there is no really modern alternative to the first Dark Forces if you want fast, hectic Doom-action in Star Wars costume, while Respawns Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order offers updated laser saber battles that must be said to strike Jedi Knightgames on the fingers.
Lucasart’s first attempt in the fps genre is an impressive craft. On the one hand, the shooting is intense and fun. Not super difficult compared to many other contemporary games, but not a walk in the park either all the time. The environmental variation and track design are also really good, especially for a game from 1995. There are some exceptions, mainly one, but we will return to that.
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What is it?
The first fps game in the Star Wars universe.
February 28, 1995
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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Dark Forces is an audiovisual retro party. The weapons are comfortable to use and above all sound just right. The talk from stormtroopers is also spot on. The game simply sounds great – possibly with the exception of the midi versions of the classic Star Wars pieces, which sound a bit farcical (but they have their charm, too). The developers have managed to capture the Star Wars atmosphere insanely well with small means.
Enemies include, in addition to stormtroopers and empire officers, ax-wielding pig warriors (gamorreans), three-eyed grenade maniacs (spruce) and bounty hunters of the same kind as Bossk in Empire Strikes Back (trandoshans). Plus then boss figures in the form of krayt dragons and Boba Fett himself. Of course, you also meet the titular dark troops, who funny enough got a kind of renaissance in the second season of Mandalorian (which by the way is the best thing that has happened to the Star Wars universe in a long time). For those of us who are not particularly fond of the latest trilogy, and mostly think that Solo and Rogue One are okay, though not very memorable, it’s nice to see Mandalorian borrow from the recent times Star Wars was actually really good – the world of games .
Dark Forces is of course very straightforward and simple, but it has proper mission goals – something that usually did not exist in fps games at the time. You managed the tracks by making your way to the end, point end. But here you would accomplish specific things on each course. The first level is actually about stealing the drawings for the Death Star. For my part, it amuses me more to think that it was Kyle Katarn (yes, that’s the name of the game Dark Forces) who on his own ran in with the laser rifles in full swing and twisted the drawings, rather than a group of depressed rebels. It’s not as dramatic, but I’ve never heard of a crowd that takes Star Wars very seriously.
The sewer – a bigger threat than the Death Star
After the initial level, the story picks up speed quickly, and the plot is built up in a much more efficient way than contemporary fps competitors. Long before you encounter any dark stormtroopers, you will see the result of their advance, and follow the trail from plane to plane in the hunt for a way to stop the empire’s plans.
This means that you get to run around in very different environments, most of which are very impressive at the moment. These are partly gray-hard empire facilities, but also ice planets and… sighs, sewers. Okay, not all courses are equally fun, but there’s really only one that is straight cash. The ice planet is a bit awkward at first, before you find the nail shoes that prevent you from slipping around like a clown. And sometimes the labyrinth design on the tracks gets a little frustrating – not least when you run around in the complex corridors of the Death Star. Plus then at the highest difficulty level you are expected to kill a number of krayt dragons with just your hands on a course, which is bizarre. But these are mostly minor flaws in a largely very well-designed action adventure. Except then that nasty sewer level.
After two short, introductory missions, the cow is directed to a veritable dump where a gun smuggler has for some reason set up his illegal business. To find him, however, you have to wander through rivers of brown mourning, shoot those one-eyed fanatics who try to drown Luke in the Death Star’s garbage room in the first movie, and try to avoid getting grenades in the skull. All while groping your way through a very dark and confusing sewer maze. It’s incredibly frustrating and a veritable nightmare for anyone who has as bad a sense of place (and poor patience with boring track design) as I do. My tip is to check a guide to run through the mud to the level as fast as possible, because after that the game will quickly get good again.
As a whole, as I said Dark Forces still shockingly good. A cash course is a good result for the time being, anyway. There are clearly more noisy tracks in, for example Doomgames, not to mention in the sequel Jedi Knight and its independent expansion. If you, like me, do not have much left over for commercial gimmicks and mostly get tired of seeing all the Star Wars hashtags on a day like this, then you can still cynicize something with a little old-fashioned gaming feel of solid Lucasarts quality. A laser ointment in the stuff of a stormtrooper always cheers up, after all.
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