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Review: Star Wars: Dark Forces

Table of Contents

Quick Info

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Additional Notes

Summary of major issues
Most of the gameplay revolves around shooting people and aliens with laser guns and other science fiction weaponry.

While the player's actions usually only cause puffs of smoke, one enemy appears to be bleeding after you defeat it, and you do run across dead bodies during one of the levels.

Screenshots


The Rebels didn't stand a chance


No blood, just little explosions


Katarn being captured by Jabba the Hutt

General Information

Genre:First Person ShooterAge Rating:Children (Ages 6+)
License:CommercialQuality Rating:Good
Played on:Martha & Thaddeus
Available from: Steam
Save System:Your progress is saved automatically after clearing a level, though you can pause the game by either opening the main menu (press ESC) or your map (press F1).

Game Overview

Back in the early days of computer games, Star Wars: Dark Forces was one of the best titles available. Today, it's still fairly popular -- especially among Star Wars enthusiasts. Before Disney purchased the franchise, games like this one were considered part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and therefore by playing it you were taking a behind the scenes role of a major part of the franchise's lore. Since the acquisition, the Expanded Universe has been declared "non-canon", meaning that while it contains stories set in the Star Wars Universe, these are no longer part of the official story. While unfortunate, there are some people that would appreciate this; the main character of this game, the mercenary Kyle Katarn, is considered by some fans to be a Gary Stu and a burden on the franchise. But hey, what fun would it be if you didn't play as a do-everything, all-conquering hero?

Like other parts of the Expanded Universe, this game also introduced some fun trivia and new details about the lore, such as why Stormtroopers can't hit the broad side of the Death Star. As it turns out, Stormtroopers are actually very good shots -- the problem is that the low-quality blaster rifles the Empire provides them with tend to shoot around the target instead of towards it. Using a stormtrooper rifle here will also make it hard for Kyle to shoot anything more than a few meters away.

These days, First Person Shooters are popularly known as the bloodiest and most violent games on the market, so the fact that a franchise that's popular with children would produce a game like this can be a bit surprising. However, the genre was still young when Dark Forces was made, and so it avoids the stereotype by keeping things as clean as the movies it's based on. For example, you can't gib anybody, even with explosives or other extremely powerful weapons. Enemy humans simply fall over when defeated, though enemy droids fall down and explode.

It's still worth picking up this title, especially if you're a fan of Star Wars. Just be aware that the controls are a little weird. Specifically, this was one of the first games where you had the ability to look and aim above you and below you. The controls for this were bound to the PageUp and PageDown keys, which is fairly awkward. Fortunately, you can play through most of the game without bothering to adjust your viewpoint: if you're facing your target, the gunfire usually adjusts itself to the correct angle automatically.

Story Summary

The story begins shortly before Star Wars: A New Hope, which is either the first or fourth movie, depending on how you're counting. In order to stop the Empire from using their newly constructed Death Star against them, the Rebel Alliance hire the intergalactic mercenary Kyle Katarn to steal the Death Star's plans. Once the plans are secured, the Rebels are able to find the space station's weak point and destroy it in the Battle of Yavin (as shown in the movie's climatic trench run).

But not all news is good news. After Kyle receives his payment, Mon Motha offers him another, possibly more dangerous, mission. There are rumors of a new Imperial Weapon known as the Dark Trooper. This "super stormtrooper" is somehow able to destroy a rebel base in seconds, and the Rebellion is wishes to have the project shut down, eliminating the threat it poses. Curious and willing to cross blasters with the Empire again, Katarn accepts the task, only asking to have Jan Ores as his mission officer.

Pros

Famous characters cameo in the story
While the Dark Trooper project is the brainchild of General Rom Mohc, an original character created for this game, his work is being overseen by the Empire. Thus, it's no surprise that while he doesn't directly intervene, Darth Vader is there watching how everything is playing out. Later on, the Empire offers a bounty for the capture of Kyle Katarn, and this brings in a few other famous characters, such as Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt.


Easter eggs
If there was one thing Lucasarts was fond of, it was injecting completely random bits of humor into their games, and this one is no exception. Some of the more obscure easter eggs in this game are designs created by the level layout while others are hidden in the level itself. Perhaps the most famous easter egg involving the level layout is only visible from the in-game map. Off in the northwestern corner of one of the maps is an area with uneven terrain. Once explored, viewing your map produces the face of Max, the rabbit from Lucasarts' Sam and Max series.


User profiles
Dark Forces uses profiles to store progress. These profiles allow multiple people to use the same install without overwriting the progress of another person. In addition to storing your general progress, you can replay any level you've reached. This screen also showcases what difficulty level you cleared the levels with.


Cons

Players can get confused regarding the level goals
Each level has one or more goals that need to be completed. Unlike other First Person Shooters like Doom, these goals are more complicated than "kill everything until you find the exit". For example, the first level requires you to find the chip holding the plans for the first Death Star, and once you have it, you need to reach your ship. If you reach your ship without the plans, you'll need to travel back through the level to get them.

The major problem with this is that the mission briefings are a big wall of text, with the mission's goals summarized at the very bottom. Players who skip the briefing can easily be confused and never find their way out of the level. The second level, which takes place at a recently destroyed Rebel base, is notorious for this -- the base needs its power restored before any of the doors or lights work. While the briefing makes this clear (and it's the first objective), rushing in is asking to be literally left wandering in the dark.


Unexpected difficulty curve
For the most part, each level becomes a little more difficult than the one before it. One of the later levels is a huge exception to this trend, as it's far more challenging than almost any other level in the game. This unexpected rise in difficulty is due to two things happening at once. Firstly, you start the level with no gear, making you extremely vulnerable. Secondly, this is the level where melee combat (which your shield doesn't block) is primarily introduced, so it's a sudden shift in tactics. Playing like Rambo will cost you the game very quickly.


Concerns and Issues

Mild violence
Although this is a First Person Shooter, it's very tame. A large part of this is likely due to it being a Star Wars game; that would put added pressure on the developers to keep things from being too violent. Here, shooting an enemy results in a puff of smoke and the enemy falling over, much like how things are handled in the original Star Wars trilogy.

There's no way to graphically kill anybody, even with weapons that would easily do that to someone in any other game!


Dead, charred bodies
The second level has Katarn visit and explore a rebel base that had recently been destroyed by Dark Troopers. Among the charred and broken walls are the bodies of the rebels found by the Imperial forces. These bodies are sometimes shown reaching out as if they were pleading for help. See the first screenshot above for an example.


One enemy can bleed
Nearly everything you'll face in this game is a stormtrooper, droid or other human, who will simply fall over when shot. The one exception are the diagonas (the "sewage monster" from the movies). These marine attackers die in a heap of tentacles when killed, and their sprite seems to show a small amount of blood.