Star Wars: Dark Forces

LucasArts, founded as Lucasfilm Games, didn’t begin developing titles based on the production company’s film properties until later in the 1980s, and in fact didn’t produce any Star Wars games until the 1990s. The success of Doom for the PC game market made LucasArts branch into first-person shooters some years after their initial Star Wars titles, with their first game inspired by Doom being Star Wars: Dark Forces, which despite its somewhat derivative nature was a good start for the company in the genre.

Dark Forces does not follow the Star Wars films, instead focusing on an original character, Kyle Katarn, as he performs various missions for the Rebellion, with each stage having an objective of some kind such as placing explosive charges. Katarn starts off with a simple blaster, although players will quickly acquire more powerful weapons, most of which have unique ammunition requirements, with most human antagonists dropping ammo and the occasional new weapon. The first-person shooter gameplay works well for the most part, although some jumps are somewhat tricky and can be borderline impossible to make without using a particular cheat code, and there appears to be no method of saving the game in the middle of the mission, with the player having to restart a mission from scratch either when they run out of lives or they abort a stage.

As such, control is the weakest part of the game, given the aforementioned tricky jumps, along with the oddity of the player being able to use the left and right arrow keys to turn Katarn left or right, but not the up or down keys to respectfully move forward or backward. It is also easy, despite some useful automaps, to lose oneself within the stages, and some in-game indication of where to proceed would have been welcome.

The story of Dark Forces contributes nicely to the overall Star Wars mythos, with Katarn having some backstory as an ex-Imperial agent and decent explanation of objectives in between missions, alongside the occasional animated cutscene.

These scenes are the strongest part of the visuals, with the remainder of the graphics, namely the three-dimensional dungeons and occasional enemy sprites looking decent even by contemporary standards, although there are some visual glitches on modern PCs.

Sound is another strong suit of the game, with solid if somewhat repetitive voice clips from Imperial soldiers Katarn will frequently face, and competent acting during the animated cutscenes, alongside a musical style very well imitating that of the movies, in spite of its somewhat dated quality.

The game runs about ten hours, with the different difficulty levels adding decent replayability. Ultimately, Star Wars: Dark Forces was a solid first foray by LucasArts into the first-person shooter genre, and, given its success, would receive several sequels not to mention a few tie-in novels further exploring the exploits of Kyle Katarn. Interested gamers can mercifully download the game from Steam (with the download seeming to come with the DOSBox application necessary to play it), alongside its sequels for around $20, a decent deal.

The Good:
+Good first-person shooter gameplay.
+Adds decently to Star Wars mythos.
+Nice aurals and visuals.

The Bad:
-Keyboard controls can be annoying.
-Easy to get lost in stages.
-Some graphical glitches on modern PCs.

The Bottom Line:
Good Star Wars game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 10/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Variable, can be hard even on easiest setting.
Playing Time: About 10 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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