Star Wars Expanded Universe – Dark Forces
Dark Forces – First Person Mayhem
Now, I enjoyed Rogue One. I enjoyed that film immensely, but despite that (and how Disney attempted to earnestly explain how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the Death Star plans used to such devastating effect in Episode IV: A New Hope), I along with many gamers know that the Death Star plans were obtained by one Kyle Katarn.
Dark Forces is a First Person Shooter (FPS) that was released in 1995 for DOS and for Macintosh computers, and then a year later on the PlayStation console. This can also be purchased through the retro-tastic store Good Old Games. which enables this aging but awesome title to be played on the newer Windows operating systems.
Kyle Katarn grew up wanting to be anything other than a mercenary. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as an agricultural equipment salesman, but this wouldn’t be the most interesting start of a first-person shooter, so it turns out that Kyle leaves his father’s side and joins the Imperial Academy. While at the Academy, it is discovered that Kyle was adept at working with various computer systems, which comes in as an important asset when he joins the Imperial Army after hearing that rebels killed his parents. Whilst in the Special Operations Division, he meets Jan Ors, a rebel operative who is undercover in the Imperial Army. She was able to prove to Kyle that his parent’s death was due to the Empire, not the Rebels.
Jan’s cover was blown, and Kyle himself severed ties with his imperial masters by helping free her and escaping with her to become a freelance mercenary. Dark Forces tells the story of how Kyle Katarn was in the employ of the Rebellion, how he retrieved the Death Star plans, and then discovered a plot to unleash a new form of terror across the galaxy with a weapon of possibly even more destructive capability which was rumored to have been developed by the Empire.
There’s no doubt about it, this game takes its inspiration from 1993’s seminal and groundbreaking Doom. Players navigate through fourteen levels on the hunt for various keycards while finding various Intel and eventually reaching the level exit all while staying alive under the increasing firepower of the Empire’s Stormtroopers and officers who are posted around each level. The level design is superb and admittedly quite tough, especially the third mission which takes the form of a sewer maze with an intensely difficult puzzle based around water flow locks. This was the ‘good old days’ of gaming, make one mistake and leap in the wrong direction and the water flow will push you unavoidably to the start of the level again. Dark Forces was the evolution of Doom‘s linear maps giving the player multi-leveled platforms and head-scratching puzzles that need to be solved before other areas of the map open up.
I adored the sound design in this game because it sounded just like the cinematic universe of the Star Wars franchise. The sound effects, like the blasters and the droids, have been obviously sampled from the films. The sampled speech for the cutscenes explaining the story is gripping, the only detraction that I could highlight is the midi quality music. It stands out pretty badly in 2017 but was acceptable when the game was first released in the early 90’s.
Time hasn’t been kind to this innovative title, the textures are low-resolution and fairly repetitive. However, the environments do look great and there’s an authentic and detailed attention to various features in each of the mission areas. Looking at the game when it was first released, this title introduced new elements into the FPS genre with haze and effects (like rotation and other 3D effects) which are rendered in real time in the levels.
This game is an important part of the Extended Star Wars Universe, in that it sets up the original trilogy and introduces the now popular character of Kyle Katarn and brings many more features to the FPS genre, making it unfair to call this just a Star Wars Doom clone. If you’re a fan of Star Wars and the FPS genre and can forgive its aged graphical style, please get this. It’s well worth the classic status that it now enjoys.
Where to Buy
So, as mentioned before, Dark Forces is still available on the Retro site Good Old Games. It’s now priced as a budget release and can be played on modern PCs without any need to configure an emulator such as DOSBOX.
Get it here: Good Old Games – Dark Forces for the PC
Check out the first part in Word of the Nerd‘s series about the Star Wars Expanded Universe.