Star Wars: Dark Forces is a FPS set during the events of the original Star Wars movie trilogy. In a nice surprise you don’t follow the events of the movies but instead work as a mercenary for the Rebels. You are a mercenary called Kyle Katarn who is fully voice acted and seems to be in it for more than the money. In your travels you will discover that the Empire is working on a secret project to make Dark Troopers and it becomes your main reason for most of the missions. Along your travels you will encounter some familiar characters. Most will only appear in cutscenes and don’t show up in game so don’t go in expecting to be able to gun down Darth Vader.
Your journeys will take you to a wide variety of environments and nearly each one feels unique and introduce more and more enemies. Most levels are enormous and they will take you quite some time to beat. It’s not just running and gunning though, there will be rather difficult puzzles and actual objectives like rescuing a hostage or stealing data and making a run for the spacecraft. It’s a nice change from most FPS games of the time where your only goal is to reach the end of the level. As unique and varied as the levels are the actual level design can be very confusing at times. A considerable portion of my playtime comes from being at an utter loss of where I am supposed to head to next and it definitely impacts the game negatively.
Strangely Dark Forces does not allow you to save manually and the game will only save after you complete a level. You start off with three lives and can find more throughout the level though they are usually well hidden. If you see cracks on a wall it is likely you can blow it up and find some goodies. And my biggest gripe with this game is the amount of platforming you will be required to do. The controls do not feel tight enough for platforming and with the lack of quick saving it can truly be irradiating. Luckily the gun-play is top notch and there are a wide variety of weapons to dispose of your enemies. Some do share ammo like the pistol and the blaster which adds more strategy since you will have to decide if the situation is dangerous enough to use more ammo with the blaster. You can also punch out Stormtroopers or other enemies, which is very amusing to me but should be used as a last resort.
It is very true to its source material having each gun sound exactly like in the movies, Stormtroopers shouting “Rebel scum!” and most of the music in Dark Forces are from the film but remade into MIDI format. I’m not sure if all the weapons are canon but this game does not feature lightsabers in case you were wondering. The story itself is mediocre and mostly told through cutscenes after or before missions. Most of the voice acting is surprisingly good especially Darth Vader and your character not being a generic mute protagonist is also appreciated. There is a nice sense of urgency as your enemies get more and more powerful as you progress through the story and you will definitely find out why the Rebels are so worried about the Empire’s secret project. If you are having difficulty seeing remember that you have night vision goggles which use up energy that you obtain by blowing up cleaning droids.
This version of the game has modern controls right out the box. You will be moving around with “WASD” and aiming with the mouse. Strangely you will not be able to look up and down using the mouse. There is no way to see the control scheme or rebind in game which is kind of annoying. Combat is fast paced and enjoyable. Most enemies have different means of attack like either shooting you or running toward you for a melee attack and it is very easy to tell an enemy apart allowing you to adapt and respond to a situation on the fly. A certain enemy in the sewer level stalks you from the sludge and boy, did they creep me out. When you pick up a powerup that doubles your rate of fire the game usually throws a large amount of enemies at you which is always a blast as you mow down all in your path and after all is said and done you will feel like the best darn mercenary money can buy.
Overall Dark Forces is a pretty fun game kept from greatness due to a few serious design decisions. The flaws of having confusing level design, no saving, and controls not suited for the sometimes fatal platforming is just too deadly a combination. It is still a good game don’t get me wrong. I had a blast playing through it and seeing Stormtroopers being competent fighters for once. It is also pretty advanced for its time featuring voiced cutscenes, level objectives and an actual story to back it up. It is not a must play for those of us that are not a fan of the films but it’s still a decent old school shooter. Though if you like both the FPS genre and Star Wars you should definitely check out this title.