Written by: Stoo

Date posted: April 2, 2001

You rebel scum!

Once upon a time, everyone loved Doom. Everyone also loves Star Wars – or at least, the original trilogy. It was inevitable, really, that the two would come together eventually for some first-person stormtrooper-shooting. In Dark Forces, you take on the role of Kyle Katarn, a mercenary employed by the Rebellion. It seems the Empire is working on yet another secret super-weapon, and it’s up to you to find out exactly what this is, how they’re making it and how to stop it.

The Dark Forces series is at the time of writing in its third incarnation, Jedi Outcast, with another apparently due to hit our shelves in the not-too-distant future. Actually the second game was named Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight and then the third, Jedi Outcast was officially named as Jedi Knight II instead of Dark Forces III. So younger gamers might not know too much about this ancestor to the Star Wars FPS games of today.It was a different world back then, mind you. Kyle Katarn had yet to take up his lightsabre and learn the ways of the Jedi, and hadn’t grown a beard yet either. Instead, he earned his crust as a simple agent for hire, shooting his way past sprite-based enemies. His world in those days existed in an odd kind of pseudo-3D, which could handle floors and ceilings at varying heights, but not one room above another. Much like the world of the hapless Doom marine, although Kyle did possess a few cunning advantages. He could look up and down and even jump, meaning that unlike his demon-blasting rival Kyle wasn’t defeated by small ledges and walls.

In other words: this game looks pretty ancient. Still, there was some reasonably good work done by the level designers, in creating authentic-looking Star Wars environments. Highlights include Coruscant, a mining complex and the interior of a Star Destroyer. Unfortunately between these examples there is a little too much wondering around in nondescript tunnels and military installations full of random pointless-looking rooms, but then that was perhaps standard fare for the day.

Closing on a stormtrooper. They’re not especially dangerous.

Out to stop you are Imperial officers and soldiers as well as an array of aliens and of course something nasty waiting for you on the later levels. The Imperial Stormtroopers do of course show up, and I assure you they’re every bit as inept as in the movies. You’ll be strolling around the innards of an Imperial base, when half a dozen of them wander around the corner. At which point they shout “you rebel scum!”, and a couple of seconds “aaargh” as you mow them down with ease. It’s just like the movies when the Stormtroopers blasted away at the walls, ceiling, light fittings, dustbins, i.e. just about anything apart from Han and Luke. Such experiences can feel quite authentic; the only thing missing is a Wookie making strangled snarling noises at your side. I should point out that some of the later enemies are much more challenging. For example, the aliens armed with the confuso-gun, which doesn’t appear to fire anything until you see a big blue explosion go off in your face. You can pick that weapon up yourself, along with the Stormtroopers’ rifle (you start to understand their plight – it’s pretty inaccurate at long range) and some other handy toys.

One word about shooting at things – this is a Lucasarts game, so blood and gore are pretty much nonexistent. Whether someone is hit with a Stormtrooper rifle or a something more potent like the mortar-cannon, they just shout “yearrrhgh” and fall over. I’m not sure if this is really a good thing. For example you might say that the flying blood and entrails in Doom were a bit over the top and gruesome, but then again that’s what happens when you shoot someone with a minigun or a rocket launcher. Okay, in a computer game we’re just out to have some fun, but it’s important to be reminded that in the real world weapons do horrible things to people. If some young kid is playing Dark Forces and sees Stormtroopers fall over as if they just bumped their head, when in fact they’ve been hit by a huge plasma explosion, that kid might start to underestimate just how much potential for harm weapons really possess.

Okay, off my soapbox now, and back to the game. Overall Dark Forces makes a good effort at making you feel like you’re really in the Star Wars universe, though there was only so much it could do to this end. I suppose it would have helped if there were some neutral characters wandering around. If you read into the Star Wars mythology (especially the expanded-universe novels) is that there’s a huge mix of different peoples: Rebels, Imperial forces and all kinds of alignments in between. For example, if Stormtroopers start shooting at you in a smugglers’ bar, it would have been fun if the patrons took up arms against them, creating a hectic crossfire which you could join in or slip away from. Instead, everyone’s gunning for you, so it’s basically lone-commando business all the way.

You're not authorised in this areAAAAGH!

You’re not authorised in this areAAAAGH!

Overall, the game is perhaps a little more intelligent than Doom. Admittedly you do sometimes have to adopt Rambo tactics to shoot your way through legions of bad guys possessing zombie-like AI. However, the lack of a save-game option within levels (you instead have a number of lives) stops you from getting too gung-ho. Also you do have to sometimes use a little applied thought. For example for example levels sometimes contain dynamic features (such as rotating bridges) which you must manipulate to get from A to B. There’s the odd bit of puzzle solving too, such as getting doors to open in the correct sequence to grant you access to a building.

Back then, the question for every FPS shooter was: is it better than Doom? To be honest, in this case the answer probably depended on how much of a Star Wars fan you were, as DF didn’t offer that much in the way of new features (bar jumping), but it did have Stormtroopers. However, here at FFG our ultimate concern is not just how a game rates against others from its time, but also just how playable it is right now. There are a few games from back then that still offer great gameplay; for example Hexen does far more than you might have thought the Doom engine allowed. Meanwhile the the almighty System Shock is somewhat slower-paced but was perhaps the most immersive and involving first-person title of its day. Dark Forces on the other hand just isn’t one of these champions of yesteryear, but it still has some amount of charm.