Retro Review: STAR WARS: DARK FORCES

Retro Review: STAR WARS: DARK FORCES

Rogue One is out and it was awesome!  But despite the story Disney told us about how the Death Star plans were stolen, the hero who accomplished that feat to me will always be Kyle Katarn.  Star Wars: Dark Forces is a first-person shooter that came out back in February 28, 1995 for DOS and Macintosh computers.  Despite its age, is this classic shooter still worth a playthrough?

Background

Kyle Katarn grew up wanting to be an agricultural equipment salesman like his father.  Joining the Imperial Academy to further his goals Kyle proved to be adept at using cybernetic systems.  After receiving news of his parent’s death at the hands of Rebels, Kyle joined the Imperial Army in the special operations division.  A couple years later Kyle met Jan Ors, a Rebel undercover in the Imperial Army.  Through their friendship, Kyle learned that it was really the Empire that was responsible for his parent’s death.  Jan’s cover ended up being blown and she was captured by the Empire.  Kyle helped Jan escape, severing his ties to the Empire and became a freelance mercenary.  Star Wars: Dark Forces chronicles Kyle Katarn’s journey from stealing the Death Star plans to bringing down the Empire’s Dark Trooper Project.

Kyle Katarn

Gameplay

Like most shooters of the time Star Wars: Dark Forces takes its gameplay inspiration from Doom (1993).  Players must navigate through fourteen levels to find keys, objectives, and the level exits all while fighting through enemies and finding secrets.  Dark Forces includes many new features to this formula like the ability to jump and look up and down.  Unfortunately look up and down are locked to the page up and down keys which makes it hard to utilize.  Level design also got significantly more in-depth with the inclusion of multi-leveled maps and puzzles that need to be solved to progress further into the game.  Dark Forces also includes no multiplayer options of any kind.

Sound

Dark Forces is a mixed bag when it comes to audio.  Sound effects sound good and voice work is solid but music does not get the same treatment.  Tracks are inspired from the movies but are of poor midi quality.  Compared to the rest of the audio work the music just sounds out of place.

Graphics

Like audio the graphics in Dark Forces are also a mixed bag.  3D environments are immersive and weapon sprites on your HUD look great but textures are low res, pixelated and repetitive.  Because of this I would sometimes miss paths I had to take to finish a mission.  Some newer features that Dark Forces included graphically were the inclusion of environmental effects such as haze and 3D effects during a mission.  The very first mission has a rotating Death Star display and mission five includes a red haze.  Being able to see your ship drop you off and pick you up in most levels was also a fantastic touch.

Conclusion

Despite showing its age Star Wars: Dark Forces is easily one of the best Star Wars games to this day.  If you are a fan of shooters or Star Wars do yourself a favor and pickup Dark Forces.  With loads of secrets to find, fun levels and multiple difficulties Dark Forces will keep you occupied for hours.

TL:DR Do you like Doom? Do you like Star Wars? If yes, go play Dark Forces!

Buying Guide

Alright, I convinced you, huh?  How can you play this game?!  Star Wars Dark Forces has been released on DOS, Macintosh and PlayStation with emulated ports coming to Windows, Linux, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable.

Choosing which version is best for you:

DOS/Windows/Linux (~$5/$5.99) – The original game in all its glory.  If you still have an old Windows 95/98 machine you can just pop in the CD and play the game like its 1995.  For the rest of us you can grab the game on Steam or GOG as well as the original CD and play it in the DOS-Box emulator.  Steam version is listed as Windows only while the GOG version supports Linux.  To really make the game shine a graphics mod is also available!  

Macintosh (~$5) – Unless you have an old 1994 – 1998 Macintosh it really is not worth trying to get this version running when easier alternatives exist.

PlayStation/PlayStation 3/PlayStation Portable (~5/$5.99) – This version has muddier graphics and an inconsistent frame rate compared to the original version.  You can grab a physical copy and play it on your PS1 or PS3, or grab a digital version from the PlayStation store and play it on PS3 or PSP.

My favorite way to play Dark Forces is on Windows with the DarkXL mod to improve graphics and add up and down looking to the mouse. It makes the game feel ten years younger!

If you have a retro game you would like to see reviewed drop it in the comments below!

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