Written by  :  Alan Chan (3620)
Written on  :  Mar 21, 2000
Platform  :  DOS

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The first First Person Shooter I ever liked enough to finish

The Good

Until I played Dark Forces, I was never much of a FPS fan. While I did reckonize the innovativeness of such games as Doom and Wolfenstein, I was never really able to get "into" them because no matter how fun they were at first, after several levels of running around cramp dark corridors blowing away wave after wave of enemies it started to seem a bit pointless. However Dark Forces was a large exception, not only was it fun, but it somehow managed to pull me in, in a way Doom never could.

Perhaps the main reason for this was that this game had a point which was greater than simply "kill everything in sight". Each level was mission-based and followed a general trend rather than random key-hunting and button-pushing. Sure, key-hunting and button-pushing were part of the gameplay, but you always got the feeling that your actions had a higher purpose than "proceed to the next area". Each level proceeded logically from the previous level, and you got the feeling your were going through an evolving story rather than being sent from one random killing field to the next. The game had an actual overarching plot which was revealed to you via mission briefings and a few animated cutscenes. Although certainly not pulitzer winning material the storyline and cutscenes which revealed it were pretty good in a comic book sort of way. The plot built up quite nicely starting with the prologue raid on an Imperial base and culminating in a final attack against the Dark Trooper-infested Arc Hammer.

As far as I know, Dark Forces was the very first First Person Shooter with a personality. Enemies shouted a variety of challenges at you such as "Stop Rebel scum" or "Set blasters on full". Your character Kyle Katarn would make the occasional quip, but most of the in-game dialogue was supplied by your partner, Jan Orz, who would make a variety of amusing comments about your situation over your comm-link, and helped to alleviate the usual FPS feeling of claustraphobic loneliness.

I really enjoyed the Star Wars theme used throughout the game. Although I wasn't a big fan at the time, I did reckonize the characters and somehow got more satisfaction blowing away the Imperial Stormtroopers and hostile aliens than I did killing the faceless monsters of many other FPS.

Each of the different levels had a distinct look and feel which made them unique to each other, ranging from Imperial installations, sewers, a mining facility, an Ice planet, and even the Empire's heavily defended capital city. The length of the game was also "just right". Although there were only 14 levels, each level was well crafted, with almost no repetition or feelings of tediousness. Also, although there are some puzzles which may get you stuck for a while, I found nothing overtly unfair and was able to complete the game by myself without needing to refer to a walkthrough.

Gameplay was also quite fun. Graphically the game was amazing, with very colorful textures and enemies and considerably less pixelation than Doom. Dark Forces also featured the ability to look up and down as well as jumping and ducking, which added new elements to the gameplay. Weapons and enemies followed the Star Wars theme quite nicely (especially the blaster bolts, which traveled across the screen in quick streaks true to the movies), and while many of the weapons seemed to have been invented specifically for this game they do fit in with the general space opera feeling. Most of the enemies can be reckonized from the Star Wars movies, ranging from Stormtroopers and attack probes to the boss-like Dark Trooper battle droids around which the game's story revolved. Not to mention a special guest appearance and boss battle with bounty hunter Boba Fett.

The Bad

Not much, really. It's true the game didn't have any multiplayer support (which was a big point of complaint) but personally I didn't even have a modem at the time, so the single player game was all I was concerned about, and the single player game was damn good.

It's also true the game wouldn't allow you to save in-game, but instead automatically saved your status after the completion of each mission. While this may be another point of complaint for some people, I actually think it was a good idea. It helped the level designers maintain control of the tension within the levels, and none of the levels were too long or difficult that they couldn't be finished in one sitting (although many were quite large and complex and might need a few goes to get through). There was also an "extra life" system so that even if you did die in a level you wouldn't have to start all the way back at the beginning.

The Bottom Line

Lucasarts is famous for releasing quality games. Whether it be their Star Wars flight simulators or their quirky adventure games, they seem to be able to give a game a special "personality" that makes it stand out. It's nice to see that they've managed to do this with their first foray into the FPS market as well.