Thursday, 2 May 2013

Star Wars: Dark Forces (MS-DOS)

It's strange how few Star Wars games I've played these last few years, considering how many there are out there. It's not like I've been deliberately avoiding them. Allow me to make up for it in some small way by presenting a handful of screenshots from Star Dark Forces Wars, the first game in the Jedi Knight series. I usually play games blind, but I'll admit right away that I've finished the game once before, so it's not entirely new to me.

Dark Forces was LucasArts' first shot at making a first person shooter, made way back in the days when people could still seriously try to argue that new FPS games were just Doom rip-offs. Nowadays of course all games have become first person shooters, with all variety and innovation wiped out in the Great Genre War of the early 21st century, but please forgive me if I end up comparing it to Doom 500 times before I'm done anyway.

The game starts with the standard issue Star Wars scrolling text, explaining that the evil Galactic Empire is constructing a new battle station, the DEATH STAR, with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet!

Fortunately for the small group of Rebels fighting back against the Empire, a rogue mercenary called Kyle Katarn has agreed to break into an Imperial base and steal the plans for them single handedly. Plus he's going to do it armed only with a pistol and in the buff, because he's that fucking good.

Well okay the text was non-specific on the status on his pants and I guess to be fair James Bond and Solid Snake always pack light when they're off to save civilization against overwhelming odds as well. But Kyle's a 90s first person shooter character and should know better.

Once the intro's finished, this statue of Mon Mothma (leader of the Rebellion) helpfully explains the mission details: Kyle's going to have to break in to the Imperial Secret Base on Danuta, get this red circuit board thing, then get to the roof for extraction, all without being killed by the hundred or so armoured storm troopers guarding the place.

"You're not authorised in this area!", the death cry of a mortally wounded Imperial officer.

Coming around the corner from the entrance hallway I found these three just hanging around, minding their own business. So I immediately executed each of them with a couple of rounds to the chest from my modified Bryar pistol, grabbed their rifles, and carried on down the corridor.

Man, now I know what a James Bond henchmen feels like. I'm hitting everything but the target here.

I'm using the mouse to aim and keyboard to move just like in a modern FPS, but I have to use keys to look up or down and it's a little awkward. This stormtrooper rifle's got a little autoaim to it, especially on the vertical axis, so I can get away with just firing straight forward most of the time, but it's also inaccurate as fuck, spraying blaster fire all over the place. Just like in the movies!

Oh whatever, I'll just shoot them when I'm up there.


Hmm something, possibly my latent Jedi intuition, tells me that those Death Star plans are probably in this room somewhere.

I think it would be fair to say that this definitely a Doom era first person shooter in look and feel, with shield pick-ups replacing armour and stormtroopers instead of imps, but I'm not finding that to be a bad thing. It's all about stepping out of the way of enemy shots and lining myself up to spray fire at them until they fall down. All entirely bloodless though of course, this is Star Wars after all.

Dark Forces Mouldy Crow
With the plans collected, I headed for the lift and found my sidekick had come to pick me up in a 3D texture mapped model, bringing some actual polygons into my 2.5D world. That thing's Kyle's own Millennium Falcon: The Mouldy Crow, and it immediately stands out as being the only thing in the game so far not attached to the floor or ceiling.

Well anyway that's my job done. We pass the Death Star plans on to Princess Leia off screen so that the events of Star Wars can play out and then we get back to our own storyline. You know, I have to wonder how many Star Wars games have had a 'steal the Death Star plans' mission in them by now, because I'm sure there's been a few. The Rebels must have ended up with stacks of them lying around in the end.


Whoa, did I just unconsciously load TIE Fighter up again without realising? I'm getting the best kind of deja-vu from these cutscenes. They've used the same actor, Scott Lawrence, to play Darth Vader and he pulls off a pretty convincing James Earl Jones I reckon. LucasArts must have thought so too, as he was the official videogame Vader until 2006.

All mid 90s Star Wars games are about stopping a new Imperial super weapon (even TIE Fighter weirdly, even though you're actually playing as the Empire in that) and Dark Forces is no exception, as General Rom Mohc here has a cunning scheme...

He's planning to develop an army of super stormtrooper robots capable of actually shooting straight, with blaster-proof armour that can actually withstand a blaster shot. Obviously the Rebels have a good reason to be concerned about this, as the Empire's comical ineptitude is the only advantage they have.


Hey it's that briefing room from Return of the Jedi, except of course Kyle gets his own personal briefing by the leader of the Rebellion herself, because he's so special. Plus there's a surprise cameo by Admiral Ackbar playing the role of some random doomed Rebel in a video clip borrowed from the film and redubbed.

Wait wait wait, what the fuck? Who's this guy meant to be? Everyone knows that Kyle Katarn is suppose to have a beard and look a bit like that bloke from CSI.

Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight
I have to admit, the live action FMV Kyle Katarn from the second game has always been my favourite. Somehow I found the guy got less likeable and interesting as the games went on, though it's been so long since I played them I can't really remember why.

Anyway, Kyle has joined back up with the Rebellion (after sitting Star Wars out) to help them with their Dark Trooper problems. We have a lead on who is developing their specialised robot weapons, his name's Moff Rebus (which is the Star Wars equivalent of calling yourself Duke Nukem I imagine), and Kyle's being sent down to go have a chat with him.

But there's only two way you can interact with people in gameplay in this: guns and fists, so I'm getting concerned this might be leading towards a boss fight.

Aw crap. You know after seeing the desert planet, the jungle planet, the ice planet and the city planet I kinda assumed there must be a sewer planet somewhere in the Star Wars universe. I just never wanted to see it. Still, at least I'm not the one who has to smell it.

Okay there's nothing in this area but sewer gates and this switch. This very Duke Nukem 3D looking switch that probably toggles each gate open in turn and... oh fuck I'm going to have to go wading in shit aren't I?

Fortunately even Vader isn't cruel enough to station stormtroopers on sewage world, so I'm only against droids on this level. These giant black balls can shoot right through my shields, which is kind of an asshole thing to do, but they haven't been hard to deal with so far. When they're not hiding behind an giant wide open window that is.

C'mon Kyle, quit shooting the fucking window frame and kill the evil floating hurtball already. Oh fuck it, I'm just flicking that lever on the left then making a run for it. I'll figure out what it activated later.

Right, okay where am I going now? I jumped into a pipe figuring it must lead to the exit, but it seems to be taking me miles in the opposite direction. These levels are really starting to get huge now, which is cool and all, but a bit of a concern in a game without quick saves.

Oh of course, the pipe led me right back to the switch at the start again! Now I've got to toggle the next gate open and presumably flick a lever inside there as well. Joy.


Oh awesome, it's a platform jumping section in a first person shooter. What is this, 1995?

To be honest, I don't hate first person platforming as much as some people seem to as long as it isn't too harsh, and this seems pretty tame. I can even switch on the overhead map if I need to see exactly where I'm landing. Plus I'm just grateful the game even lets me jump at all. Can't do much bouncing around in Doom, that's for sure.

Hey it's one of those three-eyed dude! And he's throwing thermal detonators at me! I'd throw a few of my own over his way, but I've always found throwing grenades awkward in games without a separate 'throw grenade' button. It doesn't have a separate melee button either for that matter.

Oh hang on, am I mean to be going through that corridor he's standing in front of? But it's all the way over there, across a river of sewage, I'll never reach it! Wait, I remember setting up a 'speed mode' key in the setup program, maybe that's like a run button? The only trouble is... I set it to something halfway across the keyboard and I can't redefine the keys in game. And there's no saves.

But I'm sure if I can just stretch my fingers over a little further I can hold it while moving up and hitting jump.

Dark Forces Anoat City sewers dianoga
Well I fucked that up. Still at least there was something soft down here to break my fall, so I lived to climb up and try again. Pretty generous really for a building in the Star Wars universe, as Imperial architecture tends to feature a lot of endless chasms.


Oh for fuck's sake! Killed by the very last robot on the level five meters from reaching the goal. Look the weapon specialist is right there! He's not even a boss and I didn't even have to backtrack to my ship afterwards this time around. All I had to do was walk up to him and I'd have won!

I suppose it worked out for the best though, as now I know what happens when you get killed in this. Surprisingly it only put me back a few rooms and I respawned with all the enemies still dead. Though it did cost me a life.

Yep, it's a post-Doom first person shooter with LIVES. Don't see many of them around and there's a good reason for that (it's not a great idea).

The next level's on an ice planet (or maybe just part of a regular planet that is icy, who knows?) Annoyingly though this is the most awe inspiring shot I could grab of its vast chasms and precarious ledges. I hate to say it, but Dark Forces really isn't a pretty game these days.

It's not ugly though either, at least not to me with my rose-tinted nostalgia amplification goggles on. I honestly truly think the game looks fine the way it is. They've made a real effort to make the textures and level designs look like the original movie trilogy and I think the graphics are sophisticated enough to be recognisably Star Wars.

Crap, it's a dead end. Unless...

Nope there's no switches around to open those doors, I really am totally stuck here. I suppose I might have missed something along the way, but backtracking along icy walls is just tempting fate.

Yep, I went backtracking looking for a different path, slipped, then fell off the cliff. No point throwing a life away on this though, I might as well restart the entire level.

Dark Forces level select screen
Oh by the way, the game's got a proper level select screen in, predating GoldenEye's by two years. Not a very interesting fact (or a very interesting screenshot for that matter) but I felt like mentioning it. Because it is awesome. Also it blows my mind that this and GoldenEye are only two years apart.

Sadly you can't harvest extra lives from earlier levels (though I gave it a shot).


Dark Forces Ewoks Suck wall texture
Well I finally made it inside the research facility. It turns out that there was another path branching off above the... whoa, how come I never noticed that before? Look up there on that wall I'm currently cowering behind, over on the left side of the screenshot.

Ewoks Suck? They sure do texture artist, they sure do.

Oh SHIT... turrets!

I've just had a sudden flash of recollection. I don't remember much from this game, but I do remember to fear the ceiling turrets. I could just be talking bullshit here, but it's almost like my gun doesn't auto adjust to compensate for their height, so it's a struggle for me to fine tune my aim to kill them before they cut a chunk out of my health. I only dare to peek out from behind this Ewoks Suck wall for a second at a time though, that's for sure.

Just gonna carefully adjust my aim here, then dart back to safety. Once my view is at the correct angle I'll be able to pop out from the doorway and take a shot or two at a time to wear it down and... uh, why aren't I moving left? I can't seem to get back out.


OH THANK FUCK I ESCAPED. These damn turrets man, they give me turret panic.

And then I walked down the corridor and got killed by a random stormtrooper. Shameful.

Anyone else would store their valuables in a vault behind a big solid locked door, but not the Imperials. Nope, they gotta keep their precious sample on top of a column accessible only by a moving walkway manipulated by two levers controlling height and rotation. But of course before you can get up there you have to first flick three switches located on the sides of the column itself...

It's like they're specifically trying to keep out impatient thieves. Still, it's better than having to hunt down the blue key to make progress I suppose, not that the game's entirely free of that.

Turns out that those dead end doors that confused me earlier were actually opened by a switch at the end of the level. I was able to grab what I came here for, then stroll right back outside without backtracking through the entire base. Good game design that.

Now I just have to creep back across these treacherous ledges without falling into a chasm right before the finish line, then I can finally get back to my ship and go get a nice cup of hot chocolate from the heated beverage planet.

So is Star Wars: Dark Forces: Jedi Knight 0 actually any good then, or is just another crappy relic of the 2.5D era, deserving to be forever overshadowed by its fan-pleasing lightsaber-weilding sequel? Well to be honest I wish I could like it more than I do. I mean I've been enjoy the gameplay just fine for what it is, but it's so easy to get stuck for ages, wading through dead stormtroopers in empty corridors in frustration trying to find that one damn switch I've overlooked. I appreciate it having a map, but the thing's entirely unmarked and the levels can be a maze. Markers pointing out things like 'combination switch' or 'overly complicated locked door puzzle' in areas I've visited already could've helped. Still, it's better than each level being an entirely linear straightforward path.

Also swapping the limited lives with quicksaves or checkpoints would've made me happier, but I realise that's just personal taste. Plus even on medium difficulty I've been collecting through exploration as many as I've lost through incompetence, so it hasn't been a huge issue so far. You know, on the easy levels.

But yeah, I want to like it more, but I still like it a lot. It's a clear step above most of the classic pre-polygon shooters I've played lately, and I'd rate it close to Doom and Duke Nukem 3D in quality. I'd probably even happily play through the whole thing again right now if I didn't have a massive backlog of other games I should be playing.

Any thoughts about Dark Forces, the Jedi Knight series or Star Wars games in general you feel like sharing? Just want to say something about my writing or the site overall? Comments are always welcome.

1 comment:

  1. There's a steam sale on Star Wars games too if anyone wants to get it or some of the other star wars games.


Semi-Random Game Box