Review: Star Wars: Dark Forces (PS1)

Title: Star Wars: Dark Forces
Format: PlayStation Network Download / PlayStation Disc
Release Date: April 29, 2010
Original PS1 Release Date: November 1996
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Original MSRP: $5.99
ESRB Rating: T

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 244 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
When the first person shooter craze was in full swing in the early 90’s, everyone was looking to capitalize on the successes of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, and LucasArts was no exception. The idea of a first person shooter set in the Star Wars Universe made the kid in me giddy and the game didn’t disappoint. Originally released on the PC and eventually ported to the fledgeling PlayStation platform, Star Wars: Dark Forces puts you in the shoes of Kyle Katarn, a mercenary hired by the Rebels to do a number of jobs.

Set just before Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, your first mission sends you off to find the plans to the Death Star, yes those plans. It’s a great way to pull you right into the Star Wars Universe. Eventually you’ll uncover a new type of weapon the Empire is developing, the Dark Trooper. It’s up to you to hunt down information about the project and try to bring it all down.

Not content to be a simple Doom clone, the game added in a number of changes that would become commonplace in later first person shooters such as the ability to look up and down and the ability to jump and duck. This allowed for more creative level design as enemies could be above or below you around any given turn and it helped make the world more believable.

The excitement of this game lies in the story and the tools you’re given as you make your way through it. The moment I picked up and fired an Imperial blaster I was hooked, and the cool thing here is the way everything works.

You have a flashlight and night vision goggles that require batteries. These can be picked up around the levels and by destroying droids. Shields can be charged up through pick ups and weapons will need ammo as well. Standard fare nowadays but this was all new back then. You’ll even have to use ice cleats and an air mask when the situation calls for them.

Along the way you’ll visit a number of worlds and bases including the sewers of Anoat City, the ice planet of Anteevy, Coruscant, and Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer, the Executor. There are even appearances by Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. What more could a fanboy want? Spread across fourteen levels, the game is challenging and pretty fun at the same time.

The controls are decent, all things considered. It’s not easy to map an FPS built for the PC to an original PlayStation controller with no analog sticks, but they managed it pretty well. It takes a bit of getting used to, but by the end of the first level, everything feels pretty solid.

Visuals:
Okay, so it’s not nearly on par with the PC version. It is, in fact, very blocky and pixilated. That’s not to say it looks truly terrible, it just doesn’t look great. Enemies are still instantly recognizable, from your basic stormtrooper to Probe Droids, Imperial officers, Gamorrean Guards and more.

While some of the areas look a bit generic simply because of the angular constraints of the technology, it all still feels like Star Wars, and that’s really the most important part.

The cutscenes are better than expected, with Mon Mothma and Darth Vader coming across quite well. Lighting also plays an important role as you’ll be thrown into dark tunnels and caverns and you’ll need to rely on your headlamp or infrared goggles while at the same time conserving the battery life. It makes a good use of the game’s engine and adds a bit of a strategic element to the game.

As long as you’re not expecting a beautiful Star Wars game, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Audio:
One of the high points of the game for sure is the audio. While not the full orchestra sound we’ve come to expect, the Star Wars theme and other related music are all faithfully reproduced here. During the fighting the music will build to fit the action and then drop off to a more natural pace when exploring.

The sounds are pure Star Wars, from the blasters and doors, to the droids and stormtroopers, it’s all quite authentic and immersive, even the voice talent does a pretty decent job of replicating Mon Mothma and Darth Vader. The other characters, including Kyle Katarn and General Rom Mohc (head of the Dark Trooper project) are also quite well done.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
Yes, it’s an old game and yes, the graphics aren’t terribly great, but underneath it all there’s a pretty decent game and a cool story that’s integrated right into the Star Wars canon. This was an early PlayStation game and it shows, but for a fan of Star Wars, it’s absolutely worth the $5.99 if only for the story.

Score:
7.0

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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  • Anonymous

    There was quite a few Kyle Katarn games weren’t there? Sure I played a couple at least. I remember Jedi Adacademy as well but can’t remember if that was also Kyle Katarn.

    Can barely remember any of those old games but i do remember liking the extended universe Kyle Katarn belongs to. I’d like to see him in a modern game, I’m suprised Lucas hasn’t CGI’d him into the old movies somewhere.

    • Yes actually, there were three more games that focused on Kyle Katarn and his back story.  The second one, Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight was a huge deal because you had a lightsaber and some force powers, the first time that had been seen in a first person shooter.

      He’s fully integrated into the Star Wars Universe as Lucas even inserted his ship flying by in the remade Mos Eisley sequence in A New Hope.  It would definitely be cool if they went back to this character with a new game or even remakes/reimaginings of the original games now that they’re (hopefully) done with Force Unleashed.

  • Damon Bullis

    Great review Josh.  I remember playing this game when it first came out and loved it.  When I first got it on PSN I was disappointed in the game but I attribute to having just finished a few great modern FPS.  I recently restarted playing this again on my PSP and refound my love for this game.  I really hope that Lucas Arts goes back to some of these older titles and find new games or inspiration from them for future titles.  I really miss those older titles like X-wing/ T.I.E. Fighter, Rebel Assault, Dark Forces, and the more recent Battlefront and Republic Commando.  I’m also surprised that with the success of KOTOR that more games based on different eras of the universe haven’t been made.

    I also heard that Chewbacca was inspired by Josh’s Beard, but unfortunately contracts broke down and the technology just wasn’t there yet, so Lucas had to have Peter Mayhew play the Chewbacca instead of The Beard.  Oh well maybe he can fix that in the 3D version of the film.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the review, I’m glad you’re reviewing some older games.  By the way, did you play the PSN version on a PS3?  After it originally was released on PSN, there was a long-standing bug where it would freeze the system if you played any other games before playing Dark Forces without rebooting.  I assume it eventually got fixed, but it’d be nice to know for sure.  🙂

    • Sorry, I never got to answer.  I played the PSN version and I checked on that bug.  I had no problem with the game when playing it right after another so it looks like the bug was fixed.