When it comes to licensed shooters, Star Wars has always been a dependable source to draw from. Games like Star Wars: Battlefront or Star Wars: Republic Commando are excellent first person shooters, but in the 90s, the franchise still had to prove itself as an FPS powerhouse. Enter Star Wars: Dark Forces, the first ever FPS based on the sci-fi powerhouse.
What this game does best is really make you feel like you’re in the world of Star Wars. You’ll spend Star Wars: Dark Forces blasting through all sorts of enemies such as Gamorrean guards, Dianogas (The little trash compactor monsters), and Stormtroopers with weapons like the E-11 blaster rifles or thermal detonators. For any Star Wars fan, it’s a real treat.
The entire presentation is actually pretty impressive for such an old game, especially the sound design. Every blast of a laser weapon is accompanied by the classic sound effect, and composer Clint Bajakian did a great job porting some of John William’s iconic tracks into level themes. Also worth mentioning are the sprites themselves, which are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a FPS before or after Star Wars: Dark Forces‘ release.
The story kickstarted what is arguably one of the best stories in Star Wars‘ expanded universe, focusing on mercenary turned Jedi Kyle Katarn. During the plot, Kyle interacts with a number of easily recognizable Star Wars characters such as Princess Leia, Jabba the Hutt, and even the sith lord Darth Vader himself. Cutscenes are wonderfully animated, drawing the player in to the story unfolding around them.
The gameplay is extremely unique for the time, focusing on a lives system instead of quicksaves. Basically, how it works is that you have a set amount of lives, and after death you will respawn nearby. Once you run out of lives, its game over and you must restart the level. It doesn’t work quite as well as quicksaves do, but it does help Star Wars: Dark Forces stick out from the crowd of 90s shooters.
Star Wars: Dark Forces‘ greatest flaw is how levels are handled, which is a real shame considering most of them are quite varied thematically and look nice. See, you will spend a lot of time traversing mazes, which you will frequently have to backtrack through. If that’s not bad enough, you end nearly every mission by going to the starting point to get picked up in your ship, leading to plenty of frustrating moments just navigating the map.
Aside from that, there’s not much to complain about in Star Wars: Dark Forces. Sure, it can get a bit dark, and sure, the cutscenes can lean on the ugly side, but Star Wars: Dark Forces is a very solid package overall. Shooting is fun, fanservice is high, and the levels look great. Star Wars: Dark Forces is easily one of the best shooters of the 90s and is worth a go from both shooter fans and Star Wars fans alike.