Star Wars: Dark Forces is a first-person shooter set in George Lucas' Star Wars universe, and developed and published by LucasArts. Released originally for DOS computers in February 1995, the game would also come to Mac later that year, and the PlayStation in 1996. Both the PC and PlayStation versions were digitally re-released in later years.
Dark Forces introduces players to Kyle Katarn, a one-time Imperial officer who became disillusioned with the Empire and began to take on mercenary work for the Rebel Alliance. The game is set contemporaneous to the original trilogy, and begins with Katarn stealing the plans to the first Death Star. However, from there it branches off into a storyline that is unrelated to the films, detailing Katarn's discovery of the Empire's covert Dark Trooper Project and his subsequent efforts to prevent it from being brought to bear against the Rebel Alliance.
With the exception of the PlayStation version, which was largely deemed to be inferior, Dark Forces was quite well-received upon its initial release, and its success laid the groundwork for future games in the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight franchise. Furthermore, certain aspects of its narrative, such as its protagonist, Kyle Katarn, and the concept of Dark Troopers, would become well-known parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Its engine, known as the Jedi engine, would also be used for a later LucasArts first-person shooter, Outlaws.
Dark Forces was created by a team of twenty developers at LucasArts (not including testers and product support), and took roughly twenty months in total to complete. The project was led by one Daron Stinnett, who was hired by LucasArts in 1993 specifically to develop a game for them using the Star Wars license. While Stinnett had originally entertained the idea of a flight simulation game due to his previous flight sim experience working for Spectrum Holobyte, the recent success of id Software's Wolfenstein 3D and the impending release of Doom convinced him to pursue a Star Wars first-person shooter. With the FPS genre still being relatively uncharted territory, Stinnett prioritized raw talent over experience while putting together the development team, even going as far as to hire architectural undergraduates (Ingar Shu and Matt Tateishi) from the University of California at Berkeley as level designers. Stinnett admitted later that the newly-created team, which had neither worked together before nor worked on an FPS, was flying by the seat of its pants in the early goings, saying that "usually when you develop a game, you have some idea of where you're headed and how to get there. With Dark Forces, we winged it at the beginning".
The Jedi engine, which is primarily credited to lead programmer Ray Gresko, took some six months to coalesce into a working state, and realism was one of the main motivations behind its creation. In order to achieve a heightened sense of realism within the game world, the Jedi engine implements truly three-dimensional environments in which rooms can exist on top of one another, something most contemporary FPS engines, like the Doom engine, were not capable of. The game's programmers also implemented other features that were not common to first-person engines at the time, including the ability to display polygonal 3D objects and atmospheric effects such as fog. In addition, the player's abilities within this game world were intended to match the overall realism of the setting, and thus the ability to jump, crouch, and to look up and down were included.
In terms of narrative, Dark Forces was originally intended to star Luke Skywalker, and its story was to adhere closely to the events of the films. However, the designers quickly began to feel limited by this idea, and it would ultimately be the project's lead artist, Justin Chin, who would devise a plotline that branched away from the more well-established fiction of the franchise. Inspired by the setting, he pitched an idea to Stinnett and Gresko involving an elite force of stormtroopers, and after receiving positive feedback, he quickly put together a design document detailing characters, a story arc, and an outline for thirty-two missions (which would later be pared down to fourteen). In addition to creating the story, Chin was responsible for much of the visual design of the game, both through conceptualization and through hiring and managing the game's other artists. Many of the game's new additions to the Star Wars universe, including weapons and enemies, are attributed primarily to him.
In order to properly evoke the well-known look and feel of the Star Wars films, the level design team for Dark Forces endeavored to create settings that would feel vibrant and alive when compared to the more abstracted visuals of games like Doom. Various techniques were employed to accomplish this goal; levels in Dark Forces incorporate working machinery like elevators and conveyor belts, ambient activity such as flowing water and roving mouse droids, and free-moving 3D objects like cargo crates and space ships. In addition to the levels themselves, gameplay also drew significant inspiration from cinema. Chin, who was responsible for mapping out many of the game's puzzles and action sequences, cited the original Star Wars trilogy, Die Hard, and James Bond as inspirations for some of the game's challenges. In point of fact, living up to the movies was of paramount importance to the game's project leader. "This would be the first time anyone could actually walk around in a Star Wars universe," said Stinnett, adding "It had to have the same rich look and feel and sound and detail of the movies, plus compelling gameplay."
The events of Dark Forces are told from the perspective of Kyle Katarn, a mercenary and ex-Imperial soldier hired by the Rebel Alliance to complete dangerous missions. Before he became affiliated with the Empire or the Alliance, Katarn grew up within a farming community on Sulon and dreamed of becoming a mechanic like his father, Morgan Katarn. While away at the Academy, his home was attacked by Imperial forces, and his parents killed; Katarn, however, believing the Empire's version of events, quickly enlisted in the Imperial Army. It was there that he met Jan Ors, who was at the time working as a double agent for the Alliance. Sensing a growing discontentment with the Empire, Ors fed Katarn information that revealed to him the truth about the Empire's attack on Sulon, and in return Katarn rescued Ors when her cover was blown, ending both of their tenures in the Empire. Though he did not entirely trust the Alliance, due to his hatred for the Empire and his respect for Ors Katarn began to take on mercenary work for them.
As Dark Forces begins, Katarn is participating in "Operation Skyhook," a covert mission intended to steal the plans for the Empire's first Death Star from their secret base on Danuta. Katarn is successful in retrieving the plans, and from here the game jumps forward in time to a point after the Battle of Yavin, in which the Death Star was destroyed. Kyle is now called upon by Mon Mothma to investigate a mysterious development at Tak Base on Talay, which was attacked and destroyed by the Empire with surprising speed. A weapon left behind at the base leads Katarn and Ors, now acting as Katarn's mission officer, to suspect that the attack on Tak Base was related to the Empire's Dark Trooper Project. An inscription on the weapon leads them to a weapon designer named Moff Rebus, who, when confronted, inadvertently tips them off about the existence of an Imperial weapon research facility on Fest. Katarn explores the facility on Fest, and in so doing discovers a sample of a rare metal known as phrik.
Now knowing that phrik is crucial to the production of Dark Troopers, Katarn and Ors track down an Imperial phrik mining operation on Gromas 16. Katarn infiltrates the mine and attaches a sequencer charge to the mine's reactor, allowing him to destroy the entire facility remotely. With the mine destroyed, Kyle turns his attention next to an Imperial detention center on Orinackra where an important spy is being held. Once freed, the spy informs Katarn that the mine he destroyed on Gromas 16 was the first of three production phases for the Dark Trooper Project, with the second being a robotics facility and the third being an imperial ship called the Arc Hammer. By tracking smuggler activity Katarn is able to quickly ascertain the location of the Dark Trooper robotics facility: the ice planet Anteevy. He travels there next, and is able to destroy the operation in short order, once again using sequencer charges to level the entire structure. He then heads to Nar Shaddaa hoping to obtain further information on smuggling routes.
Kyle obtains an Imperial navigational card while on Nar Shaddaa, but upon trying to leave, he and Ors are captured by Jabba the Hutt. Jabba attempts to kill Katarn by feeding him to his pet kell dragons, but Katarn is able to overcome the beasts with his bare hands before escaping with Ors and the nav card. Now with a nav card but no decryption key, Kyle travels to Coruscant to decode the card so that it might lead him closer to the Arc Hammer and the final stage of Dark Trooper production. The decoded card leads him to a refueling station where Katarn absconds with a ship bound for the Executor, the only ship with knowledge of the Arc Hammer's whereabouts. From there, Kyle sneaks aboard the Arc Hammer via a cargo container and begins the task of destroying the main Dark Trooper production facility. After setting charges, Katarn moves to escape only to be confronted by Gernal Mohc, head of the Dark Trooper Project, in an advanced armor suit. Katarn defeats Mohc and escapes the Arc Hammer as it explodes.
Dark Forces is a fast-paced first-person action game in the vein of early FPS titles like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. The player moves about a three-dimensional environment from a first-person perspective, using whatever weapons they may have to overcome enemies they encounter as they progress. New weapons are acquired either by taking them from defeated enemies or by finding them within the game world, and ammunition for these weapons can be found in much the same way. Players can increase their survivability and heal wounds by finding shield units and med kits, or gain powerful temporary boosts through power-ups, which are often hidden. Certain items may also be used to benefit the player in ways not related to combat; a head lamp or infrared goggles can be activated to increase visibility, while an air mask can filter breathable air while in a toxic area. Auxiliary abilities may require constant battery power in order to maintain their use, and if the player expends this power they must obtain batteries to replenish it.
While the main emphasis of Dark Forces is combat, missions are story-driven, and they are preceded by briefings of the level to come that outline the player's main objectives as well as the narrative impetus for them. Mission objectives often force the player to solve some manner of puzzle in order to proceed or at the very least to be observant of their surroundings. Dark Forces also allows the player to run, jump, crouch, and to look up and down. Depending on the scenario, these different forms of movement and traversal may also be necessary to employ in order to complete a level. Unlike many PC first-person shooters, Dark Forces does not allow the player to save their game while within a mission; instead, the player is given a set number of lives with which to complete a given level. Should the player lose all of their health, they will lose a life and be respawned at a nearby location with 100 hit points and 100 shield points. Should the player lose all of their lives, they can no longer continue, and must restart the level.
Dark Forces includes ten different weapons, many of which possess alternate firing methods. Of particular note is the fact that Dark Forces features shared ammunition types for many of its armaments. Power cells, for instance, are used by not only the Imperial Repeater Gun, but also the Jeron Fusion Cutter and the Stouker Concussion Rifle. This means that players must be cognizant of the fact that depleting their ammo supplies might render multiple weapons unusable. Several of Dark Forces' weapons were created specifically for the game, and had not previously appeared in any other Star Wars medium.
Fists are the only melee weapon in Dark Forces, and are available to the player from the start. Kyle's hands seemingly have an area of effect, as he can in fact hit multiple enemies with a single punch, contrary to what one might expect. Enemies may also be knocked back by the force of the blow. In spite of these advantageous properties, fists are mostly a last resort weapon for use when absolutely necessary, though they can be effective against melee opponents.
Modified Bryar Pistol
- : 2
- : Energy Units
The personal sidearm of Kyle Katarn, the Modified Bryar Pistol is a reliable blaster that serves dutifully as the player's default weapon. Its biggest advantage is its range, as it is one of the most accurate long-range guns in Dark Forces. It is also quite efficient, using only one energy unit with each firing. Its slow firing rate makes it somewhat prohibitive in close combat situations, however, and though it is very accurate, to be sure, it also causes less damage at long range.
Stormtrooper Laser Rifle
- : 3
- : Energy Units
The Stormtrooper Laser Rifle is an upgrade to the Bryar Pistol in some respects, though a step down in others. On the positive side, it fires much faster than the Bryar Pistol, making it far superior in close combat or against groups of enemies. It is significantly less efficient, however, using two energy units per bolt rather than one, and is wildly inaccurate outside of close-to-medium range. Just like the Bryar Pistol, its bolts lose a good deal of their punch when used from a distance.
The hand grenade of the Star Wars universe, the Thermal Detonator is simply activated and thrown in order to produce a small explosion near a desired target. By holding down the fire button before releasing, the player will charge the attack, causing the Detonator to be thrown even farther. When using the primary fire button, the Detonator will explode immediately upon impact with an enemy or object, while its secondary fire activates a three-second fuse after its release.
Imperial Repeater Gun
- : 5
- : Power Cells
The Imperial Repeater Gun has the fastest rate of fire in Dark Forces, fast enough in fact that many foes are unable to counterattack while sustaining fire from it. To further add to its appeal, its accuracy over long range rivals that of the Bryar Pistol, making it a very versatile weapon all around. When the situation calls for additional firepower, the Repeater can also fire three rounds at once. Its only real downside is a slight lack of power, though its strengths help offset this.
Jeron Fusion Cutter
- : 6
- : Power Cells
Designed as a construction implement, the Jeron Fusion Cutter has been repurposed by Kyle Katarn to serve as a deadly weapon. By default, it fires one barrel at a time, though it can also be made to fire all four of its barrels at once. The spread of its bolts makes the Fusion Cutter somewhat unreliable at long range, however its rate of fire also limits its effectiveness in close quarters. For these reasons, the Fusion Cutter is truly at its best when used from mid-range.
The I.M. Mine (short for Imperial Machines Mine) is an explosive device that is placed on the ground by the player and detonated shortly thereafter. When used in its standard mode, the mine will automatically detonate after a fixed three-second fuse, though it can also be armed with a motion sensor, allowing it to explode only when something draws near. In either case the I.M. Mine should be used with caution, as the potential for serious self-injury is quite substantial.
Packered Mortar Gun
The Packered Mortar Gun is, for all intents and purposes, a grenade launcher, as it fires explosive shells in a fixed arc that detonate immediately upon impact. A single shell is actually less damaging than a Thermal Detonator, however what it lacks in power the Mortar Gun makes up for in speed, as it can deliver its shells much faster than Thermal Detonators can be thrown. Due to the splash damage caused by its attack, it is a natural choice for use against groups of opponents.
Stouker Concussion Rifle
- : 9
- : Power Cells
The Stouker Concussion Rifle is a beastly weapon primarily seen in the hands of Trandoshan thugs. It consumes four power cells per use, producing an extremely powerful concussive blast that can cause significant damage to anything caught within its fairly wide area of effect. The Concussion Rifle is by no means a close quarters weapons, as it is indiscriminate in who it harms, but from a distance, it is a deadly implement that can kill several enemies before they know what hit them.
- : 0
- : Plasma / Rockets
The weapon of choice for Phase II Dark Troopers, the Assault Cannon is not only one of the most powerful weapons in Dark Forces, but also the only one with two distinct ammo types. Its primary attack produces a steady stream of plasma energy that is not entirely dissimilar to the Fusion Cutter's main attack, while its secondary attack fires a single rocket in a straight line. When equipped, a secondary ammo counter appears in the game's HUD detailing its rocket count.
The rogues' gallery of Dark Forces consists mostly of enemies, machines, and creatures seen previously in Star Wars films, though a few of the player's opponents were created specifically for the game. What enemies a player will see in any given level is mostly determined by location; on Coruscant, for example, the player will, for the most part, contend with Imperial soldiers, while a wider variety of opponents may appear within non-Imperial locales like Nar Shaddaa. In many cases, enemies will drop some manner of item upon being defeated that the player can then pick up, whether it be ammo or the weapon they used.
Imperials are by far the most common enemy in Dark Forces, accounting for most of the player's opposition in many of the game's levels. Imperial Officers, dressed in brown, are the weakest variant, and can be killed with a single shot at close range. Stormtroopers, the most prevalent of the three, are slightly more resilient, while the black-clad Imperial Commandos are the toughest and the most accurate.
Droids are encountered throughout Dark Forces in a variety of situations, and all three types are airborne, giving them superior mobility. Remotes are more a nuisance than a true threat, being small enough that they are difficult to target. Interrogation Droids and Probe Droids are significantly larger than Remotes, and thus are easier to hit, though they are also more dangerous and tougher to kill.
The well-known trash compactor beast first witnessed in A New Hope, the Dianoga is a predatory creature commonly found in sewers or other aqueous environments. Before attacking, the Dianoga will often raise its eye stalk out of the water in order to glimpse its surroundings, allowing the player an opportunity to attack before it can. In many situations, though, running away is just as effective as killing it.
The three-eyed Gran are often employed as muscle by powerful crime lords, and indeed they are one of the game's most dangerous regular opponents. This is due primarily to their preferred weapon, the Thermal Detonator. Once the player is in close range, a Gran will opt to attack with its fists in order to avoid splash damage, meaning they are one of the few enemies for which close combat may be wiser.
The thick-skinned and slow-witted Gamorreans are among the favored enforcers of Jabba the Hutt, and what they lack in finesse and intelligence they make up for in raw strength. All Gamorrean guards carry heavy axes that can kill a player in just a few blows regardless of their shield strength, and while they have no offense outside melee range, they are able to weather significant damage while closing in.
It is not uncommon for Trandoshans to choose the life of a bounty hunter, and they are not opposed to taking odd jobs for the Empire. They are not opponents to be taken lightly, as the weapon of choice for many a Trandoshan is the deadly Stouker Concussion Rifle. Even more than with other enemies, it is important to kill a Trandoshan before it can fire a round, as even a single blast is highly damaging.
Related to the enormous krayt dragons of Tatooine, the kell dragons may be smaller in stature, but they are still quite large, and are not to be taken lightly. A kell dragon can tear apart its prey with its powerful jaws, and can also lunge at its target to take it by surprise. When tackling a kell dragon with ranged weaponry, it is best to attack while it is facing the player, as its head is its most vulnerable area.
One of the most lethal bounty hunters in the Star Wars mythos, Boba Fett is hired by the Empire specifically to deal with the threat posed by Kyle Katarn. He makes liberal use of his signature jet pack when confronting Katarn, thus becoming a fairly difficult target to hit, and his frequent use of rockets only exacerbates this problem. Fortunately, the player is only required to face him once in combat.
Phase I Dark Trooper
The first fruits of the Empire's Dark Trooper Project, the Phase I Dark Trooper is an advanced battle droid equipped with a vibrosword and a shield. Though the Phase I can only attack from melee range, its ability to deflect incoming fire with its shield makes certain weapon types inherently less effective against it. Perhaps the most effective way around this shield is through the use of explosive weapons like the Thermal Detonator and the Mortar Gun, which do not rely on direct hits.
Phase II Dark Trooper
The second stage of the Empire's Dark Trooper Project, and the most prevalent Dark Trooper in the game, the Phase II Dark Trooper has greatly increased capabilities when compared to its predecessor, the Phase I. Its most noticeable improvement is its use of the Assault Cannon rather than melee weaponry, which grants it both a rapid-fire energy attack and a heavier rocket launcher. In addition, the Phase II has greatly enhanced mobility thanks to the inclusion of a jet pack.
Phase III Dark Trooper
The most advanced stage of the Dark Trooper Project, the Phase III Dark Trooper is only seen in the game's final encounter, where it is piloted by the progenitor of the project, General Mohc. It is quite similar to the Phase II incarnation, though naturally it is tougher and deadlier. While the main attack of the Phase III is identical to the Phase II's, the former's rocket attack is replaced by an upgraded seeker missile system that can fire multiple slow-moving projectiles at once.
Dark Forces received very positive reviews following its release in 1995, although the PlayStation version released in 1996 was widely criticized for a number of issues, including poor frame rate and substandard textures. GameSpot's Ron Dulin called it "one of the first titles to actually improve upon the Doom formula," citing the game's use of various non-combat puzzles and challenges as evidence of this. PC Gamer's Matt Firme was similarly impressed with the game, particularly with the game's use of truly three-dimensional spaces and its implementation of the Star Wars license. In fact, both Dulin and Firme agreed that the familiar setting increased the game's appeal. Both reviewers were disappointed by Dark Forces' lack of multiplayer as well as certain aspects of its design. Dulin felt that the game was too short, while Firme found a few of the game's levels to be ugly or convoluted.
MS-DOS 5.0, 386DX/33 (rec. 486DX/33), 8MB RAM, 3.5MB on HDD, Compatible Sound Card
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