Star Wars: Dark Forces
Star Wars: Dark Forces is a first-person shooter video game developed and published by LucasArts as part of the Star Wars: Jedi Knight series. It was released in 1995 for MS-DOS and Macintosh, and in 1996 for the PlayStation. The storyline is set in the Star Wars fictional universe and follows the player character Kyle Katarn, a mercenary working on behalf of the Rebel Alliance. He discovers the Empire's "Dark Trooper Project", which involves the development of a series of powerful new battle droids and power-armored stormtroopers.
|Star Wars: Dark Forces|
North American MS-DOS cover art
|Series||Star Wars: Jedi Knight|
Dark Forces uses the Jedi game engine, which was developed specifically for the game. The engine adds gameplay features that were uncommon to the first-person shooter genre at the time of release, including level designs with multiple floors, and the ability to look up and down.
Critics gave very favorable reviews to the PC versions, which were praised for the level design and technological advances. The PlayStation version was criticized for having poor graphics and slow frame rates, reducing playability. A sequel, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, followed in 1997.
Dark Forces is a first-person shooter (FPS). The player controls Kyle Katarn from a first-person perspective, with a focus on combat against various creatures and characters from the Star Wars universe, although the game also includes environmental puzzles and hazards. Dark Forces follows a central storyline outlined in mission briefings and cutscenes. Each mission includes specific objectives which are related to the story. The missions take place in a variety of environments across the Star Wars universe, including a Star Destroyer interior, Jabba the Hutt's space yacht, and the planet Coruscant, where the player must infiltrate a computer vault.
Dark Forces' gameplay expands on the FPS standards set by Doom in 1993, and features gameplay elements that are now common in the FPS genre. These include the ability to look up and down, duck, and jump. A variety of power-ups are made available to the player, including health, shields, weapons and ammunition. The game also features several non-combat items to aid the player. The head lamp illuminates the area in front of the player, but will reveal the player's position to enemies in dark rooms. Ice cleats provide traction in icy areas, and an air mask protects the player from areas with toxic atmosphere. Many inventory items are powered by batteries (separate from weapon ammunition types) which can be found around the levels.
For combat, the player may use fists, explosive land mines and thermal detonators, as well as blasters and other ranged weapons. All player weapons except the fist require ammunition, which can be collected in power-ups. All weapons, again with the exception of the fist, have a secondary mode which makes it have a different effect than in primary mode. The player has health and shields which are damaged by enemy attacks and some environmental hazards, and may be replenished through power-ups.
In addition to combat, Dark Forces provides physical obstacles for the character, such as jumping from ledges or traversing across flowing rivers, and includes multi-step puzzles such as mazes controlled by switches.
The storyline in Dark Forces follows Kyle Katarn (voiced by Nick Jameson), a mercenary employed by the Rebel Alliance. Before the game begins, Katarn was a student learning the skills required to follow in his father's career of agricultural mechanics. While he was studying at an academy, he was told by officials that Rebels had killed his parents. The pain from this caused him to enlist in the Imperial army.
Subsequently, Katarn met Jan Ors (Julie Eccles), a Rebel working undercover as a double agent in the Empire. Ors uncovered the real information about Katarn's parents' death; that the Empire was behind it. The Empire eventually discovered that Ors was working for the Rebels and she was taken prisoner. Katarn helped her escape, thus ending his career with the Empire. He soon became a mercenary and, due to his hatred of the Empire for killing his parents, he began to take on jobs from the Rebel Alliance. Dark Forces begins with Katarn being recruited by the Rebel Alliance to recover the plans to the Death Star, a heavily armed space station capable of destroying an entire planet. The Alliance use the plans to find a weakness in and subsequently destroy the Death Star.
One year later, the Alliance hires Katarn again, this time to investigate an assault on one of their bases by a new type of Imperial soldier. His investigation reveals the Imperial Dark Trooper project, led by General Rom Mohc (Jack Angel). His mission to stop the project takes him to the sewers of Anoat City, where he captures Moff Rebus, an Imperial weapons specialist who developed the Dark Trooper weapon. Rebus' interrogation leads Katarn to a weapons research facility in the mountains of Fest and the Gromas mines where minerals are extracted for the Dark Troopers.
After learning of Crix Madine's (a former Imperial Commander, who had defected to the Alliance) capture and imminent execution, Kyle proceeds to a high security detention center on Orinackra to rescue him. Madine provides the Rebel Alliance with information about the smuggling of Dark Trooper materials, leading Katarn to investigate the Ramsees Hed docking port on Cal-Seti. He then destroys a robotics facility on the icy planet Anteevy, the second stage of the Dark Trooper production line. After being captured by Jabba the Hutt and having to escape his ship, Katarn infiltrates a computer vault on Coruscant which reveals the location of the Ergo fuel station, the final stage in the smuggling route. He masquerades as a smuggler, gaining access to the Super Star Destroyer Executor, which brings him finally to the Arc Hammer starship, the headquarters of General Mohc's Dark Trooper project, where he successfully destroys the operation and kills Mohc.
Development of Dark Forces was led by Daron Stinnett. The programming was led by Ray Gresko, and the graphics and storyline by Justin Chin. Production began in September 1993, at a time when the first-person shooter genre was very popular. The idea of creating a first-person shooter in the Star Wars universe was inspired by fan mods of Doom which had levels set on the Death Star. The developers of Dark Forces wanted to adapt the FPS format into an adventure game. To do this they introduced puzzles and strategy, along with a Star Wars plot. Originally Luke Skywalker was intended to be the main character in the game, however the developers realized that this would add constraints to gameplay and storyline. Instead a new character, Kyle Katarn, was created.
Upon release, Dark Forces was commonly called a "Doom clone," but the game makes significant expansions upon the gameplay features present in Doom. New gameplay mechanisms that were not common at the time of release include the ability to look up and down, duck, jump, and swim. The use of multiple floor levels is another technical advance in the first-person shooter genre. To produce these new features, the developers wrote a game engine from scratch. The Jedi game engine can create gameplay and graphical elements such as fully 3D objects, atmospheric effects such as fog and haze, animated textures and shading. Stinnett indicated that the developers wanted these elements to be part of an "active environment," and features were included to create this: "ships come and go at the flight decks, rivers sweep along, platforms and conveyor belts move and much of the machinery functions."
The Dark Troopers in Dark Forces were created specifically for the game by Justin Chin and Paul Mica. Chin notes that they were designed as a more advanced enemy when compared to standard stormtroopers: "Instead of just beefing up the stormtroopers, I designed them to be more efficient. I wanted something more terrifying and more omnipotent." Three designs for the Dark Troopers were produced for Dark Forces. Lucasfilm licensing department initially rejected two of the designs for looking too much out of character, so Chin produced new designs which were ultimately approved. The development team collaborated with staff at Skywalker Ranch for the sounds, music, and costumes used in the cutscenes.
Dark Forces was ported from DOS to Apple Macintosh. This presented several challenges for the developers. LucasArts requested the game to be produced for both DOS and Macintosh with the same system requirements, specifically the random-access memory (RAM). The Mac OS runs a graphical user interface which uses up RAM while DOS does not, meaning the Macintosh version has less RAM available for Dark Forces to use. Aaron Giles, who was the Macintosh programmer for Dark Forces, explained that to resolve this problem the memory had to be managed more efficiently.
Although set in the Star Wars universe, lead artist and author Justin Chin "invented" new weapons for the game, such as the Bryar pistol and Packered mortar gun, which were named after his personal favorites, such as composer Gavin Bryars and 1950s Packard automobiles, respectively.
Music for Star Wars: Dark Forces was mostly original works composed by Clint Bajakian, though they are based on cues from John Williams' original Star Wars works through the utilization of the iMUSE system to create interactive music. The game also features full speech and sound effects in stereo.
Dark Forces achieved a strong following on the internet, and custom levels and maps were created for the game. The popularity of characters from Dark Forces resulted in LucasArts licensing toys based on the game. Hasbro produced Kyle Katarn and Dark Trooper toys, which are among the Star Wars expanded universe items to be turned into action figures. The Dark Troopers were also included in books and comics. William C. Dietz's novelizations of the Dark Forces storyline were adapted to full-cast audio dramatizations.
LucasArts extended Dark Forces with Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II in 1997, and later two more sequels. The Jedi Knight series continues the story of Kyle Katarn and has been praised for its quality as a whole.
In September 2009, Dark Forces was re-released as a downloadable version on Valve Corporation's Steam network for Windows XP, 2000 and Vista, and OS X Mavericks. The game is available to purchase individually or as part of a package including all of the games in the Jedi Knight series.
On April 29, 2010, the game was made available on the PlayStation Network as a "PSone Classic".
The PC and Macintosh versions of Star Wars: Dark Forces were well received, with the MS-DOS version holding an aggregate score on GameRankings of 77%. Publications compared Dark Forces to Doom, a significant video game in the first-person shooter genre at the time, but also indicated that Dark Forces improved upon Doom's features. Criticisms tended to focus on the game being too short, as well as lacking a multiplayer feature.
Steven Kent of The Seattle Times believed that the general aspects of the game appeal to most computer gamers, not just Star Wars fans. Kent argued that the Star Wars setting is a high point for the game, saying that the level designs recreate the Star Wars style well: "Though most of the Dark Forces sets are original to the game, they were created in the 'Star Wars' spirit."
Dark Forces' gameplay has been described as "challenging" and has generally received praise. Ron Dulin, reviewing the game for GameSpot, highlights the implementation of puzzles within levels: "The levels are diverse and ingenious, with plenty of creative obstacles standing between you and your goal. While they can be occasionally frustrating, Dark Forces' diverse gameplay requirements make this title more mentally challenging than your average key hunt." The graphics and sound were both praised as helping to immerse the player in the environment.
The PlayStation version of Dark Forces received less positive reviews. It holds an aggregate score on GameRankings of 59.57%. GameSpot wrote, "Though the speed of the Playstation allows for smooth movement, Dark Forces boasts a horrendously choppy frame rate." IGN made a similar point; "Unlike the PC and Mac versions, PlayStation Dark Forces is grainier than a loaf of bread. Close up, everything is blocky and pixelated, but even from far away the walls and textures look like big, chunky blocks. Even worse than the graphics, though, is the frame rate. Or lack thereof. The choppy motion takes so much away from the enjoyment of actually playing the game." The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly agreed that the choppy frame rate interferes with the gameplay, which in combination with some control issues make the game frustrating to play, and a disappointment in light of its strong performance on PC. Alex Constantides of Computer and Video Games offers the same view, saying that the game is "visually dated." GamePro's Major Mike praised the action, depth of gameplay, weapons, sound effects, music, and graphic effects, but said the choppy frame rate and slowdown "plague most of the game", and compared the game unfavorably to Doom and PowerSlave. Next Generation noted that "Dark Forces fails on some technical levels as a port", but commented positively on the variety of level designs, challenge level, and use of audio, and concluded more favorably, "Not quite as intense as Doom or Disruptor, but surely better than crap like Kileak, Dark Forces will certainly satisfy Star Wars fans looking for their own little touch of the force."
Next Generation reviewed the Macintosh version of the game, and stated that "Purposeful mission objectives [...] and various neato features [...] lift Dark Forces out of the faceless swamp of first-person crawlers and into a place of honor. A very classy job." MacUser named Dark Forces one of the top 50 CD-ROMs of 1995.
Dark Forces shipped more than 300,000 copies in preparation for its launch, a record for LucasArts at that time. It debuted at #1 on PC Data's monthly computer game sales chart for March 1995. In 1998, it was the third-highest-selling game for Mac OS.
According to PC Data, Dark Forces sold 952,033 by September 1999 in the United States. This made it this country's 11th-best-selling computer game since January 1993.
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