It is impossible not to draw parallels between Lucasarts’ Star Wars: Dark Forces and other 90s era shooters like Doom and Duke Nukem, having been released on PC right between the two of them in 1995 and again on the Playstation in 1996. SWDF carries virtually all the same mechanics seen in its slightly more violent and well known cousins, but somehow was never as synonymous with the genre as Duke and the Space Marine.
Let it be known that I am never wrong, except for that one time I was wrong about being wrong and was in actual fact right, but during my research I was surprised to learn that SWDF was not developed from a tweaked Doom engine as I had assumed. The game was instead built from scratch using the Jedi engine, a short-lived construct only ever used for SWDF and its cult Western-themed cousin Outlaws.
SWDF takes place between the first and second Star Wars trilogies, shortly before the beginning of Episode IV. Serving as the introduction of the intrepid Kyle Katarn who would feature in some of the later games, SWDF’s first level opens by tasking players with stealing the fabled Death Star plans that set the events of the original movie in motion.
From here the story diverges from the movies as Kyle and his buddy/pilot Jan Ors hop around the galaxy attempting to thwart the Empire’s plans for a deadly Dark Trooper army. The story is largely unremarkable and although some of the cut scenes are pretty cool they are largely few and far between with the majority of the story told through mission briefings.
Where the game does shine is through the lighting-fast gameplay that while great, is occasionally let down by the control scheme. This is especially true when it comes to aiming up and down, which instead of being mapped to the mouse, have to be groaningly carried out with the keyboard in an almost toggle-like fashion. In spite of these slight niggles however the shooting still feels solid and responsive as you strafe dodge ricocheting blaster shots from stormtroopers far more accurate than they ever were in any of the films.
From ice planets, to mining planets, to the angular corridors of space stations, or even Jabba the Hutt’s palace, the variety of locations in the Star Wars universe always provide diverse level design, and SWDF is no different. Each new level brings a change of scenery and mechanics that constantly keep things fresh.
As with any Star Wars product there are plenty of cameos and canon features to keep the hardened fans happy. Stormtroopers, tie fighters, blasters of all shapes and sizes, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and even the tentacled trash creature, all make an appearance.
Special mention goes to the great sound effects, music, and voice acting. It adds a special level of authenticity to hear a stormtrooper shout “Stop Rebel scum!” right before you bullseye him like a womp rat.
It’s refreshing to see a Star Wars title that skirts around the usual Jedi/lightsaber/force material that is so pervasive throughout the rest of the canon. SWDF is a great title and offers just a glimmer of the kind of game Star Wars: 1313 might have been had its spark not been stamped out by Disney’s violent acquisition of Lucasarts. Now as the arguably beautiful Star Wars: Battlefront heads our way, I can only hope that the soul and love which Lucasarts poured into all their work will not be lost along the way. Be gentle Disney, please be gentle.