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602 - Star Wars : Dark Forces

Best Games - Star Wars : Dark Forces

Before Rogue One or Andor, every Star Wars fan knew that it was former Imperial officer turned rebel mercenary, Kyle Katarn, who stole the Death Star plans. Most of those fans probably even remember exactly where the plans were hidden. In fact, those fans had done it themselves.

Doom clones were thick on the ground by the time Dark Forces came out. It had been two years since the original Doom had come out and several other first person shooters quickly followed. Some used the Doom engine, while others used custom engines like Build or the Jedi Engine developed for Dark Forces, but the intent behind all of them was similar. Capture the fast action and first person excitement found in Doom.

Most of those Doom clones were just that. Clones. Soulless, inferior copies. When you play Dark Forces, you notice instantly that this game is more than a clone. Dark Forces is doing something different.

The Star Wars license, the iconic designs and unmistakable sounds, I will admit, help Dark Forces to stand out from the crowd. But that is all surface. As a game, Dark forces just feels different.

It’s the way the spaces are constructed. Buildings and environments that make sense. Rooms that join other rooms, not because the game designers thought that could make for an interesting maze to walk through, but because they wanted it to feel like an actual building. A place where people would work… well not so much people, a place where Imperial officers and stormtroopers would work. So, blue-grey rooms filled with red and blue lights and tall walkways with no guard rails. You know, Empire type stuff. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these levels feel realistic, but they do feel authentic.

Doom itself is mostly filled with levels that only exist to put you in a variety of combat situations. Other than playing them repeatedly, there is nothing inherent to the levels that makes them memorable. Dark Forces includes many areas where there isn’t much combat, but that only burns those maps deeper into your memory. That authenticity makes them memorable.

There was a point in games where creating memorable and recognizable worlds became as important as the moment to moment action you experienced in them. Slow paced adventure games took the lead in this regard, but it took a while for that design style to filter down into action games. Even as late as 1995, Dark Forces was a pioneer. Now, even the most simple of games would feel incomplete if it didn’t exist in a recognizable and detailed world.

Again, I think that the Star Wars license gave Dark Forces a leg up in creating a sense of place and recognizable, memorable, levels. But that design direction wasn’t guaranteed. The developers of Dark Forces could very easily have coasted on that license and churned out a bog standard Doom Clone. It still would have sold. Instead, they opted to head down the path that would eventually lead to games like Half-Life and the Dark Forces own sequels, the Jedi Knight series of games. Games where the world is memorable and the adventure is interesting and varied. It isn’t enough to move around clicking your mouse, you need to engage with the world and its inhabitants.

Dark Forces could have been a simple copy, a mod of Doom, and it would probably have held a place in the history of games. Instead, it elevated a genre, and secured its place as one of the Best Games

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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