12 February 2015

Star Wars: Dark Forces

Dark Forces. If you were playing games back in 1995 you most definitely know about this first person shooter and you are probably wondering why I am writing about it in 2015? Honestly, the game was included in a recent game bundle and I decided to check out how well did it age. You know, some games may be awesome at the time they were released, but as the time passes and games evolve, some of those old favorites end up being very bad. And we wonder how come we loved them so much back then and now they seem like games we'd never play for more than 15 minutes. Anyway, before I move on I want you to know that I didn't really like this game even when it was first released. Just as I didn't like Doom, a game that Dark Forces was too often compared to. I didn't dislike it either, I just thought it was an average Star Wars game and an average FPS and it was well accepted just because it was set in Star Wars universe.

So, how well did it age? Not good. First of all, you need a DOS emulator (DOSBox) to run it on a modern computer, but if you are using a Steam version of Dark Forces you don't have to worry about it as Steam was nice enough to set up DOSBox for you. The resolution is extremely low (640x400) and everything is very pixelated. There's another solution for this (and more) called DarkXL. DarkXL allows you to play Dark Forces even in full HD (1920x1080) resolution and/or in a window (as I prefer it). It doesn't just stretch the pixels as you may have thought, it really has new game textures and makes everything look a lot nicer. Don't expect wonders though, the graphics are still more or less the same, it just looks a lot more polished.

By default, you use mouse only to look left and right and if you want to look up and down, and more importantly shoot enemies who are above or below you, you need to use PageUp and PageDown buttons on the keyboard. Actually, the game will usually shoot up and down automatically if you line up the reticle with the enemy, but it's extremely frustrating and unforgiving at times. DarkXL fixes this as well as it allows you to use fully use mouse and view your surroundings. Trust me, this helps a LOT and not only with shooting the imperial scum, but also with switches and doors.

However, DarkXL is incomplete and will probably remain so. There are certain bugs that have been reported and the most important are present in the very last level. You will be unable to complete the game with these bugs (you will have to cheat to advance and to give you a hint: hold G to move through walls) and it's a real shame. Especially since regular save game file is incompatible with DarkXL save game file, meaning you cannot just switch back to normal game and complete what's left regularly. Another annoying bug (or a missing feature?) is lack of weapons. If you play through the game using DarkXL you will be unable to pick up the strongest 2-3 weapons for a reason unknown to me. You can use another cheat to unlock and equip those weapons though, so it's a minor issue at the end.

Now that you know how you can enjoy the game better using DarkXL, lets get back to the game itself. The story is mostly unimportant: you are Kyle Katarn, a mercenary who works for Rebel Alliance. You are being sent on a series of missions to find out about the latest Imperial project and ultimately destroy it. An army of Storm troopers, Imperial commanders and commandos, droids and other aliens will stand in your way as you progress through 14 levels consisting of mining facilities, space stations, cities and other environments. The levels are average in size, have no respawning enemies and will take an average of 30 minutes to complete (more if you play on hard since you have to be more careful). Most levels will require you to find switches, cards or buttons to open up certain doors in order to advance. However, I hated that part a lot. Why? Simply because you will often run into a switch or a lever, use it and... wonder what actually happened? The levels are not linear and you can wander around as much as you want, and as good as that is it confuses you because you are not sure what did that switch do. There is no "objective pointer" to tell you where to go (this is a 1995 game after all) and it's especially frustrating in missions where you have to go back to your ship after you complete the mission. I walked around for more than 20 minutes on one mission, looking for the starting point in order to complete the level. Frustrating! I tried using the in-game map as well, but since you can go up and down in elevators, the map adjusts and doesn't really help at all. Ah yes, you cannot save your progress during the mission - it is auto-saved after each complete mission so don't expect to load the game and see where something is before returning to your "real" save.

At the end I played through Dark Forces' 14 levels using DarkXL and it didn't feel rewarding at the end. The game is not hard, the story is nothing special and there's no special "accomplishing" feel once you are done. Again, I never liked Dark Forces much and I played through it some 15 years ago just because I loved its sequels, but that's an entirely different story. I didn't rate the game as I usually do because... it's just not easy to rate a 20 years old game, especially since it really did not "age" well.

Have fun!


  1. Duke owns Dark Forces by far! Doom... not so much :)