Lucasarts was still at the height of its power in 1995 when Doom, its sequel, and the many mods continued to rob hours of productivity from workers everywhere well after its initial release in 1993. It was new, it was exciting, and it would forever immortalize id Software as the godfathers of the first-person shooter. So it only made sense that everyone wanted to jump on the BFG bandwagon including the game studio that George built.
Dark Forces would one-up Doom’s demons by dipping into Star Wars lore and creating a strong, story-based shooter dripping with atmosphere. Though Looking Glass’ System Shock and Origin’s Ultima Underworld would trump that concept by a few years, Dark Forces did a few things with its custom, in-house engine that Doom or the others didn’t such as work in environmental effects like haze and multiple floor buildings some of which were reputedly designed by architecture students. After dealing with the bad guys, I’d often explore each area not just for extra goodies like ammo and shield energy, but just to see what else was in there to immerse players.
It was that kind of attention to detail that made Dark Forces’ world feel as functional as System Shock’s did and it also helped that it was leveraged by Star Wars. Instead of fighting in space, I would get to see blaster shots and thermal detonators up close.
Though it wasn’t trying to be as deep as Ultima Underworld or System Shock, borrowing a few conventions from those titles turned Dark Forces into more than your typical Doom clone such as being able to look up, down, and solve a few simple puzzles. Power ups expanded the action with items such as infra-red goggles and head lamps for cutting through dark areas.
But as an FPS, it also had to have an arsenal of its own and the designers didn’t skimp there. The classic Stormtrooper blaster rifle is in along with thermal detonators. In addition to these are a few other weapons that weren’t seen in the movies such as the Stouker Concussion Rifle or the Packered Mortar Gun.
As for story, players were put into the role of Kyle Katarn, a former member of the Imperial military that now works for the Rebellion. The manual’s novel approach lays out the info like a briefing to Mon Mothma, the head of the Rebel Alliance, all the way down to the enemy and weapon descriptions. Game controls are referred to as “Simulation Controls”, for example. And it all adds up to immersing the player in a uniquely Star Wars FPS game that captures the film-like feel of the movies. Just like the space combat sims Lucasarts has also loaned its name to, Dark Forces sports cuts and briefings that help extend the story elements right down to the John Williams inspired soundtrack.
The game took place across quite a number of huge levels ranging from an Imperial outpost where you get to steal the Death Star plans adding your own part to the films to uncovering the Empire’s latest weapons program that threatens to crush the Alliance. As a sort of “dirty tricks” operative, Kyle is perfect for the job and there are plenty of enemies to plow through ranging from droids and Stormtroopers to a chance encounter with Boba Fett.
Dark Forces was one of Lucasarts’ most successful titles selling nearly a million copies in the nineties. Back then, that was considered a stunning achievement. It was Lucasarts’ own Call of Duty, a very different way in seeing the Star Wars universe up close and personal and a logical extension to experiencing the kind of action that Han Solo and his friends take for granted. This was a hugely fun game for its time. It would even be ported over to the Playstation, though it apparently wasn’t as polished as the PC version.
It would go on to have two more sequels starring Kyle expanding on his story and other corners of Star Wars that we don’t often see, such as dealing with Hutts and of course, the Jedi. But for now, the first game stood out as one of the better “Doom clones” to emerge on the market. Not quite as detailed as a CRPG FPS in the way Bethesda’s Arena or Origin’s Ultima Underworld were, but just as exciting as the ad below wants to convince you.