Star Wars: Dark Forces Remastered Review

Newer, more modern pew-pewing

Star Wars: Dark Forces Remastered Review
Source: Press Kit.

Dark Forces does an excellent job of capturing the heart of Star Wars, and Nightdive Studios excels at remastering classic games. Putting those two ideas together gives us the latest release from Nightdive, the remastered version of the classic FPS Dark Forces. It combines modern enhancements like upscaled textures, improved lighting, and 4k compatibility at up to 120fps with gameplay that remains true to the original 1995 version.

The bias is strong with this one

The original Dark Forces was one of the first games I ever played. I remember playing it for the first time on a tiny monitor at my cousin’s house. She was older and living with her boyfriend, who like me was nuts on Star Wars. We quickly connected over that, and I would switch between Dark Forces and Yoda Stories whenever I visited.

Not owning a PC or console made it even more exciting to stumble upon a medium that allowed me to live out my ultimate dream: to live Star Wars. Those were good memories.

Source: Steam.

My sharpest memory is of Dark Forces’ first level, where new protagonist Kyle Katarn must sneak into the imperial base to steal the Death Star plans. It is not a big mission, but it felt like it, and what clocks in at around 20 minutes would stretch into an hour or more. Mostly because I was rubbish at it, but also because I did not want to leave. The little Imperial station etched out of a rock seemed as big as Lucas’ galaxy.

From the second you’re dropped into the game, you know you’re in the Star Wars universe. It’s immediate in the grey Imperial texture palette, pepped with harsh fluorescent lights and streams of incomprehensible computer screens, and of course the pixelated Death Star. Even now I’m struck by what LucasArts achieved, just two years after Doom.

Dark Forces benefits from a reasonably interesting story, narrative-based objectives, and a succession of diverse locations. Instead of taking us back to the usual star systems, Dark Forces sent players to whole new worlds with their own little stories. Besieged cities in purple twilight, hazy red mines, the shady bustle of Nar Shaddaa — it is impressive how often the game elects to create something new. There’s not a Tattooine in sight.

A big part of the fun is following the game’s thread, as Katarn and his pilot pal Jan Ors investigate a top-secret weapons project being developed by the Empire. As a pair of reluctant heroes more from the Han Solo mould than Luke Skywalker, it is easy to see how their legacy endures today. Doom and its sequel are both abstract experiences, but Dark Forces immerse you in Katarn and Ors’ quest, mapping the trajectory of the game to a comprehensible plot.

Of course, it all comes down to the shooting. Blasting fascists is always fun, but through some ingenious design, Dark Forces perfectly translated the frenetic pew pew of the films to the computer screen. The Stormtroopers and Imperial officers look and sound the part, seamlessly transplanting you to that galaxy far, far away each time they yell, “Stop, rebel scum!” — and collapse into a heap of scorched white metal once pew pewed.

Huge props go to Nightdive for so artfully producing this remaster. It looks great, being both sharper and cleaner than before. But depending on what you fancy, you can toggle the game’s settings so that it plays how you want it to, whether that’s closer to the original or something a bit more modern. The developers spruced up the cutscenes as well, and they even added an extra level LucasArts had removed from the game. Apparently, the original opening mission, The Avenger — set aboard a Star Destroyer — would have offered young me a slightly different introduction to the first-person shooter. But only slightly.

Unfortunately, you will have to reckon with the cost of the title. It’s £25, which is a lot for a 30-year-old remaster. I’m not sure where they plucked that number from, but it’s disproportionate to what’s on offer. By comparison, the original is £5. By way of a second comparison, the recent Tomb Raider Remaster Trilogy is likewise £25. That's a bundle of three games that will last upwards of 40 hours, if not more. Dark Forces is 10 hours at most. I'm often loathe to tie a game's value to its longevity, largely because it feels inadequate to the task. A game is better judged on the quality of those hours. But in the case of a nearly 30-year-old game, no matter how lovingly remastered, £25 is a lot to ask of customers. Is it really worth such a price? I am not convinced.

Source: Steam.

If you can stomach the price, Dark Forces Remaster is an interesting chapter in the early years of the first-person shooter. It's not always fun; navigation is often its own puzzle, and there’s a stage late in the game with a sequence of locked doors that drove me to the edge (and from there to a guide). But the game offers an insight into where the genre was going, rapidly and smartly iterating on Doom’s brilliant formula, as well as opening the way to a sequel that easily ranks as one of the best shooters ever made. Now, presumably, Nightdive is looking for a new project, so... Dark Forces 2, anyone?


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