Dark Forces Game Review

Dark Forces introduces Kyle Katarn and an amazingly cathartic, immersive game that includes new challenges and the foundation for a new era of Star Wars games. That new era in turn ties in (as usual) with the rest of the content. At this beginning level, we see in the movie tie ins while it sets the stage for further expanded universe adventure.

Basically I give it 5 for story, 4 for gameplay (you really can get stuck a very long time on the default game) and …well. 1 for graphics. I’m sure it would be rated much higher on the day of it’s release. But on modern screens it’s pretty hard on the eyes.

Introducing Kyle Katarn

Before he became a Jedi, before there were books or other games about him, Lucasarts produced the original Dark Forces game that ran on the OS of the day: DOS. It’s actually more playable still than many modern games that choke at a new windows OS or demand high graphics. You just need Dosbox and a disc, or if you don’t want to figure out Dosbox (it is a bit tricky for a newbie) you can just get it off Gog or Steam, where its prepackaged. Given that it IS Dos however, that makes it compatible on a wide variety of systems. My first playthru was on dosbox for mac.The downside of course is that in spite of it’s popularity and the fame of Katarn stealing the Death Star plans it has never gotten a real graphic remaster and is highly pixelated. It’s still very fun to play though.

Kyle Katarn is a mercenary who works for the Alliance. Kyle mentioned in game that he ‘switched sides’. That full story is detailed in the Novella, Soldier for the Empire by William Deitz, and it’s full cast audio version.

Story

Dark Forces, Mon Mothma Briefing for Operation Skyhook
Dark Forces First Mission: Stealing the Death Star Plans mission brief by Mon Mothma

The story for this is fun. YOU get to be Kyle Katarn as he goes after the original Death Star plans. That is level one, and it was the demo level available on other discs. Afterward, you work your way into harder and harder missions. The ultimate showdown is to destroy General Mohc’s dark trooper project. With fellow agent Jan Ors to pick your Katarn up in the Moldy Crow, you have to be be a quick shot against enemies from bounty hunters to stormtroopers. There are monsters like dianoga that will chew you up and kill you, and even Boba Fett is sent on your trail. Main mission briefings are given by Mon Mothma herself, while Jan provides updates on all the levels until you infiltrate the last 2 levels.

Gameplay

Dark Forces, first view inside the Imperial Base of Danuta as you enter to seek the Death Star Plans

Initially you get 3 lives though you may find more in secret areas (the Alliance symbol is an extra life). If you die, you respawn at the last checkpoint. If you go through all the lives you start at the beginning of the mission (level). You do get to choose difficulty of easy, medium or hard. You have to solve puzzles, jump, crouch, dodge mines and enemies who are trying to blast you as you blast them, find keys and fufill the objectives for your partner, Jan Ors, to pick you up.

The fun part (for me) is the puzzle solving. You run around and you blast your enemies before they can blast you with rifles of all sorts, grenades, mines, or even wallop you with teeth or an axe. The challenging part is the jumping, as well as the real risk of running out of ammo or batteries. Without ammo you are down to punching, which is surprisingly effective but only if the enemy is close. Batteries power IR googles and headlamps. No batteries means you may walk off a ledge thinking its floor or miss a dark jump or turn in a tunnel.

The downside is I had the occasional tendency to run out of batteries and be stuck in the dark in the various mazes. Sometimes the way out was just a turn, a jump, a pressed lever or a crawl space away, but in the dark you can’t see it. This was all the worse given my many many mishaps on jumping because if its dark, you can’t see where your going. And the old graphics mean I can’t always tell if that texture is a ledge to leap to, or a hole in the wall or a button to press.

I have successfully played the Dark Forces through on easy at least, I possibly tried medium on some levels but even that can be pretty hard. I however have the benefit of modern internet and YouTube, and online walkthroughs. I don’t need them on every level, but there are a few spots that are very tricky. One is Mission 3: the Sewers. Another is Mission 6. Both of these involve darkness, travel in shafts or tunnels as well as jumping and puzzle solving. And of course the last level that includes the most Dark Troopers (this is their origin point after all) and the final boss as well as the previous challenges.

This last time I got stuck on the level where you rescue a famous Rebel officer from an Imperial prison. I ran out of batteries for the light and I was trying to jump thru a garbage masher in the dark. I stalled for what was probably over a year. That is when word of a new thing called “The Force Engine” for Dark Forces hit the news on gamer sites.

General Mohc and Darth Vader in Dark Forces
General Mohc and Darth Vader threaten a captured Rebel Officer

Some famous foes in Dark Forces include Boba Fett (hired by the Empire to stop him) and Jabba the Hutt (also hired by General Mohc who is in charge of the Dark Troopers). Darth Vader also has an eye on the situation but as the top guy, is delegating it out.

Famous allies include Mon Mothma (who gives the overall mission briefings) and General Madine.

Dark Forces also visits some famous places. The Anoat system? There is not much there, except an Imperial weapons designer’s hideout! You also visit Coruscant, Nar Shaddaa, and of all things, Darth Vader’s flagship, the Executor.

The Force Engine

This is not the game itself, but its an upgraded engine for Dark Forces. You have to own the game (disc, Gog or Steam versions) and the engine (only for PC) tries to detect your game install. Instead of being limited to the old max size of DOS and it’s era of graphics, and the old functions, you now have the ability to size up for a modern monitor (so at least it doesn’t look worse on HD). And you also have *gasp* quick save! It will try and detect your install, and had no trouble finding Gog’s version and all its saves. I was able to start right on the last mission at the start of the level where I got stuck.

You can’t save multiple times with this. If you quick save in the wrong spot it’s “Ouch time” to quote Captain Tarpals. But for someone like me, it was a lifesaver getting past the jumping puzzle. And lets face it: it’s the older, nostalgic crowd whose going to go for the older game with dated graphics even with the Force Engine boosting them. We don’t necessarily have unlimited play time to get the old reflexes back in shape and grind at it. To me its no different than having those easy, medium or hard settings. Use it or not, your choice. It’s also respecting the fact that sometimes you don’t want to quit and redo stuff just because its dinner or bed time!

I have to say it’s a terrible shame that the game is so easily ignored by modern players due to the elderly graphics. It’s a great deal of fun and (mostly) relaxing.

Dark Forces was so popular it went on to 3 sequels and 1 expansion, which confirmed that Katarn was force sensitive, and enables him to become a Jedi. The novella Soldier for the Empire gives Katarn’s back story and the Death Star mission in a beautifully illustrated form. Kyle has a beard in that he doesn’t have in the mission briefings here. I figure it’s an easy disguise for a guy whose wanted for treason before he even goes in though. Apparently it has differences in the original Mission manual regarding the history of Kyle. Later Wizards of the Coast articles suggest Jan was trying to give him an edge on being accepted by the Rebellion.

http://gamerwalkthroughs.com/star-wars-dark-forces

Gman’s Game Walkthroughs

https://theforceengine.github.io/

https://www.gog.com/en/game/star_wars_dark_forces
This has windows and claims up to Win 11. They also have linux/ubuntu version.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/32400/STAR_WARS__Dark_Forces/
This has windows (older) and mac 10.9 and up

You can also play by buying the disc itself from some place like Ebay and installing Dosbox. This certainly works on both PC and Mac, although its not exactly something your average person is going to want to bother with. But Dosbox is free. I used a program called Boxer to pull it in on the mac (CD drive is required) but I do not know if that software works on modern systems.

It was apparently released in 2015 for Playstation 3 and portable.

Tie Ins:

Dark Forces Novella Trilogy by William Deitz. These were done by Dark Forces and have full color art inside, but aren’t the length of a full novel. They were available in both hardcover and paperback. They start before the game Dark Forces and reveal why Kyle Katarn defected and continue to the end of the sequel game Dark Forces Jedi Knight. These 3 novellas also have full cast audio dramas. They add to the story and are highly recommended.

  • Soldier for the Empire
  • Rebel Agent
  • Jedi Knight

Sequel Games

  • Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight
  • Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith Expansion
  • Jedi Outcast
  • Jedi Academy

Other tie ins:

  • Jedi Outcast and Academy visit Yavin 4 Jedi Temple as established in the Jedi Academy trilogy.
  • Kyle Katarn appears in the Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi series as a Jedi Battlemaster. This title was held by Cin Drallig in the prequel era and the Hero of Tython in the SWTOR era.
  • Jan Ors is mentioned in the New Jedi Order series and a comic from the Tales series called Equals and Opposites. She is then a highly placed member of “Alpha Blue” a part of Republic Intelligence.
  • Wizards of the Coast also had RPG material for Dark Forces
  • Lethal Alliance (the video game) had Kyle give instructions to a Twilek to steal another updated set of the plans.