Have You Played… Star Wars: Dark Forces?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Dark Forces was the first of the Star Wars FPS shooters and one I always felt was unfairly eclipsed by the (admittedly superior) Jedi Knight. Dark Forces bucked a lot of the trends that came before and a lot that would follow: it’s huge, sprawling levels seemed more life-like and realistic than what we’d seen in run-and-gun games like Doom and its imitators.

It was full of clever touches, like an early stealth level where you sneaked around an Imperial base on Coruscant, darting between searchlights that would bring an army down on your head if they caught you.

Dark Forces worst feature, the lack of in-mission saves and the use of limited “lives” in their place, ended up making it one of the greatest FPS experiences I’ve ever had. The feeling of tension when you were deep into a level, on your final life, was incomparable. It was one of the few FPS games I can remember that created real terror of death without resorting to hellish checkpointing.

42 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    That first nekkid d.Trooper when you’re trapped in those small pipes.

    JUST. FRICKIN’. DIE. ALREADY!!

  2. IaIaFhtagn says:

    I have wonderfully fond memories of Dark Forces, largely because it was the first game I ever played; I still remember shooting an Imperial Officer in the mission to steal Death Star plans, because it was the first time my brother let me have a go at the game.

    One of the best parts of the Star Wars Humble Bundle, actually…

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Dark Forces II was *my* first PC game, so I have very fond memories of that one, but the original Dark Forces was/felt a bit before my time. There were always other games and Dark Forces seemed so old and pixelly, so I haven’t played it yet. Also, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t like it. I really liked the Force Powers and lightsaber from the Jedi Knight games and didn’t think taking that away would make for a fun enough game. I now have it as part of the Star Wars Humble Bundle and will soon try it.

  3. BobbyDylan says:

    I think DICE really missed out on an easy money-maker by no creating a SP campaign for Battlefront inspired by (if not a flat out remake of) Dark Forces.
    I’d actuaklly buy it if this were the case.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Arnvidr says:

    I’m in the middle of playthrough at the moment!

  5. NathaI3 says:

    Dark Forces topped Doom for me, mainly because due to it being a Star Wars game, my parents actually consented to me playing it,although it was amazingly atmospheric and scary for a 7 year old – it took me months to work up the courage to get through the Sewer City (the third level!).

    There are a number of modernising mods for it which upgrade the graphics and enable proper mouse look, among other things.

    • Shakes999 says:

      I remember liking that game but the only memories I have of it are bad ones.

      1)Spending hours in Sewer city trying to figure out how to get out of the damn level. Everything was dead and I could not for the life of me figure out how to get to the exit. I did learn a important lesson that day that would carry on throughout my gaming life. “The map WILL lie to you, don’t rely on it”

      2)That mission near the end with the god damn where you had to rotate the walls. I never did figure it out.

  6. Det. Bullock says:

    I indeed played it a few times, yes.

    Okay, I played it to death when I finally had a decent computer that didn’t crash everytime the game tried to load a level.

    There was also the “super shield” option if you waned to concentrate on exploration and puzzles (yes, there are puzzles) without dying too much (yes there are enemies that ignore your shields).

  7. Turkey says:

    It still blows my mind how much experimentation there was in the early days of FPS games. I remember this being one of the first ones with actual objectives instead of the goal just being to find the exit of the level.

    • udat says:

      Was it Jedi Knight that had a level set on a tumbling ship, so the level effectively rotated around the player? I remember that bit of level design basically blowing my mind back in the day. There’s not much I can think of recently that’s had such a simple and effective idea as that.

      • wishinghand says:

        The first Jedi Knight game did have that. I’ve been meaning to figure out how to get it running on my PC so I can play through that game again.

  8. ProctorEldritch says:

    I really enjoyed the dark troopers. Fighting one for the first time was terrifying because of how helpless I felt against them. It got to the point where just hearing a dark trooper was enough to make me feel dread and terror.

    I don’t think it has aged well, though. I played through it recently and, even with my rose-tinted glasses of childhood, it was unpleasant. The environments are so muddy that it’s hard to distinguish anything. Although, I haven’t played it with the DarkXL mod, which might improve on that issue.

  9. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    Man this game gave me absolutely horrendous motion sickness for some reason. A few other games have given me mild headaches but this one caused me to need to lie down after playing it for about ten minutes.

    Why did I soldier on that long? Kid me absolutely loved Star Wars.

    • Velthaertirden says:

      It was the up-down camera motion that happened on each step. Turning it off in settings helped me greatly.

    • mr_barnacles says:

      You and me both. I agree with all the fond comments made by every other commenter here, and unlike many of the other games I was playing during this period I remember just a ton of little things in DF. But the motion sickness, yikes. Nothing like being in the middle of a level and doing better than you’ve done on that level on any other attempt (and maybe this time you will finish it!) and then getting absolutely nauseous and pushing through the pain. And then going to have a quiet lie down and try not to vomit …

  10. phlebas says:

    My biggest memory is finally getting to try out a Stormtrooper rifle and discovering it is indeed bloody impossible to hit anything with it.

    • MrPin says:

      Indeed, but bloody great fun in close quarters – have some of your own medicine, you evil stormtroopers!

      • udat says:

        This game had quite memorable weapons. The Stormtrooper rifle was beautifully clumsy and random. The Imperial Repeater was also well received.

        I think this was the first FPS I played where the guns were off-centre on the screen, and you had no crosshair. This lead to the Repeater being known as the Blue Gun of Hard to Aimness amongst my circle of friends.

        My other powerful memory of Dark Forces was that there were so many secret areas. Great ones. Some were huge. I swear one secret area was as big as the rest of the level.

  11. Premium User Badge

    G-Lord says:

    Played through it just a few months ago, and was surprised how playable it is today.

    Pro tip: Use a DOSBox modification which allows quicksave.

  12. MrPin says:

    I loved this game – I know this is true because I finished it despite suffering horrible frustration at the hands of the save system. Especially in the levels which ended with a boss fight… usually I’m instantly turned off by a game without manual saving.

  13. mrwonko says:

    Oh yes. I only played this in late 2009 and had a surprisingly good time. Held up pretty well.

  14. MrNash says:

    I’ve had this game installed on various computers for years now so it’s ready to go should I feel like revisiting it. Still one of my favorite single-player FPS. The maps and atmosphere are great. =D

  15. trn says:

    Had this and Rise of the Triad on floppy. Stop making me feel old please.

    • wwarnick says:

      How about Wolfenstein 3D? How’s that for a good old shooter?

  16. wwarnick says:

    I don’t know if I’d agree that Jedi Knight is superior. Yes, its graphics are improved, it has proper mouse-look, and its soundtrack isn’t midi (neither is it as memorable as Dark Forces’). However, Dark Forces is the more memorable and fun game, I would argue. I played through the entire series recently, and I personally feel that Dark Forces had the best atmosphere of the bunch. As for fun gameplay, I’d give it to Jedi Academy (story was lacking, but the force powers and lightsaber fights were a blast). Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy did everything Jedi Knight did, but better, gameplay-wise. And Jedi Knight’s fmv cutscenes took away all the tension from the story and made all of the characters silly (especially Jerec).

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      The cheesy FMV cutscenes were a huge part of what I loved about Jedi Knight, too bad they changed it to in-engine cutscenes in Mysteries of the Sith and all later games. I especially liked Jerec, because of his over-acting bad guy personality. He’s the epitome of entertainingly bad acting. A lot of things in Star Wars is silly and it’s great that the cutscenes embraced that.

      • wwarnick says:

        I agree that silliness isn’t always a bad thing in Star Wars, and I think I wouldn’t mind the cutscenes as much if it wasn’t supposed to be a continuation of Dark Forces. Dark Forces had a more serious tone, and that’s what I expected from Jedi Knight. However, I agree that Mysteries of the Sith’s cutscenes were a bit lackluster.

    • ansionnach says:

      Dark Forces is the best one in my view. Have only finished them up to and including Mysteries of the Sith, though. Jedi Outcast left me cold, with stormtroopers running about like they’re Quake bots and I didn’t give Academy much time.

      No saving in Dark Forces was a masterstroke. The game’s difficulty level is well-judged and this goes hand-in-hand with the lack of saving to make it a more worthwhile game than all those others with built-in cheating (via save spamming) or games so simple and linear that they’re checkpointed. I think DF had checkpoints as well, though – whenever you’d use up one of your lives you weren’t always placed back at the very beginning if I remember correctly. There’d only be maybe one or two of these, though.

      Played the first five or so levels recently and it’s been a lot easier than I remembered. Like yonks ago, I was playing on hard. Remember two points where the difficulty really hit me were fighting the kell dragons with your fists and the last level with its dark troopers. On the more recent spin the encounter with the proto-dark trooper had me stricken with panic just like before. Knowing the consequences of dying are a restart does that. I remember that last level was so bloody hard. By the time I finished the game I knew where I needed to get to before losing my lives… and if I didn’t do well enough I’d just restart anyway. The restart anguish wasn’t quite as acute as it was when the goal was to complete Cannon Fodder without losing a single soldier but by any yardstick, that game was hard. A hardstick with which you beat yourself.

      The acting in Dark Forces was rubbish and ruined the atmosphere the first one built. Moving to in-game cutsenes improved matters, but I preferred the hand-drawn animation of Dark Forces.

      Dark Forces limited lives and no saving really focused the minds of the game’s designers. I enjoyed JK and MotS, but they weren’t anyway near as good as this one. The lightsabre was always a bit rubbish in the first JK. Great in a lot of ways but comical in the way the light attacks jiggled it about unnaturally in front of you. It also didn’t always strike things that were right in front of you. They fixed a lot of these problems in MotS. Being a jedi was fun and all, but I’d much rather be Han Solo than Luke Skywalker.

  17. Jane Doe says:

    I tried it again last year when it was on the Steam Winter Sale. Immediatly got lost in the first level. Damn you next-next-next-next gen shooters which have dulled my senses!

  18. Distec says:

    Actually got this in a Humble Bundle not too long ago, and my first entry into the series was Jedi Knight. Was surprised to find myself having a lot of fun with it, although I’ve been collecting/playing “classic” shooters that I missed out on or didn’t appreciate at the time.

    Was also embarrassed to find myself unwilling to progress through the eventual sewer level because of god damn dianogas. You’d think the dated graphics would have softened that up over time, but nope. Still stuck there.

  19. buzzmong says:

    Played this for the first time about 3 year ago, despite completing it’s better sequel many many moons ago.

    It’s a pretty good game. Sure, graphics don’t hold up that well, but it is a solid game underneath and to the developers’ credit the difficulty is very well gauged, Dark Troopers were a menace all the way through right up until the end.

  20. konondrum says:

    Dark Forces and Tie Fighter are still my favorite Star Wars games of all time. Although I played my way through (most of) both Jedi Knight games this is definitely the one the stuck with me. Played it from start to finish about 3 years ago and still had a great time.

    I really wish FPS level design has stayed closer to this and Duke Nukem instead of following Half Life 2 (a brilliant game) and Call of Duty.

    • konondrum says:

      The levels here can be way too maze-like, don’t get me wrong. Buy it felt like they were trying to create places to explore, not paths to be traversed.

    • ansionnach says:

      Dark Forces and Duke are still my favourite FPS games. Half-Life didn’t really interest me. Perhaps it was accidental, but they inhabit a nice balance between sprawling, maze-like levels and “realistic” locations. I do think that DF was exceedingly well-designed and this wasn’t an accident. Not allowing saving and going with a lives system wasn’t an obvious decision to make. Not a popular one, either, but I think it was inspired. Shame they didn’t keep going in that direction. I’ve found that not allowing yourself to save between levels can make games a lot more enjoyable, although playing a game where frequent saving is a design consideration can be masochistic. Really enjoyed the first StarCraft. Probably wasn’t solely because I never saved (or altered the speed), but it certainly helped focus the mind.

  21. Tim the Corsair says:

    Playing the demo of Dark Forces and seeing the Moldy Crow was the the thing that opened me up to the Star Wars Extended Universe…well that and TIE Fighter.

  22. Juan Carlo says:

    I will always associate this game with Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville” and the Digable Planet’s “Blow Out Comb” because that’s what I was listening to playing it when I was 14.

    Also, I had a really hard time deciphering one of the keys for some reason (VGA graphics didn’t help), so I was stuck on a part for ages and even e-mailed Lucasarts (who were kind enough to actually give me a human response…..e-mail was still new then, I guess).

  23. thaquoth says:

    I love Dark Forces.

    I hate that bloody sewer level.

  24. Agustinlv says:

    This game, along with X Wing and Tie Fighter, is one my favorite Star Wars game. That’s why, back in 2005, I joined the team (almost a founder member I would say) that attempted to remake the game using Jedi Outcast as the base (later ported to Jedi Academy). We couldn’t complete it, but we got far. And the quality we achieve is far better than what Raven did with their Star Wars games.
    Here’s the link to the mod, for those who would like to try it: link to jkhub.org
    You won’t be disappointed by the mod (only by the fact we didn’t finished it).

    • Agustinlv says:

      By the way, please don’t hate the dianoga creature. I left it incomplete because we lacked the ability to create underwater creatures (all placeholder NPC classes would drown). So I left the poor thing with some crappy placeholder animations and it moves like a muppet.

    • konondrum says:

      Oh my goodness, I may have to buy Jedi Academy now just so that I can play this. Thanks for posting this!