1993 was a seminal year for gaming. When Id Software released Doom, the FPS genre as we know it was born. While Wolfenstein 3D was released only a year prior, it was Doom that changed the name of the game. Frenetic, unrelenting, and possessing a bloodlust not seen before in gaming, Doom was a bantha of another color. It was only natural that after Doom’s release that countless other companies would release their own FPS, eager to get a piece of that sweet baddie-blasting pie. No stranger to the video game market, Star Wars stepped up to the plate a few years later and scored an absolute home run of an effort with its own FPS.

“Star Wars: Dark Forces pushed the series into the FPS genre and became an instant classic.”

Released in 1995 and developed by LucasArts, Star Wars: Dark Forces was the very first Star Wars title to enter the FPS market. Introducing players to a brand new character set during the Galactic Civil War, Star Wars: Dark Forces brought the grittiness and terror of fighting the Empire to a more grounded level. Gone were the cinematic space battles and Force powers; in their stead was one man with an arsenal of blaster weaponry and the can-do attitude needed to get the job done.

Star Wars: Dark Forces Was a Giant Step Forward For FPS’s

Star Wars: Dark Forces Stormtrooper fight

The story of Dark Forces is standard Star Wars fare. Mercenaries Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors are hired by the Rebel Alliance to seek information regarding the plans for the Death Star. However, as Kyle infiltrates various Imperial installations and bases throughout the galaxy, he uncovers something far more sinister: The Dark Trooper Project. Kyle and Jan then become the galaxy’s only hope in putting an end to the project. It’s a tale fraught with suspense and intrigue as Kyle and Jan race to prevent the Empire from utilizing their devastating new weapons.

Upon its release, and even today, Dark Forces is often derided as a Doom clone. This cannot be farther from the truth. While Dark Forces does operate like Doom, i.e., like a classic FPS, there is much more under the hood than simple pointing and shooting. LucasArts developed a specific game engine for Dark Forces called the Jedi game engine. The significant differences between Doom and Dark Forces is the way that levels are designed and how players can move. Doom’s levels only exist on one plane, whereas Dark Forces has portions of its levels existing on top of one another. Players in Dark Forces can also crouch and jump and, most significantly, look up and down.

While these changes may seem minor in today’s environment, they were massive back when they first came out. Dark Forces opened up what was possible in FPS level design, allowing for larger, more detailed environments. Crouching and jumping gave players even more freedom in traversing levels and dealing with enemies. Looking up and down made the world feel truly 3-D, as players were no longer confined to looking dead ahead at all times. These were significant developments in the evolution of the FPS genre.

Star Wars: Dark Forces Paved The Way For The Jedi Knight Series

Star Wars: Dark Forces Battle Imperial Stormtroopers

Today, Dark Forces still plays well. Kyle runs, he guns, and he does his part in eradicating the oppressive grip of the Empire. Movement is fast-paced and responsive, weapons fire faithfully to their movie counterparts, and levels are vast and well-varied. Putting Star Wars action into an FPS setting brought an entirely new sense of appreciation for how explosive firefights against Storm Troopers and Imperial droids could be. While the textures are a bit muddy at times, and the frame rate isn’t as smooth as it could be, these minor gripes in no way detract from the overall experience Dark Forces delivers.

Star Wars: Dark Forces greatest legacy is how it birthed the Star Wars Jedi Knight series of games. It’s sequel, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II was released in 1997 with Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith releasing in 1998 as its direct expansion. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast would be released in 2002 with the final entry in the series, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, being released in 2003.

The Jedi Knight series followed Kyle Katarn’s adventures as he himself became a Force user and a close ally of Luke Skywalker. While the timeline presented in the Jedi Knight series is not official canon, the stories that are contained within are among some of the best in the Star Wars mythos. For fans of both classic Star Wars and of old-school FPS’s, Star Wars: Dark Forces is a must play. It may not be as polished as modern shooters, but it still packs the wallop of a thermal detonator.

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