RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Apr 20th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Solo, Han, Chewie, Chuy, Spaceballs, DOS, dbgl, DOOM, Star Wars


Star Wars in our modern age if such a strange thing.  It's hard to believe that once upon a time, most of the Star Wars games we had to play were either ports of existing arcade games or rehashes of the movies into action and platforming games.  At least on consoles, which is all I had access to during those days.  But over in PC Land the good times were a little different.  But over in PC Land, something else was brewing, something that combined a newly recognized genre popularized by DOOM, with our beloved Star Wars universe.  And it had a new story featuring new characters.  Of course, I am talking about Star Wars: Dark Forces for MS-DOS.


 

To be fair there were a lot of really awesome things happening over in PC Land that I couldn't be part of, much of it until years later when the PC market stabilized a bit (as far as hardware is concerned).  And of course this wasn't the first of the "original" Star Wars branded PC games, just the most visible one to console gamers, I think.  Some of us had maybe seen copies of Star Wars: X-Wing or Star Wars: TIE Fighter at our local shops, but we didn't pay much attention to it, after all we were elbow deep in a very serious console war and had no time for these PC games, many of which (or so we were told), took hours of messing with just to play.  Heck, my own local store (an apparently soon to be closed Toy's R Us) didn't even keep the small selection of PC games near the console stuff.  You had to go wandering off towards the gadgets, and what serious console gamer had time for that in 1993-95?  We had the snow speeder scene in Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back to talk about, right?  Heck yeah, we did!

For those not in the know, Star Wars: Dark Forces is a 1995 FPS release for MS-DOS and Macintosh.  Because of the general look of the game, it was and is considered a "DOOM clone" by most gamers, and rightly so at first glance and play.  But sooner or later you will get stuck, and have to pick up and read the included manual, thereby discovering that there is a "jump" button on the keyboard.


Naturally with a jump button comes platforming, right?

"What?  A jump button in an FPS game?  That is absurd, sir!  I mean, you certainly don't need anything like that in DOOM, so why in this new fangled Dark Forces game, eh?"

Well, believe it or not, according to Wikipedia this game was created specifically to have adventure elements baked within its game engine, which is called (not very originally I guess), the Jedi game engine.  On the surface it looks more or less exactly like the id Tech 1 engine used in DOOM (and other early FPS titles), but play Dark Forces for a short amount of time and you will find the game to be very different.  First, you actually have briefings with mission parameters that have to be met.  As implausible as it sounds, it does work, though there are times when it feels a little janky.  Still, the levels are fun, containing actual puzzles that require anything from platforming (!) to finding secret codes to open doors.  This is great and really makes the game stand out from the rest of the FPS genre (at the time).  The only issue is that sometimes it can be very easy to get lost in levels as you try to find ways through a level. Mission 8 was particularly infuriating for me, primarily because I somehow missed a essential part early in the mission, so that when the game led me back to the beginning of the level (which would normally end the mission), I was left standing with no idea what I had missed.  I often find it easier to reload and play certain levels again.  Thankfully, there is a lot of variety in mission types; you won't always be sent in charging into enemies.  There is even a stealth level, though I don't think it is forced (it wasn't for me).


Remember the trash compactor monster in A New Hope?  This is him out of the water...  er, garbage

A word on ports.  The MS-DOS version was released at the same time as the Macintosh, both on CD, and play nearly identical (as far as I can tell).  The main difference is the availability and ease of playing; the Mac version is just harder to get ahold of, more expensive, and requires legacy hardware to play properly.  There is also a Sony PlayStation port done in late 1996, and while I still feel that the PSX port of DOOM surpassed the PC original in nearly every way, the same cannot be said about the Dark Forces.  True, holding a controller just feels great and natural for this kind of game (much like I found in my experience playing DOOM for PS1), but that great feeling cannot overcome the low frame rate, which really brings the whole experience down (in my opinion).  For example, the water tunnel "slide" sections in Mission 3 feel strange and incomplete as they fly by at what feels like 15 frames per second.  However, If you only have access to the PSX port (via original disc, PSN store, or whatever), I highly recommend NOT looking into the PC original unless you plan to defect or something.  Better to stick with what you know.  At least the devs didn't gimp the sound (though I still feel they could have just digitized and used the John Williams movie score).  It isn't exactly movie quality, but it does suffice, especially for the time period the game was released.

Playing on physical media on PC you have a variety of ways to enjoy the game.  There are at least two versions of the game, both of which and are CD-ROM only. They more than likely look the same, with the only difference I can see is that the default control scheme does not match what is listed in the manual.  Using physical media you can play the game in one of two ways; either "original" hardware or using DOSbox.  I've done both and I can say that there is little difference between the two, though I found using my DOS laptop (a Dell with a Pentium MMX) sounds a little different, though this could be because the Crystal 4237b mostly clones a Sound Blaster Pro sound card (you can even install Creative Sound Blaster Pro drivers!), versus the Sound Blaster 16, which is what DOSbox emulates by default.  The digital versions (Steam and GoG) are, as far as I can tell, identical, with the only difference being that they are basically ready to go out of the box.


I like to think that Dermot Crowley (the actor who played Crix Madine) got a least a bit of cash for this.  Probably not, but I like to think

At this point I feel there isn't really a lot holding people back from picking up and playing Dark Forces.  Unless you don't like this genre, I guess.  Didn't think of that, I didn't.  Because it can be picked up so easily via the digital channels (GoG and Steam, for PC, and PSN for the PS1 port) the physical is available for a song on auction.  You can find the PC version complete and boxed for around $20 USD or loose for even less, which is pretty good.  There is even one for less than $6 (at the time of writing), boxed missing only the manual!  Did I mention just how easy Dark Forces  is to get going using a DOSBox frontend (like dbgl) on a computer?  I didn't?  Well, it is, one of the easiest!  But for another day, perhaps (if there is demand).  But for now, I highly recommend looking into this one.  You won't regret it, I think!

Thanks for reading!


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Comments
 
This is right up there as one of my favorite games of all time.  When I first purchased it, I didn't even have a CD-Rom to load it up on my PC.  I scrimped and saved, and finally got a 6X CD-ROM drive (which was fast because 4X was the standard at the time).  Once I got that CD-ROM home, I anxiously installed it, and fought with DOS to ensure the settings were correct, and immediately installed this as my first CD-ROM PC game, and it was EPIC!

This game has a special place in my heart.
 
Thanks for the article! This was the first game I pre-ordered. I still have my copy.
 
Nice article!  Great to see someone post about an older PC game for a change here on RFG.
 
I got the PlayStation version of this back in the day as one of my first games for the system and loved it.  Still have it today!  I might have to try out he pc version if it's the better experience.
 
Nice write-up!  I remember playing the PlayStation port back in the day, and being very put off by the herky jerky feel of it, which is related to the framerate issue you mentioned.  I don't recall ever having an opportunity to play the PC version, so I can't compare, but I imagine it would be nice and smooth, and I'd be curious to go back and try it.

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