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Posted on Mar 30th 2011 at 12:08:12 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under PlayStation, Star Wars

When Star Wars: Dark Forces was announced as March's game of the month for the Together Retro game club at http://Racketboy.com, I wasn't quite sure how to feel. On the one hand, I was excited at the prospect of trying out a game I had never had any experience with. Certainly it had attained its Greatest Hits package because enough people liked it. Right? And plus, I was back into the swing of seriously collecting PS1 games again. So it was a great excuse to snatch this one up. But on the other hand, I'm really not a Star Wars fan. I mean, I saw the original trilogy growing up. I certainly was aware of the license. But I was never all that into it either. So I've always avoided games based on it.

Upon first firing it up, I felt a bit of relief. The truth is that I don't have all that much experience with first person shooters. I did enjoy Wolfenstein 3D and Doom during the golden age of freeware. I loved the GBA Duke Nukem sequel. But for the most part my experience with the genre was limited. So imagine my comfort when I realized that Dark Forces was cut from the same mold as Doom.

It should certainly be distinguished that Dark Forces is not quite a Doom-clone either. I mean obviously it borrows at least something from such an influential game, but it also adds a lot as well. The most impressive addition being the ability to freely look up and down, thus adding an extra layer of importance to the 3D environment.

The first few levels impressed me immensely. Even without being a Star Wars fan, there was a lot to enjoy here. The absolute high point for me with this game was the level design. Each level was amazingly well thought out and featured various puzzles or gimmicks that made them stand out. Whether it was dealing with the absence of light until getting a power generator running, or navigating through multi-level platformed mazes in a sewer, the game offered incredible levels to explore and enjoy.

Unfortunately there was one major drawback to the game that completely derailed my progress: the lack of ability to save anywhere. You see, in Dark Forces you can only save your game after you beat a level. This might be fine in a game like Doom where you can shoot your way through a level in no time. But whereas Dark Forces concentrated so heavily on mission-based levels with puzzles and mazes and other various objectives, this really hurt things. At least for me.

After spending about an hour and a half making my way through a maze-like level one evening, it got to a point where I simply had to go to bed. So that was it. I had to just hit the power switch and lose ninety minutes of progress. The slightest thought of powering up my console to replay that same ninety minutes over again just enraged me. Especially if I wasn't able to complete the level before having some other real world thing to deal with. There was no way, man. No way.

So honestly much of the month was spent with that mindset. I'd pick up Dark Forces with the intention of making some more progress. But then I'd look at the clock and figure I best just play something else instead. I figured I just didn't have the time to devote to a single level like that. Considering many (probably more recent) games of this nature my let you save your progress as you go, I'd probably do better with them. Y'know making my way through a game in baby steps.

But that got me to thinking a bit about the whole concept. I mean, is it wrong to want your game to be so flexible? I couldn't help but think back to Resident Evil with its infuriating typerwriter ribbon save system. Now certainly I don't look back on Resident Evil with any disdain, but I will say that I was thrilled that saving was a far more easy and constant prospect by the time Resident Evil 4 was released.  I'm also somewhat reminded of the save-state debate that's developed since the dawn of easily attainable ROM's via the internet. While we old timers might look down on the youngin's for "cheating" by using save-states, how many of us actually have time to handle all of our day-to-day adult responsibilities and keep replaying the same dungeon over and over again? (I'm looking at you Ice Palace).

I know I've gone off on a bit of tangent here. But I guess it's nice to know that even if I didn't get a chance to really get as much gameplay enjoyment out of Dark Forces as I may have wished, at least it caused me to do some thinking.

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I think saving was used as an added difficulty in many old games, as well as a way to reinforce replayability. And not necessarily in a good way; much like what you experienced. Of course, I'm not saying I enjoy it either. I can think of several games off the top of my head that I never beat when I was younger because there were limited or no save systems.
I can understand the issue with save limitation balance. Some designers look on them, like 'save states' in emulators, as a method to cheat, and thus limit your save ability, either by forcing you to use earnable tokens, limiting you to particular points like the ends of missions, or limiting you to a single save slot.

Some designers choosing to limit you manage to get it right, so that it doesn't feel bothersome unless you plan to cheat with it. Some... not so much, where those who don't want to cheat feel the limitations actively.
Having been a maven of Doom at the time, I was totally up on getting Dark Forces for the PC when I discovered that it ran on DOS. I wasn't gonna repeat the frustrations I experienced with Redneck Rampage...

Unfortunately, I'm not so sure I'd be hip to the PlayStation version. I'm one of those folks who believes that FPSes are best experienced with a keyboard and mouse, rather than a controller. 'Course, should I actually find one of these somewhere at a great price...
You're not getting mine! If you want to play the original on PC, use DOSBox. I'm pretty sure it'll run fine, as I was able to get it working on WinXP with DOSBox before.
Great review, I'm with you I want to be able to save at any state... I'm not at an arcade... I don't have all the free time in the world.
@Shadow Kisuragi:

You're not getting mine!

Aw, come on!
Pretty please?

If you want to play the original on PC, use DOSBox.

Oh great, another thing to add to my hunt list.

You, Crabs, and Nanners... I swear...
DOSBox is a Freeware application, so just download it and go. It looks like Dark Forces has been supported since v0.74.

Hey Noise, I was just listening to Retronauts Live! episode 6... and you were the first caller! LOL, nice brotha man.  You even called to talk about the gameboy player... fuckin awesome.  Keep up the great work.  I'm thinking about calling these guys myself..  How cool was it to talk with Jeremy?

- retromangia
I used to play this with a playstation joystick...Was weird.

Eventually got it for my old iMac and played the shit out of it. Was a total Star Wars freak back when.

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