Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces (DF) is a Lucas Arts game released in 1997 and, as of this review, available on Steam. Value: 2.5 for 5, but keep in mind this is a rating based on 2012 criteria for a 1997 game. It is easily a 4.5 of 5 compared to other games released in a similar time frame. Nostalgic - Really good game play especially for such an old DOOMesque game. Fun story line - Fits right in with the Star Wars movies. Fans of the moves will immediately appreciate the plot of retrieving the blueprints and specs of the Deathstar and other fun missions which play into the Star Wars Universe. Economy – You are probably only playing this once. Play it on hard and get it on the cheap. Currently, the Jedi Knight Game Pack (5 games – Dark Forces I and II, Jedi Academy, Mysteries of the Sith, and Outcast) are $19.99 on Steam. I picked up the Pack on a Steam's daily special for $5.00 (and would not have picked it up for $19.99). Considering the pack, I paid a buck for the game, and got many hours of fun for it. Some really cool free games notwithstanding (like Canyon Defense 2 on miniclip.com), I've not been able to pay a dime per hour of fun, ever. I challenge you to do better.
Graphics: 1 out of 5 – but cut it a break, especially for nostalgic value. I have to admit, we've come a long way in graphics over the last 15 years. I remember playing games like DF back then and being completely blown away by them. And really, the graphics are not all that bad. Though the mats are blocky, I could definitely tell the difference between a storm trooper and an Imperial officer at distance, which is important as you need a different number of shots to kill them. Knowing the difference helps you conserve ammo with is important in certain stages. However, 1997 graphics just are not going to look stellar on 2012 computers, especially with our over-sized HD flat-screens. But the colors are vibrant and the backgrounds look as one would expect in the Star Wars universe. For example, the sewage drenched level on Anoat looked compelling enough for me to get the feeling of disgust we all shared with Luke, Han, and Leah in Episode IV. Game Play: 2 out of 5 – Solid, with quirks. The inability to look up and down with the mouse is annoying, especially when trying to time jumps or, worse, shoot at an enemy from a heightened position. Granted this is achieved with the page up and page down keys, but in the heat of combat, this requires taking your finger of the trigger (left mouse). That is not cool. The other annoyance is when shooting at an enemy that is slightly higher or lower than the player. The targeting system of the game almost half the time the shot misses vertically. Ammo is wasted while leaving the player vulnerable to the enemy's attack, which does not seem to suffer the same restrictions. Because this problem is never consistent, players won't be able to learn how to overcome the trouble. Just squeeze off extra shots, or run to another location for a more level shot.
Weapon pickups and actions are also extremely unforgiving. If you do not line up and run over the item perfectly, odds are you miss and have to try again. Similarly, trying to open a door or flip a switch is overly specific. You have to stand right in front of it. One step over or back and the action button is pressed in vain. Both the vertical aiming and the strict item pickups should have been laxed a bit for game flow. We never see Han and Luke dancing over a spot three or four times to pick up the blaster or grenade – they just pick it up. Need for flashlights is just annoying (Yoda took Luke's in Episode 5 – we know they are standard issue!). As they never run out, though supposedly running on a battery, the batteries are in abundant supply so there is no need to conserve or risk running around in the dark. Night goggles are a nice touch though when you find them as the enemy can't see you, but you can see them! But why Imperial officers run around in dark locked rooms, I'll never know. In spite of this, game play is relatively smooth. Character movements are smooth and simple (WASD, crouch, jump, action) and the mouse controls turning and firing. Changing weapons was tricky (1-10 keys) like doom and sometimes you miss when trying to hit a new weapon quick. But this was standard 1st person shooter in the 90s… trackballs on the mouse were not standard then, and many games now just have you scroll to a desired weapon.
Reviewer Bent: 3 out of 5. The game's lackluster especially compared to modern 1st person shooters (like Halo), but certainly deserves credit for being one of the great shooters in its heyday. Keep in mind, if you are about 20 years old or so, this was your momma's video game. Its age (unlike your mom, of course) is showing. Certainly, this game is in the lineage of games like Doom and Wolfenstein that brought us Halo and MW3. Sadly, once the novelty wore off, I started getting bored with the game. But because of the story arc and tie in to the Star Wars canon (though DF is not officially part of the canon – no Boffins died getting the DeathStar plans so far as we can see in the game), I wanted to keep playing to the end. That said I found myself starting to use cheats throughout the game. Not because it was too hard; far be it. Playing on the hardest setting will still be very easy for the experienced gamer. Rather, I used the cheats because falling yet again and having to run around the map back to where I was, especially when no new enemies appear, just bored me and wasted time. LAPOGO, a cheat which lets you climb walls, came in handy then. Similarly, after trying a level two or three times and dying, just meant having to replay the same areas over again. In Halo, I don't mind dying 50 times when playing on legendary and trying again; in DF not so much. LAIMLAME granted invulnerability to just pick up where one left off… though not for use by the prideful as the cheat code forces you to a rather humble admission.
Sounds 3.5 of 5. 8 bit sound. Again, love the nostalgia. 8 bit will always have a special place in my heart. We wondered how graphics were ever going to get better than 8 bit back in the day. First love and all that will hold a special place… sound included. Still weapon sounds are like the real deal from the movies and the storm trooper taunts stop in mid sentence when killed – nice touch. Laughably, you scream like an X-wing when falling from height.
Last note. I know we are playing a Han Solo type rather than a Jedi, but if you are going to name a game Dark Forces, where are my Jedi powers? With the name Dark Forces, I should at least be able to do a choke hold or force push an Imperial trooper off a cliff. Looks like I will have to wait to play the next game for that one.
Enjoy a brief walk down memory lane when playing this game, or for you youngsters out there, take a walk in your papa's 8-bit gaming shoes. But do it on the cheap. You are getting 10 maybe 20 hours out of this one tops unless you are a die hard, hard core Star Wars gamer.