It seems to be the collective desire of most of the young men of my generation to blow large holes in Imperial Stormtroopers. At least it's always been a fantasy of mine. And while Dark Forces replaces this fantasy with something tangible, the game itself doesn't live up to the dream.
In this Playstation adaptation of the PC game, players once again become Kyle Katarn, the unknown rebel spy who stole the all-important Death Star plans before the opening of the first Star Wars movie. (Actually the first level of the game merges Katarn's adventures with the storyline of the films.) As the story unfolds, we learn of an Imperial plot to build enhanced, robotic Stormtroopers called Dark Troopers. It would seem that the Empire tired of the human troopers' notoriously bad marksmanship. From there on out it becomes Katarn's task to hunt for information behind enemy lines, and eventually put a stop to the plan single-handedly. But these single-handed heroics are even more impressive given the game's stellarly poor frame rate and graphics, and Lucas Arts' notoriously user-unfriendly save feature.
Though the speed of the Playstation allows for smooth movement, Dark Forces boasts a horrendously choppy frame rate. In addition, the utter blandness of the individual slaying grounds make gameplay nothing short of nauseating. While the mission objectives are excruciatingly clear, thanks to the mini-movie length cutscenes, the levels themselves are vast and confusing. The sparse smattering of bitmapped, slow-moving, sprite-based (not 3-D polygonal), Doom-monster, dumb blaster fodder means the action is lean, not mean. Moreover, the powerups and enemies are difficult to find because they don't pop out of the background. It would seem that the Empire is quite stealthy and crafty despite itself.
And then there's Lucas Arts' unholy and steadfast alliance with its own save feature. As happens in all similar Lucas Arts titles, players cannot choose when and where to save their game. When the hero meets an untimely demise, he is placed back near to where he was downed. In practical terms, this means it isn't possible to save before trying a death-defying leap or rushing headlong into a gang of enemies. Adding insult to injury, when the hero is re-animated, he is back up to full health but not full firepower. Unlike Doom and its clones, Dark Forces can put the rejuvenated hero in the middle of a crossfire without any ammo - just where he left off - or charged with the task of renavigating already conquered terrain. This doesn't make the game fun; it makes the game frustrating.
Control itself isn't that terribly complicated, and in fact is almost elegant in its simplicity. Strafing, jumping, and looking up or down are quite easy. To the novice, however, the various button combinations needed to perform simple tasks will provide a steep, but short, learning curve.
To its credit, Dark Forces is a good game that doesn't "play itself" like the Rebel Assault games do. What action the game has is fast, and the puzzles aren't bad. Suffice to say that the Star Wars universe alone is what will draw many people to this game - despite the poor gameplay, corny dialogue, and misplaced feel-good critters that ironically make George Lucas' space opera so appealing.