The Best Star Wars Video Game

The Best Star Wars Video Game

You’ve no doubt seen countless lists of the best video games set in the Star Wars universe today. Boring. I’d like to try something a little different and tell you what the best Star Wars video game is.

This post originally appeared on Kotaku in May 2015.

The former is telling you about excellent video games that just so happen to feature characters and locations from the Star Wars universe. X-Wing, Super Star Wars, Pod Racer, etc. You know the lists. They’re usually pretty similar.

The latter, which I’m more interested in, is about which game is most faithful to the look and feel of the Star Wars movies (preferably the original trilogy, since that’s the one people are most familiar with). Which game most feels like it actually belongs in the Star Wars universe.

For me, that game is Dark Forces, a first-person shooter released in 1995.

The Best Star Wars Video Game

Sure, others come close. X-Wing does a very good job, especially with its soundtrack (TIE Fighter less so, it’s way too purple), while I always felt Republic Commando best captured the murkier side of the prequel trilogy.

But Dark Forces just feels right. Like someone shook the end of Empire Strikes Back and this game fell out, as dark and as real as a Star Wars game was ever going to get.

For starters, it looks the part. It re-uses locations and design cues from the original trilogy, like the interiors of Imperial installations (including the Executor), cobbled-together firearms and gritty desert huts, but where it needs to create new areas, it leans heavily on existing Star Wars themes.

There’s no time in Dark Forces — and this is a rarity in Star Wars games — where you can point to where the actual Star Wars designs end and the work of Lucasarts’ own artists begin. Everything you see in Dark Forces, from the walls to the guns to the ships, looks like it was designed by Ralph McQuarrie and belongs in one of George Lucas’ original films.

Does it help that it’s a first-person game? Maybe. We certainly get a lot closer to the light switches than we do in, say, Galactic Battlegrounds, allowing us to appreciate these finer details. But loads of other Star Wars games, from Force Unleashed to Jedi Knight to, well, Obi-Wan did the same thing, and all the closer perspective provided was evidence they weren’t as Star Warsy as Dark Forces managed.

The Best Star Wars Video GameYes, that’s Jabba. I never said this game was perfect.

Yes, that’s Jabba. I never said this game was perfect.

The game also gets its cast right. You don’t play a Jedi; it wouldn’t be until Dark Forces II that Lucasarts ruin everything and turn Katarn into one. In fact, the boring, holier-than-thou space wizards aren’t really in the game at all; this is a game populated by men and women and aliens and robots, much like the original trilogy, which let’s not forget, keeps its force powers mostly in check until the end of Return of the Jedi.

And it’s a good cast! Before he became a soppy beardo in later games, Kyle Katarn was a badass, part secret-agent, part-commando. His main foe is a gruff, fat Imperial officer. Nothing fancy, no obscure and implausible Sith, just a bad dude. Your allies aren’t random expanded universe chumps, they’re folks like Mon Mothma. General Madine is in this game, as is his magnificent hair.

And your sidekick, Jan Ors, is maybe the coolest Star Wars sidekicks since, well, any of them.

This video by PixieButt1 doesn’t just show one of the early cutscenes, it also drops a ton of cool trivia!

Few Star Wars games could resist the lure of tying themselves in with the films somehow. The X-Wing games dabbled in all three of the original flicks, from trench runs to Hoth evacuations to more Death Stars, while Shadows of the Empire did a pretty good job of sliding itself in between movies.

But this often feels forced, and more than a little unnecessary. We saw how the movies went down, so it always feels a little silly when a video game twists things around to fit its own story. Dark Forces, on the other hand, plays it cool.

It begins with Kyle being the guy who steals the plans to the first Death Star (below), something we can relate to and say “hey, that’s neat”, then it retreats into the shadows and never touches the over-arching story of the films ever again, leaving it free to do its own thing.

The Best Star Wars Video Game

Which is what made Dark Forces so good. It looked Star Wars, and it sounded Star Wars, and it felt Star Wars, but rather than try to mooch off any particular movie or scene (which ultimately undermines the entire process), it set out — and succeeded — in doing so on its own terms. You never flew alongside Luke Skywalker, or fought Darth Vader (though even this game couldn’t resist a Jabba cameo), but you still felt like you were living through the same world they inhabited.

It’s testament to the strength of the characters and design in this game that, for a 90’s FPS that has all but faded into insignificance, Dark Forces still resonates with Star Wars fans outside of the video game scene.

Kyle’s ship, the Moldy Crow, has been introduced into the hugely-popular X-Wing miniatures tabletop game, while the Dark Trooper design became Expanded Universe canon, even spawning an action figure.

If you’ve never played Dark Forces, or have and want to play it again, it’s available on the major downloadable stores. You won’t get much mileage out of the gameplay, which is more Doom than Half-Life, but the cutscenes and overall vibe are as good today as they were in 1995.


    • Republic Commando is a massively under-appreciated game I think. Sadly it’s dated quite poorly and the PC port is very much just the Xbox version running on PC. Wish that wasn’t the case, especially since the Clone Wars series kind of redeemed the prequel setting for me.

    • Ive still got my original Xbox copy of this game, hoping for some BC on XB1 next year, but I seriously doubt it will. This game really made the prequel saga for me, gave some depth to the clones before the cartoon series came out.

      • You need to check out the 5 Republic Commandos novels by Karen Traviss. Absolutely amazing storytelling. Massive fan of RC and the novels expand on the game in a massive way.

    • The first two missions, definitely, but I can’t get over the loss of one of the brothers in the last mission. Hits me right in the feels.

    • Clearly I’m like the only one who just did not get this game. 2 levels in and I’d had enough…and I was a big SW fan back then too. *shrug*

  • I agree with Dark Forces (and Even DFII Jedi Knight) they scream the original trilogy to the point I feel that they make SW more whole as a thing then the original movies on their own. I try to get as many people as I can to play them for the last 20 years.

  • Hmm hard call. Nostalgia makes things blury, I remember loving Rebel Assault. Or even the SNES Star Wars games. I would love to choose Battlefront 1&2 and I probably would if not for a little game called KOTOR.

    • Super Empire all the way baby! Loved that game as a teenager. I think it was a little easier than the original maybe. There were so many levels, the vehicle levels were the tits back then

    • I don’t remember JA having a very active oceanic scene. I remember hours and hours of Jedi Outcast. I don’t think I managed more than one or perhaps two actual full multiplayer games of Academy. =(

  • Have to agree with you on this. The number of times I played this game as a kid, it was one of the first PC games I ever bought. Cracking game, great story and even the Jabba cameo didn’t feel too forced. You pissed him off, he only ever appeared on a holo screen anyway!

  • I played a hell of a lot of Episode 1 Racer back on the N64 that was my favourite back then or that Rouge squadron game also on the N64.

    But the unleashed games on the 360 I thought were really good.

    • First Unleashed was incredible I thought. Second was a bit short I found

  • Dark Forces was an amazing game. But watching it again that head bob started to make me sea sick!

  • Dark Forces by far for FPS games(the first time i saw the Shadow Troopers freaked me out).
    I also played this game with keyboard and page up and page down to look up and down, rather than using a mouse. I had not grasped the concept of the mouse and keyboard at the time. haha. So… long… ago.

    Tie Fighter for Simulation(Empire all the way).

  • Wait…… It’s May 4th? My calendars are either way behind or way forward?

    Is it 2015 or 2016 guys!

    • This. Dark Forces is a great game, but TIE Fighter is miles better. I’d also probably rate Jedi Knight over Dark Forces as well.

      • I have to go with jedi outcast as the best of the dark forces/jedi knight games. Holds up best out of them now.

        • That was Dark Forces 3: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast right? 😛 I forget which is which. I liked all of them personally but it’s been a long time and I think JK and JK2 have blurred together a bit in my mind. You’re probably right that it was the better of them, thinking about it.

  • I don’t have a top favourite Star Wars game, but I have a few that I like.

    X-Wing Alliance is my favourite of the pilot sim games.

    I loved Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast, that was great. The Force powers were so fun. I also really enjoyed Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, despite its really stupid story, but the gameplay was really fun.

    Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favourite RPGs. I prefer KotoR 2 in terms of character development and game play, but it’s a shame that game had a lot of bugs and a disappointingly broken ending.

  • I don’t have a top favourite Star Wars game, but I have a few that I like.

    X-Wing Alliance is my favourite of the pilot sim games.

    I loved Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast, that was great. The Force powers were so fun. I also really enjoyed Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, despite its really stupid story, but the gameplay was really fun.

    Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favourite RPGs. I prefer KotoR 2 in terms of character development and game play, but it’s a shame that game had a lot of bugs and a disappointingly broken ending.

  • If it wasn’t for TIE Fighter and the E11, the Dark Forces series would definitely be pretty damned competitive with KOTOR as the best. Sadly for it, TIE Fighter is a thing and the E11 was one of the worst implemented guns I’ve ever used in any game.

    Seriously, Stormtroopers are supposed to be the elite of the Imperial forces carving up the rebel scum at every turn unless a camera is pointed at them in which case they get all nervous and can’t shoot straight… You’d think that the Empire would have equipped them with a functional weapon rather than a “Fuck it, that’ll do” hodgepodge that the E11 was rendered as. Sure Stormtroopers aren’t accurate when they’re shooting at heroes but that’s just plot armour, there’s no need to have the rifle be actively shit, if a gun can’t put round 1 where you aim then it’s a broken gun. By all means make it increasingly inaccurate as it continues fire but model it more like an SMG where if you fire in burst or full auto, it gets inaccurate very quickly but if you have trigger discipline it should be a solid and accurate weapon. I’ve been annoyed at the way they made the E11 ever since Dark Forces because every other Star Wars game followed that hose gun approach rather than think about how much it sucked and make a useable weapon instead. The only time the E11 was good was when you had the Force (Force Sense I think it was) and could make it magically 100% accurate which was shit as well but in the opposite way…

    The same was true of the DC17m from Republic Commando, to the point where it really ruined the game for me. I enjoyed playing through the story, the levels and characters were great and I was really glad to see Delta Squad make a cameo in The Clone Wars but that gun… fuck me I hate it when I am punished by randomness in games and these guns are the exemplar of that for me.

    The games were great fun and really felt properly Star Wars-ey but the weapons… ugh…

    So yeah, TIE Fighter #1 for ever!

  • Episode One: Racer for SURE. Cannot count how many times I clocked that game back in the day – I still bring it out for a go on the Dreamcast every couple of months 🙂

    • I’m jealous 😛 As far as I can tell, the Dreamcast version is probably the best for EP 1 Racer, seeing as though there is all kinds of trouble trying to get this to run on PC (for the PC version, let alone an emulator), and the N64 version was good at the time, but looking at it now is a blurry mess with a horrid frame rate. I almost bought a Dreamcast one time, solely for this game!

      • Yeah, the Dreamcast is the best version right now. The PC version was, but as you said, it’s a bitch to get up and running these days, haha 🙂 And you should buy a Dreamcast anyways, especially now before the prices on games go up even further. Although, if you get an earlier model one, you’ll be able to play back-ups right out of the box, and imports using Code Breaker, which is easy to find and burn also. I sold my Dreamcast years ago, along with my 40+ PAL collection. Worse thing I ever did, gaming related. So I got a US Dreamcast again, and back-ups tided me over until I got my collection back again, haha 🙂

  • Does anyone remember Jedi Power Battles on Playstation 1? That game was the buggiest, most unfair mess of a game, but me and my brothers played the shit out of it. It was so cool being Jedi that weren’t instantly recognisable and leveling up through a competitive scoring system, even though the game was cooperative. I bet if I played it today i’d be too frustrated, but back then it was awesome.

    • I remember it being a generally bad game but also an awesome fun co-op experience at the time.

      • Yeah co-op it was awesome. In fact, never played single player. But I imagine it’d be much worse.

    • Loved playing that game coop, sprinting to beat the other player to the powerups, racing to take out as many droids as you can, i feel it wouldnt be the best game solo but its actually pretty fantastic coop.
      Its also where plo koon became one of my favourite jedi, loved that they had him in the 3d clone wars show a fair bit.

  • Still the best Star Wars game is “Star Wars” that Atari put out. After Return of the Jedi came out everything that’s been produced has been tainted.

    Runner-up goes to Data East’s “Star Wars” from 1992.

  • Happy to say that I still have my original DF disk (and case) and manual in clean and playable condition.

  • No love for Star Wars – Yoda Stories? 😉

    Seriously though, for me it is Tie Fighter all the way. Many of the Star Wars games in the mid 90s were amazing but that one stands above all others for me.

  • Dark Forces is definitely my favourite Star Wars game and one of my favourite DOS games in general. I actually prefer it way more than Jedi Knight, especially in design and graphics.

  • Unfortunately, while I had Dark Forces as a young kid, I never really played it. I absolutely loved Jedi Knight Outcast though, it was my first introduction to online multiplayer gaming.

    I picked up KOTOR for a couple of bucks a few years back and really enjoyed it. If I’d played it when it first released, I’d have thought it was the best game ever made!

    Star Wars Galaxies was my first MMO, and while there was plenty wrong with the game, I still think back very fondly of it. Some of the mechanics of that game where exceptionally fun and you can’t find it in any games these days.

  • Looks like the resident Kotaku necromancer is back resurrecting posts from 5 years ago!

  • The Force Unleashed 2, only because it was one of the games I actually finished…XD

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