Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster Review: For A More Civilised Age

Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster Review: For A More Civilised Age

Sometimes you need a game like Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster to give you the right kick.

Star Wars: Dark Forces is one of those games that’s been on my radar since it first came out in 1995. I didn’t grow up with a gaming PC or a PlayStation, so it was a first-person shooter that I was never really in a position to be able to play until long after Half-Life had come along and revolutionized the entire genre. There have been many occasions over the past few years where I’ve downloaded it on Steam, determined to get through it. I’d always fall off four or five levels in, though, right as my frustration with 90s shooter-level design logic would start to rub up against my wandering eye for shiny new games.

To be frank, I pitched David the review of Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster as much as anything because I wanted to force myself to finally see the game through to the end. 

I’m so glad that I did.

My mate, your mate, our mate Kyle

star wars dark forces remaster
Image: Nightdive, LucasFilm Games

In this era where everything tries so hard to fit itself awkwardly into the canon of its I.P., it’s honestly refreshing to play something that didn’t really give a fuck about such things even in its day. Inhabiting the boots of mercenary Kyle Katarn, Dark Forces tasks players with stealing the Death Star plans in its opening level because it was, and still is, cool as shit to allow the player to do so. Much later in the game, you’ll also murder a fan-favourite Star Wars character in a boss fight despite the fact that they play prominent roles in both the narratively later-to-come The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi because it also was cool as shit to allow you to do so. Can you even imagine the amount of piss it would boil if EA had Cal Kestis kill Count Dooku in his next adventure? Lmao.

The remastering work that Nightdive’s team have put in here is mostly excellent. Level geometry and enemy sprites are crisp and clean, widescreen support has been implemented, and player input has been completely modernised, including full controller support, meaning you no longer have to pitch the camera with page-up and page-down. I’m not sure if they’ve retouched the originals or just re-made them completely, but the few short CGI cinematics that feature in the campaign look fantastic while still maintaining their retro stylisation. It’s a real bummer that the dialogue-centric 2D animated cutscenes all have this weird look to them as if they were painted over with a Photoshop filter, as they’re some of the most characterful moments in the game. As such, their new look does let the presentation down somewhat. The team at Nightdive have been open about how remastering Dark Forces was a unique headache, so I can’t really fault them for this minor flaw too harshly. As is standard with remasters of this kind, you can flick back to the original graphics at the touch of a button at any time anyway.

Given how few publishers ever bothered to properly archive their work, even in the early 2000s, it’s truly awesome to see Remaster include so many treasures from the LucasArts vault. Full HD scans and screenshots of concept art, user-interface design iteration, and colour palette visualizations are on show. There are even unfinished animation snippets for what would’ve been a cutscene that played if Kyle lost during the final boss fight. It’s fascinating stuff that’s splendidly presented. The crown jewel of it all, though, is The Avenger, a whole entire bonus level set aboard a star destroyer that was created solely as a playable demo for attendees of that year’s Computer Electronic Show. It’s inclusions such as these that go a long way to making Remaster feel like something archival and not just the new-gen re-release some other remasters are guilty of being. It also goes a long way to justifying the slightly steeper than I’d have expected AUD$43.95 asking price.

Hey baby I hear Dark Troopers callin’, Moff salad and scrambled Wedge

Image: Nightdive, LucasFilm Games

As for the campaign itself? If you can equip your brain to deal with some extremely 90s-level design, then you’ll be in for a good time. The great thing about a game as old as this one is that if you are one who struggles with progression that requires back-tracking, key hunting, and finding remarkably well-hidden paths, there are literally dozens of terrific guides out there to help you through. You can earn all of Remaster’s 29 achievements in a single run on any difficulty, too, which is swell.

As dated as so much of Dark Forces is as both a video game and a Star Wars story, it’s still a damn fun ride in both respects. It’s a notable landmark in both mediums, the progenitor of the long-running Jedi Knight game series and of the Dark Troopers, which were recently introduced to modern Star Wars canon through their inclusion in the second season of The Mandalorian.

I really hope that Nightdive can tackle Dark Forces II next, as I’d LOVE to see its live-action cutscenes get a full HD restoration. Given how well LucasArts has clearly preserved its history, I’d bet they have some incredible stuff from its development locked away, too.

I’m extremely happy that we’re getting so many fantastic remasters of classic games lately as it’s not just great for preservation, it’s also allowing me to conveniently experience many games I missed out on as a kid. Now I just need David to continue to commission me to review them so that I have the motivational impetus to see them all through to the end.

Review conducted on PC with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.

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