Every now and then an event occurs that brings up fond memories of past gaming lives. It may be a HD re-release, a new movie or even a sequel to a beloved classic. It is at moments like these that the nostalgia strings are pulled and the joys of games gone by flood our conscious thought. So in the immortal words of Deckard Cain, stay a while and listen as our writers take you back to a favourite moment in their gaming past. Welcome to “Those Were the Days”.
Those Were the Days – Dark Forces
The year was 1995 and I was 14 years old and still gripped by Doom fever, spending all of my precious gaming time battling hell’s minions with a shotgun and chainsaw. So when I was reading a gaming magazine of the time (this is how us old codgers used to get our gaming news) and found out about a game that was being advertised as Doom in the Star Wars Universe I knew I had to have that game. So with my savings and birthday money in hand I rode down to Harvey Norman (I grew up in country NSW, it was all we had) and handed over $95 for a copy. That game was Dark Forces and it was so much more than just Star Wars Doom.
I still remember to this day the installation process for the game, mainly because it simply worked (which was a rarity in those days). Before long I had the game loaded up and I was diving into a time long ago in a galaxy far far away but not as a Jedi or a Dark Lord but as a simple merc named Kyle Katarn, who would go on to become one of the coolest characters in the extended universe. Kyle was a tough no nonsense type firmly cast in the mould of Han Solo so he couldn’t rely on fancy force tricks to get him through, all he had were his wits, a sexy ship and a trusty blaster.
The game lead me through a veritable treasure trove of iconic Star Wars locations and featured more villainy and scum than a Mos Eisley cantina. Storm Troopers, Jawas, Sand People, Kryat Dragons, sewer monsters (you know the one from the trash compactor in “A New Hope”), and even Boba Fett all stuck there face out so I could shoot it with one of my 9 or so weapons. The game was pure fan service and there were multiple moments of glee as another recognisable character or location popped on to my screen. I lapped up every second of Star Wars love this game gave me.
What was even better about Dark Forces was the fact that it was more than just Doom with a Star Wars skin. Dark Forces introduced some revolutionary features for the time including maps that could have multiple levels on top of each other and mouse look. Mouse look was a huge leap that allowed enemies to attack from above and below and add extra depth to the combat. For the first time I had to use a mouse in a FPS. It may be taken for granted now (and in fact is still the best way to play an FPS) but it was an enormous leap forward at the time.
I remember the puzzles being much more inventive as well, adding a sense of adventure to proceedings as opposed to simply mowing down hordes of enemies. Real thought was put into the level design and it only added to this feeling. Everything about the game screamed quality and to my 14 year old eyes this was as good as things got. Star Wars, intense combat, exciting locations and interesting puzzles. I don’t care who you are, that is a potent and engaging mix.
Dark Forces spawned two sequels and a spinoff, all of which followed Kyle’s journey in becoming a Jedi Knight but for me the simple tale of one smuggler versus the might of the Empire was much more appealing. Sure it lacked Force Powers and Lightsabre combat but it had a character that, as good as they were, the sequels never matched. Every time Star Wars is mentioned I think fondly back, even if only for a few seconds, on my journey with Kyle and our quest to stop the Empire’s experimental Dark Stormtrooper program. It was an adventure that has yet to be eclipsed in any game set in that particular galaxy far far away.