I Played That! #4: Dark Forces (PC)

As far as most videogame developers are concerned, Star Wars fans want to be one of two characters: Luke Skywalker or Luke Skywalker. That is, they want to either fly a space fighter or wield a lightsaber. I guess when they were kids playing Star Wars, everyone fought over who got to be Luke. For us, everyone wanted to be Han Solo. Dark Forces was a godsend, then, to us blond-haired kids who always wanted to be the cool guy but instead had to be the dork with the lightsaber.

Built to capitalize off the first-person shooter mania that Doom solidified, Dark Forces put you in the role of Kyle Katarn, one of several not-quite-Han-Solos offered up when the real deal wasn’t available. Kyle isn’t a Jedi or an X-Wing pilot, he’s a dude with a blaster running around doing missions for the rebellion. In short, he’s the guy I’ve always wanted to be in the Star Wars universe and the guy I’ve barely ever been given the chance to be, at least in videogame form.

As Kyle Katarn I got to shoot bad guys, run through maze-like places, shoot more bad guys, figure out switch puzzles, find secret areas, shoot more bad guys, jump, strafe, get motion sickness, and eventually have to lie down in a dark room for a bit. I enjoyed the hell out of Dark Forces and played it over and over, but it gave me the woozies and pain-head kind of bad, so I could only play in short bursts. (Doom had done the same thing, as had Duke Nukem 3D, and as a result I stayed away from FPSes for a good long time.)

I stuck with Dark Forces largely because of the Star Wars theme, though it was mostly impressionistic than immersive. The graphics are not great. When Boba Fett inevitably shows up it mostly as a bluish-greenish blob than the well-known character. I fought the big bads of the game, the Dark Troopers, several times, but couldn’t pick them out of a lineup because they were mostly greyish blobs I had to constantly run from. Still, I had a lot of fun and felt like the material was handled pretty well.

Dark Forces’ emphasis on the Rebellion, on helping against the Empire without flying an X-Wing, makes it stand more or less alone in the Star Wars videogame canon; it’s one of only two I can remember playing. I didn’t even play the sequel, Dark Forces 2, better known by its subtitle, “Jedi Knight”, in which Kyle Katarn gets hisself a lightsaber and a daddy plot.

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