Review: Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster

Heeeenh... haaaaanh... sorry, I was vaping. How's this classic Star Wars FPS, then? Full review!

It’s always interesting when a game like Star Wars: Dark Forces finds itself on the “remaster” docket. Not because people weren’t clamouring for it; the game is a beloved tie-in to a ubiquitous sci-fi juggernaut with fans in every corner of the world. What fascinates me about it is Dark Forces’ nature. See, despite being an old-school post-Doom shooter set in the world of George Lucas’ magnum opus, it’s extremely unconventional, a real far cry from the kind of stuff that generally sees the Nightdive Studios treatment. Even something as obscure as Chasm: The Rift is more accessible, more immediate in its presentation, more “Ah, yes. I understand this language.”

So what’s up with Dark Forces? Well, chiefly, it’s… look, this isn’t easy for me to write, because I think this is a tremendous remaster. But it’s… nngh… not really all that great. I’m sorry! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out! But boomer shooter fans picking this up on the strength of that Nightdive rep may find themselves going “Eh, mate? Eh?”

I don’t want you to end up disappointed, you know? I don’t want you to rush into this one expecting Doom or Quake with Stormtroopers and ending up with what’s quite an esoteric and often rather repetitive shooter, replete with oddities that mark it out as rather far from its contemporaries. Chiefly, the mission-based structure – complete with briefing – that sends you out into each stage to achieve a particular set of tasks, then has you head to the point of exit and manually call your ship from the menu. Strange, right? To be fair, this is a feature you can switch off in the menus, but isn’t it odd that it was in there in the first place? In a game so clearly aping the immediacy of Doom in many ways, it’s so bizarre that they ever had it in there. And it’s not the only thing that sets it apart; levels are often enormous, shockingly complex and rather samey in their layouts and visuals.

There’s plenty to shoot, tons of secrets and the level design is overall rather interesting, but even the first stage is huge and it’s easy to lose the thread of where you’re supposed to be going. None of this makes the game bad – it isn’t! At all! - but it does make it a harder sell than you might expect. Don’t expect Nightdive to have skimped on the effort, though. Would they ever? Certainly not for Star Wars. Every asset has been redrawn at a higher resolution, including cutscenes – though, naturally, this can be switched on and off. And those cutscenes are worth watching, because this is a thoroughly story-heavy little game, far more than most shooters of its time. It all leads to a nice little bit of verisimilitude, the locales you visit being part of the ongoing narrative and designed to have a real sense of place. Sometimes an overwhelming place, yes, but it works, nonetheless.

Other extras include a fantastic restored level that was originally cut from the game, as well as a clutch of high resolution concept art and behind-the-scenes material in the Vault. You can switch between MIDI and OPL3 to get the soundtrack you remember, and the gamepad support is spot-on. Interestingly, no Quicksave feature has been added, meaning each mission has to be done-in-one as per the original game, but to be frank it’s not particularly difficult on its default level of challenge so you’ll learn the ropes quick enough. There’s plenty of health and ammo to pick up if you dig around a bit.

This is another banging remaster from Nightdive, but it’s not the easiest recommendation as an FPS. I can’t state unreservedly that you should pick it up as a boomer shooter aficionado or even a casual player, but if you’re after something a bit more cerebral and story-based than the likes of Quake, or simply remember having a grand old time with this on DOS back in the day, by all means give it a crack. Me, though, I’m somewhat sceptical that it’ll connect with modern gamers. Perhaps you find my lack of faith disturbing. Ha! Get it? Star Wars reference.