Preview - Star Wars: Dark Forces (DOS, 1995)

It's unlikely that George Lucas will ever read this, but in the off chance he does I want to thank him for Star Wars. Not just a cool movie, not just a pop culture phenomenon, Star Wars is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Many people may have thought that the fascination with Star Wars had passed, but like disco, it never really died, just left the public eye for a time to re-energize and regroup. Now, thanks to LucasArts, all us game players have been able to re-live long-dormant fantasies through our computers. At nearly the same time, ads for disco collections began to rear their noxious spotty behinds on late night TV, and even MTV. Coincidence? I think not.

The three Star Wars related titles LucasArts has produced (X-Wing, Rebel Assault, and TIE Fighter for those of you currently residing in the belly of the mighty Sarlacc) have met with success in the extreme, both from reviewers and fans, which is a rarity for movie license games. It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that somebody at LucasArts got the bright idea of combining the obviously still-popular Star Wars universe with the hottest trend in computer games – first person shooters. (What's wrong with the term "Doom clone?" Is there some stigma attached to it that I'm not aware of? When I call a game a Doom clone I'm not insulting it, so please don't be misled by the prejudice of others when I begin using that term in a few sentences.) The result is Dark Forces, a game to be released sometime before Christmas. Will it be a hit? Can you say "You bet your Schwartz!" boys and girls? I knew you could.

I first heard about Dark Forces at the summer CES, where I was told it was a Doom clone. My response went something like, "So?" The phrase "Doom clone" was a fitting description of about half the products on the floor, so I didn't think much about it. Then I heard that it was being done by LucasArts, and I thought, "Okay, so it'll be a good Doom clone." Now there was a bit of mild interest. When I was told it was a Star Wars product my response was, "I need to have this. Now."

Dark Forces is indeed a Doom clone set in the Star Wars universe, and as we've come to expect from LucasArts, it looks like a damn good piece of software. Even a mediocre Doom clone based on Star Wars would be a sure-fire hit, but there's nothing mediocre about Dark Forces that I can see. Far from a cheap knock-off, Dark Forces actually goes beyond Doom in a couple of areas. It is easily as fast as Doom, and may even be a little faster. Additionally, you have the ability to jump, which eliminates the annoyance of being three feet away from an object and not being able to grab it. As is the case in most next generation first-person games, you can look up and down; a good thing too, given the amount of high ledges in the scenarios I saw.

In Dark Forces you play a rebel agent with a daunting task. The Empire is planning to produce Dark Troopers – deadly robotic stormtroopers. (Apparently, the Emperor reviewed some '70s film footage and thought, "Cripes, these guys can't hit the broadside of a Corellian cruiser! Must be those stupid helmets.") The rebels don't stand a chance against them, so you must infiltrate the empire and put a stop to their production. Naturally, you'll have to confront a bunch of guards, stormtroopers, and bounty hunters who'd like nothing more than to turn you into pulverized bantha fodder. Them's the breaks.

Instead of being divided up into levels, Dark Forces is a series of missions with defined victory goals. Like in the previous Star Wars titles, you can't progress to a higher mission until you complete those that come before it. Of course you can always cheat, and although nobody's mentioned anything about cheat codes in Dark Forces (probably because hardly anyone outside LucasArts has played it yet), they're sure to come along seconds after the game's release.

For just about every Star Wars fan with a computer, Dark Forces will be the A-#1 item on the Christmas list this year. After playing the game I think it's safe to say that you won't be disappointed. Rebel Assault became a staple for its hardware last holiday season, and I see Dark Forces following suit. If you own a CD-ROM, you'll have Dark Forces. That's all there is to it.