DARK FORCES 2 / LucasArts / PC

The first Dark Forces was basically a Doom clone skinned with Star Wars textures. It had some cool animated cut-scenes between levels by whoever the artist was that did Full Throttle, but though the game seems to be pretty popular I felt it was a typical 90s ambush-fest and keycard-hunt with about as many bad levels as good. Jedi Knight's level design is much better, but the ambush-heavy design philosophy remains and makes the game the same sort of mixed bag of good and obnoxious levels.

The game's tech is somewhere between that of Duke Nukem 3D and the first Half-Life. You get the sprawling, expansive levels with pretty high overall elevations of the latter, and the design philosophy of basically thowing you into industrial-ish environments that you have to Jumping Puzzle your way through is very similar. But the sophisticated event scripting and enemy AI that would make Half-Life such a standout game isn't there; it's more of a typical mid-90s shootfest, just with big levels and lots of jumping.

Oh, and lightsabers. This has the distinction of being the first FPS to let you use a lightsaber, but as you can imagine it's pretty rudimentary and clunky. You can parry basic incoming blaster fire automatically if you're facing it (and not swinging), and there's the occasional prefab tile that you can cut open with it, but other than that it's your standard FPS melee weapon a la Hexen and such. The story has you gradually fighting the Seven Deadly Jedi and once in a while you can duel it out with them and they'll actually parry your swings, but it's all kind of a matter of randomly hacking away and not really a graceful system.

You're also not a Jedi Knight right off the bat. You play as Kyle Whatsit from the first game, and he's initially still just a dashing blaster-wielding rogue. Turns out his father was a Jedi though, so he's a latent Jedi, so that'll emerge due to convenient plot developments, but first you'll have to pewpewpew through three levels. And that's just to get the lightsaber, the Jedi powers get slowly parceled out over the course of the rest of the game. You'll also still be leaning on blasters to get through the rest of the game as the lightsaber and powers are often impractical (and you'll need grenades to disarm plenty of land mines scattered around as well since you aren't allowed to shoot them for some reason).

So it's all still very shooty for a Jedi game. Opponents are also the usual Suicide Drones, dangerous only because they always know your exact position even when you're behind cover and they're perfectly happy to get killed just to chip off a chunk of your health. I'm surprised the AI was so highly praised by the reviews of the time, because there basically isn't any. So with no AI, the challenge comes in the same package it did in the first game -- constant bullshit ambushes that you basically have to Save Scum your way through. Dudes inexplicably wedged in random corners, dudes right over your head when you walk through a door, dudes up on obscure sniper perches lobbing grenades into your mouth from a mile away with amazing accuracy. And you ever play Goldeneye in multiplayer and put proximity mines behind door frames where someone walking through can't see them? Well, dude who designed these levels sure did.

And do keep in mind that this is Old Skool enough to not have checkpoints or auto-save, so you'll need to manually save constantly unless you want to start the level from the beginning every time you walk into a land mine placed on a ceiling behind a door frame or randomly floating under some water. Once you start getting Jedi powers, each one can be individually leveled up with points you earn at the end of the levels, but getting most of the points requires sussing out every obscure secret room on the map. So you'd think the game would let you replay old levels, but nope, it's a completely linear affair. Miss points and they're missed for good unless you want to restart from E1M1. This actually isn't a tremendously big deal, however, as Jedi powers really feel more like optional game-breaking cheats than something integral to the design.

One positive is that there's a fairly in-depth story developed with lots of video clips between levels, and even occasionally one before a boss drops in. They're set against those terrible 90s green screens and the acting is typical 90s low-budget ham but otherwise they're actually kind of impressive and do capture the retro-futuristic vibe of the Star Wars universe.

If you do want to play the game you may want the disc, as the Steam version has serious problems -- the colors are jacked up to the point that the game is unplayable on any OS newer than Windows XP, and the game also crashes out very often when you try to return to gameplay from the save/load menu (effectively meaning that saving the game also means having to close out and restart it, though when you die you can reload your last save in-game without a problem). I also assume there's supposed to be music, but I can't get it to play in Steam (though the sound effects and video clip audio work). Running the disc in some sort of virtual environment seems to be the way to go, unless GOG has a better downloadable version.

Jedi Knight had a lot of promise, doing big jumpy-puzzle levels a year before Half-Life got to them and letting you play with cool Force powers in an FPS. But the seeming inability of the design team to implement challenge in any way that wasn't Romero-esque cheapness almost sinks the whole ship, and the incorporation of the lightsaber and Force powers almost seems cobbled in after the fact. It's OK, but it's very much overpraised around the interbutts.

Videos :

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