Star Wars: Dark Forces

Star Wars: Dark Forces has been called a Doom clone by those who don’t know any better.

The honest to God’s truth is, if you like Doom, you’d love Dark Forces even more: especially if you’re a Star Wars fan.

It’s hard to imagine this, but back in 1995 Sony’s PlayStation was just released in the United States and one of its first titles, is a port of what would become a cult video game.

Also in 1995, Star Wars didn’t have new content. Aside from the main trilogy, it would still be several years until the series was expanded in cinema with The Phantom Menace. Therefore, Dark Forces enters what was referred to the “Expanded Universe”, creating a new storyline and characters aside from the original movies – which content-starved Star Wars fans were clamoring for at the time. (The Power of the Force action figure line re-released around this same time, which pushed the rebirth of Star Wars in general.)

The game’s story bookends being before and after A New Hope, following Kyle Katarn who is a mercenary working for the Rebel Alliance. Katarn stumbles upon the Empire’s Dark Trooper Project, which are overpowered Stormtroopers.

The game itself is a first-person shooter (FPS), borrowing common elements from the mega popular Doom series. The comparisons might end there, as Dark Forces is much more than a Doom clone with Star Wars painted over top of it.

For starters, its one of, if not the first FPS to include jumping and crouching, which creates some platforming elements that were missing in Doom, such as crawling through ventilation ducts years before it became cool in the N64 classic Goldeneye 007.

It’s also possible to look up and down, helping to aim and shoot those enemies that are on higher platforms. Again, this seems trivial, but back in 1995 it was groundbreaking.

Looking back, the graphics obviously do not age well, but the game play is outstanding save for getting lost in levels (usually due to the graphics and not being able to see what it is you need to do next!)

When adding Star Wars to the mix, you now get some FMV cutscenes and voice work, including famous one-liners from Imperial officers and Stormtroopers. Guns have the familiar shooting and blasting sounds from the movies, and overall, anyone who is a Star Wars fan should have this on their must-play list. In fact, it’s one of the best FPS titles ever made, if you’re capable of dealing with the dated graphics and the PlayStation’s D-Pad controls.

(I do not wish to share anymore, because there’s a few really cool spots in the story that will make any fan smile! Enjoy!)

Star Wars: Battlefront

The original Star Wars: Battlefront is a game which spawned sequels and were among the best “real” movie experiences in video games to date – showing what could be accomplished on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Of course, the game is dated in several ways. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan, please proceed! If not, you may be underwhelmed.

I had owned this title initially for the PS2, but this review is based on a current replay on Xbox. It should be noted both versions are very similar if not identical in certain ways.

Let’s start with the bad: this game does look and play “old” at times.

I love how Microsoft had the foresight to know high definition was the future of gaming. From the jump, this game (unlike the original Halo) can be played in a widescreen format. Truth is, the original Xbox was capable of 720p output using component cables – it could upscale to some degree but the CPU struggled with true HD content.

That’s likely the bottleneck of why moving around the map, and much of the gameplay aspect, feels like Lord of the Rings and the fellowship’s endless walk to Mordor! That’s my first gripe: walk. Walk some more. Maybe, just maybe encounter some enemies.

The gist of the game, of course, is a large map where hundreds of opponents face off to capture different bases – a “king of the hill” type concept. As you capture new bases, you can spawn closer to other enemy camps in order to dominate the map and the opponent.

Yet, some of the bases are so far away from the rest, and when you die, you have to respawn at the ones you currently control. Thus, more walking… (It also doesn’t help that you often respawn facing in the opposite direction of where you should be going to start!)

With no “run” button available, I assume the developers slowed down the game for one or two reasons. First, the framerate: the sheer size of the maps and the number of characters onscreen, including lasers zooming past and explosions abound, would probably crash the hardware if it were sped up.

Secondly, there are vehicles throughout the game. They are substantially faster, almost to the point of being difficult to control! They range from mounting a Taun Taun on Hoth’s Echo Base to flying an X-Wing.

And therein lies the strengths of the game. The combat is pure fun. Even when it becomes frustrating, you realize that you’re a weakling in the game, fighting as a separatist battle droid or one of the expendable Endor rebel troops. Neither are no match for higher power weapons or enemies, including the Expanded Universe’s Dark Troopers, or cameos from Darth Vader, Count Dooku, Mace Windu, Lukey Skywalker.

The game spans several words, each with two sets of battlefronts (or maps). The worlds are inspired by the original Star Wars trilogy and the first two prequels (Episode III had yet to be released.)

There’s a lot to cover as to how the game actually plays, but the basic premise is that it’s a massive battle where you have to gain control of every base on the map and/or wipe out every last part of the opposition.

The premise is perfect for multiplayer action, which back in 2004 usually meant more couch co-op than online play (which was built into the game but ceased over a decade ago).

As for the single player campaign, it’s short, but satisfying. There’s nothing like reliving some of these famous, or completely new and made-up battles. The DVD film footage between stages looks really dated but that’s okay. The game is otherwise more than passable and really fun – even for replay value.

The first time you step up against an AT-AT on Hoth, hope on a speeder bike on Endor, stroll through Mos Eisley, Naboo, or even Bespin (Cloud City) you’ll get lost in what makes the Star Wars universe special.

While I already mentioned the graphics, the audio samples are straight from the films and will raise goosebumps on your arms at times, especially if you make a wrong turn and come face-to-face with Darth Vader and the whir of his lightsaber.

On that note also, the controls are very simplistic, and can be a little bit of a mess as you navigate the maps – but the ground campaigns are otherwise smooth to play, while the vehicles are a tad messier at times and probably should be to give a competitive balance.

In all, I highly recommend this game, with the asterisks of the above faults. It will play best for fans of the franchise, of course, and it was a heck of a trip down memory lane that I may be glued to playing for short spurts now that I rediscovered it.

Star Wars Racer Revenge

For as good as Star Wars Episode 1 Racer was on the N64 (and also the Dreamcast), Racer Revenge is not.

Don’t get me wrong: if you only had a PlayStation 2 and this was your opportunity for some podracing action, this game captures the feel of Episode 1 Racer. However, as a sequel to that game, it feels completely rehashed with some annoying additions to it which take away, not add, to the game.

First of all, the graphics and courses appear to be totally lifted from the first game. And not in a good way. I understand PS2 titles were somewhat more advanced than the N64, but put this sequel up against the Dreamcast’s version of the original and it looks unpolished.

Worse, the levels feel like legitimate rip-offs of the first game, except they also feel shorter or “tighter” with less room to maneuver. That’s important as this game makes use of a “damage” bar which drains as you hit obstacles or other racers, many of which commandeer large vehicles that you can’t get around or you get stuck too… and hit more obstacles… and crash.

But when you crash in Racer Revenge, your race is completely over. No respawning like the original! Back to the title screen for you, as you wait for that or another race to load.

This wouldn’t be so bad if, it wasn’t so cheap. The way you end up losing feels like Mario Kart on steroids at times and really weakens the fun of playing the game.

Add to it a bounty style system with “taking out” other pods, and well, just suck the fun out of this game and getting upgrades for your racer!

As for the sound, an announcer quips his favorite parts of the tournament, even mentioning Mos Espa is his “hometown”. It sounds great until you get to playing the game, where the same 2-3 lines are recycled constantly throughout! It’s enough to make you want to mute the game, which is a shame considering the grandiose of the Star Wars soundtrack lying underneath.

If this is your only experience with the Racer games because it’s a PS2 exclusive and you had no alternative, you probably wouldn’t notice these criticisms. However, the only thing seasoned Episode 1 fans will notice here is a frustrating set of tracks and controls, and a much older Anakin Skywalker to sell that this game is a follow up to the original.

In short: it’s not.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer

I had nearly forgotten about this game if not for a recent re-release of the PC version a couple of months ago.

Keep how you feel about Episode 1 to yourself: this game is not only a great racing game, it’s also a great Star Wars game! Taking advantage of the N64’s RAM pack to expand graphics memory, Episode 1 Racer is a gorgeous game on a platform that otherwise looked blocky and choppy at times. Yes, it can still be a bit of a strain on the eyes, but the nearly 700mph arcade-style racing action makes it feel right.

Admittedly the Dreamcast version looks even better, but this was one of the few N64 titles I actually owned back in the day. That’s because I found it in a bargain bin somewhere and took a chance on the game. If I recall correctly, it was priced at $7 or $8!

And it was well worth the money spent! I played this game for hours as a teenager, trying to master each track. Admittedly, as I do with most racing and fighting games, I don’t replay these to completion: just enough to get the feel for the game and beat one of the competitions. (They get progressively harder… crazy hard actually.)

As for replay value, there’s a lot here. There is a slew of podracers (many of which were barely seen in the movie) that you can play with, each with different style pods. A large assortment of tracks, vehicle upgrades, and some cool cutscenes along with voice acting make the game feel complete and polished.

If you’re a Star Wars and/or arcade racing fan, I highly recommend giving this a go. It’s a fun game that still hasn’t lost its appeal nearly 20 years following its release.