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Throwback Thursday - Dark Forces (1995)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 05:38pm 15/10/15 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a weekly column here on AusGamers where Kosta opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!

Watch Kosta steal the plans to the Death Star. It requires a Red Key.

The Game: Dark Forces
The Year: 1995
The Developer: LucasArts
The System: PC

After the release of id Software’s DOOM in 1993, many PC developers looked to the first-person shooter as the next big thing. Nowadays a first-person shooter is merely that, a new game in a popularised genre. In 1993 after the release and incredible success of DOOM, for a number of years just about any other first-person shooter was referred to as a DOOM-clone. And for good reason. The technology behind DOOM was unlike anything else available in the market, and the focus on fast-paced and visceral action meant that it created a brand new formula for success. DOOM excited both developers and players alike, and for LucasArts this was an opportunity to see exactly what Star Wars meets DOOM would look like.

Was it a first-person adventure game where players were put in control of Luke Skywalker during the setting of the first film? Or perhaps something darker where players took control of an Imperial Stormtrooper who slowly comes to the realisation that he’s fighting for the wrong side and opts to become a Rebel Spy? Both of these ideas were at one stage or another going to serve as the basis for what eventually became Dark Forces. A 1995 first-person shooter from LucasArts that was at once very similar, yet very different to DOOM. In terms of setting players would take control of Kyle Katarn, a rogue-like character who gets embroiled in an Imperial plot to create a new super-charged Stormtrooper.

"So uhh, I have to wait until the sequel to use a Lightsaber? No fair."

Now, talking about what Dark Forces is about kind of separates the game from being a simple DOOM-clone. Throughout its history LucasArts was known for bringing a rich narrative to its line-up of interactive experiences, and by giving Dark Forces a story added a new dimension to the formula created by DOOM. Dark Forces is strictly a single-player experience, it features no multiplayer (or deathmatch) and is a better game for it. Well, kind of. A deathmatch mode for Dark Forces was something that a lot of people were expecting. But it’s the first of its type to feature fully-voiced and story-focused bookends for each mission, adding a sense of purpose to the maze-like structure and ‘find-the-right-coloured-key’ puzzles found in the typical DOOM-clone. Each level itself also features its own set of textures in an attempt to not only sell the fact that these are different locations, but also part of the vast Star Wars universe.

Built using the Jedi engine, Dark Forces would exhibit a number of enhancements over DOOM, namely in its ability to feature multi-story buildings with rooms that could appear on top of each other, 3D objects that could rotate and move like real-world machinery, and several atmospheric effects that could be used to mimic things like walking around in the dark and then finding the right switch to turn on the lights. Both of which feature prominently in the early parts of the game.

"Freeze Rebel Scum! Wait, Kyle is that you?" PEW! PEW!

So how does it stack up today? Well that question would apply to DOOM and the many DOOM-clones that followed. Today when you play a first person shooter on PC or console the expectation is there that you will need to use the mouse or secondary stick to aim and shoot. Much like other early shooters Dark Forces doesn’t really adhere to the aim-and-shoot setup, mainly because this was still a few years away from becoming the norm. Instead what you have is an aim-in-the-general-direction-and-shoot approach to action, which results in laser bolts kind of just firing in the general direction of the nearest Stormtrooper.

But, in terms of presentation Dark Forces still stands out. As mentioned earlier the focus here is on a rich single-player experience, which means pre-mission briefings, animated cut-scenes, and (low-quality by today’s standard) music, sound effects, and speech. In terms of the missions they’re usually decked out with specific objectives like in the first iconic mission where you need to steal the plans to the Death Star. So even though the levels themselves are basically mazes along the like of Wolfenstein 3D or DOOM, the sense of purpose is a lot more interesting than simply trying to find a generic colour key. Even though Dark Forces has a bit of that too.

Which, you could probably chalk up to the Imperials penchant for security and ensuring that even the most mediocre of their Stormtrooper regiments would be able to grasp the fact that a door with a red-light trim requires a red-key card.

"We totes need to stop losing all those key cards. The Rebels be all up in our shiz."

Dark Forces was an instant success, but it sparked a huge outcry from fans that you could sum up with a single exclamation -- “Where’s my lightsaber!?” Even though the game’s protagonist, Kyle Katarn was in essence a Han Solo-clone, people still wanted to wield a lightsaber. And who could blame them, the laser sword is kind of synonymous with Star Wars and word of a first-person Star Wars adventure kind of went hand in hand with the notion of cutting down foes with a lightsaber. So when LucasArts began developing the sequel they made sure to change the story up and make Kyle Katarn ‘force-sensitive’, beginning a string of sequels focussed on becoming and playing the role of Jedi.

In the end though the original Dark Forces is a break through release for Star Wars gaming in general. And much like the X-Wing series it took a genre (a relatively new one at the time) and successfully created an iconic game.

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Previous Throwbacks:

Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album recently released.

Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.