Saturday, February 3, 2018

Dark Forces - Part 2

Dark Forces - Part 1

I'm continuing my playthrough of the FPS game Dark Forces, and so far I am enjoying the game.  It has enough in common with modern FPS games to limit the frustration over its dated engine and gamplay, while also maintaining that 90s era nostalgic charm.  I'm about 1/3 of the way through the game, and I aim to finish it in this post or the next one.  So lets continue on with mission 5, I look forward to blasting more stormtroopers!


Mission 5 - Gromas Mines

Previously on, I left off just beginning the mission to Gromas Mines.  My goal is to place a detonator charge somewhere deep in the mines to blow them up and prevent the Empire from mining the metals necessary for the Dark Trooper project.  The first thing I notice about this mission is it is very red, I think they were going for a Mars look:

Starting area
This mission starts on the surface but soon moves underground into the mining complex proper.  I need to watch out because those damn turrets make another appearance in this mission as well.  After entering the underground complex, I picked up another weapon - the Jeron Fusion Cutter.  I think it's supposed to be an industrial tool that doubles as a weapon when put into the hands of Kyle Katarn - mercenary and welder extraordinaire!

Fusion cutter
Like some other weapons in the game, the cutter has two fire modes.  The primary fire mode shoots green balls out of the 4 barrels one at a time while the secondary fire mode shoots from all 4 barrels at once, doing more damage.  It's not a terribly useful weapon since it shoots slower than the blaster and repeater rifles and only does a bit more damage, but I find myself using it when an enemy needs a bit more damage done to it, like with turrets.  Plus I do like the look of it firing from the barrels one at a time.

Speaking of turrets, I finally got a good screenshot of me destroying one:

Die turret!
This level is built around deep pits, crushers moving up and down, and needing to perform careful platforming jumps.  I've established already on this site that I'm not a fan of platforming in FPS games, and this game is no exception.  Even though I really like this game, I really dislike the jumping in this level.  Here is the first deep pit I come across:

Luckily all I have to do is grab that blue key and make my way down some corridors and through some of the crushers I mentioned before.

These things go up and down, and its simple to jump through them without getting smushed.  So those don't really bother me.

This part bothers me
I soon come to this pit you see above.  The first order of business is to shoot all of the stormtroopers located in those doorways across the way.  After doing that, I jump down to small ledge sticking out beneath the cliff in front of me.  After landing on that ledge, I need to jump across another chasm into a doorway.  Sounds easy enough?  It would be, except there is a crusher going up and down blocking my jump across the chasm.  See below:

Here is the result of me trying that jump the first time:

Note: 000 health
The jumping in this game is actually pretty responsive so it could be a lot worse and I only have myself to blame for messing it up.  After clearing that jump and making my way down some elevators and shooting my way through mobs of imperial scum, I came to the objective where I need to plant the explosive:

Explosive planted!
It's a terminator!
Crap!  After planting the explosive, a central pillar rises and reveals a metallic monster with blades for arms!  This guy is actually an unfinished Dark Trooper.  I don't know why it is down here by itself and not on an assembly line with the other ones, maybe it is a prototype or something.  Whatever the reason, it's bad for Kyle because it does some serious damage.  It's blade arms do straight melee damage and so bypasses shields.  And notice my health level of 30.  Not good.  I decide my best option is to repeatedly run away, turn, and lob thermal detonators at it, then turn and repeat.  Still, it takes a lot of detonators to kill.

I killed the Dark Trooper and made my way back to the landing area and completed the mission and was treated to a cutscene of the mine blowing up:

Thats...a big explosion
Jeez, I hope no one else lived on that planet.  The explosion ends up taking out an entire hemisphere.
The scene then cuts to the Arc Hammer and I see Mohc and Vader discussing a recently captured Rebel spy: Crix Madine.

You may remember Madine from his brief scene in Return of the Jedi where he takes part in the briefing prior to the Battle of Endor.  In addition to this scene, he actually had another scene that was cut.  According to Wookepedia, he was a leader of convert operations for the Empire until he defected.  For the Rebels, he helped devise the attack on the shield generator on Endor that was undertaken by Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca, and company.  So he is presumably a very important person for the Rebel Alliance, and we need to get him back.

Madine in Return of the Jedi
Vader is starting to get worried about the damage Kyle is doing to their plans, but Mohc has a plan up his sleeve.  He has hired a certain well known bounty hunter to take care of Katarn once and for all.

Crap, its Bobba Fett!

My mission is pretty straightforward - Find Madine
So my mission is to find Crix Madine and rescue him.  Let's do it.

Mission 6 - Detention Center

Starting area
The detention center starts off with some good vertical level design by having big open cliff spaces and valleys.  It is high enough that if I fall off it is instant death.  While these big vistas make for some great levels, it stretches the imagination to think this is how the Empire would design one of their facilities.  For example, the entrance I am taking into the detention facility involves riding a small hover platform with no railings across a huge chasm that is sure death if I fall.  To nail home the point that yes, this is how the Empire designed it, this hovering platform has an imperial commando riding across on it!  I think this is hilarious, good job LucasArts.  Here I am sniping the poor SOB with my pistol and he crosses the canyon:

I rode the platform into the facility and I now notice some walls have very obvious cracks.  These are secret rooms that can be blown open with explosives.  Here is an example:

Secret room
I found one secret room that had two stormtroopers inside.  What were they doing in there?  The Empire built the room and then sealed these poor guys in?  How long have they been in there?  Again, I'm not sure how good of a gig it is working for the Empire.

Who knows how long they had been in here...I did them a favor
I'm just going to say ahead of time that this level is really really confusing and difficult to describe.  It is based around two elevators, each of which has 3 or 4 floors.  The level involves going to each floor from each elevator and getting a series of keycards and opening a series of doors in order.  After getting all the necessary keycards, I need to move the elevators into a specific position by setting them at specific floors, then I need to jump down into the elevator shafts and traverse the top of the elevator cars.

Diagram of the elevators...I'm not entirely sure what it's displaying
To make matters even more difficult, this level introduces the land mine.  These are proximity mines that gives a little chirp 1 second before they blow up and do a ton of damage.  They are also many times conveniently hidden in among shield pickups or other items to disguise them.  On the plus side, I also get landmines as my own weapon as well:

Another first is this level has ricocheting walls.  What this means is on some of the walls, my shots will ricochet around at angles a few times before disintegrating, if they haven't hit an enemy or me.  In narrow corridors, this makes it pretty easy for me to shoot myself. 

Ricochet example
On the plus side, I did find an extra life on this level, which I ended up needing since I died after being blown up by a mine right after finding it:

Extra life
The detention center has a few forcefields that turn on and off that I have to time just right to run through.  Sometimes there will be imperials on the other side of the forcefield and when they shoot at me their shots will bounce back and hit them.  At times I was able to sit back and let them just kill themselves with their own ricochets.

Imperial officer shooting himself
I have to admit, that was pretty funny.  The prison cell area is an obvious callback to A New Hope when Luke rescues Leia, they definitely nailed the look correctly.

There's not much else to this mission.  There's a section where I had to jump around on trash compactors in a trash disposal pit which again was another nice nod to A New Hope, but otherwise the bulk of the mission is taken up with figuring out the elevator situation.    

I found Crix Madine
I feel like they could have done a better job with the sprite for Crix Madine, after all he is a main character in Star Wars canon and we know what he looks like from the movies.  He looks really generic in this.  After rescuing Madine and exiting the mission, the game jumps right to the briefing for the next mission.  Mission 7 involves going to a port called Ramsees Hed and placing a tracking device on a smuggler's ship so we can track it to a robotics facility where parts of the Dark Troopers are being assembled. 

Mission 7 briefing
Mission 7 - Deadly Cargo

I don't remember anything about this mission off the top of my head, so I'm going in pretty blind.  I'm all stocked up on weapons and ammo and I'm at full health, so I'm ready to ruin some imperials' days.

Uh oh!  I've run into Gamorreans pretty early on in the level so that doesn't bode well for later on.  These guys don't have any ranged weapon, but their melee ax does A LOT of damage and it bypasses shields.  By a lot, I mean that it can kill me 2-3 hits if I'm at full health.  They are obviously also really tough so take quite a few shots to take down.  On the plus side, they make a funny pig squealing sound when hit.  I'm not sure if the sound was taken straight from the Star Wars movies or from a standard pig sound library, but it's effective.

I'm also noticing that the game is sending a lot more mercenary and bounty hunter type enemies at me instead of imperial soldiers in this level, which makes sense this mission is supposed to take place at a seedy port where the ship is docked.  The theme also seems to be that bounty hunters like Garmorreans are a "higher tier" enemy that stormtroopers, officers, and even commandos.  I say higher tier mostly just because they occur later in the game and tend to be more dangerous.

This is somewhat reversed for the sequel Jedi Knight in which the game starts off with Kyle fighting bounty hunters like Gamorreans and the three-eyed guys (I just looked them up - they are called Gran).  Only after the first 3 or 4 missions does Jedi Knight begin throwing imperial stormtroopers, officers, and commandos at the player.  I kind of liked this because it made the imperials a little more intimidating since its implied they are a more dangerous enemy than the early bounty hunter enemies.  Which they should be since they are supposed to be the elite soldiers of the Empire.  But whatever, that's neither here nor there.

To better deal with these bounty hunters, I've picked up the Packered Mortar Gun:

Mortar Gun
The mortar gun does just what the name implies, it is a hand-held mortar gun.  Which is an awesome alternative to the usual grenade launcher you find in FPS games.  This guy does lots of damage but has relatively scarce ammunition.  It makes some nice explosions too.

Much of this level is taking place in cargo bays packed with stacked crates or in narrow hallways.  A common scene is me taking a thermal detonator to the face from a Gran.

Face, meet thermal detonator. Thermal detonator, meet face
As payback, I've found some Gran who seem to be too preoccupied to notice the explosions coming from the next room over and I've caught them unawares.

Don't mind me...just taking my grenade out for a walk...

The level has some great transitions from cargo bays to what I assume is the imperial ship.  I always though Dark Forces did a good job of mixing multiple environments in the same level and making a good juxtaposition between them.  In this level, I started in a drab cargo area made up of typical browns and grays and featureless hallways.  I'm now entering the imperial ship and it definitely looks imperial:

Entering the ship

Complete with a commando

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I have all that backwards.  I think I am planting the tracking device on a smuggling ship so it is the ship that is drab and grungy and the ship is docked at a nice imperial docking port.  So all of the bounty hunters are on their ship, and most of the imperials are in the dock. Oh well, it doesn't matter.

Great, only 1 urinal open and its between everyone
Haha, that's a nice piece of level design.  One bounty hunter and two stormtroopers just using the bathroom.  Even in the future, people and aliens will still need to use the bathroom (except in Star Trek).  It must be an absolute nightmare for the stormtroopers to pee with their stormtrooper outfit on though.  I saved them all the trouble and blasted them.

Here is me clumsily clearing at a room of imperials to find the blue key:

Setting the charge
Ending cutscene
After setting the charge, I was able to simply press ESC to end the mission.  I was then treated to a brief cutscene that is unrelated to anything, it just shows the Moldy Crow approaching the planet where my next mission is to occur.

But I don't think there will be a next mission for me right now, I'm going to wrap up this playthrough of Dark Forces and move on to the next game.  This is not a knock against Dark Forces and I am still enjoying my time with it; I am simply ready and anxious to move on to my next game and try one out that I haven't played before.  I'm still trying to decide if I should be spending more time with each game and playing them to completion of if I will continue to only play them for a few hours before moving on.  Like I said in an earlier post, I think I'll keep doing what I have been doing with these first few posts on the site, but as I develop a wider library, I may start spending more time with each game.  We'll see.  But regardless of all that, I still like this game.

- Review -

The LucasArts of today (or as it was a few years ago, they don't exist anymore) is/was a different company than the LucasArts of the 80s and 90s DOS era.  In modern times, LucasArts primarily acted as a publisher to outside development studios that had purchased the Star Wars license from them.  Because of this, we've seen a lot more Star Wars games than we used to, but the quality of the games varied widely.

20-30 years ago (*groan*....obligatory "I can't believe how old I am getting"), LucasArts acted as the developer and publisher for most of their games.  They created some of the best adventure games of all time (Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Grim Fandango) and they also created some of the classic Star Wars games like X-Wing(1993) and Tie Fighter(1994).  It wasn't until the late 90s, as the adventure genre began to fade away, that LucasArts started becoming primarily a publisher and seller of the Star Wars license instead of a games developer.  

I mention all of this background because Dark Forces was released during what I would call LucasArts' "Golden Years".  In 1995, LucasArts was arguably king of the adventure genre and king of the space sim genre, and for a brief perion, Dark Forces made them one of the kings of the FPS genre.  This kingship did not last long with games like Duke Nukem 3D and Quake just around the corner, but Dark Forces was briefly the FPS game to beat and added another notch of a great game to LucasArts' belt.  A big reason why Dark Forces did not develop the huge following of some of the other FPS games I mentioned is because it doesn't have multiplayer.  This was as big a deal when the game released as it would be today.  There were even rumors that there was a secret cheat code that would activate a hidden multiplayer component.  This lack of multiplayer meant the game had much shorter staying power than other contemporary FPS games.  

Much of Dark Forces was revolutionary at the time, but does that matter when playing today?  Is the game playable for the modern FPS gamer without needing to resort to mods?  My answer is: YES.  The game is still playable and enjoyable, even for a modern gamer who has never played an old DOS FPS game.  The horizontal mouse-look worked fine for me, I did not even have to reverse the axis.  I was annoyed initially with the lack of vertical mouse-look, but I quickly forgot about this because the game does not ask the player to look up or down very often.  When there are enemies above or below you, the auto-targeting usually is able to hit them.  

The controls are smooth and responsive as well.  I dislike almost all platforming in FPS games because in most cases the controls are not good enough to be able to manage the subtle movements required.  These problems are minimized in this game by having relatively few jumping puzzles and by having large target platforms to land on and jump from.  I still didn't like these sequences, but I didn't hate them like I do in some other games.  

The sounds are fine but the music is great.  It may sound strange that I am recommending MIDI renditions of John William's Star Wars scores, but the music producer for the game did a great job at the conversion and it works well.  The graphics are...not good, but that is what I would expect from a 2D FPS game from 1995 that runs at 320x240 resolution.  I will say that is is particularly bad on a 1920x1200 resolution monitor, but it is still manageable.  Just look for floating, moving blobs and pixels in the distance and assume that they are enemies and you should be fine. 

The graphics are the main reason why I can recommend the DarkXL engine linked to on my first post for the game.  It adjusts the graphics to correctly handle widescreen resolutions and utilizes full mouse-look.    

I honestly don't have a lot of bad things to say about this game.  It's great fun and I recommend it.  I'm trying out a new rating system today.  Instead of scoring games from 1 to 5, I'm going to try doing a "Recommend" or "Do not recommend" for new players and nostalgia players.  The only caveat I would add to my scores of "Recommend" is new players may want to use the DarkXL engine to make the graphics and movement a little more palatable.


So that's it for Dark Forces!  I liked playing it and I hope you liked reading about me playing it.  Maybe I'll got back and finish it one day.  But for now I'm going to move on to the next game for this site.

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