Author Topic: Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster (Switch) Review  (Read 676 times)

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Offline John Rairdin

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Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster (Switch) Review
« on: February 28, 2024, 03:00:00 AM »

A classic FPS gets the remaster it deserves.

Star Wars Dark Forces marked the start of one of the most substantial Star Wars video game series in the franchise's history. You may know it better as the Jedi Knight series. It was the first appearance of Kyle Katarn, who is often considered an inspiration for the modern canon’s Cassian Andor. The series has previously appeared on Switch via Aspyr’s ports of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. But now, this remaster of the inaugural title in the series from Nightdive Studios gives us an incredible way to re-experience this iconic first person shooter.

From a gameplay standpoint, Star Wars Dark Forces falls in line with what you’d expect from early ‘90s first person shooters. Levels are labyrinthian and often rely on players finding ways to unlock paths then backtracking to progress further in the level. Dark Forces does a better job than many games of this era of shaking off the colored key system that had held the genre in a stranglehold. There are, of course, still keys here and there, but Dark Forces focuses more on hidden switches and some light puzzle solving than many other similar games of the era. For example, you may need to find various pieces of a code to enter into a computer to open a locked door, or perhaps find out which code of several goes to the door you need to open. Much of the design of Dark Forces would become a staple for later Star Wars games and even served as a huge influence for games that weren’t officially part of the Dark Forces series, such as Shadows of the Empire. In fact, all the grunts you hear Dash Rendar make as he runs and leaps through that Nintendo 64 classic have their roots right here.

Star Wars Dark Forces was originally released in 1995 and made use of the proprietary Jedi engine built by LucasArts. On a technical level, it has quite a lot in common with the Build engine that powered games like Duke Nukem. It could present what was for the time quite complex, overlapping level geometry with a fair amount of detail. The remaster moves to Nightdive’s KEX Engine and gains many of the expected enhancements. Textures are updated, vertical camera movements no longer distort geometry, and optional effects like bloom can have a transformative effect on some of the art. All of these features are individually toggleable. This means you can play the game as it was in 1995, as it is nearly thirty years later, or mix and match to land somewhere in between.

The true strength of this remaster is in its understanding of its core assets. While Dark Forces Remastered gives you the ability to use higher resolution environmental textures and enemy sprites, these new assets still fit into the inherently retro aesthetic of the simple level geometry. Yes, textures are higher resolution but they still look somewhat retro. They’re not swapping out these assets for totally modern ones, they're updating the original art without breaking it. It stands in stark contrast to some other recent remasters of a similar era and shows exactly how this sort of thing ought to be done. Dark Forces Remastered also comes with quite a bit of bonus content, including concept art, design documents, reference footage filmed for cutscene animation, and even a fully playable prototype level.

That doesn’t mean the package is flawless, however. Some basic quality of life features such as a mid-level save system are missing. This is consistent with the original release but feels like an obvious functionality to include in a remaster. Some of the later missions get pretty long, and having to make sure to leave the game suspended the entire time can be frustrating. I’d also have liked to see the soundtrack from the PlayStation version of the game included, in addition to the original and modern midi versions. There is nothing wrong with the soundtracks present–I tend to stick with the original version–but it would have been nice to provide a complete version.

From a performance perspective, Dark Forces Remastered is exactly what you should be able to expect: sharp image quality, smooth frame rate, and excellently modernized controls. Speaking of controls, you can even go in and manually set up a hotkey to toggle between the retro and modern engines, allowing you to quickly compare changes on the fly. It really lets you appreciate how every surface has been updated, while never losing the artistic intent of the original art.

Star Wars Dark Forces Remastered is an excellent and faithful remaster that honors the original while touching it up just enough for modern platforms. While there are a couple areas where I feel they could have done just a little more, I can’t deny that this is the best way to play an excellent first person shooter. Whether you’re returning to it after three decades, or playing for the first time, there has never been a better version of Star Wars Dark Forces.