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Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster is a must-play modern study of overlooked FPS history

The name's Katarn, Kyle Katarn.

Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster - dark trooper
Image credit: Nightdive Studios

EA doesn't seem to appreciate Star Wars shooters as much as we'd like it to, making Dark Forces Remaster's release even more timely and necessary. More importantly, it's a very fantastic refresh of an often overlooked piece of FPS history.

Nightdive Studios has gradually made a huge name for itself as the go-to authority for remasters (and even full-fledged remakes) of retro shooters and action-adventure games. The company's Turok remasters are among the most faithful and polished re-releases I've ever played; their work alongside Bethesda on the older Quake titles is a true labor of love... The list goes on and on. Those devs, as well as the powers that be, know what they're doing. Thus, Nightdive tackling Star Wars next? That was a dream coming true.

As much as I love what Aspyr has been doing with many Star Wars classics, having the Nightdive folks come in to work on a shooter as truly important as Dark Forces is one of Lucasfilm Games' smartest moves in a while. The company's approach to remastering oldies is that of giving players the game they "remember playing" instead of a carbon copy that simply looks shinier. That is, not being afraid of updating the crankiest and rustiest systems or offering better modern alternatives altogether.

Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster - Imperial base
Image credit: Nightdive Studios

It's a mission statement that's paid off so far. As much as I love retro gaming, revisiting many old games is often an exercise in patience and fighting against outdated control schemes and awkward chunks of design. Having beaten several of Nightdive's remasters, the general experience feels quite different: All the charm you remember is there, but playing through it all is hardly a pain in the butt. The devs' work always feels like precision surgery at its finest.

This philosophy is especially welcome this time around, as Dark Forces is noticeably more archaic than other games which the company has tuned up in the past. The much larger popularity of its Jedi-centric follow-ups also didn't help; LucasArts' iconic FPS should be considered 'corridor shooter' royalty as it essentially bridged the gap between DOOM and proper 3D FPS titles that released shortly afterwards, yet not as many FPS enthusiasts ever checked it out.

Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster - remastered cutscene
Image credit: Nightdive Studios

At first, the most noticeable improvement is the crisper, HD-friendly art (for both cutscenes and all in-game assets). Dark Forces Remaster scales beautifully across all modern hardware, and on PC specifically, it's as flexible as any modern release, even packing out-of-the-box Steam Deck support. However, only a few seconds in, you'll notice it no longer behaves like a clunky DOOM clone.

Mind you, Dark Forces never felt janky, but the low-res visuals often were at odds with the complex level design and geometry of many of its maze-like levels. Likewise, QoL changes to movement, weapon selection, and other crucial aspects of the game make a world of difference. By and large, it's the game that was released in 1995, but it now feels as fluid to play as the modern DOOM re-releases and Quake remasters. Although late, it's the kind of treatment such a key chapter of the journey to modern FPS deserved; something I also felt (with action-adventure games) while playing Aspyr's recent remaster of the OG Tomb Raider trilogy.

Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster - comparison
Image credit: Nightdive Studios

After all these years, it's also shocking to remember how advanced the level design and sound work in Dark Forces feels versus that of some of its numerous 'boomer shooter' contemporaries, oftentimes feeling closer to Turok and Half-Life than the games it was directly trying to replicate. With the refreshed lighting, sound VFX, and asset work, all that hard, gonzo work by LucasArts becomes more apparent instead of fake-r nearly 30 years later.

For Star Wars fans, this is a solid recommendation too. The simplicity of its premise and limitations of the narrative doesn't erase the fact this was an essential part of the extended Star Wars mythos for the longest time. Fans of The Mandalorian should pay special attention to it, as it focuses on the creation and menace of the Dark Troopers, key antagonists in season 2 of the show.

Hefty price tag aside, Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster is well worth your time and money, and more than just a trip down memory lane; it's also an excellent study (new bonus content included) of one the FPS genre's most unsung evolutionary leaps.

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