Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Star Wars: Dark Forces - 20/20 hours

My last hour was basically just dicking around. I beat a couple of levels on medium difficulty, but I didn't actually notice much difference, except perhaps that ammo was scarcer and it was now possible to screw myself out of a level completion by being too loose with my gunfire.

I don't have much to say about the game that I haven't said before. It was interesting to play something from near the beginning of the FPS genre. It gave me some new perspective on level design and pacing in this sort of game. From now on, I'm going to think twice before complaining about the "tube of enemies" school of level design. It may not be exciting, but I can see the advantages now.

And though the thing I'm going to remember most about this game is all the times I stared helplessly at a wall while trying to figure out where to go, I can understand why it is so highly regarded. Twenty years ago, there wasn't quite this same saturation of entertainment as we have nowadays. While I was playing Dark Forces, I simultaneously binge-watched about three and a half seasons of television, just because I could. Everything, from books to games to movies, is less expensive (granted, my memory of the 90s is even poorer than the reality, because I was a broke teenager back then, but the numbers back me up - a $20 VHS would be $30 now, and that's not even taking into account streaming or the $5 DVDs you can buy at any Walmart.) And you were at the mercy of network schedules or what your local stores had in stock. It's funny, I lived through it, and even I'm having trouble remembering what it was like.

So whatever Dark Forces' intrinsic value as a stand-alone entertainment experience, it is important to remember that in the 90s, it really did stand alone. To the people who played it for the first time back when it was fresh, it must have been a magical experience. It's the Star Wars universe, in glorious 3D, you can poke your nose anywhere you like. You fight Boba Fett and foil one of Darth Vader's evil schemes. What must that have been like for someone who's never seen anything like it before?

I know that I'm being just a little bit patronizing here, but this works both ways. How jaded have I become in the last twenty years? I've lost the ability to be blown away by a game like this and that's something I'll never get back. The closest I can come is when I get a glimmer of recognition and see something that seems to be a precursor of features I will come to enjoy in more sophisticated games. I can only imagine that the spark of possibility was there, even to players who did not have the benefit (?) of foreknowledge.

It did spawn four sequels, after all.

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