Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster Review

Star Wars: Dark Forces

by Matt Kamen |
Published on

Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

Forget Rogue One – the Death Star plans were really retrieved by mercenary Kyle Katarn. Well, they were, in LucasArts' 1995 first-person shooter Dark Forces, before Disney gobbled up all things Star Wars and wiped out the old Expanded Universe, rendering the events of the game non-canonical.

Nearly three decades later though, the impact of Dark Forces lingers, continuity be damned. As the first 3D Star Wars game, it allowed players a chance to explore planets in that galaxy far, far away for themselves, while establishing Katarn as a hero who would go on to be a pivotal figure across dozens of games, books, and comics to follow. It also improved on the FPS model set by gaming forebears such as DOOM with enhanced camera controls, ducks and leaps for the protagonist, plus a wide arsenal of weapons and accessories to utilise in bringing down the Empire. It all might seem old hat now, but those innovations marked the game as a technological trailblazer back in the day.

Star Wars: Dark Forces

That legacy – that importance to gaming's history as much as Star Wars' – is a big part of the appeal of this remaster of the classic title. Brought (back) to life by Nightdive Studios, the source material has been treated with the same degree of respect as the developer applied to its fantastic 2023 remaster of System Shock. While this Dark Forces has been rebuilt from scratch, based on the original code, it's key to note this isn't a remake. Any temptation to update elements for modern players' sensibilities has been ignored – rather than redesign maps or objects in ultra HD detail, the layout, progression, and blocky look of the game have all meticulously recreated that 1995 aesthetic.

An experience that feels surprisingly modern despite its decidedly retro appearance.

Nightdive's real genius here is in presenting the game as older – let's say seasoned – players think they remember it. Anyone who played this huddled up against a CRT monitor – thrilled as Katarn made extracting those Death Star plans look easy, before uncovering the Empire's horrifying Dark Trooper project – will likely have an image in their heads that matches the hi-res, low-poly look presented here. The reality was far… blurrier. Don't believe us? In a brilliant bit of authenticity, you can turn off all of Dark Forces Remaster's present day enhancements, such as improved cutscenes and sprites, and switch to the original software-based rendering, which drops the game into 4:3 aspect ratio and has you shoot down clusters of white pixels that vaguely resemble Stormtroopers. It's honestly a great bit of historical preservation, but it does feel borderline masochistic to try to play through the game in that format on a 4K TV.

Further bolstering its credentials as the definitive release of a classic, Dark Forces Remaster also packs in a host of bonus material, including looks at the development process, concept art, and cutscene development. A lot of this is the sort of content you'll look at once, but the gem is a playable build of a once-abandoned level, 'The Avenger'. Originally a demo for the game shown at trade shows, it never made it to the final release of Dark Forces, so its inclusion here really rounds out the package.

Yet bundling together all of these historical curios and giving the whole package a visual overhaul fit for 21st century screens would be meaningless if Dark Forces wasn’t a brilliant game in the first place. It offers an experience that feels surprisingly modern despite its decidedly retro appearance. The biggest problem is its brevity – it felt short in 1995, and still does now, but with every level re-playable to hunt down secrets you may have missed, and a cheat code feature to bend the rules with, there's plenty of opportunity to stretch out your time with this classic.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us