Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster is another beautiful love letter to classic FPS

Nightdive Studios did an amazing job of polishing up this classic Star Wars shooter. Just mind the Dianoga. They're still scary as heck.

Image via Nightdive Studios
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The adventures of Kyle Katarn aren’t a story you’ll likely ever see in Disney’s Star Wars universe, but they were once at the heart of an amazing 1990s first-person shooter - one that launched the Jedi Knight series, no less. Lord knows I played the shareware demo and eventually the full thing relentlessly back in 1995 alongside the likes of TIE Fighter and Rebel Assault 1 and 2, and so apparently did Nightdive Studios’ Stephen Kick. That’s probably why I could feel the love and attention poured into just about every detail of Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster. This isn’t just a good polish-up. It’s an amazing love letter to one of the best early Star Wars games ever made.

The threat of the Dark Trooper

For those who don’t know, Star Wars: Dark Forces was a shooter launched in the era of absolute Doom popularity and the clones that followed, but it has a bit more in common with Duke Nukem 3D. The Jedi engine that it was originally built on was similar to Duke 3D’s Build engine. One of the biggest improvements about it at the time was that Dark Forces could render three dimensional levels without limitations to the Z axis, meaning floors could overlap on top of one another vertically where they couldn’t in Doom. That allowed the original LucasArts team to create far more complicated levels full of moving elevators, multiple floors, and mesmerizing mazes that often featured floor-to-floor traversal. It may have been the first time I remember a first-person shooter giving me the option to climb into ventilation ducts to get from area to area.

All of this fancy technical backstory aside, Dark Forces was also one of the only licensed Star Wars FPS to ever come out in its time, and it used a lot of heavy plot points from the films. In fact, the very first mission has you stealing Death Star plans to assist the Rebel Alliance. As mercenary-for-hire Kyle Katarn, we were blasting Stormtroopers, grabbing keys, operating consoles with stolen Imperial codes, and thwarting the plans of Darth Vader and his underlings as they tried to produce a new type of robotic soldier known as the Dark Trooper.

Darth Vader speaking with General Mohc in Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster

Source: Nightdive Studios

Enter Dark Forces Remaster. For this game, Nightdive went and rebuilt the entire Dark Forces game in its proprietary KEX Engine, which at this point has been used as the foundation of a wealth of Nightdive’s other remasters, including Quake and Quake 2, the Turok trilogy, Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition, and more. It translates to a paint store worth of polish. Every bit of the game looks and feels crisper than ever. Both player and enemy sprites look about as clean as can be, the levels look smooth and sharp, the music sounds nostalgic as all get-out, and the controls feel satisfying and easy to maneuver on both keyboard and gamepad.

One of the more interesting additions to this version of Dark Forces is the new animated cutscenes. Every cutscene featuring characters has a new sheen of polish not found in the original. It’s a little uncanny valley at times, but I would argue that it’s just a bit more cartoonish than the original. If I had to compare it to a specific style, I’d say it reminds me of the cutscenes in Full Throttle, another LucasArts classic.

The more things change…

Facing Stormtroopers in Star Wars: Dark Forces
Source: Nightdive Studios

One of the best things about Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster is that if you simply want to play the game exactly as you remember it from the old days, you can. Nightdive Studios included a suite of options that allow you to shift the look of the game between the studio’s enhancements and the original experience. That includes graphics, sprites, cutscenes, music, and even the overall render method of the game. What’s more, you can even toggle most of these options in the middle of gameplay with a single button press.

It's become a bit of a standard at this point for Nightdive to give you everything you need to play with the improvements you do or don’t want to include in the overall experience, but I still appreciate just how easy it is to access these features at any given time. Sometimes, it’s just fun to go into a level and toggle the music styles to hear the original tracks and then Nightdive’s remastered versions, but I also liked being able to wander through levels and see how certain scenery and sprites looked in comparison between their original and Remaster counterparts.

Behind-the-scenes concept art of the Dark Trooper in Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster
Source: Nightdive Studios

I won’t say Dark Forces Remaster is a 100 percent sparkling brush-up. There were a few bugs here and there that I experienced in my time with it. On one occasion when wandering the Research Facility level, I was teleported from a higher room to a lower one when gunning down Imperials on a stairway. The game also crashed on me when operating a code machine, and an infamous bug that makes it hard to move through certain areas of the icy Robotic Facility level is still present for some reason. That said, all of these bugs were seldom more than a minor inconvenience and, even then, fairly easy to navigate.

The Empire's vast forces versus one itchy trigger finger

Kyle Katarn in Star Wars: Dark Forces
Source: Nightdive Studios

In the end, Dark Forces was just about everything I wanted it to be. It’s an excellent trip down memory lane and a great way to play the game that launched the Jedi Knight franchise. The enhancements all make for an overall fun and fast-paced run-and-gun experience. Additionally, the option to switch back and forth easily between the enhancements and the game you remember is just a cherry on top. Nightdive has proven time and time again that it’s more than capable of recapturing the magic these games held and augmenting them just enough to warrant a thorough return trip. It’s true of Dark Forces, too, and I’m thrilled to be able to join Katarn on his mission to save the galaxy from the Dark Trooper threat once again.


These impressions are based on a PC build of the game supplied by the publisher. Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster is out now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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