Enlarge / Do you ever wonder why no contractor has been able to deliver to the Empire a standardized blaster rifle that shoots right where the crosshairs are aiming? Is this covered in the “Legends” extended universe?

Nightdive Studios/LucasFilm

I remember Dark Forces, or Star Wars: Doom, as a slog. Running a demo of the 1995 game on a Gateway system with an Intel 486DX at 33 MHz, I trudged through seemingly endless gray hallways. I shot at a steady trickle of Stormtroopers with one of their own (intentionally) semi-accurate blaster rifles. After a while, I would ask myself a pertinent, era-specific question: Why was I playing this low-energy nostalgia trip instead of actual Doom?

Dark Forces moved first-person shooters forward in a number of ways. It could lean on Star Wars for familiar sounds and enemies and tech, and a plot with a bit more complexity than “They’re demons, they gotta go.” It let the player look up and down, jump, and crouch, which were big steps for the time. And its level design went beyond “find the blue key for the blue door,” with some clever environmental puzzles and challenges.

Not that key cards don’t show up. This game is from 1995, so there are key cards, there are hidden wall-doors, and there are auto-spawning enemies. It’s not like the Dark Forces designers could entirely ignore Doom. Nobody could.

Having played through some enjoyable hours of Dark Forces Remastered, I’ve come around quite a bit on this Doom-era game’s worthiness. In 2024, I can joyfully rip through research facilities, foundries, sewers, and space stations at a breakneck clip, stuffing bad guys full of laser blasts from every angle and distance. The grenades (err, thermal detonators) actually feel viable and fun to use. The levels, and the game as a whole, are higher resolution and easier to appreciate at this faster, more frenetic pace.

Nightdive Studios continues its streak of providing spiffed-up but eminently faithful remasters of classic titles with Dark Forces Remastered. The studio’s leaders told Ars last year that their goal was games that “play the way you remember them playing. Not the way they actually did on your 486 [computer], but in an evocative manner.” For me, Dark Forces Remastered feels far, far better than I remember, and so I’ve gotten a chance to absorb a lot more of the world it’s trying to evoke.

Nightdive Studios/LucasFilm

An elegant shooter full of clumsy blasters

A quick primer on Dark Forces: You are mercenary Kyle Katarn, working for the Rebellion around the time of Episode IV (the first Death Star one), helping the rebels investigate and halt the development of Dark Troopers. Dark Troopers are essentially Stormtroopers with big shoulder pauldrons and the ability to deflect blaster fire. You can use all kinds of found weapons, including blasters, land mines, and rocket launchers. But you will not become a Jedi, because that happens in the next game.

Due either to thematic or technical restrictions of the time, you’re not typically fighting huge arenas of baddies. You are meant to sneak through hallways and turn corners, popping a few at a time. Unless you’re me, that is, liberated by playing at 4K at 120 frames per second (and, sometimes, cheat codes), wantonly wrecking dudes who didn’t get the memo about my arrival.

The little voice stings—”Stop!” “You’re not authorized!”—were a delight, if often cut short by the quick dispatching of their speaker. For the first few levels, I felt like the Rebellion could have destroyed five Death Stars in just two movies if they had a few more Kyles like me. But Dark Forces does ramp up as you go on.

All the same cheat codes from the original game work—Nightdive even gives you places to type them in and then activate them in menus—and I had to lean on a couple level skips and resupplies to get through the first seven levels. The objectives get far twistier and “What did flipping that switch do?” as you roll on. Some of the battery-powered devices, like infrared goggles and gas masks, are all but essential at times, and the long levels with their repeating wall textures can have you wasting them. It’s never quite unfair, but you realize how tough this must have been at a far lower frame rate and walking speed—and without such easy access to online walk-throughs, of course.

There are new lighting effects, much nicer menus and options, gamepad support (including rumble), and polished cutscenes, in addition to the gameplay that now tilts a bit more toward Motörhead than Rush in speed and feel. But, really, what sells Dark Forces Remastered is the game beneath the upgrades. If you have any interest in hopping on Jabba the Hutt’s barge again, this is the way to do it.

Listing image by Nightdive/LucasFilm

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