I greet you today from 1999. ’99 was a fairly mixed year on a personal level but it did have an incredibly important milestone in my life.
Our first household PC. A blue and grey box which, until a few months ago when I donated it to a school, has been in our house -still operational it should be added- and started my love of PCs. Before that we had an Amiga 1200, before that an Amiga 500+ and before that a ZX Spectrum.
That first PC though was important. It was a 450mhz Pentium 4 with 512mb of ram and a graphics chip (the ATi Rage Pro 128) on the Mobo. Oh, and it came with a 6.4gb Hard-drive that we never thought we’d fill up! By today’s standards that is atrocious but back then it was Awesome! I was introduced to proper 3d Gaming for the first time. Games like Dungeon Keeper, Transport Tycoon, Total Annihilation and Unreal Tournament gave me the cornerstones of the gamer I am today.
One game stood out, and even today still stands out to me.
Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. Before I go in to detail it should be mentioned this was not the first Lucas Arts game I had played. The Monkey Island games and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis had been games I’d played or watched be played several years previously. Jedi Knight though had something that I had never experienced.
In Dungeon Keeper you’re the bad guy. In Transport Tycoon you were a mogul. Total Annihilation you were the Core or the Arm (Always the Arm!), in Unreal Tournament you were Red or Blue (Blue baby!) although you could customise your looks (Blood Reavers – Boris!) and in the older Lucas Click ‘n Points you were whoever on a fixed story path. However, in Jedi Knight you were Kyle Katarn. To me he was a grubbier Han Solo.
I already enjoyed Star Wars, earlier on in that very year I had a terrible bout of Flu and could hardly move so I watched the three (Episode I came out later that year) Star Wars movies on VHS. However, it was good but that was about it. This game changed my love for Star Wars, specifically the Extended Universe because it gave you choice. Not the illusion of choice, or skin deep choice but true choice.
You play through the first levels as a merc who is trying to find out who killed his father. The gun combat is surprisingly good and the game paces new guns almost perfectly as well as the changes in location with a lot of vertical movement and combat -No horizontal corridor shooting back then!- which mixes in live action blue-screen things to keep the story moving. These FMV’s (made famous by C&C) help you get to know the characters as well as give a strong story element. This is important once you get a lightsaber, around the 3rd location in the game, another important thing to note is that you can kill not just the ones trying to kill you but civilians! This was an interesting concept in an FPS as usually if it moved it needed to be killed with death. But no, there would be people just going around their businesses… You could make it your business to stop them however. All of this is of importance to how you can build your character.
When you have a lightsaber you need to be able to access the Force. Only the game lets you chose not just the light side, but the dark side too. You select your powers from a Universal pool, a Light Side and a Dark Side pool. This impacts how you play the game, but also how the story unfolds. The game lets you pick if you should kill certain bosses or be a good Jedi. Later in the game you find out the repercussions of your actions. This absolutely blew my mind. The first time I played it I went Light Side. Then I played the entire game again where I went utterly Dark Side. The story changed, the outcomes changed. How enemies behaved changed!
It was an absolute (excuse the pun) blast! This game is the single reason for my utter love for the franchise as well as for games that offer choice. Games like Mass Effect are my modern Jedi Knight fixes but nothing will ever be like that first time realising that I held the power of if someone lives or dies in the game which changed the entire outcome and direction of the game.
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is avaible on Steam right now for £3.49 or the collection of the Entire Saga (including the original Dark Forces that I’ve never played) is £14.99
I highly recommend playing them, the games are the very best thing that LucasArts ever developed and published that wasn’t Monkey Island.
Kyle’s Story, just like LucasArts, was cut down before its time. While I love Disney for a lot of things, this will take a long time to heal. I think it is time to finally buy and play the original Dark Forces.
May the Force be with you, LucasArts. Always.