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The following article contains plot details for Star Wars: Rogue One.
This is a strange time to be a Star Wars fan, particularly if you were a devotee of the books, games and comics that sustained the series in the mid-1990s. When Disney axed the Expanded Universe back in 2014, it felt like the final spasm in a prolonged death that had begun with The Phantom Menace fifteen years prior. The EU was allowed to inform small aspects of this new Star Wars, but throughout the noughties its influence sharply waned. The prequels represented the triumph of LucasFilm's merchandising arm over its story group. How could a Disney-led reboot be any different?
Yet here we are. Rogue One is a tonal u-turn for Star Wars, a return to the look and feel of the old Expanded Universe if not its specific plot beats. We're back to a Star Wars that feels like a lived-in universe rather than a greenscreened backdrop. Indeed, the movie's planet-hopping opening act has far more in common with the old novels and games than it does with the other films, which tend to lock in on one or two key locations for their duration.
There's loads to be said about the influence of the Expanded Universe on Rogue One, and this extends to games too. If you lament the fact that they no longer make Star Wars games like Dark Forces and Knights of the Old Republic, then it's strangely comforting to see them paid tribute in the biggest Star Wars event of the year. It's no coincidence, either: former PC Gamer editor Gary Whitta has a story credit on the movie, and he was chief of our US edition the year that Dark Forces came out. This is a movie by people who are aware of Star Wars' long relationship with PC gaming, and it shows.
In Dark Forces, the Death Star plans are stolen by Rebel spies Jan Ors and Kyle Katarn. They have a substantially easier time of it than their Rogue One counterparts do, in part because they live in a Doom-inspired maze-world where everybody runs at 20 miles per hour and Stormtroopers can't really look up.They're very different characters, for the most part, though 'Jyn Erso' and 'Jan Ors' use enough of the same letters to raise an eyebrow. Kyle and Cassian's fates are very different, but if we ignore Katarn's later Jedi adventures then their presentation isn't actually that different: they're both fringe operatives who work with a single partner, travelling the galaxy undertaking independent missions in a compact starship.
Late in Rogue One, when Jyn and Cassian have shed their Imperial disguises and are climbing the data archive, its worth paying attention to their costumes. Jyn's gear echoes Jan anyway, and sans jacket Cassian's khaki undershirt has a strong Kyle Katarn vibe. He's just missing the ginger beard.
This is a little bit more of a stretch, but Orson Krennic's elite Deathtroopers have a shade of Dark Forces' Darktroopers about them—the latter are droids, but the garbled mechanical speech of Rogue One's black-clad troopers gives them a mechanical vibe even if there are people underneath those uniforms.Darktrooper-inspired Imperial security droids also appeared in a recent episode of Star Wars: Rebels.
Your first act in Knights of the Old Republic was to escape from the Endar Spire, a Republic starship with an unusual profile. The design proved popular, appearing in the wider Knights of the Old Republic backmatter as well as in Star Wars: The Old Republic. 4,000 years later, an updated version joined the Alliance in Star Wars: Rebels.
The Hammerhead gets a huge hero moment in Rogue One, swinging the space battle above Scarif for the Rebellion in one of the most daring acts of self sacrifice since Arvel Crynyd crashed his A-Wing into Vader's Super Star Destroyer and wiped out a starship the size of a megacity. I guess now you know why it's called a 'Hammerhead' in a universe that doesn't have sharks.
Think about that for a second: a ship designed by BioWare not only appeared in a Star Wars movie, it made a star turn. We might not get Knights of the Old Republic 3, but we did get that.
In Rogue One, General Antoc Merrick is the X-Wing pilot who leads Blue Squadron in the battle over Scarif. In 1993's Star Wars: Rebel Assault, Merrick Sims is a veteran Rebel pilot who teaches you the ropes in this (ropey) rail shooter. Later in the game, Merrick and the player participate in the Battle of Yavin... as Blue Squadron.
That can't be a coincidence, can it? It's an incredibly niche reference, but I guess if you were ever going to pay tribute to this most '90s of Star Wars CD-ROM games then now would be the time to do it. It's just surprising that they didn't pay homage to X-Wing, which came out the same year and is a million times better. If he'd been called 'General Farlander', I'd have wet myself. And rightly been kicked out of the cinema.
When you beat games quick, you tend to beat a lot of games. This year's Summer Games Done Quick speedrunners tore through dozens of PC games, and even if you had the stream on all week like we did, you probably missed some amazing runs. Below we've compiled a selection of our favorites: mostly classic PC RPGs and shooters, capped off by an inspiring one-handed run by Halfcoordinated.
Full of hot dance parties, impossible jumps, and advanced AI manipulation, the Deus Ex run may be the most entertaining run of SGDQ. Heinki is incredibly entertaining to watch, cracking jokes as often as he pulls off ridiculous technical tricks.
With intelligent mana pathing this runner is able to keep his magic meter up while darting through the map in a series of lightning fast, acrobatic blinks. The run is so fast that they ve come to a point where unskippable dialogue sequences nearly make up the majority of it.
Cloudbuilt was designed with speed and advanced platforming tricks in mind, which makes it a perfect challenge for speedrunners. It s hard to keep track of exactly what s going on in this run, but it looks impossible, which is all the comprehension necessary to know it s impressive.
If you like Star Wars and old school Doom-era shooters, then this run is one to watch. The commentary is quick and clear, detailing the technical tricks at play while Stormtroopers whiz by. Luke should take notes.
This one s worth a watch to see how runners turn the notoriously buggy Gamebyro engine inside out. It s especially interesting to see such a relatively new game an experience that promises dozens, possibly hundreds of hours of play get turned out in just over an hour. Who knew traffic cones held such power?
Yes, that is an insanely fast time to finish System Shock. That's the beauty of this run: watching runner Fearful Ferret pull off a skip that cuts out most of the game. Short and sweet.
Puri_Puri breaks Daggerfall wide open, with teleportation glitches and a whole lot of floating outside the world boundaries to shortcut around. A fun example of an old game being bent to a speedrunner s will.
The one absolutely must-watch speedrun of SGDQ isn t a classic PC game or full of groundbreaking exploits. It s simply an inspiring performance by speedrunner Halfcoordinated, who plays all of his games with one hand due to a disability that limits the use of his right hand. Throughout the entire run he s entertaining and good at explaining what he s doing in Momodora, and at the end he says a few heartfelt words that draw a standing ovation from the audience. Absolutely the highlight of the week.
In the last months of 2015, Star Wars was everywhere. Everywhere. TV ads. Billboards. Sneakers. Mac n cheese. Cars. PCs. It s hard to remember a time when Star Wars wasn t all around us. Even before the Force Awakens marketing blitz, Star Wars has been omnipresent for a decade now, with a steady stream of cartoons and toys and games and books and comics, some good, many bad. This is what we ve come to expect from the Lucasfilm and Disney empires. We don t expect Star Wars spin-offs to be bold and daring, and it wasn t until I spent the holiday break playing Dark Forces that I remembered Star Wars games were once genuinely groundbreaking.
After watching Force Awakens, my Star Wars fever drove me to replay Dark Forces and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II for the first time since my childhood. This was actually my first time playing all the way through either; I only had demos as a kid. Despite being released just two and a half years apart, in 1995 and 1997, the games feel like they belong to distinct eras of FPS design. Each is forward thinking in some ways I found fascinating with 20 years of perspective, and comically dated in others.
But not really comically. Like, Jar-Jar-and-his-stupid-tongue-funny. It s 2016. We know better.
21 years on, Dark Forces feels almost prehistoric for a 3D game, and its ambition dates it in a way that the arcadier Doom will never age. The 2D sprite enemies, their simplistic AI and repeated audio clips, the labyrinthine levels and obtuse puzzles are the essence of first-person PC games from 1995. Made today, Dark Forces would probably feel like a sanitized Call of Duty clone with lasers.
And yet. And yet. The same way Star Wars took the basic structure of the Hero s Journey and turned it into a movie unlike anything we d seen before, Dark Forces cloned Doom and created something amazing from its DNA: a game that placed you into a three dimensional world that was new and yet recognizably Star Wars.
LucasArts s Jedi Engine added jumping and looking up and down on the vertical axis, so you could explore Dark Forces world like it was a real place. The stormtroopers and Imperial officers may have been crudely animated 2D sprites, but they looked just like they did in the movies. The blasters sounded the same. The music captured the essence of John Williams in simple MIDI.
Instead of revisiting locations from the films or playing out some hackneyed video game version of the battle of Hoth, LucasArts took places we d glimpsed, like the interior of a Star Destroyer, and spun out their own creations with the scope and detail to bring them to life. The world is gray more often than not, but Dark Forces keeps switching out tilesets as you reach new levels. One Imperial base looks different than another. Ship interiors take inspiration from the Death Star. Natural canyons, blocky and angular as they are, admirably lend scale to Dark Forces representation of the galaxy far, far away.
Even the hundreds of stormtroopers spread across the campaign makes it feel like you re struggling against the Empire, a Rebel underdog deep inside an overwhelming military machine. The mostly static cutscenes and briefings between missions feel rudimentary next to the 3D world—possibly Dark Forces at its most dated—but Mon Mothma lends the story an air of legitimacy, too.
21 years on, Dark Forces feels almost prehistoric for a 3D game.
I found Dark Forces additions to the Doom template simultaneously the coolest and the most frustrating bits of its design. I appreciated some of the puzzles I had to solve to make my way through Imperial strongholds, and not always knowing where to go in its layered and complex levels. Other relics of the time—like how difficult it was to discern a random decorative texture from an interactive control panel—really do add depth to the world, making it feel more real and less like a linear guided tour through some Cool Shit, as so many shooters today are.
But I spent more of my Dark Forces playthrough appreciating what it pulled off in 1995 than I did really having fun. The shooting doesn t have Doom s oomph, and I ground my teeth in frustration while trying to navigate the sewers early on, and while trying to make one particular series of jumps between rising and falling platforms later on. If you ve played Dark Forces, you know the one. And the computer core in mission 11? Fuck that hexagonal nightmare.
I'd recommend playing with a guide on-hand for the most obtuse bits, but Dark Forces is still worth a run through to get to Jedi Knight, where the series really finds its way. And it's easy to play on modern hardware thanks to DarkXL, a rebuilt version of the game that supports high resolutions and Windows.
What a difference two years makes. When LucasArts started using scale models for Star Wars in 1977, they first had to figure out how to make them look like real spaceships. A couple years later, for Empire Strikes Back, they had that down—the next step was making them look good, leading to the invention of Go Motion. Jedi Knight followed a similar path, going fully 3D, telling a far more complex story with full motion video, and slowly unlocking Force powers throughout the campaign. Dark Forces great success was putting you inside a Star Wars world with the best technology available at the time, and Jedi Knight amplified that tenfold.
Its FMV story is unfortunately every bit as bad as the words full motion video usually imply. Hero Kyle Katarn has the gruff voice down, but can t do much more than frown and deliver terrible dialogue from awkward bluescreen-turned-CG-graphics sets. Everyone else is even worse, especially Dark Jedi Jerec, who is wearing the banana hammock equivalent of a pair of sunglasses and has chin tattoos that I mistook for a bad fu manchu for 90 percent of the game.
There s no passion to be found here, but the story loosely justifies Jedi Knight s strength: the experience of gaining badass Force powers over the course of 20+ levels. Where later Bioware RPGs would much more deliberately tie your Force skills and alignment into the narrative, Jedi Knight mostly just gives you points to assign between missions, and bam, you re a Jedi. Believable? Not really—but the FMV cutscenes already threw immersion out the window. Accept Kyle s inexplicable mastery of the Force, and Jedi Knight will hand you a really satisfying skill progression from blaster-wielding slowpoke to Jedi superhero.
Gaining Force powers in Jedi Knight gave me one of my favorite experiences playing games: the feeling that I m using abilities to play the game in a way it wasn t meant to be played. To outsmart the designers by navigating the environment and defeating enemies in ways I wasn t meant to. The best-designed games give me this sensation even when it s not true: they make me feel clever and powerful, even when I m following the path I was meant to.
When you first start gaining powers in Jedi Knight, they re a convenience. You can use Force speed to get around more quickly, or Force jump to leap over a gap that would ve taken longer to cross by foot. Gradually, the game starts introducing areas you need Force powers to navigate. By the end, you re jumping a dozen meters into the air, yanking blasters out of your enemies hands, and sprinting across levels to avoid unnecessary combat.
Jedi Knight ties its high-level light and dark Force abilities to some key story decisions, which would be a great idea if the story wasn t such a galactic suckfest. Star Wars games have done it better since. But Jedi Knight deserves credit for doing it first, and for doing Force powers so, so well. Dark Forces let you view Star Wars from an angle very different than the films, and in making Jedi Knight, LucasArts did the same with the Force. This was the Force we imagined watching the films, letting a heroic master run faster, jump farther, sense enemies that can t be seen, heal his body when he s injured. I don t know if Jedi Knight s powers were directly influenced by the novels filling out the Expanded Universe in the 90s—almost two dozen were written between 1991 and 1997, with different authors granting Jedi new skills—but it nailed the toolset, making the powers fun to use and believable within the Star Wars fiction.
The story loosely justifies Jedi Knight s strength: the experience of gaining badass Force powers.
Acquiring those Force powers is unfortunately tied to the most archaic part of Jedi Knight s design (aside from the FMV, I mean). Completing each level earns you a measly one point to put into the Force skill tree. Most of the points come from discovering secret areas in each level. And there are a lot of them. These secret areas are usually packed with health and ammo, hidden in dark corners or behind stairs or on top of structures. Finding them is a fun excuse to explore...until you miss one of the six or eight or ten hidden areas in a level and miss out on the entire Force point bonus. Fun, that is not. The secret areas feel like a holdover of Dark Forces older design, and as poor match for the Jedi power system.
It's no coincidence my favorite level in the game has only a single secret room right at the outset. Jedi Knight is even more varied in its level design and settings than Dark Forces, but one really stands out: The Falling Ship, which has Kyle rushing through a ship before it hits the ground and explodes. The ship and gravity are both twisted, making for some surprisingly fun platforming on a tense time limit. I failed on my first time through but enjoyed going at it again, racing the clock to make it to the hangar bay and escape in a smaller ship. This is the kind of setpiece you'll see in a blockbuster AAA game today, but Jedi Knight managed to pull it off in 1997.
When I played Jedi Knight s expansion, Mysteries of the Sith, I skipped most of the secret rooms, and was nearly crippled by my meager Force powers in the last few levels. They really felt like a necessity, and only save scumming and dodging tougher enemies carried me through to the end. Freakin vornskrs, man. Most of Mysteries of the Sith feels like an uninspired retreat of what Jedi Knight has already done, which is a disappointing first (and only, really) outing for EU heroine Mara Jade in a Star Wars game.
But the last few levels, hard as they are, are its salvation: they take you deep into an old Sith temple to bring Kyle Katarn back from the Dark side, and it feels every bit like the hallowed, dangerous ground it should be. Well, mostly. The leaping dog creatures and yeti monsters may be based on Timothy Zahn s novels, but they come across as goofy video game enemies. And the zombie wizards? Maybe a step too far.
Nothing in Jedi Knight or Mysteries of the Sith is as challenging as getting the games to run in the first place. To play them yourself, I recommend slavishly following the directions on JK2DF, which was the only way I could get the games to run on Windows 10. The GOG and Steam versions each have their own problems, and patches and mods are often not fully compatible with one version or the other. You can also grab a Mysteries of the Sith texture pack to make the game look comparable to Jedi Knight retextured.
Hoo boy, are the original models and textures ugly. But they're still better than the FMV.
I haven t tackled Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast yet, but it s next on the list, and I have high expectations. LucasArts wisely handed the series to FPS maestros Raven Software, and by 2002 3D games could do far more advanced cutscenes than the awkward first steps of Mysteries of the Sith. I expect Jedi Outcast to be the game that turns Kyle Katarn into a genuinely interesting character.
And I hear the lightsabers are pretty cool.