After 29 years, the Star Wars: Dark Forces remaster proves it's still a blast – but fans already made the perfect FPS port for free

Star Wars: Dark Forces remaster
(Image credit: Nightdive)

Today marks the launch of Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster, the latest in a long line of fantastic FPS revivals from Nightdive Studios. I've now played the full remaster from beginning to end, and while this isn't a full review, I can tell you it's great – but I'm still left wondering why it exists. Fans have already built what's effectively a perfect way to play Dark Forces in the modern era, and it's tough to imagine a world where I'd recommend the Dark Forces Remaster over the community's custom solution.

Originally released in 1995, Dark Forces is effectively Doom with a Star Wars skin, where the shotguns are replaced with blaster rifles and the demons are substituted with a collection of space fascists. Dark Forces made some technical improvements on the Doom concept with robust cutscenes and levels with more dynamic verticality, but it's still a keycard-collectin', baddie-blastin' shooter through and through.

The Nightdive remaster (Nightdive, of course, launched the System Shock remake last year) rolls out every upgrade you could possibly want for the game, including widescreen support, cleaner visuals, and controls adapted for dual analog gamepads and mouse-and-keyboard setups. While the underlying game is nearly 30 years old, it plays like a dream with those upgrades, and using modern shooter controls makes it feel like you've unlocked the shooter's final form – a slick, fast-paced FPS that's still downright thrilling today.

This remaster is launching at a price of $30, though. And while bringing old games up to modern standards takes a whole lot of work – Dark Forces Remaster even goes the extra mile to include some nice behind the scenes material and a playable prototype level – but I can get what's effectively the same experience thanks to a free fan-made tool.

The Force awakened

Star Wars: Dark Forces remaster

(Image credit: Nightdive)

Star Wars

(Image credit: Disney)

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The Force Engine was developed by a group of fans over the course of years, and finally released at the end of 2022. It's a full source port of the original game that lets it run on modern systems, and it ticks every box that the Nightdive remaster does: improved, widescreen visuals and modern controls included. In some ways, it's arguably even better.

There's an infamous bug in the original Dark Forces where you can very easily get stuck against a wall in the game's ice level thanks to how modern machines handle the momentum system. It's fixed in The Force Engine, but not in the official remaster. TFE is also getting a level editor in a future update, and support for a far more obscure LucasArts shooter called Outlaws.

The official Dark Forces Remaster has a few points in its favor, like the option to switch between new and old graphics at the touch of a button, as well as higher resolution sprites. It's also got fully remastered cutscenes, which are both good and bad – they're well-produced, especially when it comes to the 3D elements, but the way the 2D characters animate like paper dolls just looks uncanny in the remaster.

Ice level bug aside, I'd put the new Dark Forces Remaster and The Force Engine as roughly equal ways to play the game – which makes sense, given that TFE's lead developer contributed some information and code to the Nightdive team. The key difference is that Dark Forces Remaster is $30, while The Force Engine is free. While the fan remaster requires you to own a copy of the original game, you can easily grab it for $6 on Steam or GOG.

Star Wars: Dark Forces remaster

(Image credit: Nightdive)

That leaves the official Dark Forces Remaster in a bit of a strange position. I had a fantastic time playing through it, and it's clearly a well-crafted product. It just doesn't have much to meaningfully distinguish it from something that already exists for free. The one real advantage the Nightdive remaster has is that it's coming to consoles, too, and that's a big one – but look, even if you don't have a gaming PC, you probably have a machine that can run a 1995 shooter.

But if this experience has taught me anything, it's that Dark Forces is still well worth playing. It's got a breezily paced campaign that's over in a single digit number of hours, which I've found downright refreshing after bouncing between 100-hour RPGs like Persona 3 and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. It's also just a ton of fun, with great weapon variety, memorable levels, and an entertaining little story.

Dark Forces is also increasingly relevant to modern Star Wars fans, since elements from the game keep popping up in new shows and games. The uber-powerful Dark Troopers from the Mandalorian are the big bad guys in Dark Forces, and the game's basic blaster pistol served as the basis for the gun Andor wields in his Disney Plus show. Dark Forces protagonist Kyle Katarn even seems to be serving as the inspiration for a new character in the upcoming Star Wars Outlaws. However you choose to play Dark Forces, it's well worth your time. 

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Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.