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Star Wars Games For The Macintosh
December 2, 2004 | IMG Staff
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Dark Forces
In the original Dark Forces, LucasArts produced one of the first and finest entries into the Doom-clone genre of the mid-1990s.

LucasArts was directly inspired by Doom, and decided to make a FPS set in their Star Wars universe. In 1995, they unveiled Star Wars: Dark Forces for the PC and, a few months later, for the Mac. The Mac version was programmed by Aaron Giles (who later worked on MacMAME, the Connectix Virtual Game Station and is currently working on Virtual PC). Aaron even made the Mac version better than the PC by supporting double the resolution - a mammoth 640x480 pixels!

Dark Forces put the player in the role of Kyle Katarn. Kyle was ex-Imperial solider recruited by Mon Mothma to do sneaky bad things to the Empire for large wads of cash (much to the disgust of Princess Leia). Being a covert-ish operative, Kyle's general style was to infiltrate a base and either steal something, like Death Star plans, or place something, like sequencer charges. Along the way, Kyle got to shoot lots of Imperial Stormtroopers, officers, and commandos. Oh, and Probe Droids, Interrogation Droids, and Mouse Droids.

Dark Forces, like Doom, had multiple-height levels - you could shoot down on helpless Gamorreans, and Grans could throw Thermal Detonators down on you. Like Marathon, Dark Forces also let you use your keyboard to look up and down. Unlike either, Dark Forces introduced some basic 3D models to the game, like Kyle's ship - the Crow - whose pilot, Jan Ors, would offer sarcasm and advice via radio. Dark Forces even popularized some neat devices which modern games, like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, still use, such as infrared vision, a headlight, and a PDA which keeps track of your mission objectives. As should be expected for a LucasArts title, Dark Forces' sound was top notch. The sheering of blasters, the English wit of Imperial officers ("Rebel Scum!"), and the ambience of technology. The repeating textures with their limited colour schemes actually suited the Imperial decor but got a tad tedious. In all respects, Dark Forces pulled you into a Star Wars world.

Dark Forces did well critically and commercially on the PC. Compared to Doom, it was a marked evolution in FPS games. The mission-like structure of the levels actually gave a reason to the emerging cliches of finding keys, flicking switches, and jumping puzzles. Dark Forces' primitive cut scenes also provided a story which drove the evolution of the game - ending with Kyles "assault" on a Star Destroyer filled with Dark Troopers. The save-system was inventive - there were "checkpoints" throughout the levels which allowed you to resume a limited number of times after you died. For many PC games, Dark Forces was the first good FPS.

But for Mac users, Dark Forces wasn't an improvement over Marathon, and many saved their dosh for Marathon 2 which was due a few months after Dark Forces (in October 1995). In hindsight, this was a shame. Dark Forces was a good game that was sadly overshadowed by the pinnacle in Mac gaming.

If you can manage to find a copy, Dark Forces will run under Classic at super-high frame rates. The many Dark Forces mods and levels which were released are available at www.df-21.com and will (apparently) run easily on a Mac.

Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight
Capitalising on Dark Forces' PC success, LucasArts quickly embarked on an ambitious sequel: Jedi Knight. LucasArts realized that the one way they could really set their Dark Forces franchise apart from the now flooded FPS marketplace was to offer geeks their ultimate fantasy: being a Jedi. Jedi Knight introduced gamers to the thrill of the lightsabre and the power of the Force. Once again, Jedi Knight focused on the story of Kyle Katarn and his pilot, Jan. Kyle discovered he was gifted with the Force and began down the path of becoming a Jedi - finally confronting seven dark Jedi. Jedi Knight was a great game with some odd ideas (secret areas gave you Force power)... or so I've been told.

The problem is, Jedi Knight never made it to Our Great Platform. Even though the Mac port of Jedi Knight was being developed concurrently with the PC version, it was cancelled in the face of dwindling Mac revenue (kinda like Half-life). Jedi Knight and its expansion pack, Mysteries of the Sith, were among the first causalities in LucasArts abandoning of the Mac. It was the beginning of the dark times, the beginning of the Empire...

...for a while.

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
(aka Dark Forces III: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast)
With the Mac platform slowly gaining strength, LucasArts returned. First with Star Wars: Episode One Racer (see below), but most importantly with Jedi Outcast in Christmas 2002. Based on the pretty Quake 3 Arena engine, developed by the skilled Raven Software, and ported by the awesome Aspyr, Jedi Outcast was the holy grail of Star Wars games. When the Mac port arrived six months after the PC version, Mac gamers finally got to be Jedi... kinda.

The first few levels of Jedi Outcast are basically Dark Forces in a 3D engine. Once again, you play Kyle Katarn and infiltrate facilities for Mon Mothama. You have a blaster, slaughter Imperial Stormtroopers, hunt for keys, jump to solve puzzle, and admire plenty of crates. Pretty standard FPS fare.

Some plot happens introducing the Force-wielding villian Desaarn and some motivation for Kyle... and then you go get your Force on and your lightsaber too. Turns out that Kyle gave up on being Jedi in the first Jedi Knight, but nobody told the Mac gamers before we bought the game...

Lightsaber combat is simply awesome. The sound, the clashing of colour, the acrobatic moves... lightsabers are the thrilling heart of Jedi Outcast. Of course, Raven had to invent an entire plot to justify having lightsaber baddies to dispatch at key points in every level, but I can live with that. It takes time to use the lightsaber effectively but once you do, its very hard to bother using any other weapons. Because lightsaber combat is in the third person, I just leave the game in third person. While this means that technically Jedi Outcast isn't a FPS, it certainly plays like one. It has a very fast, arcade feel - closer to Unreal Tournament than Ghost Recon.

As you progress further in the game, you'll gain Force powers such as Force Push and Force Grip, and those powers will improve throughout levels. By the end, you're a gruff stormtrooper-killing machine. You'll be Force Pulling weapons from Stormtroopers, throwing Rodian's off ledges using Force Grip, and Force Pushing thermal detonators back at the Grans.

Besides providing you with the sheer thrill of being a Jedi badass, Jedi Outcast manages to take you to a bunch of great Star Wars locales. Some are familiar like Yavin and Bespin, others are unique to the game but still feel like Star Wars. The voice acting is solid and the plot is good by admittedly low FPS standards.

Besides being an excellent single player game, Jedi Outcast also has a fun multiplayer mode. Basically, its your standard multiplayer FPS modes with Jedi. The Force adds a surprising amount to the game play, as you have a certain number of points to distribute among your Force powers. Balancing your powers against the opposition is half the fun, and nothing beats Force Gripping a player holding your flag and throwing them off a ledge... wee!

While I'm raving about Jedi Outcast, I should say that it isn't groundbreaking. It combined all the elements of circa-2002 first person shooters, gave them a Star Wars twist, and executed them well. Thats enough to warm this Star Wars uber-nerd's heart.

At nearly two years old, and based on a much older engine, Jedi Outcast isn't the most modern looking game for the Mac - but it will certainly run on machines that hit four years old.



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