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Sunday, March 19, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tech Reviews

CD-Rom -- Dark Forces

Dark Forces LucasArts (800) 782-7927 DOS $99.95 ------------------------------

Seventeen years ago, Luke Skywalker sneaked on to a Death Star, and Americans have fantasized about battling the Evil Empire ever since. Now comes Dark Forces, a new first-person action game from LucasArts that's likely to be one of the best games of the year.

In Dark Forces, you can roam through nearly all of the "Star Wars" universe provided you don't get shot, drowned, crushed or caught. Darth Vader has unleashed a platoon of superwarriors throughout the galaxy to avenge the destruction of a Death Star. Dressed in impenetrable armor, the dark troopers attack towns and even planets suspected of sympathizing with the Rebel Alliance.

Fortunately, the Alliance has a Rambo of its own - Kyle Katarn. Meaner than Darth Vader on a bad-hair day, Katarn gladly thrashes the Empire from one end to the next to find and destroy the super-troopers. He begins with little more than a blaster and a distress signal from a massacred town. Finding the dark troopers won't come easily.

You play this game from inside Katarn's head. Sneaking around fortresses, mowing down storm troopers, and even fighting dragons, you see through Katarn's eyes.

Believe me, this is not just Doom on a Death Star. Katarn is far more versatile than the Marine in Doom. He doesn't just run and gun; he can crawl through low openings, jump from one ledge to the next, and even look in every direction.

To win this game, you not only help Katarn with his physical prowess, you also assist him intellectually. Puzzles and locked doors block off most of the Empire. Until you learn to solve puzzles and find keys, you will find most missions frustrating at best.

One of the high points of this game is the chance to roam the Empire. After you unlock all of the doors in any location, you can explore at will. Though most of the Dark Forces sets are original to the game, they were created in the "Star Wars" spirit. The ghost of Obewan haunts every gleaming hallway, and the classic clash of good and evil reverberates in the shadows.

Visually, Dark Forces is a masterpiece with a few holes. As is the case with most first-person shoot-'em-ups, objects and enemies look attractive at a distance, but melt into a pile of pixels and colored squares up close. If that bothers you, make sure to shoot every Gamorrean guard on site and you'll be healthier for it.

While "Star Wars" fans will love Dark Forces, so will most computer gamers. It is a vivid explosion of sights, sounds and energy. The force that's with this game is gravity, and it will keep pulling you back for more.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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