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Let’s Talk About Sewer Levels

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(This was originally posted on my personal Star Wars Tumblr in February of 2016)

This game.

To the untrained eye, 1995′s Dark Forces looks just like Doom with a Star Wars skin. In fact, there were some Star Wars mods for Doom that arguably looked better than this game. However, that doesn’t change the fact that this is one of my favorite Star Wars games of all time (despite the fact that before it came out on Steam, I had to screw around with DOSBox to get it to work). Part of the reason I love this game so much is that it’s the first appearance of everybody’s favorite Expanded Universe character Kyle Katarn, who will undoubtedly be written about in the future. Along with that, it just feels like Star Wars, if that makes sense. There’s something about being a Rebel agent on a secret mission to an Imperial base that gets my heart all fluttery.

With that said, despite all of the love that I have for this game, I also harbor an immense amount of hatred. The first level has you on the planet Danuta, where Kyle has been sent on a mission to steal the Death Star plans by Mon Mothma. That one is pretty straightforward. Kill some Imperials, get the plans, and get out. Mission two puts Kyle on the planet Talay at a Rebel base that was annihilated by an unknown Imperial force (which turns out to be Dark Troopers). While Kyle is investigating the destruction of the base, he finds a huge gun that no human could realistically wield, which he brings back to the Rebels. The Alliance traces the blaster back to an Imperial Moff/weapons designer named Rebus. Again, pretty easy.

Mission three, though. That’s when things start to plummet into hellfire. This time, Kyle gets sent to Anoat City on the planet Anoat, which is where Rebus has made his base. Anoat is basically a polluted wasteland after some miners screwed up the fragile ecosystem on the planet, so the city has been abandoned for some time by the time Katarn shows up. The mission begins in the ruins of the city, and then quickly shoves Kyle into an impossibly maze-like sewer system beneath the city. This is where the fun begins. If you aren’t being shoved into walls (and, by extension, down pathways that bring you back to the starting area) by torrential rivers of green poop, you’re probably lost. If you aren’t lost, you’re getting killed by a member of the seemingly-endless hordes of dianogas that inhabit the sewers or one of Rebus’s many droids. Did I mention that it’s pitch black if you don’t have your headlamp or infrared goggles on?

I’ve beaten this game at least ten times, and I’ve yet to spend less than 45 minutes on this stupid level. It never seems like it gets any easier. There’s always some switch I’ve missed or some drainpipe I’ve forgotten to wiggle down. I’m enraged just thinking about it. The worst part is that I firmly believe this is the hardest level in the game. Mission three. The hardest level. Think about that.

Now, after reading this, one might be inclined to wonder “Why write this whole thing just to complain about that one level?” Oh, dear reader. I wish that it were that simple. The sad truth is that this type of sewer level has become something of a trope in video games, and the Star Wars franchise is no exception.

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The next recurrence (that I’m aware of) of this fecal nightmare occurs in 1996′s Shadows of the Empire.This game takes place during the events of The Empire Strikes Back and a little while thereafter. The player follows the story of smuggler-turned-temporary-Rebel Dash Rendar and his mission to help free Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt and bring down the leader of the Black Sun, Prince Xizor. The game goes relatively smoothly up until the second mission from the last, with some minor exceptions (fighting IG-88 in the Ord Mantell junkyard has never been easy for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one).

Again, it’s the sewer level. At least you can see where you’re going in this one, I guess. Dash is in the sewers in order to infiltrate Xizor’s palace in Imperial City so he can blow it sky high with some pulse bombs. Sounds simple enough, right? Not when there are blaster turrets and droids hidden around almost every corner, not to mention the Black Sun soldiers that are hanging out down there. Thankfully, the environment isn’t out to get the player as much as it is in Dark Forces. The N64 couldn’t handle that much BS, I suppose. Having a jet pack makes getting around much, much easier. Regardless of that, there are still plenty of dianogas, and they still kill you in like three hits. The final boss of the level is a GIANT dianoga that lives entirely underwater. It has tentacles that take your health down 45% or so if you so much as touch them, and you somehow have to be able to tell them apart from the eye stalk you need to splatter on the wall to kill it. The worst part is that while underwater, if your jet pack isn’t actively sending you upward, you’re sinking. This makes aiming an absolute slog. If the player somehow manages to keep all of this in check, they can still die by sinking to the bottom of the giant toilet they’re in and into the dianoga’s mouth, or simply by drowning. Truly a miserable experience, though not as bad as Dark Forces, thankfully.

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2003′s Knights of the Old Republic is pretty much universally loved by everyone that’s played it, right? I’m no exception. I’ve logged more hours in this game than I care to admit. But for some reason, when it was being developed, BioWare thought “You know what this game really needs? A segment in the sewers.” So they put one in. In order to get Mission Vao to help the player infiltrate a swoop gang’s base, you have to agree to help her save her friend Zaalbar, who’s been imprisoned in the Taris Undercity sewers.

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Although this insufferable trope is present here, I will concede that it is easily the most tolerable sewer level I’ve mentioned. In fact, it’s bad almost entirely on principle instead of game play. The level is confusing to get around in the first few times, but it isn’t really that bad, especially compared to Dark Forces, though I’m beginning to think that nothing could compare to that mess. It’s annoying that you spend most of the area poisoned by the mutant rakghouls that infest the place, but even that is relatively minor. Heck, even the rancor down there isn’t THAT big of a deal (provided you don’t try to fight it and get around it some other way).

In recent years, we’ve been lacking in Star Wars games, and by extension, Star Wars sewer levels. As much as I hate the dumb things, I’m kind of starting to miss them. In my experience, the games that frustrate me the most are the games that I end up falling in love with for all time. The three games listed here, Devil May Cry 3, Oblivion, and countless others all hold special places in my heart because of how much I hate certain things about them. These aspects end up being endearing and give you things to share (read: commiserate about) with others, which deeply enriches the experiences they provide. After all, I’ve never gotten a long, ranting text message from my best friend at 2 o’clock in the morning about a game that DIDN’T frustrate him, which is something that happened concerning the mission to the Anoat City sewers. That has to mean something, right?

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