The Empire is suspected of conducting cyborg research on humans at a space station. Kyle's mission is to infiltrate the station, steal data tapes documenting the research, gather evidence of atrocities committed by the Imperials, and blow up the facility on the way out.
Operation Just Cause is a very representative mission from the early Dark Forces community, mixing old and new, for better and for worse. As I start writing reviews again and work to adjust my perspective of what one of these missions should be, I believe it would be hard to find one that is a better example of the gameplay and quality of the era.
Like many other missions of the time this one takes place on a space station, and requires you to collect information and plant explosive charges to destroy the facility on your way out. You’ll confront Dark Troopers, Boba Fett, Imperial toilets, and find yourself scouring the station for an officer’s code card and colored keys in order to make your way from one area to another and eventually complete the tasks at hand.
Hearing this description you would be forgiven for assuming the mission is uninspiring. But fortunately the author has combined these elements in a satisfactory fashion along with some new twists to keep the time you spend on the station from becoming rote.
There are Dark Troopers to be sure, but while you might roll your eyes at their inclusion they show up in appropriate places and help the difficulty ramp up as you near the finish. The officers' lounge and toilets are a bit better than normal for the inclusion of the jawas and graffiti, and how they act as a critical stop as you pursue the mission objectives instead of a wayside curiosity. And the neutering of Boba Fett made me literally laugh out loud as my expectations were turned upside down.
After playing dozens of these missions over the years I've come to appreciate the small touches that distinguish some efforts from everything else, and it feels like the author in this case is trying to craft something different. New 3DOs for starfighters and their accompanying VUEs keep the environment from feeling static, and new droids will keep you on your toes deciphering whether they pose a threat. The story is basic but the author has gone to the effort of re-purposing existing cutscenes and dialogue to keep things moving along, and I'll note that even though colored keys impose an order on events the station layout isn't strictly linear.
But sometimes the author's reach exceeds their grasp. It's nice to look around the exterior of the station and see your landing pad in the distance, but the starfield isn't properly configured as an exterior environment so it looks more like a sad planetarium. Hallways are way longer than they need to be so the backtracking offered by the non-linear design is cumbersome, and while the geometry and texture selection are functional that's about all I can say for them.
The biggest hurdle the mission never quite clears is that it is mired in the design patterns of mid-90's shooters: backtracking to locked doors once you recover the right key, lobbing thermal detonators trying to find the secret path forward, random mines and turrets to ambush the unwary player. There's a fine line between secrets/surprises and frustration, and I feel this mission tips over into the latter a bit too often.
Perhaps that's due to the passage of time and the different user experience and affordances provided by designers nowadays. After 20 years away I definitely struggled at points, and even asked others to confirm the mission wasn't bugged (it isn't). But when you look at the original LucasArts missions they are very clear when describing their objectives, often including pictures in the briefing of the exact item you need to acquire or interact with. Playtesting can go a long way toward uncovering where you've made too many assumptions as a creator, and I get the feeling this author didn't go that extra step.
In the end, the positives for this mission outweigh the annoyances. The author has crafted a story that intertwines with the mission objectives, provided plenty of tactical obstacles for you to overcome, and sprinkled new elements throughout that make this more than a rehash of Dark Forces. The mission never quite breaks free of the patterns of its time, but if you're looking for a classic community mission you could definitely do worse.
Just be sure to give Boba Fett a solid handshake when you see him.