Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 (N64) is highly regarded and perhaps universally recognized as one of gamings great and most influential first person shooters of our time. The game cemented developers Rare well and truly on the gaming map and was the pinnacle of console gaming for a number of years. Sadly for us gamers the James Bond licence switched hands many times, which meant the Nintendo 64 wasn’t to see a sequel and Rare had to turn their talents to something new. For many, Perfect Dark on the N64 was the spiritual successor to Goldeneye, yet with no Bond license to rely on, the game had to not only improve on its forbear but be just as memorable. In many ways it surpassed James Bond’s outing, but in terms of appeal didn’t seem to be as well received. For a number of years now there have been rumors floating around the Internet that the original Goldeneye would be reborn on the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) but alas, with the rights firmly fixed in two camps it’s not looking likely at all. However, Rare’s superior Perfect Dark has miraculously made its way to the XBLA much to the delight of old school shooter fans the world over. With developers 4J Studios handling the conversion, gamers who have been looking for a slice of nostalgic gaming from an era that served some classic games, can look no further as Perfect Dark most certainly delivers in all the right places.
To dissect the game, it comes in several parts which include a single player campaign, co-op campaign, multiplayer and Counter-Ops. The single player story pits the experienced Joanna Dark against a backdrop of a conspiracy, with the evil DataDyne Corporation at the helm. Unlike the rather wet Joanna Dark in the more recent Perfect Dark Zero on Xbox 360, Joanna is a lot more skilled and mature, making for a better character, despite the fact that her accent is now English as opposed to American as seen in the prequel Perfect Dark Zero – let’s not go there. The game offers first person shooting action, where you’re able to undertake some 17 missions (with a few extras unlocked for beating the game on the toughest difficulty). The difficulty does play a major role in how the game plays, because opting to play on ‘Agent’ the game’s easiest setting means your mission objectives are less, thus meaning you can skip a lot of the action and unnecessary areas. Crank up the setting to ‘Perfect’ and not only will your health deplete massively when shot, but the added mission objectives, makes for a longer and harder experience. This set up is very much welcome and means replay value is very high.
The thing that any newcomers into the fold will realise right away with this game is the fact that there are no checkpoints, or mission objective markers and when you die it’s game over and a restart from the beginning. The game relies on the player experimenting with exploration and looking around the environment for clues as to what to do next. There’s a distinct learning curve, where you’ll get so far, die, restart and learn from your past mistakes (especially for the ‘Perfect’ difficulty setting). For some, this old school approach of getting so far, only to be killed and have to start over could prove too much in these days of games holding gamers hands a little too much. Yet the reality is the satisfaction and elation gained from beating a level is so much more; you feel like you’ve genuinely accomplished something, which is a rarity in many games these days as they get shorter and easier to beat.
Perfect Dark’s missions are as varied as they come and encompass stealth, subterfuge, out and out action and some comedy thrown in for good measure. Whilst lacking huge set pieces we expect from modern games, the simplicity certainly holds up well and proves that over the top predetermined action scenes aren’t necessary for a fun and enthralling gaming experience.
The game’s shooting mechanics are still up there with the best of them as enemies react to being shot, even if it’s on a limb – and yes you can shoot guns out of an enemy’s hands. The AI is still very good, and you’ll see them roll out of the way, duck and shoot and generally make your job that bit tougher – beware of the highly accurate walking/shooting guards. There are plenty of weapons too, with each packing enough punch and coming with a secondary firing mode for added tactical play. The control method is now more akin to first person shooters of this generation, and naturally the switch from the rather unusual original N64 controller, works very well here. Shooter fans will feel right at home, although the precise aim (by pressing LT) is still a little too sensitive to be useful.
The graphics, despite a HD makeover overall are still quite dated, although on some surfaces you’ll spot neat high resolution textures. When comparing to the original it’s impressive, very in fact. Yet When compared to most modern day shooters, it’s basic. However, let’s not forget that this is an XBLA game rather than a full priced release. What is probably the most noticeable change in terms of the looks are the character model faces, this time they are a lot more lifelike, and you’ll even recognize some familiar faces such as Ken Lobb and even Peter Molyneux. A major shift in pace is the fact the game runs a silky smooth frame-rate at all times, which instantly sets it apart from the original, which would grind to a snails pace if there were too many explosions on screen at any time.
Like the graphics, the sound shows its age although for nostalgias sake, there are some great tunes on offer. You can forget full orchestra and classical moving pieces, in favour of a more electronic sounding soundtrack, which fits the game perfectly. The speech lacks some clarity (a little muffled in places), but the dialogue in general comes across as tongue in cheek and amusing. There are lots of sound bites from the enemies/Joanna, and her allies sound great during the cut scenes.
Where to start. You’ve got a lengthy high replay value single player campaign to beat, which due to the nature of the beast, isn’t going to be done in 6 hours (if playing on ‘Perfect’ difficulty, unless you’re a pro and can remember everything from the original. You’ve got weapons and combat challenges to tackle in the game’s hub area (Carrington Institute) and a co-op campaign which can be played with a friend or with a controllable bot. You’ve got unlocks galore, requiring some skilful play, which amounts to a hell of lot to do for the lone player.
On top of this there’s the rather cool ‘Combat Simulator’ which is the game’s multiplayer offering. Now if you’re a lone player, then this is still open to you as there are a number of challenges available against bots. Completion of these unlocks more features for the game such as upping the bot count from the default 4 to 8. Then you have the various options for multiplayer, which can be played versus bots or friends locally or online against the masses (up to 8 players online). There are heaps of options available in this mode where you can tailor the various game modes to your liking. Classic modes such as capture the flag, deathmatch, etc alongside some others such as uplink are all here and tweak-able. The choices are staggering, and when you add things like being able to command bots with orders, and even give them play personalities, really does show that the multiplayer on offer here was way ahead of its time on the N64, and to date still puts many to shame.
The fun and games doesn’t stop there, because there’s one final mode that has to be mentioned here and that’s the rather unique Counter Ops mode. At the time this was incredibly unique and innovative, and still to this day is not something you see often. In Counter Ops it’s basically two players, with one acting as Joanna across the single player campaign levels, and the other the enemies. The twist being, that if the enemy player is killed they respawn as one of the other enemies. It’s game over if Joanna is killed or she is skilled enough to complete the mission. A novel idea and one that should provide huge entertainment with the now online enabled game.
lastly, the game supports achievements and leaderboards as well as some special badges gamers can attain by completing various tasks in game. The leaderboards especially are great to see how quickly your friends and fellow gamers complete levels, and yes it’s possible to still complete the Defection level in 9 seconds or less due to a glitch still being present, now how’s that for authenticity.
The XBLA has seen some pretty spectacular games in its time, but Perfect Dark has to be the pinnacle of XBLA gaming simply because despite its age, the game is so jam packed with features that even gamers used to more modern shooters will find some enjoyment. The entire package is so filled with features that there’s always something to try your hand at. Need a break from the campaign – then try some challenges or hop online with the multiplayer. Feel lonely, then try beating Infiltration mission on Perfect setting with a bot or friend. It’s all here and for a staggering 800 points. For the first time ever, it feels like we’re robbing Microsoft for once. In all seriousness, in terms of value for money Perfect Dark is a steal at 800 points, and although the game does rely heavily on nostalgia, even if you take off the rose tinted spectacles you’ll see a game that was way ahead of the pack back in those days, and in terms of features puts some modern shooters to shame as well. For an XBLA game, Perfect Dark is perfect in every way and harks back to the times when gaming was challenging, innovative and rewarding. It’s great to see these ideals return in such a profound way even if it’s to the dismay of many new gamers. Rush out and buy Perfect Dark, because in doing so you’ll get a clear view of what games used to be like, and if you’re an old school gamer, a great reminder of what paved the way to gaming of today. A classic game reborn and still just as fun to play as it always was. The N64 can stay in the loft for now.