Rare has a lot to live up to when it comes to video games especially after the massive amounts of praise the UK based company received for games such as Goldeneye, Blast Corps, Banjo Kazooie and of course Perfect Dark 64. Well those days on the Nintendo 64 are well and truly a distant memory for many and when Microsoft acquired the company a lot of Xbox owners were pleased at the prospect of some Rare magic. However the glory days of Rare on Xbox never really came to fruition as many would expect, with the company releasing only two games on the platform Conker and Grabbed by the Ghoulies which received mediocre receptions respectively. Well it’s the end of 2005 and Rare has come to the fore once more with two new titles on a new system. Perfect Dark Zero being a game that has been eagerly awaited for as long as many gamers can recall! Well its finally here and rather than be a true sequel to the Nintendo 64 classic is in fact a prequel to events that happened in that game. The idea being that players get to learn of Joanna Dark’s past and how she became a member of the Carrington Institute (the good guys) verses the evil corporation that is Data Dyne.
Perfect Dark Zero is a first person shooter that throws some bullet dodging 3rd person elements into the mix. You play as private bounty hunter Joanna Dark who to begin with fights alongside her father Jack. The game begins with a comprehensive training level that familiarises the player with the general workings of the game. What is new here for those familiar with the N64 version are some bullet evading moves such as rolling or being able to press up against most walls for cover enabling you to peek around corners and such without exposing yourself too much to enemy fire. These moves show Joanna in 3rd person view which is the only time you’ll get to see her outside of the in game cut scenes. These moves are probably non essential for those of you playing on the game’s easiest setting (Agent) but become more necessary the higher you crank up the difficulty. I found that playing on Perfect Agent difficulty the cover move was a life saver for certain sections but also a hindrance if used incorrectly.
What I liked about the combat in Goldeneye and Perfect Dark 64 was the fact that when hit, enemies react accordingly, so if hit on the leg then the animation would show the enemy clutching the leg or hobbling briefly. Well this same system returns in Perfect Dark Zero which means those with quick trigger fingers will have no problems dealing with lone enemies if you are trying to be stealthy. Which brings me onto another feature of the game that is worthy of noting. Perfect Dark Zero allows gamers to go guns a blazing if they so choose or try and be stealthy depending on the mission. This means that the game is geared towards all types of games players although I must add that playing on Perfect Agent means that stealth is probably more advisable. The missions are quite varied and will take you to the streets of China or Hong Kong and then to the jungles of South America to name but a few locations. The game features a mixture of indoor and outside levels, however the training level is repeated a few times which feels a little cheap especially considering there are only 14 levels in the game and as far as I can tell no un-lockable missions for beating the game! That said, playing on Perfect Agent difficulty will no doubt test many players who might have breezed through the game on easier settings and with out the ability to rely on checkpoints like you can on easier settings means that tackling the levels requires a whole new approach and will take a huge amount of time to complete. What also returns from the original are different objectives depending on the difficulty selected although from what I could tell you can still complete some levels if certain objectives are failed. I think in some cases the extra objectives are there to simply make your job easier rather than being a necessary mission action.
Much has been said of the weaponry in the game and whilst the guns featured are the usual type of arms you will find in other first person shooters they all are multifunctional which separates them from the typical. Some weapons even have 3 modes so for example a standard pistol can be fired normally or fired silenced and lastly a flashlight can be used. Or in the case of the shotgun it can fire normally or temporarily be used as a threat detector/radar. Each weapon has its uses and in multiplayer games are relatively balanced depending on the situation at hand. What is a very cool feature in the game is the way in which enemies upgrade their amour throughout. This means that the once guaranteed headshot kill no longer applies to certain foes who wear protective headgear. It good to see the game mixing it up in this way as headshot kills on non armoured foes are fairly easy to pull off.
A lot of people had questions regarding the game’s enemy AI, especially after a number of reports from various websites prior to the game’s release. Well after more extensive play of the game and completion I can say that yes, at times the AI is a little inconsistent but on the other hand the AI is extremely good. Enemies seem to take on the personalities of the old simulants that were available during the N64’s multiplayer levels. This means that enemies will rush you blindly on occasion or perhaps be more cautious and seek cover and pop out at you from afar. Some enemies are adapt with fists and will suddenly be on you giving out slaps to the face. Other enemies will sometimes actually back off when injured. Either way the AI acts like a human would do in some cases and makes for some highly entertaining gun battles.
The game’s graphics are all pretty neat looking and with a cartoon art style works quite well although I fear some players would have preferred a more realistic looking game. Either way the textures are pleasing on the eye as you can really feel the moist nature of some surfaces. The parallax mapping is used in full here and helps create a more detailed looking environment that would not be possible on Xbox. There’s plenty of atmosphere in the game and its great seeing how the light and shadows play a part in creating something that looks fuller than your average first person shooter for example a craft might fly over head and you can see its shadow cast across the ground. It’s also great to simply be able to shoot out lights for example! The animations are pretty slick as well, especially when disarming an enemy and sending him/her to the floor and then watching them stumble to their feet and yes for fans the old shoot the buttocks animation returns in full effect! What is generally great about the graphics is the fact that even in the most intense gun battles with multiple foes there is not a single moment of slowdown.
The sound is excellent albeit a little cheesy at times. Firstly the music is pretty cool and fits the mood of the game quite well although I do detect some James Bond influences thrown in. The music moves up in tempo when the action heats up and then becomes more chilled when sneaking around. That said, players can now actually use their own music during the game which means if you really want to pump that Halo 2 soundtrack then you can! The voice acting is a little weak during the game’s cut scenes although there are plenty of sound bites during actual game play from your enemies, who naturally react to being shot with various phrases. Weapons all sound different to each other and it’s good to hear some familiar sounds from the original N64 game.
Perfect Dark Zero can be completed on easiest settings quite quickly but as things change when you up the difficulty then its great to play the missions over and over. Obviously trying to beat the game on the hardest Dark setting will probably take the best players months to complete. With the new Xbox Live interface there is the option to compare your single player game stats with the rest of the world and even view the leader boards for each level this will no doubt add an incentive to continue playing for those interested on being the best. There are also achievements to unlock to add points to your gamer card but from what I can see there are no game secrets discovered yet such as unlocking cheats by beating levels in target times?
Perfect Dark Zero also has a comprehensive multiplayer set up for split screen, system link and Xbox Live play. The first section of multiplayer is the option to play through the entire single player game with a friend. One player is Joanna and the other various other characters from the game. The co-op requires some true co-op play at times and is an excellent inclusion and a lot of fun to boot.
Verses modes are also included which feature Deathmatch, CTF, Territories and even various Counter strike style team games (Darkops). These modes are also very fun to play and are well balanced. Many players might be in tuned with Halo’s multiplayer and might find Perfect Dark Zero slightly harder to get to grips with in terms of control, especially as some gun battles can last a lot longer than those you might find in Halo multiplayer. There is no jump button which again might actually please a high number of players; the roll move is used instead and whilst not so airborne as jumping is still a cool way of performing evasive measures during combat.
The multiplayer isn’t all smelling of roses either because in my opinion I feel the developers have taken a step back. For starters the programmable simulants (Bots) are not included in the same way as the original N64 multiplayer. This time round you choose the bots difficulty individually rather than giving the bots distinct personalities. To the game’s credit the bots do react quite intelligently and will dish out a few slaps when the situation arises. Then there are the player skins which basically are limited and do not feature the same custom skins feature from the original. There are few maps as well and although quite large and change size depending on the number of players the roster of locales could have benefited from more. Either way in its entirety in addition to the single player there is enough madness here to keep most if not all gamers occupied for quite some time now.
Perfect Dark Zero as a game is a great experience and although the single player storytelling is rather weak and non engaging, the game play of the missions is where the action flows and offers that engagement that we all look for. I felt that the single player missions followed the same style as the original and were all imaginative enough to warrant multiple plays. The multiplayer is equally engaging and although not as complex as the N64 version in terms of options is still something great to mess around with for serious and non serious players. I think as a game to introduce yourself/friends to the 360 then this offers the complete package. An excellent single and multiplayer game despite missing a few features (hopefully we’ll get more via downloadable content).