Official title: Perfect Dark
Release date: March 17, 2010
Developers: 4JStudios, Rare
Cost: $10 or 800 MS Points
Space: 239 MB
The original Perfect Dark for the N64 has been at the top of my favorite games list for a long time. I've put hundreds if not thousands of hours into the original, alternating the game's many settings for a different feel every time.
Critically acclaimed after its 2000 release, the original was nearly perfect. As an unofficial sequel to the classic GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark featured an enhanced version of the game's engine with improved graphics, AI, hit detection, and physics.
However, the game wasn't simply GoldenEye with futuristic guns. If GoldenEye revolutionized console FPSs, Perfect Dark took it a step further. It featured secondary functions, AI bots in multiplayer, co-op with a human or AI ally, counter-op, an entire game mode dedicated to training, voice acting, challenges, custom weapon sets, and much more.
For its time, Perfect Dark was a masterpiece, held back only by its choppy framerate. Rare's insane attention to detail was evident in the game's countless options and hidden extras such as pieces of cheese placed throughout every level, secret inclusion of each major Bond, and in-game information including a readable version of the entire plot after completing the game as well as rotating 3-D gun models with descriptions.
Ten years later, a remake of the game was made with enhanced visuals, added online functionality, and other additions including the use of certain GoldenEye weapons in multiplayer that were previously only available in missions. Does the remake do the original justice? Also, the developers emphasized a faithful remake; is this a good thing, or does it hold the game back? Read on to find out.
When you load the game, it looks similar to how it did on the N64 albeit in HD. Players might notice that as the camera zooms into Joanna it's a little skippy, but it's temporary. The main menu loads with the options Play Game, which leads to the original game's main menu, Leaderboards, Achievements, Help & Options, and Exit Game.
Once the main menu is loaded, herein lies the game's first annoyance. In the original game, the main menu consisted of two menus that could be switched to by pressing left or right. The second menu contains the options under Play Game as listed previously; but the problem is that players cannot do this until backing out of the current menu and pressing start again. This is definitely a minor issue, but it's a sign of lack of polish.
Unfortunately, the menus are a bit cluttered overall with counter-intuitive placement of certain options. My biggest complaint is that while playing offline, players are required to sign in (and type in the passcode if applicable) every single time a mode is selected that can possibly be played with other people, which is everything except Carrington Institute (the training mode) and Solo Missions.
When entering Combat Simulator -- the game's main multiplayer mode -- only applicable options are shown, which is a plus; in other words, if you're not online, Local Multiplayer will be the only option. My only other complaint with the menus is that the options are a little counter-intuitive, especially for players unfamiliar with the original. Control options such as Legacy, Lock Sight, and Head Roll can be toggled, but there are no explanations as to what they do.
On the plus side, a How To Play menu has been added as well as the ability to adjust how manually sensitive aiming is; the latter was added as a patch as a response to complaints regarding the uselessness of manually aiming due to the inability to aim with precision; it is recommended to lower this setting.
Like in the original, there are plenty of game modes to keep the player coming back. In addition to the usual campaign and multiplayer, there are 30 challenges and co-op. The Carrington Insitute and counter-op modes, however, still stand out to this day.
Players are recommended -- but not required -- to first explore the Carrington Institute, which is where Joanna works. Here players can become accustomed to the game's mechanics before setting foot in the first mission. Training and information rooms are available on three levels, so there is quite a bit to explore for a game mode that I've yet to find in another FPS.
The missions can be played solo or co-op (with separately recorded progress) on one of three difficulty levels. What this game did so well -- and what I wish more modern FPSs would be like -- is break up the difficulty levels not only by enemy health, damage, and accuracy but also by objectives and enemy AI.
On agent -- the easiest difficulty -- players are often required to do little more than reach the end of a level and maybe perform one objective. Enemies are a breeze to take out or even run past. The recommended difficulty for players skilled at FPSs is special agent. On this setting, enemies perform more advanced moves, and there are more objectives to complete. Experienced players can test their skill with perfect agent, which has fierce resistance and all objectives.
This is an excellent way of encouraging multiple playthroughs. In order to experience missions completely and get the most out of the plot -- which also has optional briefings both for the mission itself and for each objective -- players must complete missions in perfect agent.
The AI was very advanced for its time, although it doesn't quite compare with games like Halo 3. New players will likely still be challenged, especially on higher difficulties, at least until enemy patterns become predictable.
Cheats are back and help add to replay value. Some are unlocked simply by completing missions, but others have other requirements like earning medals in the firing range or performing speed runs in a given mission. Most of them directly affect gameplay and are fun to use. Players should be informed that an ability to move quickly has been kept from the first game; to move at maximum speed, move forward diagonally while strafing. This is very helpful when trying to unlock certain cheats.
Co-op can be played with a human or an AI ally, more of which can be unlocked later on. Friendly fire and a radar showing the ally's position can be toggled on and off, and a small number of missions are required to be played in co-op in order to earn various crowns, but these are optional and do not reward the player in-game.
Counter-op is an even more interesting mode that very few games today have. I've yet to see an FPS let one player control enemies one at a time with the enemy's health and weapon while the other player tries to complete the mission. This can only be played with another person, but I recommend giving it a try. Enemies have a suicide pill in case of a bad spawn.
The meat of the game, though, is the Combat Simulator, which consists of challenges and the multiplayer mode. There is a lot to unlock including characters, weapons, and so on. There are preset games, an improved quick setup option for those wanting to jump in, and an advanced setup option where many options can be tweaked.
Game modes include combat (deathmatch), hold the briefcase (oddball), hacker central (assault), pop a cap (get points by killing the selected target), king of the kill, and capture the case (CTF). Options include one-hit kills, slow motion, fast movement, no radar (overrides personal option), no auto-aim (ditto), auto-equip gun, auto-respawn (so players can't stay dead), and no highlights as well as mode-specific options including whether kills count toward the score in objective games.
There are many maps including three GoldenEye remakes, although a small number are not as fun as the rest. Players can choose from default weapon sets or even make custom ones, choosing what weapon spawns at each location. Players still cannot spawn with a weapon.
Limits on maximum score and time can be set along with handicaps, teams, team names, or simulants (bots) when playing locally or possibly in custom games. Players can choose bot difficulty, personality, and character and give specific commands during a game that range from attacking a specified player to guarding an objective.
There are some changes I would have liked to have seen in order to balance the gameplay, but the game was left intact. Some drawbacks to this include there almost always being one cheap weapon in multiplayer. One weapon can still shoot enemies that cannot shoot back, and grenades can still bounce all over the place indefinitely until hitting a target.
This is minor compared to two issues I have: online functionality and controls. When playing online, players only have the following options: a choice between 4 or 8 maximum players, and a standard, classic (GoldenEye-inspired), hardcore (no auto-aim, radar, or highlights), or random playlist. It takes a long time to set up a match, and no one ever seems to play on the hardcore playlist, which means that more experienced players are often forced to play against others who use auto-aim.
There wouldn't be a need for auto-aim anymore if it wasn't for the cause of this problem: limited controls. There are only three button configurations and a few options to switch stick functions, but the developers intentionally left the looking and movement controls the same as they were on the N64 to keep the port faithful. While I wouldn't have minded this as an option, control is the area where this game feels the most dated compared to modern FPSs. In fact, I felt even more proficient on the N64 controller than I do with the 360 one despite constantly playing modern FPSs.
The problem lies in the sensitivity of the sticks. It's impossible to aim slowly enough to make precise shots without manually aiming. Perhaps this adds to realism, but players still cannot move while manually aiming except with one gun that has this feature as a secondary function. If an enemy's head is just barely to the side of my reticule, if I aim without holding down the aim button, my aim flies past the enemy far to the side, and I'm forced to readjust. The needed middle ground between a neutral state and aiming quickly is lacking, and players will notice this.
A remedy to this is sidestepping to aim horizontally instead of trying to aim with the stick. That, or use auto-aim. I feel that this should not be the case; players should never be limited because of controls. In addition to not being able to map individual commands, the aiming limitation does affect gameplay enough to knock off a few points.
Movement feels much more natural to anyone used to dual analogue control, but aiming feels stiff and twitchy. If players can get by this, there is much to enjoy in the game, but it would have been perfect if these issued had been fixed.
Graphically, textures have been updated. Fans of the original will be wowed, but the game does look a bit messy in some areas. There are some complaints that certain characters don't look nearly as cool as they did on the N64. Fortunately, the pros outweigh the cons when directly comparing with the original, which looks muddy and choppy in comparison.
As an XBLA game, the game is beautiful despite a few technical hiccups that are likely a result of upscaling the original animations without smoothing them out. This particularly shows in cutscenes, where players can sometimes see individual frames instead of movement that flows. There is great variety among missions and multiplayer levels, which range from outdoor locations with snow, water, and eerie skies to indoor facilities and other neat locations that I won't spoil.
The art style, especially with the updated textures, will impress fans and new players alike. Spy FPSs are still a rarity, and the lack of the gray and brown palettes prominent in modern war FPSs is a nice change of pace. Walls seem to be made of an unknown material, lights can be shot out to darken the area, wood looks like wood, and so on. Blood splatters stay on the wall and on character models, glass can be shot out, and every shot makes a bullet hole with a tiny flame animation at the center, all just like in the original.
One small change that I feel is for the better is an added limit when choosing a character in multiplayer. Previously, players could choose a body and a head separately, even mixing genders. One common strategy was to combine a very short character with a small head, resulting in a difficult-to-hit target. This is no longer the case, as now players can only choose matching heads to go along with bodies. Known characters can only have that character's head, although generic characters such as guards still have a wide selection of heads.
For better or for worse, the game has seemingly the exact same sound as the original game except for an added echo effect in some areas. For its time, Perfect Dark had amazing sound quality with an excellent techno soundtrack and voice acting, which was very rare for its time on consoles. Unfortunately, having left the sound alone makes the game sound a bit dated.
Voice acting that was once praised is now criticized when compared to modern games. It gets the job done, but it's not as convincing as it was ten years ago. Gun sounds are excellent, but they just don't compare with modern shooters. The music still holds up somewhat for still being different than what other games have, but again this was more effective in its time. In multiplayer, players can still toggle each song on and off every song, which is a nice touch.
Without spoiling what happens, agent Joanna Dark is highly trained but lacks experience. She is sent to the dataDyne corporation in order to rescue a scientist. As the plot unfolds, there are several unexpected twists.
As previously mentioned, to fully understand the plot, players should eventually play through missions on perfect agent and pay attention to mission briefings. A readable version of the entire game's events plus what happened before the first mission can be found in one of the rooms on the institute's top floor. I believe that unlike in the original game, all of this information is actually available at the start; players wishing to avoid spoilers are recommended to wait until after finishing all missions before reading this.
The plot isn't the most engaging or original, but it is unique. Some players will like it, and others might not. It's a little harder to care with the aged voice acting, but those who don't ignore it will enjoy the game more.
This is not a perfect remake, but it's one of the best XBLA games available. It's also arguably the best $10 one could spend, despite the game's issues. Those who can look past the clunky aiming, dated animations, almost muffled voice acting, and poorly integrated matchmaking will find an original FPS with a massive selection of weapons and gadgets and tons of replay value.
If you're not sure if this game is for you, there's a demo up so you can see for yourself if the pros outweigh the cons. For anyone that isn't held back by playing a game that's two generations old, I strongly recommend Perfect Dark both to fans of the original and to those who have never experienced the game that surpassed GoldenEye in nearly every way.
Final score: 8.8