[Reviewed on Xbox One/N64]
Rare have made many blockbuster video games over the past 30 years or so. Among the first to come to mind would be GoldenEye 007, Banjo Kazooie, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Battletoads... but one important game is sometimes overlooked, released for the N64 at the turn of the century; Perfect Dark. Perfect Dark took the core of GoldenEye and upgraded it, pushing more things out of the N64 than arguably any other FPS game on the platform. It added "Simulants" - bots for multiplayer - as well as a high resolution mode, support for 5.1 surround sound, dynamic lighting and so many more new things that Rare employees estimate that only 30% of the GoldenEye engine was left, to provide a basic framework for Perfect Dark.
Rare were offered to make another 007 game after the rapturous sales and reviews of GoldenEye, but the team didn't want to make another Bond universe title off the back of GoldenEye so they politely declined. Bolstered by GoldenEye's success, Perfect Dark began development as a cyberpunk, dystopian sci-fi shooter in which humans and aliens end up working together to destroy a mutual enemy. The game centers around Joanna Dark (coined from "Jean D'Arc", or Joan of Arc) who is working for Carrington Institute and is determined to stop Cassandra and the dataDyne team. The motivation behind this is a galactic war between Maian aliens and "Skedar" aliens, with Carrington supporting the Maians and dataDyne supporting the Skedar, both in exchange for rewards to become the most powerful corporation on Earth, with some twists opening up along the way explaining the threats of the Skedar in more detail - which I won't cover for obvious spoiler reasons.
Perfect Dark's gameplay is exactly what made GoldenEye great, but even better. In the general gameplay sense, things were vastly improved; dynamic lighting allowed you to shoot out lights and change the appearance of the whole scene, 5.1 surround sound and "high res" mode (on top of 16:9 support) as well as more detailed animations (such as reload animations) and 45 minutes of scripted, fully voiced real-time cutscenes made Perfect Dark incredibly immersive in a gameplay sense. Multiplayer had more new game modes, a set of challenges and up to 8 bots alongside 1-4 players. The game is much more technically proficient than GoldenEye, with more detailed environments and weapons - including effects such as beautiful and reflective environment mapping, a rarity on N64 - as well as the aforementioned improvements.
One of the other big changes with PD is the secondary weapon abilities. A Laptop Gun can change into a sentry gun simply by using its secondary mode. The Shotgun has a double burst mode, the Falcon 2 has a "pistol whip" mode, the CMP150 has a follow lock-on mode (which, when used correctly, is very effective)... and the list goes on. Even your fists have a secondary mode, namely the "disarm" mode, in which you can punch an enemy and take away their weapon. If you pull out a weapon after disarming them, the enemy will surrender.. usually. Sometimes, the enemy will pretend to surrender and will pull out a pistol or secondary weapon instead. Sometimes, enemies will have short dialogues with each other. Sometimes, enemies will exclaim things like "I don't want to die!" as they get shot. Sometimes, enemies will jam their guns. The personality in every character adds to the immersion of Perfect Dark more than your usual game.
Another big deal is the co-op and counter-op modes. Perfect Dark's campaign can be played with a friend in co-op mode, but what's even more interesting is the campaign's counter-operative mode; one person takes the reins of the main character, Joanna, while the other person possesses an enemy soldier. This makes for a fascinating and fun experience that is quite unlike anything else you'll find.
Perfect Dark was well aware, during its development, that it was going to be a Nintendo 64 game. For that reason, the art style was never completely realistic; the team struck a balance with a half realistic visual direction, which ended up working perfectly. The game was designed to be a cross between something not unlike Blade Runner X James Bond. For the remake, this same direction was cleaned up but still maintained, and this is ultimately a decision that benefitted the remake.
Weapons looked futuristic without looking ridiculous (did someone say Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare?) and some weapons, like the Falcon 2 and the K7 Avenger (below), were made up of largely reflective surfaces (achieved using actual environment mapping) which glistened in the dynamic lights and really looked better than any low-resolution texture could have made them look. Some of the textured weapons also look nice, however, such as the Dragon - though reflective weapons were more common to emphasise the lighting.
The overall feel of the game was absolutely nailed. Whether you were infiltrating a corporate conference or on an alien planet, Perfect Dark's tone never set a foot wrong. Planets felt suitably foreign, but never too weird, and unnamed government research centers are set up convincingly. This is one of Perfect Dark's greatest strengths; almost every level has a vastly different setting, and there is always a sense of variety and originality when going from level to level. Speaking of different settings, the game's replay value is ridiculous. Playing a level on "Perfect Agent" will add many more new scripted sequences and objectives compared to the basic Agent difficulty, so combined with the labyrinth of a multiplayer mode, Perfect Dark will keep you coming back.
Unfortunately all of this design took a toll on the original N64. On an Xbox 360 or Xbox One, you are treated to a crisp 1920x1080p presentation at an unwavering 60FPS during normal gameplay with the Xbox Live Arcade ["XBLA"] remake, but on N64 the frame rate could consistently be 20FPS in some places. Not to say that the game hardly hits 30FPS, but many levels struggle under the weight of N64 limitations and for some people, this could make the game feel less responsive and a bit sluggish. It's nothing unbearable - unless you try 4-player split screen with bots - but the game's frame rate issues were cited in many of even the overwhelmingly positive reviews. Additionally, some levels make you resort to trial-and-error to figure things out, which can be frustrating. The design is not perfect, but it's undeniable what the team at Rare had achieved with Perfect Dark in an artistic and design sense.
SCORE [N64]: 8.5/10
SCORE [XBLA]: 9.5/10
Perfect Dark reminds us of what makes a great game. Not flawless, but Perfect Dark is easily one of the best shooters on any Nintendo console to date and is arguably one of the best shooters on any console to date. The N64 version loses points for its frame rate which, while you get used to it, could make the game feel sluggish as one or two levels rested in the teen region for frame rate. The XBLA version gets bonus points for being an incredibly crisp and faithful remake which really brings out exactly what the designers wanted from the N64 classic, with the addition of online multiplayer.
The bottom line is that regardless of platform, Perfect Dark is an experience that anyone who calls themselves a fan of sci-fi games or action games must play. If you are willing to overlook the imperfections, you will not regret picking up this game, and if you like collecting (or maybe just playing) Nintendo 64 games then you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. Otherwise, PD is $10 on Xbox Live Arcade; if you like sci-fi or action games, that's a bargain for one of the all-time greats of either genre.
Hope you enjoyed the review. If you're a Perfect Dark fan, consider checking out Perfect Dark: Reloaded for PC and PSP - we're making big strides with the project and we'll have some news to show soon enough. Otherwise, tell me what you think in the comments below. See you in the next blog!
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