After years of waiting, a sequel, err, prequel to Perfect Dark has arrived. The fact that it has arrived on all-new hardware makes Perfect Dark Zero both a feast for the eyes and ears. Oh let’s face it, it’s a treat for all of your senses – even taste. The presentation is sleek, the single player game is lengthy and enjoyable, and the multiplayer is just the icing on the cake. All these elements make Perfect Dark Zero one of the top choices when it comes to the X360 launch titles. Sure, the game may not win you over in terms of story, but it more than makes up for it with presentation and gameplay. For those who have been saying that Rare has lost their touch, fetch yourself a bib because you’ve got some crow to eat.
Perfect Dark Zero follows Joanna Dark, a mercenary who, along with her father, is trying to put a stop to the evil Datadyne Corporation and their search for an ancient artifact. That pretty much sums up the story in a nutshell without any sort of spoilers. The hub of the game lies in the mission select screen where you can choose which mission you’d like to play along with equipping yourself with any weapons you’ve collected and managed to hold onto up until that point along with some pre-selected gadgets that will come in handy. Missions can be individually adjusted for difficulty so if a mission is frustrating you to no end, you can fall back on the easier “agent” difficulty instead.
The single player campaign won’t break any of the standard FPS conventions but it executes the standards really well and offers a good number of memorable moments. The enemies you encounter aren’t too smart by any means, but they at least have sense enough to duck behind cover once in a while. On the other hand, soldiers armed with shields tend to forget that they can be shot in the shins – a strategy that works all the time. Aside from the spotty AI, missions in Perfect Dark flow nicely. You’ll frequently find yourself fighting alongside people on your side and they do a really good job of picking off enemy soldiers. In between missions you’ll get some spoken dialog from your mission coordinator which acts as a means to set the stage for the next mission and offers little in the way of advancing the thinly stretched story. Missions will take you through a variety of objectives like seek and destroy missions, protecting your teammates, and stealth. While stealth is encouraged in certain portions of the game, it’s rarely a requirement. This proves to be a good thing since going stealth would cause you to miss out on the wide variety of great and destructive weapons the game has to offer. All of the standard categories of weapons are covered here with a large variety of pistols, assault weapons, machine guns, grenades, and close combat weapons. While every weapon is great on its own accord, each one features its own alternate use. Some weapons will add silencers while others offer more outlandish modes like projecting a number of holograms to confuse anyone shooting at you or can deploy automated turrets that can spray fire at anything that gets near it. You’ll quickly find your favorite weapons based on how you like to play the game, which in turn makes the game more flexible towards how you want to play it. Do you want to keep things quiet or run in with guns blazing? The choice is yours! You’ll be limited as to how many weapons you can carry thanks to an inventory system governed by weapon size which allows you to carry about four pistols or a couple of pistols and an assault weapon. At the end of each mission you’ll be given a score and graded on areas like stealth, combat, and safety. You’ll then be compared to the world’s best just to see how much you suck compared to them.
A handful of vehicle-based missions help to add variety and break up the standard FPS levels. While these missions are pretty enjoyable, they’re nothing too exciting and may even let some people down. One instance has Joanna and her father trying to commandeer a hovercraft and hearing dear old dad yell “you drive, I’ll shoot” only lead to disappointment on my part. I was even more disappointed when dad didn’t shoot really well and I found myself having to park the hovercraft in a spot where dad won’t die and hoofing on foot in order to finally complete an objective.
While the single player campaign is enjoyable in its own right the virtual icing on the cake comes in the games multiplayer modes. Co-op is possibly the best of the multiplayer modes where you and a friend can blast your way though the game’s single player game by means of split screen or over Xbox Live. The game doesn’t skip a beat and doesn’t cut any corners on the visuals when playing split screen co-op and Xbox Live is pretty much lag free. Each mission offers a different scenario where the second player will assume the likenesses of different characters to help fit into the overall storyline. Some missions will start both players in different areas causing them both to hold their own until they can get together and fight at each others’ side. Aside from the co-op modes, there are plenty of competitive multiplayer modes available. You’ve got team deathmatch (known here as killcount), capture the flag, and the dark ops multiplayer modes that bear a striking resemblance to those seen in Counter-Strike.
The dark ops games feature an onslaught mode where one team attempts to infiltrate an area that the other team is defending. While the invading team can respawn as many times as they need to, members of the defending team are forced into a last man standing type of scenario where if a member gets killed, they’re out for good and the rest of the team has to last until the timer runs down. In between rounds players can purchase weapons and armor to help give them an edge in the next round. Getting a good number of kills or performing certain actions will reward a player with some much needed bonus credits to help get an edge. Unlike other launch titles, earning achievements is a fairly difficult task and mostly focuses on the multiplayer portions of the game. You’ll get achievements for things such as playing a set number of matches, getting a set number of headshots, or surviving any given match for ten minutes which in my case is almost impossible. Don’t expect a quick increase to your gamer score with this one.
You’ll do battle in a good variety of locales during the single and multiplayer portions of the game. You’ll go everywhere from high tech buildings to lush jungles and pretty much everywhere in between. The level designs are very well done and do a great job of moving you along to the next objective. The amount of detail and effects on the levels you’ll go through only help to add to the overall enjoyment. Everywhere you look you’ll have shiny, reflective floors, great use of shadows, leaves that give off realistic sheens when light hits them, and the effect of breaking wooden crates just has to been seen to be, err, believed.
Aside from the great level design, the in game characters also look great. While the enemy soldiers are carbon copies of their type, they all look good and well animated. This is most evident when they’re shot as they’ll react differently and realistically depending on where they’re hit. Weapons all look great and fit in with the “near future” look by looking sleek and futuristic, yet remaining anchored in the modern day.
As far as sound goes, Perfect Dark Zero does a great job of capturing the intense firefights you’ll get into. The soundtrack retains the old secret spy feel that the older N64 Rare games are known for as well as adding some nice techno tracks here and there. The voice acting is solid, especially from the main characters and enemies tend to repeat themselves from time to time. It is cool, however, to hear them try to devise strategies by yelling at each other.
For anyone who managed to get an Xbox 360 during its first holiday season, Perfect Dark Zero makes a great addition to the library. Not only is it fun as hell to play, but you’ll be sure to spend tons of time playing the numerous multiplayer modes as well. After lying dormant for what seemed like years, Rare has proven to us again that they can still make a solid game, and I for one couldn’t be happier.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media
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