Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Perfect Dark XBLA Review

Perfect Dark XBLA Review

Note: a more aesthetically appealing version of this review can be seen at

Development studio 4J Studios has teamed up with Microsoft to give us a touched up port of the classic N64 shooter Perfect Dark. This latest version of the game was released on March 17th, 2010, and is available on the xbox live marketplace for the very reasonable sum of 800 MS Points ($10).

Perfect Dark is set in the year 2023. Upon starting the game, you find yourself embroiled in an interstellar war between two races: the Maians, who look like the typical "greys" you see in science fiction media, and the Skedar, which are a reptile-like race who have the ability to disguise themselves as humans. On Earth, there is an on-going rivalry between two factions. The Carrington Institute, founded by Daniel Carrington, is officially a research and development center that secretly operates an espionage group who is in cahoots with one of the alien races (the Maians).

The second group involved in the earth based conflict is DataDyne, a defense contractor, who, predictably enough, has ties to the Skedar aliens. The player assumes the role of Joanna Dark, a Carrington Institute agent who is codenamed "Perfect Dark" due to her exemplary combat abilities. You are tasked with both investigating the activities of DataDyne and rescuing a Dr. Carroll from DataDyne HQ. The story then takes off from there, and I'll leave the rest for you to discover.

The single player campaign consists of 17 missions (as well as three bonus missions) and three difficulties: Agent, Special Agent, and Perfect Agent. The different difficulty settings not only change the difficulty of the enemy AI, but also the number of objectives that need to be completed during the course of each mission. This leads to a much varied experience as you progress from difficulty to difficulty. These objectives must be completed without the aid of maps, indicators or waypoints, so, true to classic gaming standards, the player must find their own way. This, in addition to the sometimes repetitive corridors and rooms will certainly lead to a new player getting lost from time to time.

Also, the mission objectives tend to be fairly ambiguous at times, and so, if you are not familiar with them, you can expect to find yourself restarting missions due to failed objectives. This trial and error sort of gameplay was quite common when this game was released, and as such, wasn't much of an issue then. It very well may be to newer gamers who aren't quite experienced with this sort of thing, as newer games tend to hand hold the players a bit more (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

The aforementioned navigation issues, in addition to the sometimes ambiguous mission objectives and the obviously dated graphics (even with the texture updates implemented by 4J Studios), present three of four caveats that any potential buyer faces when considering a purchase. Of course, these caveats only apply to newcomers, as gamers familiar with the game will likely know their way around the game and already be familiar with the graphics. Actually, any newcomer who has experience with games a decade old or older can remove the graphics from the complaint list as well. This just leaves the navigation and objectives issues, and of course, this is assuming you're not just purchasing this title for the rather famous multiplayer. If so, then the campaign issues do not apply.

The fourth caveat is the fact that the game utilizes a bounding box style of aiming for the so called manual aim (zoom mode, basically). This means that your reticule can only move within a set space on the screen, which stays stationary (as opposed to the screen moving with your aim), and you must revert back to the non zoomed mode (called free aim in this game) in order to move your aim beyond this specific area of the screen. Basically, if you zoom in to fire on an enemy and miss, and the enemy continues running by, you will have to zoom out to re-track them. Also, the sensitivity adjustment found in the settings menu, while it changes the sensitivity of the free aim (non zoomed), it does not seem to affect the manual aim, and, unfortunately, the manual aim is far too sensitive. Luckily, the manual aim is not really a necessity, and there is a hefty dose of auto aim available to you to make free aim quite sufficient (you can turn it off if you so desire).

These issues aside, everything in this game is as great as you may (or may not) recall. The notoriously bad framerate found in the Nintendo 64 version is now silky smooth. The amount of weapons available for use is staggering, and each has a secondary fire mode in addition to the standard mode. The weapons range from the usual pistols and assault rifles to rocket launchers and snipers, as well as some real oddities like a rail gun that allows you to see, and shoot through, walls, and a so called laptop gun whose secondary fire feature consists of it attaching to surfaces like walls and floors once thrown and acting like an automated turret. Another gun turns into a proximity mine. And so on and so forth. The guns are truly a spectacle, and a huge part of what makes this game so special. These guns are all available for use during both single player, co-operative, and multiplayer modes.

In addition to playing the campaign solo, there is a co-operative mode, which allows two players to play through it together. The second player assumes to role of Joanna's sister, and the two of them work together to uncover the conspiracy unfolding over at DataDyne. In what is a recurring theme with this incredibly innovative game, there is an original mode called counteroperative, which is the antithesis of the cooperative campaign. Rather than work together, one player assumes the role of Joanna, while the other takes on a role as an enemy. If Joanna kills the second player, that person respawns in control of another enemy AI. This patter continues until either Joanna or all of the player controlled enemies are killed (or the objectives are completed). This mode can be played both locally via splitscreen and online, as can the co-operative mode.

Rounding out the non versus multiplayer modes are the challenges and the weapons training events. The challenges are essentially multiplayer scenarios that find the player against bots with specific requirements to be met in order to achieve completion status. This mode, in addition to providing practice, is also the method through which additional weapons are unlocked for use in the multiplayer. The weapons training mode is self explanatory. It's a shooting range with goals to meet for each weapon.

Before moving on to the multiplayer, it should be mentioned that there are a substantial number of cheats that can be unlocked. The method of achieving this is to complete certain campaign levels within specific time limits. These range from quite doable to seemingly impossible, and will provide the non seasoned player with much extra challenge, if they so seek it.

And now, the aspect of the game that many of you are likely most interested in, the multiplayer. The multiplayer is fully intact in this version of the game. A multitude of maps, including the remakes of 3 maps originally found in Goldeneye are present and accounted for. The multiplayer is fast, fun, and furious, as well as varied. Bots can be added into games to fill out the roster of the amount of human players is lacking. All of the modes, including classics like King of the Hill, Capture the Base, solo and team combat (deathmatch) and Hold the Briefcase, are here, as well as two modes the were much more original at the time of release: Pop a Cap, and Hacker Central.

In Pop a Cap, one player is the target, and the other players are tasked with taking them out. If the target kills the pursuing players, he receives a point bonus. If the players kill the target, they receive a point, and the person who killed the target then becomes the new targeted player. Hacker Central tasks players with locating a data uplink, which they must then use to hack a computer system. Both of these items are randomly placed in the map at the start of the game. If the player carrying the data uplink is killed, it is moved to a new location. Once a player carrying the uplink reaches a terminal, they must initiate the hack and remain stationary while it progresses. It is always a wise idea to have other players providing cover during this time.

Multiplayer can be played both locally via splitscreen, which accommodates up to 4 players (who can also play with bots). As for the online, up to 8 human players and 4 bots can be present in a match at once, resulting in 12 total bodies available for you to dump bullets into. The only real issue with the multiplayer is the fact that, at least at present, there seems to be some lag present. This has been reported by many players, and while it is certainly not game breaking, it is worth mentioning. Whether or not this clears up (or is addressed via a patch) remains to be seen. As it stands, the lag is not in any way a serious hindrance. It seems to crop up in spurts, and then it dissipates, only to return minutes later, but it is only ever present for a few seconds.

Perfect Dark was an excellent FPS in 2000, and it remains so today. The gun selection is staggering, the modes available numerous and innovative, the options endless, the replay value unquantifiable. The framerate is now perfect, and perhaps best of all, it's ten dollars. Aside from the dated bounding box style of manual aim (and the far too high and unchangeable sensitivity) and the spots of lag that people, including myself, seem to be encountering, this game is nearly perfect, and frankly, upstages most modern FPS games. Perhaps not in terms of mechanics, and certainly not visually, but the options, customization, replay value, and the odd mix of simplicity and complexity make this one hell of a fun, old school game.
Oh, and no expansion pack required (N64 PD fans will know what this means).

Overall Score: 9.5/10


  1. Perfect Dark is old as hell and likely to alienate anyone who cut their teeth on games that came after. If you're one of those people...I'm sorry, but I'll be damned if I can think of a reason to say that this is kind of a major gap in your videogaming experience that you absolutely have to go back and fill in. Unlike some other genres, most first-person shooters are pretty far from timeless. We can't look back on, say, Tetris, and think, "Man, this would be way the hell better with snappier graphics, more block shapes, and an epic storyline that makes us question the nature of our humanity or whatever." I got a best place to rent ps3 games. I got this game from them only.


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