Two weeks ago, I purchased Perfect Dark from the Xbox Live Marketplace for a very reasonable 800 points. It seriously blows my mind that I spent $10 on a game with as much content as it has, and on top of that, I paid $10 for what was a $60 cartridge back ten years ago. According to a Wikipedia search, the original N64 cartridge sold close to 2.5 million copies. That’s a surprising number to me, considering it was released in May of 2000. By then, the Nintendo 64′s development cycle was drawing to a close. Sony’s PlayStation 2 just saw release in Japan, soon to be shipped overseas, and here in the United States we were getting comfortable with Sega’s Dreamcast: it’s thinking(tm). It always seemed to me that Perfect Dark came and went. I didn’t play the game until December of that year when I got the game as a Christmas present. I had rented it that summer, but because I didn’t have the N64 Expansion Pack, all I could do was play the combat simulator mode.
Perfect Dark is the spiritual successor to studio Rare’s ’90s opus: a first-person shooter called GoldenEye, based on the 1995 James Bond film of the same name starring Pierce Brosnan. If GoldenEye was the System Shock 2, then Perfect Dark would surely have been its Bioshock. I don’t honestly think I ever finished the original N64 game, so I felt that downloading it from the Marketplace was a second chance.
You play as Joanna Dark, a spunky agent of the Carrington Institute. The Institute sends her on a number of missions to stop the evil plans of the Data Dyna Corporation, who enlist the help of a savage alien race to find a means of destroying modern civilization for profit. Joanna is like a tame Lara Croft. Her looks are downplayed, although she’s still got some sex appeal. She inherits James Bond’s attitude of the mission always coming first. She’s a little hotheaded, but not reckless.
Part of the fun of Perfect Dark is the arsenal. She’s got a heck of a weapons cache, including the alien weapons she gets to use in later missions. My favorite gun, personally, is the Laptop Gun from the Air Force One mission. It’s like an assault rifle in the shape of a laptop computer, and its secondary mode can be used as a wall-mounted sentry gun. I enjoyed the story, as although it’s pretty standard “spy vs. evil corporation” in the beginning, it changes from a sci-fi noir Blade Runner setting to a space opera. Despite how well Perfect Dark stands on its own, we all know its biggest selling point was that it’s GoldenEye 2.0. Despite how much I adored GoldenEye on the N64 as a 12-year-old, I remember not being as invested in Perfect Dark as I wanted to. I still thought it was a fabulous title, but I never put the effort to finish it. That’s where Xbox Live comes in.
I recently wrote a review for the game for NewGameNetwork.com. The summary of it is that I found that Perfect Dark holds up incredibly well in 2010. I don’t play too many shooters that didn’t have the phrase “Call of Duty” or the words “Half and Life,” so I thought that the objective-based design was a bit refreshing. If you play Perfect Dark in its easiest Agent mode, you can breeze through it pretty easily. Its two higher difficulty levels tack on more objectives and the enemies are a little more rougher. The only thing that seems to have changed is the refined aiming of shooters. The Xbox 360 analog stick is a different design than the N64 stick. The aiming isn’t as synced as I would have liked, and it takes some getting used to. Another frustrating angle, especially if you’re on the highest difficulty Perfect Agent, is that because we are now in a world of quicksaves and, more specifically, checkpoints, if you die in Perfect Dark you start all over. Sometimes the word “Saving” appears on the screen, but I don’t know what’s being saved, to be honest. If I fail an objective, I have to start all over. It’s not too bad until you happen to die right after you complete the last objective, or you fail the final objective. Some would argue that means games in later years have reduced themselves to hand-holding. This argument may have a point, but there’s challenging and then there’s a time when the fun might stop. Perfect Dark walks that line on a tightrope wire.
I gave the multiplayer a try, and it’s really fun if you’ve got your rose-colored glasses on. It’s average by today’s standards, but it feels like it’s a good quick fix. It has a nice number of customizable choices, and the mixing and matching of character heads to bodies is a funny little bonus. I find the single-player simulator, where it’s you versus bots, a pretty interesting experience. Basically it’s a training simulator, but the sims can be adjusted to behave in certain ways, like the simulant who’s always targeting a specific character, or the simulant who doesn’t who a damned thing and takes the hits. I honestly think I prefer Perfect Dark’s multiplayer to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, regardless. Sacrilege? Whatever. I haven’t been a multiplayer junkie since 2007.
As far as the update itself, Perfect Dark is quite shiny. The textures are incredibly nice, and the animation is smooth and the power of the Xbox 360 means no slowing down when a bunch of enemies are on screen and too many commands are going on at once. That was the processing power of the N64, folks. The one thing I can’t get past is how creepy Joanna looks. Most of the other characters have fairly ordinary faces, the faces of the development team is my guess. Joanna’s face is more cartoony in comparison, and she just has the same blank emotionless expression on her face. Can’t she at least blink or close her mouth? Yeesh.
Seriously. Perfect Dark is worth every Microsoft Point. It’s better than most shooters you’ll play, and I am saying this with a straight face.