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Perfect Dark Zero at E3 2005

Written by Falcon Zero on the 22nd May, 2005.

Perfect Dark Zero
Perfect Dark Zero.

The special event aired on the MTV channel on the 12th of May 2005 marked the first public unveiling of Microsoft's next-gen console, the Xbox 360. Along with the console's appearance, final name, controllers & technical specs, Microsoft revealed the solid lineup of titles to expect come late 2005. And finally, after so many years of waiting, Perfect Dark Zero was unmasked with a brief look at the game's graphics and multiplayer scenarios.

Just under a week later came the storm that is the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) held in Los Angeles. Microsoft's pre-E3 conference delved further into their plans for their new machine, and what to expect during the prime of its life. A slew of new titles were on show, but sadly PDZ only garnered a quick mention before Kameo's gameplay clip rolled (Rare's second 360 launch title).

During the actual expo, PDZ wasn't on the show floor, but we were invited to take a look at the game's early build behind closed doors. Thanks to our E3 correspondent Sean Lane, here's a lowdown of some first impressions of the game in action. Richard Cousins & Duncan Botwood, PDZ's producer and designer respectively, showcased multiplayer maps during the demo while revealing a wealth of new info.

Firstly, the graphics used in the demo were absolutely astounding in their current state, with Rare employing a technique called parallax mapping to use fewer polygons while presenting a much more realistic appearance with lighting, bump mapping, normal mapping and reflections. Probably the best thing about the graphics in this build is that they were only running on alpha Xbox 360 kits, which were churning out visuals at about 30% of the actual retail system's power. So there's plenty more graphical goodness to come from this title.

Details on the game's story were sparse, with Rare closely guarding the game's plot until release. What they did reveal is this, PDZ is a prequel to the original N64 title, occurring some three years prior. We'll see Joanna Dark before she joined the Carrington Institute and the events leading up to her gaining the "Perfect Agent" status. Global events and conspiracies seen in the game will also drive the story and lead up to the events of the original.

The Shockwave Rifle.

Moving on to multiplayer details. Rare's planning a fully supported Xbox Live experience, while bringing back features from Perfect Dark's Combat Simulator along with new additions. One of the locales shown was a 'Safe Room', designed for players to choose their weapons before heading out onto the battlefield. Another larger map featured a huge Persian-esque fortress surrounded by a desert environment.

So far a whopping 50 players can join in any single match at any time online, while Rare's shooting for a maximum of 64. Naturally with such high numbers maps will need to be considerably large, with the largest employing at least four team bases.

Confirmed multiplayer gametypes include a standard Deathmatch mode and a tactical objective-based Dark Ops mode. Other variants currently on the table include Kill Count, Team Kill Count & CTF. Dark Ops is structured with a round-based scenario, in which players can buy new weapons between rounds via points they earn from kills scored.

Team matches will also incorporate a teleportation system, in which players can set up teleport points throughout maps to use for their advantage, as well as using them as respawn points. Only one team at a time will have access to the teleporters, so it'll be in the opposing team's best interest to steal it from them. The game will also feature computer-controlled bots for use in both offline and online games.

Speaking of which, Rare's planned to include a very user-friendly customisable interface, in which players have an immense amount of control with match parameters, such as kill limits, bot counts, weapons, etc. There's also a sophisticated stats tracking & ranking system planned, working much like Halo 2's (or an online version of PD's Combat Simulator stats).

An early HUDless screen
An early HUDless screen.

Heading back to graphics, Rare's made no compromise in pushing the limits of the Xbox 360, one example is when players pick up protective armor. As the armor takes a beating, it'll slowly fall to pieces visibly before completely breaking apart. Players will also have weapons and gadgets capable of providing different point-of-views, such as the X-Ray Scanner to see through walls to reveal the presence of others nearby via their glowing white skeletons. Other effects such as dust particles and the shimmering effect a cloaked player exhibits really shine out in the visuals department.

Even though it's clear this is a first-class FPS, new moves players can perform utilise a third-person perspective for control (Rare told us a complete third-person mode was attempted during development, but it didn't work out in time). The 'Cover' move allows players to peek around corners without revealing themselves. The view zooms out to show your character up against the wall, while you'll have a clear view of anything up ahead.

This will ultimately allow players to give snipers a run for their money, as a targeting reticule can be used to line up your sights before emerging. Another move, the 'Combat Roll', allows players to engage in a quick rolling maneuver in any direction while having a limited ability to fire.

Is this our new Joanna?
Is this our new Joanna?

Naturally, weapons are always on everyone's minds with an FPS, and PDZ indeed delivers. On par with the N64 game, PDZ's weapons will feature secondary fire modes, some of which allow the player to cloak themselves, reprogram enemy turrets and detect threats. This time the amount of weapons your character can carry is based on a slot system, so you won't be able to carry around 30 or so weapons anymore (how realistic was that anyway???). As an example, a plasma energy weapon will consume three weapon slots and features a secondary cloak mode.

Old favourites like the Laptop Gun will return, giving players different advantages, such as said weapon's sentry turret mode. Stronger weapons will consume more slots, so players will need to strategically organise their inventory. Players can also opt to holster their weapon, allowing them to dash around faster and sneakily disarm foes. Certain one-handed weapons can also be dual-wielded (so no dual sniper rifles). PDZ will also offer up new vehicular combat, with at least a jetpack, mini assault walker and a motorbike.

The jetpack was shown and allowed players to fly around maps freely while armed with an on-board weapon system. The jetpack itself features location-specific damage, so opponents can choose to take out the wings, jetpack, or just go for the pilot.

All up, the demo proved without a doubt that PDZ will have a strong presence in the 360's launch lineup. The visuals and promised features show immense potential, and with the retail Xbox 360's power it should be one heck of a gaming experience.

Special thanks to Sean Lane of Planet Mega Man for representing us at the E3 backstage demo.