What Makes Perfection - PDZ Beyond X05
Written by Falcon Zero on the 29th October, 2005.
Next generation video game systems harbour high expectations - people expect to see bigger worlds, better gameplay and in most cases, better graphics. Whether it be higher polygon counts, more complex lightning techniques or funkier particle effects, the demand for graphical superiority over previous generations is forever in the spotlight. So in that sense, Perfect Dark Zero's graphical prowess has a lot of weight on its shoulders. Competing with fellow Xbox 360 launch titles, most notably Epic's Gears of War, and the past success of renowned FPS Halo 2, much of PDZ's success may lie with its ability to push the graphical boundaries.
Unveiled publicly at last during E3 in May of 2005, PDZ was shown behind closed doors for good reason. With demos running on systems only a third of the retail Xbox 360's processing power, there wasn't much to see. Screenshots spread like wildfire across the Internet, but were understandably met with mixed emotions. Paling in comparison to fellow 360 titles Gears of War and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, the public began to wonder if PDZ could truly be that "killer app" Microsoft & Rare are striving for.
Focusing the E3 demonstrations primarily on multiplayer assets, we saw underground subways and desert palaces, with more emphasis on game features rather than graphics - understandable with the lower-spec G5's the demos ran on. The flashiest eye candy this first demo of PDZ showed was Rare's new parallax mapping technique - an advanced bump-mapping system to produce illusory three dimensional surfaces on flat textures. But considering the company's trials over the past three years since the move to Xbox, seeing something was surely better than nothing.
Not till Microsoft's X05 event in Amsterdam early October did we finally see things taking shape. A good month passed since Microsoft delivered the 360 beta machines to developers, so Rare were finally in the position of bringing the game to a working console.
Countless demonstrations of the city rooftops and garage missions were shown to the world, exhibiting the general gameplay dynamics from cover moves to the co-op mode, all bristling with slick lighting, fantastic models and sharp textures. Much larger environments were shown, from city streets to the high-rise Joanna-aiding-Jack atop the city rooftops scenes.
The AI seen didn't seem to put up much of a fight, but knowing Rare's background with insane game difficulties, we'll be seeing stuff that puts the Sniper Jackals of Halo 2's Legendary mode to shame. High-powered weapons from pistols to rifles often took center stage, glistening in the atmospheric lighting complete with - some classic - sound effects and great animations (the superb reload animations from PD are back in full glory). Alas, critics will still be critics, with many believing the game has a long way to go before winning their hearts.
Halo launched the Xbox in a way no-one could have imagined, it drove the console to where it is now and landed Microsoft a healthy position in today's console generation. The gameplay, graphics and sound were like no other seen on a console system. With Bungie's success in Halo 2 three years on, an undeniable standard has been set for console first person shooters.
Despite PDZ's ultimate home on the successor of the Halo house, consumers draw comparisons between the titles all too easily. Halo was and is forever the brainchild of the Xbox, but PDZ is ultimately a shooter from a different angle. Different developers, different console specs, all they truly have in common is that three letter acronym of FPS. Understandably many gamers and Xbox fans missed out on the original Perfect Dark back in the days of the N64.
The closest thing to a Rare FPS since then is Free Radical's TimeSplitters franchise, which in its own way has captured the essence of the past while carving its own niche in the current generation of games. Gamers should only truly expect PDZ to follow in the footsteps of Rare's classic FPSs.
On that note, quick comparisons drawn from Gears of War are also fairly inaccurate. Gears of War stems from the long heritage of the fabled Unreal series, which since 1998 has pushed the visual boundaries with every title released. Storming the PC with multiplayer gaming like no other, Unreal Tournament met with little resistance, and the recent Unreal Championship for the Xbox equally made a name for itself.
Although the masterful Unreal Engine powering the GoW beast is often a force one would wish to be on the same side of, Rare's devotion to the visual style of the PD universe is all that PDZ really needs. The Unreal Engine suits GoW perfectly... same goes for Rare's graphical engine for PDZ.
Truth be told, this is Perfect Dark Zero, not Gears of War and certainly not Halo. Although there will be those who see this title as filler during the wait for Halo 3, PDZ will remain true to its roots in the current saturated FPS market, and that's all it needs to do. Rare doesn't copy other developers, especially not when they've already got such a multitude of award-winning titles under their belt.
The cover move, guns with secondary and tertiary modes, 20+ weapons to choose from, expandable multiplayer maps, 32 players online, online co-op, crazy gadgets, vehicles, more recorded statistics than you can poke a stick at, and a heck of a lot more we haven't seen yet is the bread and butter of PDZ. With new elements already out in the open, our PDZ experience will surely stand out beyond anything seen before. We stand only at the beginning of Rare's next chapter of delivering high-paced interactive entertainment, and it should be welcomed with open arms.