Perfect Dark Zero Review
We've been graced with the world of Perfect Dark for more than six long years now. Rare's original symphony of intriguing, conspiracy-riddled sci-fi drama storytelling introduced the world to Joanna Dark and her daily super-spy life.
As an origin story to uncover the history of where all her skills and shenanigans began, naturally Perfect Dark Zero was destined to be different from day one (compare The Phantom Menace to A New Hope and you get my idea). Development hurdles and that buyout aside, Rare's done a pretty good job in securing their next-gen first person shooter experience.
In the beginning...
Some quick history - it all started out as a rumoured GameCube title not long after Perfect Dark's 2000 release, then jumped the gun to Xbox following the Microsoft-Rare buyout. Then the first images of the game showed up across the internet - a gallery of some very cartoon-esque Joanna renders gave the impression they were taking the game in a new direction, one the general consensus saw as Rare going soft.
Then with a number of years passing through the Xbox's life without so much as a whisper it didn't take a brain surgeon to realise the game would surely find itself landing in the lap of the Xbox 360, Microsoft's latest console.
It's finally landed
But what to expect from the final retail game itself? Does it live up to the original? Is it on par with FPS blockbusters Halo and Half-Life? Ultimately that depends on your point of view. As a prelude to Perfect Dark, everything's new. Playing this game with an open mind seems to bring out its best.
Without the Carrington Institute grounds to roam about, the game drops you right into the action. As a member of her father's bounty hunting business Dark Bail Bonds, the story follows Joanna's humble beginnings across 14 missions, giving you a taste of the life of a bounty hunter early on to the all-out war against dataDyne on Carrington's behalf further down the track.
With objective-based gameplay back in force, the story takes a twist and turn at every corner and you'll find yourself in different parts of the world every five minutes. The mission briefings do tend to run through things too quickly and you can't read about your objectives before starting up, so playing through the story a few times does help cement how everything's connected together.
Meet the folks
Character involvement and development does tend to take the sidelines beside the action, but does the job to move the story along at its fast pace. Without giving anything away, you'll see who Joanna shares her adventures with before joining up with the Carrington Institute and ultimately where everyone ends up by the end of the game. But in that respect it does a great job of falling in line with the state of the world in the original N64 game. As to be expected, Joanna's young outlook on life goes through some major changes (the Initial Vector novel perfectly complements the game).
The art is key
Probably the biggest collective sigh of relief from the gaming community came when Rare revealed they weren't taking the path of the cartoon graphical style shown in the early Joanna renders. What they ended up with was something in between; a cross-fusion between Perfect Dark's realistic look and the cartoon style of the early game's development.
Without pushing the limits of the Xbox 360 to breaking point (it is a launch title after all), PDZ's graphical department does its job well with a few tricks to boot. Fancy parallax mapping allows flat surfaces to look three-dimensional (take a close look at those brick walls you pass by next time), while lighting and shaders all look up to scratch.
The character style gives a strong nod to Joanna's young and carefree personality, with a funkier and less gritty atmosphere - the way things were in her life before becoming tangled in dataDyne's mishaps. The variety of global locations in the game does play into the art's hands perfectly, you'll visit some stunning locales from the lights and sounds of Hong Kong to the depths of the Amazon rainforest. There's plenty of backtracking to be had when the action slows down just to get a better look around.
Candy for the ears
Audio is one area Rare's games have always excelled in, and this is no exception. The audio work tends to complement the visuals nicely, with great compositions from composer Dave Clynick and some familiar sound effects among a new batch. The music further pushes the funky-style atmosphere of Joanna's personality, with heavy rock themes leading the action and quiet moodier tracks complementing the stealth element. With an obvious departure from Perfect Dark's darker and more mature tracks, the music does eventually go that direction when Joanna joins Carrington's war on dataDyne.
What's in a game?
The wealth of modes and options the game offers should keep you busy for a while, not the least the expansive Xbox Live multiplayer scenarios. The single player game is noticeably shorter in length to the original game, but with large worlds to explore their individual lengths tend to give you more playtime.
New weapons plus some old favourites keep the action interesting, and the secondary (and some tertiary) fire modes add yet another layer of strategy. When you're not tearing through enemy territory alongside Jack or later with Jonathan and the CI gang there's plenty of quiet times where the stealth element gives great variety to otherwise mundane and repetitive gameplay. But the lack of any cheats to unlock does sadly take away some of the replayability value (a DK mode would've been perfect - even if the game's on a Microsoft console).
The standard control scheme should keep most players happy, for the most part its based on the familiar FPS double joystick controller setup. The combat mechanics are solid and responsive, the addition of the new Combat Roll and Cover move are both superbly integrated. The Combat Roll especially feels intuitive, as rolling away from your enemies when in need of reloading comes naturally, and taking up cover behind anything strong enough to take a spray of bullets is often rewarding and adds a new layer of strategy.
The only real time the controls tend to fail you is when switching between weapons in your inventory and picking up new ones from the ground. The inventory slot system keeps you regulating your weapons at all times, but Rare's decided to map the Y button as both to swap your current gun for another, or to switch to another gun in your inventory.
Let's say you've got a Falcon and a Laptop Gun in your inventory and are standing above a few dropped UGLs. If you're picking off enemies with the Falcon and a squad of troops arrive to heat things up, you naturally figure the Laptop will give you enough firepower to take care of them, right? But by pressing Y to bring it out you inadvertently either drop your Falcon or Laptop and pick up one of the UGLs on the ground. Not something you want to be doing on a regular basis.
The best workaround is to keep an eye out for the weapon symbols showing up on the screen when you can swap your gun for another, and keeping clear of fallen weaponry when switching between guns. Thankfully that's about as tricky as it gets, as working with different guns and their modes becomes second nature quickly.
Take on the world
Single player offerings aside, the game deals up a solid fix for multiplayer gaming. With Microsoft's online service Xbox Live in full swing, think of Perfect Dark Zero's multiplayer capabilities as slightly different with fewer options to the original game's Combat Simulator, but completely playable online with players around the world.
Your standard Co-operative and versus deathmatch games are both playable on and offline (sadly there's no Counter-operative mode), but the new DarkOps mode is where the game deviates from the norm. With objective-based gameplay, players can team up and choose their weapons before entering the arena, and with more than two dozen weapons and scalable maps for 32 players available there's constant variety.
The game keeps track of your statistics online (but you curiously can't view them offline) and the online leaderboards for both single player and multiplayer extend the competitive value. It's easy enough to get into a game online, and setting up custom games with so many options available keeps the gameplay fresh. The legacy of PD's simulants lives on with PDZ's bots, and as expected they can be either dumb as a doorpost or frustratingly lethal. With Rare's recent release of a game update adding different bot personalities and the first map pack offering up four new arenas, there's plenty of potential for the Combat Arena to keep expanding online for as long as Rare wants.
It's been a long wait
I could go on and on comparing what PDZ does right and what it fails to do, but all you need to know is that for a launch title and considering the trials Rare's been through in getting this plastic disc together, they've managed to produce a coherent and lasting title with plenty to offer. While not as groundbreaking or memorable as the original and whether it lives up to the Perfect Dark brand or not the center of heated debate among gamers, it does the job of setting the scene for the story to follow in its own style and sets the stage for Rare's future Xbox 360 antics.
Here's hoping Rare's next entry in the series is a true sequel to Perfect Dark - we all want to know what happens to Joanna and Elvis after stopping that alien menace, after all.
Final score: 8/10
Posted on July 10th, 2006.
Other reviews and previews
Still looking for reviews and previews? See below for coverage from all over the web.
|IGN Perfect Dark Zero Review (8.4/10)||November 23, 2005|
|1Up Perfect Dark Zero Review (9/10)||November 23, 2005|
|GameSpy Perfect Dark Zero Review (4/5)||November 22, 2005|
|TeamXbox Perfect Dark Review (8.8/10)||November 21, 2005|
|GameSpot Perfect Dark Zero Review (9/10)||November 21, 2005|
|TalkXbox Perfect Dark Zero Review (9.7/10)||November 20, 2005|
|TalkXbox Perfect Dark Zero Preview||November 3, 2005|
|X05 GameSpot Perfect Dark Zero Hands-on||October 4, 2005|
|TeamXbox Perfect Dark Zero Hands-on||October 4, 2005|
|IGN X05 Perfect Dark Zero: Hands-on (2)||October 4, 2005|
|IGN X05 Perfect Dark Zero: Hands-on||October 4, 2005|
|Amped IGO PDZ Preview||September 21, 2005|
|Xbox.com Previews||May-September, 2005|
|Gaming Evolution PDZ Preview||July 19, 2005|
|WorthPlaying PDZ Preview||June 8, 2005|
|Computer and Video Games PDZ Preview||June 3, 2005|
|TeamXbox PDZ First Look||May 19, 2005|
|GameSpy PDZ Preview||May 18, 2005|
|IGN PDZ First Impressions||May 18, 2005|
|GameSpot PDZ Multiplayer Impressions||May 18, 2005|
|1Up.com E3 PDZ Preview||May 18, 2005|
|1Up.com PDZ Feature||May 12, 2005|