There is a fine line between being a good game and being a classic. A classic can be played over and over again for years to come and it never loses its appeal. Such was the case with Rare games on the N64, many of which are considered to be modern-day classics. With a résumé that contains titles like Goldeneye, Killer Instinct, and of course the original Perfect Dark it is hard not to appreciate Rare as a developer. Ever since Microsoft purchased them a couple of years ago everyone felt they had lost their creative niche, with only two original Xbox releases it seemed MS had wasted their money and resources, that is until now.
With the launch of the Xbox 360 Rare came out swinging; with not one but two launch titles. The first of course would be Kameo, a fantastic action/platformer that was chock full of that Rare flavor we had come to know and love on the N64, and the second was the follow-up to their critically acclaimed Perfect Dark for Nintendo’s cartridge based console. The combination of FPS genius Rare and online pioneer MS seemed like a match made in heaven, the possibilities of taking a Rare shooter online had gamers all over the world giddy with excitement. Did the long wait and anticipation live up to expectations, or is Rare really losing its touch? Let us uncover the truth in our full review of Perfect Dark Zero for the almighty Xbox 360.
For starters PD0 is technically a prequel as opposed to a sequel to its N64 cousin. The story takes you through the journeys of a young Joanna Dark and her father before joining up with the Carrington Institute in her fight against the evil corporation dataDyne. The basic mission structure should be familiar to veterans of Rare shooters, each level begins with one or two main objectives and obtain more depending on what difficulty you set it on. Once you clear all the levels on a specific difficulty setting you open a new one, all the way up to the near impossible Perfect Agent and the even more difficult Dark Agent.
The single player portion feels completely separate from the multi-player end of the game. We will be tackling the game on both level but let’s get started with the solo missions. As I mentioned before they are broken up by difficulty, each level has some required objectives with scattered optional ones that you can either choose to take or ignore depending on how much of a completist you are. The cool thing is that the game actually tracks your stats and uploads them to live, granted you have broadband of course, and lets you compare your score against other players. The scoring system is broken down into several categories like stealth, accuracy, and time. The higher difficulties actually require you to memorize the entire level if you plan on completing it in one run and obtaining your stats as the checkpoints on these levels will actually disable your stat tracking.
As with the previous game your arsenal is the highlight of the game. There are an abundance of different weapons to choose from in PD0, all of which contain secondary, and even at times, tertiary fire modes. These secondary functions can be anything from an enemy threat detector to something as simple as a silencer, learning all the weapons abilities and using them to your advantage is key on some of the later levels in the game. You can also gain access to all the weapons by simply completing a level while possessing the firearm, once you finish the level it will be put into your inventory for you to choose before each mission.
Now while the single player portion of the game is more than entertaining it isn’t without its shortcomings. For one the level design can range from spectacular to absolutely frustrating, for instance the rooftop level where you are sniping for Jack, who can be played by a buddy in co-op for great fun, is an immaculately designed level. While some of the others, such as the facility where you rescue Jack from a prison holding cell, are simply broken. You will get lost more than once and find yourself simply standing around waiting on the blue guidelines to tell you where to go next. This is simply an easy fix for poor level design and Rare should feel guilty for letting something like this slide into the final product. Of course when playing online with a buddy in co-op these things seem less frustrating because two minds are better than one, but simply put playing this game alone has more than its fair share of exasperating moments.
While the single player has issues the multi-player is really what we still play Goldeneye for, so it’s nice to see that Rare has spent a lot of time making sure the online aspect of PD0 was flawless. With the introduction of Xbox Live we now have the opportunity to finally take the battle online, no more sharing screens and blaming your buddy for looking at the screen to see where you are, this is multi-player gaming at its finest. The usual suspects are included, Killcount, Team Killcount, Capture The Flag, and Territories as well as the new Dark Ops’ eradication, infection, sabotage and onslaught modes.
Another returning favorite to PD0 is the inclusion of bots to substitute for a lack of human opponents. The beauty of this is you can setup a game for 16 players with 15 bots and simply have people join in whenever they want. This way the action is always intense and you never have to worry about finding a full room to frag in. The online portion supports up to 32 human players with the addition of 15 bots for a huge frag fest on the larger levels. The Dark Ops mode only supports 32 players and only human so if you don’t play online or simply have no friends this mode isn’t even an option for you. Speaking of the online maps, they vary in size depending on the amount of players or the host’s settings. Each map has a total of three sizes ranging from close quarters to sniper heaven. Still with 32 human and 15 computer controlled players the larger maps still hold their own and give you plenty of time to move around.
There are a couple of areas that the multi-player could benefit however; for starters more vehicles would have been nice. While the jetpack and hover craft can be fun for a while you simply grow tired of them within hours of being online. There is also no jump button which is almost suicidal for an FPS these days, sure back in the glory days of Goldeneye it was acceptable, but in today’s fast-paced gaming world everyone feels the need to be able to maneuver vertically as well as horizontally. PD0 tries to compensate for this with the roll and cover options which really never satisfy my primal urge to jump nor do they make up for it. In fact there is even a small exploit in the roll maneuver, when you finish unloading a clip simply start a reload and roll, when you pop up you will be completing the reload animation and more than likely never taken a hit. The cover mode does no better, by the time you get set you are usually surrounded by death showers being rained in by your opponents.
The visuals in PD0 are also a mixed bag, while the high-resolution textures are absolutely stunning, especially on an HDTV, the art direction is often times on the odd side. Characters create an almost doll-like appearance not only on the surface but in animation as well. While this may have been the design it simply doesn’t look right at times. The levels as I mentioned earlier are also a mixed bag. One minute you are absolutely floored by the vistas and the next you are wondering when this Xbox game snuck into your 360. The death animations in single and multi-player games will sometimes make you roll over with laughter simply because of the position your enemies seem to make it into just before traveling to the world of the non-living. While the overall visuals may not be perfect the presentation and soundtrack are damn near flawless. From the thumping intro song to the dramatic boss music this game shines on a true sound system. The menus are also very easy to navigate and never confuse you nearly as much as some of the single-player levels when directing through them.
When all is said and done Perfect Dark Zero is far from being, well perfect. In fact if released on the original Xbox this game would have been mediocre at best next to some of the more polished FPS games. Thankfully the multi-player really saves the day and makes this game a must own title for all 360 owners. If you are buying it for a single-player experience you may want to look elsewhere, but if your dream is to frag online with the best multi-player title this side of Halo 2, look no further than PD0.