aminusPerfect Dark, even in its original form, is worth playing today. The level design was (and still is) top notch, the array of weapons was as varied and imaginative as anything that has come to be since, and the game was stuffed with more game modes than most of today’s gamers would know what to do with. What does this mean for the repackaged version that released on Xbox Live Arcade? It means that a Rare classic is getting a second chance, now with a shinier coat of paint and online features.

First-person shooter
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: 4J Studios
Mar. 17, 2010

If you played Perfect Dark Zero when it released for the Xbox 360, but haven’t played the original, please don’t judge the Nintendo 64 classic by its prequel’s attributes—this game is the reason Zero was such a letdown to many. Plus, for just 800 points, you’ll be picking up a game with more to do than many of today’s retail releases, never mind the fact that it towers over every single XBLA game—even Shadow Complex—in terms of depth and the hours you will sink into it.

Perfect Dark stars Joanna Dark, a British secret agent with gadgetry and weaponry at her disposal in a sci-fi themed future. She works for the Carrington Institute, who at present are investigating dataDyne, a wealthy corporation with their hands in some shady business. What starts as a simple romp through a near-future world turns into a race to save the president, shut down super weapons and end an alien threat in space. The voice acting is what you would expect from a game released originally in 2000, and the script is as corny (in an enjoyable way) as you would expect from a Rare release. Characters don’t open their hands, but flail fat looking fists around when they talk to let you know it’s their turn to speak—character’s lips don’t move with the words, so some kind of indicator was necessary.

That’s about the only thing that hasn’t aged well over the past 10 years though. The campaign is a bit short, but there are four difficulties—the first, Agent, is meant to familiarize you with the story and the levels. Special Agent adds additional enemies, moves some weaponry and shields around, and gives you more tasks to accomplish within each stage as well. This makes each playthrough a bit different, especially since the final difficulty does more of what Special Agent did, only harder. The game is also designed with speed runs in mind, thanks to some generous auto-aim, fast walking speeds and online leaderboards that can track your progress. Once you complete the game on Perfect Agent, a Perfect Dark difficulty unlocks as well, and you can unlock bonus levels through some of the other game’s modes in order to use previously non-playable characters.

Graphically, while not stunning by any means, Perfect Dark has cleaned up very well. The textures are highly detailed, the game was originally meant to run in 16:9 widescreen, meaning there is no weird transition issue, and the game’s art itself is also well done. This game was too ambitious for the system it was on—it required the expansion pack for the N64 just to play, and despite that still chugged along at an inconsistent 24 frames per second. Now it sits at not only 60 frames per second, but 1080p, full HD.

There are two areas where Perfect Dark shines as bright as any other first-person shooter on the Xbox 360, and that’s in the weaponry and the additional game modes. There are 32 weapons for you to choose from—the Carrington Institute weapons, which range from standard issue shotguns and pistols to sci-fi rifles, the dataDyne weapons, as well as an array of alien weapons from both the Maian and the Skedar. At their most basic, these are standard weapons, but each gun holds a nifty surprise—a secondary fire mode. Your AR34 assault rifle has a scope you can walk around with. Your Callisto NTG fires high impact shells rather than at an assault rifle rate. Your shotgun can have a double blast. The K7 Avenger becomes  a threat detector for locating mines, defense turrets and enemies. The Devastator, a grenade launcher, shoots sticky grenades. The Slayer rocket launcher has a camera-guided missile that you control to ram into targets. Most famously, the Laptop Gun becomes a turret that you can place anywhere, and it will fire until it runs out of bullets or enemies to kill. The thrill of experimenting with these guns will keep newcomers glued to their televisions, and veterans will do the same in order to excel with old friends and tactics.

As for game modes, there’s seemingly no end to them. You have multiplayer, which consists of six different game modes: Combat (death match), Hold the Briefcase, Hacker Central, Pop a Cap, King of the Hill, and Capture the Case. Capture the Case is basically capture the flag, Hold the Briefcase has you scoring points for holding onto a case the longest before losing it via a bullet to the head, Hacker Central has you invading enemy territory to hack into their computers, King of the Hill and Death Match are self-explanatory, and Pop a Cap has everyone targeting a specific person at a time. You can customize these matches to include stimulants (bots) as well, and these can be tailored to your preferences. Use the JudgeSim, whose only goal is to kill the current leader in order to keep the score even. The VengeSim wants nothing other than to attack the last person to kill them. The TurtleSim has a ridiculous shield to fire through. There are many others, and there are also difficulty levels for all of these sims—Meat, Easy, Normal, Hard, Perfect, and Dark. The Perfect and Dark sims are meant to move faster than you are capable of—you will find yourself shot at without ever seeing who did it, despite them being in front of you.

You can play these modes online now in eight-player multiplayer, but there is also four-player local, a godsend for those of us who want to revisit the days when we played nothing but Perfect Dark with friends at home. My one complaint in regards to multiplayer is that instead of eight simulants you can now use just four—this was most likely done to keep things streamlined so the game always maxed out at eight players, on or offline, but the original, despite its jarring frame rate issues in multiplayer, supported up to 12 players at a time thanks to the eight stimulants and four humans. [Edit: This is untrue–after completing the first eight Challenges, you unlock the ability to use eight bots in multiplayer  alongside up to four human players.]

The original game had maps from Goldeneye in addition to the Perfect Dark ones, as well as some unlockable Goldeneye weapons—these have returned, and are now available from the start. You can’t get Goldeneye on your 360 (or your Wii, for that matter), but you can play Goldeneye maps and use its weapons while playing the better game.

Perfect Dark also features 29 Challenges, which can be played with 1-4 players. These range from the simple (kill enemy bots with standard weaponry) to the slightly ridiculous (kill enemy Dark sims in a level without radar), but you unlock additional content for the game as well as a higher ranking for your profile by completing them. You can’t unlock things like the Dark sims in multiplayer until you have completed a certain number of challenges, so it’s worth your time to explore this portion of the game.

Additionally, there is a firing range for you to test out all of the game’s weaponry. There are bronze, silver and gold level challenges within the firing range, and you will find yourself sinking time in here in order to earn the best scores possible as well as unlock bonus levels. It’s also a great place to test out the secondary fire modes and capabilities of weapons without having to worry about someone trying to shoot back at you.

There’s still, amazingly, more to do: there is a co-operative campaign mode, as well as a counter-operative mode. Co-op is self-explanatory—I couldn’t care less that it doesn’t make sense from a story point of view to have two characters at once, because including co-op is a win. Counter-operative has one player take on the role of Agent Dark, while the second player uses a guard within the level—if the guard is killed, you simply take on the role of another guard until there aren’t any left.

One last thing—there are three control schemes. 4J Studios translated the N64 pad’s controls to the 360’s very well in the classic style. If you’ve played a lot of Perfect Dark, this is what you will want to use. If you’re more of a Halo guy, go with “Spartan”, and for Call of Duty fanatics, there’s “Duty Calls”.

Blast Factor: One of the most critically acclaimed shooters in gaming history is available once again with a new coat of paint, multiple control schemes, as well as all of the things that made the original great and then some. If you have played this before, go get it. If you have never played it, go get it. If the cartridge is sitting in your Nintendo 64 that’s kept in your bedroom on your other television (guilty), go get it.

Perfect Dark is available for 800 Perfect Dark is available for 800 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live Arcade. A copy of this game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.

About The Author

Marc Normandin was gaming editor of Blast from 2008 to mid-2010. You can reach him via e-mail at m[email protected], or follow him on Twitter @Marc_Normandin

4 Responses

  1. Matt

    You can use 8 bots. You need to complete 8 challenges (I think) to open all the slots. Those stupid idiots at 4J Studios should of had this option available from the start, because most people probably won’t even know that 8 slots can be unlocked.

    • Marc Normandin

      Whoops! I didn’t check standard multiplayer again after completing challenges, so I missed that.

      It’s been 10 years since I unlocked that in the original game, too 🙂

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