There’s one thing you need to know before you purchase Perfect Dark, it’s strictly for the fans. If you weren’t in love with it 10 years ago, or if you never played it and don’t know what all the fuss is about, I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise. That said, if you happen to find yourself in the second category feel free to read on, as it’s worth the $15 for a piece of gaming history, if nothing else. If you were a diehard fan of Perfect Dark back on the N64 chances are I don’t have to tell you why you should buy Perfect Dark on Xbox Live Arcade; you’ve already done it.
Perfect Dark XBLA isn’t a remake or a straight port. I’m not sure what Microsoft is calling, but personally, I’d pick “remastered”. Think of a VHS film being converted to DVD (or DVD to BluRay if you’re really that young). It’s been polished up and there are a few new features that might tickle your fancy, but the core experience is the same. The sense of nostalgia I experienced upon first launching the game was amazing. I loved the game as a kid, and there it was almost exactly the same a decade later on my 360. If you were swept away in the Goldeneye craze of ’97 Perfect Dark XBLA may be well worth a look for a similar experience. I highly doubt it’ll be remastered in the near future, if ever, and Perfect Dark is widely regarded as the spiritual successor to Goldeneye. The single player is a little different, but you’ll feel right at home in the multiplayer; in fact three of the original maps from the Bond classic are fully playable, and the whole game has Goldeneye feel to it.
Set in the year 2023, Special Agent Joanna Dark gets caught up in an intergalactic war between two alien races: the Maians and the Skedar. Working for the Carrington Institute, secretly affiliated with the Maians, she attempts to foil the plans of rival company DataDyne and their partners in crime, the Skedar. Who the hell knows what’s going on aside from that. If Perfect Dark has one weakness it is its shocking story. The whole thing’s in shambles and makes little sense at the best of times. Not much is explained, the dialogue is cringe worthy and the little story you do understand is terrible. Worst of all is it attempts to inject humour into the situation, but fails miserably, like a dad joke. Still, who really cares about the story in an FPS? That’s why they gave us a skip cinematic button, right?
Everything from the original Nintendo 64 version has been retained, and then some. All 17 missions from the campaign are back, and can be played either solo, in co-op or counter-operative play. The latter two can now be played across Xbox Live, so if you don’t have any real friends you needn’t miss out on the full experience. The highly regarded combat simulator (multiplayer) has also returned in full, and can once again be played with up to 4-players in split screen, or with up to 8 online. Even better, split screen matches can be taken online Halo 3 style. If you’re bored of playing against the same few mates take the match online and see how things pan out!
The controls have been a major talking point, and I feel the criticism, for the most part, is unwarranted. 4J Studios, the developer behind the XBLA port, has been nice enough to give us three different control methods. After classic there’s a control scheme tailor made for Call of Duty regulars as well as one for the Halo fanboys. I initially struggled to adapt, but after turning down the sensitivity (almost as low as it could go) I found the controls to better suit my style of play. How did we ever play this on the Nintendo 64? The dual control stick setup is a must in all console first-person shooters, and I struggle to recollect how we went about playing this with a single, dodgy, analog stick and the C-buttons.
Each mission has you to completing a series of objectives, requiring you to do more than shoot everyone and his laptop. The difficulty setting will determine how many you have to do, but generally, there are at least 3 separate tasks. Some of them are actually quite difficult and have you using x-ray visors looking for a different shaded patch of wall, or uploading data to a terminal that looks identical to the other 50 computers in the level. If you’re playing one of the later levels for the first time chances are you’ll have to explore a little, or even resort to trial and error to figure out what to do. In terms of gameplay, it’s more complicated than most modern, wartime, FPS games as the objectives aren’t always as clearcut as they tend to be these days. As such, only fans will truly appreciate them. Those of you playing for the first time might find them too frustrating and quickly resort to a walkthrough. This is all part of the history lesson. Without Perfect Dark console FPS games as we know them might cease to exist!
The multiplayer hasn’t really stood the test of time. While I love that they decided to introduce online play it’s hard to go back to 2000 after playing Call of Duty and Battlefield of late. The controls are nowhere near as accurate as you’re used to, but this is a disadvantage for everyone, and it takes you back to the days of running and gunning; no room for tactics here! Personally, I feel it’s much better played in split screen. With a couple of Perfect Dark veterans there’s still some ol’ school fun to be had here, but not so much online. Perfect Dark’s multiplayer is about being able to get stuck into opponents that are sharing a couch with you, and pretending that you’d never screen cheat. Co-op being taken online is a great addition. It was one of the key features of Perfect Dark that may have slipped under the radar with some fans just because the game was jam-packed with content. Be rest assured that it’s one of the game’s finest modes and far better than going the campaign alone when tackling the hardest difficulty setting.
Perfect Dark XBLA is displayed in 60 frames per second, and in gorgeous 1080p. It required the Nintendo 64’s Expansion Pak to be played in full, and even then struggled to run at its lowly 30fps. On the 64, whenever more than two enemies came on screen there would be some significant slowdown. 10 years later we can finally play the game in full without having to worry about such mishaps (although, at the time we just put up with that stuff). The polygon count has also been upped, but beyond that the game runs on the original 10-year-old geometry. As such it looks like something from the PS2, rather than the Nintendo 64, which is a considerable improvement. That said, you’ll really notice how much games have improved visually in the passed decade during the cut-scenes. Remember the days of no moving mouths and triangle stubs for hands?