Perfect Dark

Perfect Dark
Perfect Dark Cover
Platforms Xbox Live Arcade, N64
Genre Hard to go back FPS
Score 5  Clock score of 5
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Sometimes, nostalgia has the habit of biting back. Hard.  Ten years ago, Perfect Dark was released on the Nintendo 64, and along with The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, capped off a great system by pushing it way past its limits.  I gobbled this game up when it was released by throwing parties in my parent's basement and putting off getting my driver's license for another month.  GoldenEye 007 was a great first-person shooter, but we were ready for some Perfect Dark.

Ten years later, and Perfect Dark is ported to Xbox Live Arcade.  I was a bit worried: how would a pre-Halo first-person shooter play against its modern day brethren?  In my opinion, while GoldenEye was the console shooter breakout hit, Halo had set the standard for how they should actually play.  Its control scheme is still used to this day, and imagining myself strafing with the C-buttons gives me the shivers.

For only $10 though, it was a hard bargain to pass up.  Here was a game that I coughed up $59.99 + tax before I even had a job, I could easily hand over 800 Microsoft Points for a trip down memory lane.  My friend Jim also bought the game, and we decided to take the journey together, playing through the single player campaign via online co-op (imagine doing that ten years ago on the Nintendo 64!).  While we had both played the original, I was the more die-hard fan and had pored countless hours into my multiplayer character.  We started up, with him playing as the lovely Joanna and me as the blonde no-named sister.

What I hated: Let's start at a little different spot than usual, because unfortunately, this is what really stands out from my experience.

First of all, Perfect Dark was not made for the dual joystick setup.  Back in the day on the Nintendo 64, the controls for first-person shooters were typically set up a bit different.  The left thumbstick moved you forward and back and rotated you around; the C-buttons let you strafe and look up and down. This setup breaks up the one stick for moving one stick for looking scheme that we're so accustomed to today (post-Halo).  But with the C-buttons being only buttons and not a thumbstick, the original setup was probably ideal for the N64 controller, and the games were designed to feature less vertical aiming and a liberal dose of auto-aim to accommodate.

So now 4J Studios was tasked with translating the older control scheme to the what gamers know and want.  So the thumbsticks do what you would expect, but Perfect Dark was simply not made for this type of control.  Aiming is now incredibly easy, and if your reticle drifts anywhere near a bad guy you'll pump them full of bullets as fast as you can hold down the R trigger.  And since most bad guys are hanging out on ground level and right in front of your face because of the corridor style levels, you can run and gun without any kind of fear at all.  It's kind of pathetic how fast everything dies, even on the tougher difficulty levels.

Perfect Dark Joanna ChicagoBasically I'm complaining that the original game's difficulty was artificially inflated by the ancient control scheme, which is very unfortunate. However, further steps could have been taken to at least make the controls palpable.  Sure, you move around as you would expect, but shooting leaves a lot to be desired.  The right stick allows you to aim, but holding down the L-trigger allows you to look down the scope or take manual aim.  You can pop in and out of cover with the left stick while holding down the L-trigger, and move the reticle around in limited motion.  This is completely pointless though as the aiming controls are really finicky.  There's lots of unnecessary give and it feels really floaty.

Speaking of floaty, I'm sure this has always been this way, but running around in the game felt... off.  I can't really place it, but things feel so much natural in today's first-person shooters.

My other major complaint is the level design.  The stages are objective based, which is cool and all, but there is zero direction on what to do or where to go.  The game seems to think you're sneaking around most of the time, so being seen by a guard has them galloping towards the nearest alarm system, and sometimes missions will just end for no apparent reason.  One really weird mission had you in running around in some alleys and at one point you had to avoid being seen by some bots while stealing a taxi or something. Jim and I had to replay this mission about five times because none of the objectives made any sense in the context of the level.

The actual level design also shows off the young age of console shooters when Perfect Dark was released.  They're very spread out, with unmarked door after unmarked door to keep you busy.  There are lots of small little red buttons to push and long corridors that lead to dead-ends causing you to backtrack until you activate the right computer.  The submarine level had us running for twenty minutes because we had no idea what to do next even after we had killed every bad guy and pressed every button.  Kind of sad turning to GameFAQs for a shooter.

Can't forget to mention the floating box level either, where you had to push a crate into multiple elevators, around bendy catwalks, and in front of pits where it could fall back down all the while it was bouncing around like it was in a pinball machine.  I wanted to throw my controller down in disgust this part pissed me off so much.  And then all you do is shoot at the crate in front of a cracked wall to create a Zelda-style hole.  Couldn't we have just shot at the wall or tossed a grenade? Ugh.

Perfect Dark LaptopWhat I loved: Well, there's still a bit to love with Rare's original shooter, Perfect Dark is a pretty deep game, especially considering it first came out in 2000.  The game features 17 levels, and they're all pretty much unique and different.  While I mentioned the level design leaves a lot to be desired ten years later, at the time the levels were huge and awesome.  The villa stage has you exploring a huge estate and shooting out its multiple floors and basement levels, and then a few minutes later you're running around a submarine, or Air Force 1.  The science fiction premise let the writers and designers really go crazy.  You never see this kind of variety any more.

There are also a ton of weapons, more than 30 in all, with secondary fire on all of them.  Everyone remembers the laptop gun and the Farsight, but there were some cool alien weapons I completely forgot about.  After playing through the co-op campaign, I had used all but two weapons!

Each level is also book-ended with hilariously bad cutscenes.  While the direction of the scenes is decent enough, the accompanying voice acting is just... bad.  All the actors sound so bland and inflectionless, this is laughable though because it's great to see how far the industry has come while not immediately affecting my gameplay experience.

I was a bit torn about the graphics at first, but I think I really like the upgrade.  The Perfect Dark XBLA port is kind of like playing an older computer game on a brand new computer with really high resolution textures.  The levels look awesome, if a little blocky, but the character models are just so-so, and the animations are pathetically bad.  Most of the time, however, you're just interacting with the environments, and so playing this game in officially supported high definition looks great!  The overall graphical experience is kind of a mixed bag, but like I said, the work into the textures alone makes up for most of the 10 years of aging.


Gameplay: 4
Badly translated controls marred my experience with the Perfect Dark port.  I really wanted this to play like my recent experiences with Halo: Reach or Modern Warfare, but it simply didn't.  I know it was never meant to play like that as it's from a time before the modern console shooter, but I can wish.

Fun Factor: 5
Perfect Dark features a ton of gaming modes that will satisfy any number of available friends, but that doesn't mean you should play it.  During the co-op campaign with my N64-era veteran friend, most of our voice chatting was about where the next button was and whether we had already explored this unmarked corridor yet.

Graphics and Sound
: 8
The graphical upgrade is the best part about this port, and the bad framerate-riddled original can finally be played and enjoyed in the manner it was meant to be.  The music is excellent and the voice acting is awful, a balance that was not unexpected.

Story: 5
I seem to remember this being an entertaining romp with aliens and evil corporations, but it just turned out to be a bit of a mess with anything important always happening during a cutscene. Even Trevelyan's double cross in Goldeneye 007 happened outside of a cutscene.  The story does bring you to a heckuva lot of different locations though, which means a ton of variation in environments.  We can at least be thankful for that.

Overall: 5
I loved the original, but something happened over ten years that almost made me regret ever purchasing the Xbox Live Arcade port.  My advice: unless this will be your first first-person shooter ever, which is highly unlikely, skip Perfect Dark.  If you played it originally on the Nintendo 64 I would warn you even more against purchasing this.  Nostalgia is a bitch.