Perfect Dark, when released back in 2000 on the Nintendo 64, was a big deal. It offered a slew of refinements over the already excellent N64 shooter, GoldenEye 007, as well as even more content and game modes. Along the same lines, many were hoping Perfect Dark Zero, which seems to have been in development since a time only few on Earth can remember, would be a similarly exhilarating experience. To an extent, it manages to live up to the hopes and expectations. It offers several improvements and still is able to maintain the flavor of the original. In addition, there's a huge amount of options for multiplayer matches and cooperative play on and off of Xbox Live.
The story of this game follows Joanna Dark, a super spy, during a period of time before she became wrapped up with the Carrington Institute in her battle against dataDyne, an evil corporation. Like in the previous game, you start out a mission with one or two concrete objectives, then acquire more based on which difficulty level you choose. Some objectives are necessary to complete while others are optional. Once you beat a level on one difficulty, it opens up the next. You'll need to beat the entire game on Perfect Agent, the third difficulty level, if you want to unlock the near impossible fourth difficulty level, Dark Agent.
Perfect Dark Zero is a game where the single and multiplayer modes are split into two distinct categories, making them almost totally different games. We'll start with the single player. Your experience here will vary largely with what level of difficulty you've chosen. On Agent, the game can be breezed through with little to no difficulty. Secret Agent provides a moderate challenge, while Perfect Agent will force you to replay missions until you've got pretty much every enemy position and strategy memorized. It would have been nice to see a save game element instituted in PDZ, since as it is you'll need to replay the entire level if you fail an objective, which is really aggravating if you've played an entire level through only to screw up at the very end. As it is, there's a checkpoint feature you can respawn at roughly halfway through each level, but if you choose to use it you'll lose the ability to keep stats in the level.
As you make your way through PDZ on each difficulty level you'll be able to unlock more and more of the game's arsenal which you'll be able to use in each level afterward. This becomes crucial on some levels since each weapon has highly specific secondary and tertiary fires. For example, you'll find the Jungle Storm stage is near impossible on the harder difficulties if you don't have a P90 so you can use its radar sweep secondary function to locate enemies through the foliage. The weapon variety in the game is great, on the whole, and every weapon you'll be able to find some sort of use for.
The single player mode's biggest problems are with the enemy A.I. and the weak storyline. Granted, the storyline doesn't really factor into the gameplay, but it's pretty much impossible not to notice how laughably bad it is. Many of the game's major events are treated as almost inconsequential, and often you'll find missions start and end with tons of loose ends fluttering about. The voice acting too, during these sequences, is overflowing with a forced wit and general cheesiness.
Though the game's story factors into the presentation, it's the single player enemy A.I. that affects the gameplay. Though the enemies in single player are more likely to react to your presence at the higher difficulty levels, they never display any advanced assault tactics. In other words, the enemies behave much like they did on the N64. If they see you, they're going to start shooting and chasing you, and that's about it. Granted, they will start backing away from you at times and hide behind walls, but it still feels as though you're playing the old game. It's entirely possible in many areas to pull off the old school technique of waiting behind a door for enemies who've seen you to charge through so you can shoot them in the head. At higher difficulty levels this becomes a less viable option only because the damage output and accuracy of enemies is greatly increased, but their attack strategies never improve. Given how it's five years and two console generations after the original, it could have been expected that PDZ would have included some advanced squad tactics.
Similarly, you'll occasionally find yourself in situations where you're fighting alongside and escorting a few allies. Unfortunately, these allies aren't very smart, and will often get themselves killed despite your best efforts. They tend to wander directly into enemy fire and fail to retreat to safety once they start getting shot. Instead, they just stand there and absorb bullets, which will sometimes cause you to fail your mission.
Because of these problems, the single-player campaign is frustrating and boring at times. Though some parts of some levels really shine, in other places the action just isn't that interesting and you'll feel as if you're just wasting time between large action sequences.
PDZ has excellent visuals in some places, whereas in others the visuals are more questionable. The graphical style leans heavily on almost every surface having a sharp shimmer, which looks great when you're in an area with metallic walls, but odd when you're staring at shiny bricks in a South American series of ruins. Aside from the overdone shimmering, the game really excels in some of the larger scale areas, which is especially evident in the bridge sequence near the end of the game. PDZ is capable of displaying sprawling vistas with no problems, has excellent lighting effects, awesome enemy animations, and some of the most attractive gun models I've seen. Also, the effect of blasting away pieces of an enemy's armor is undeniably cool. In addition, there are some of the best blurring effects so far on the Xbox 360.
The soundtrack to the game varies widely, featuring everything from pumping techno music to hard rock to compositions with a distinct James Bond sound. Though it's always appropriately intense when you're in the middle of a battle, it can at times seem to be out of place. In some levels, for instance, you may find it that killing tons of heavily armored troops with futuristic weapons to the tune of a southern rock song to be slightly odd. Nevertheless, the game pulls you right in with its excellent weapon fire sound effects. The guns of PDZ are loud and all have very distinct sound effects, from the Jackal to the Psychosis Gun. This is great for when you finally come up to that one sniper that's been taking shots at you all level and unload a full shotgun clip into his chest at close range.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the single player is the sense of frenzy it's able to create, though these sequences that combine silky explosions, huge environments, and the deafening pelting of gunfire are spread out. In between you may get frustrated with some of the parts where setting off an alarm spawns an endless stream of security guards that charge at you. Somehow, they all know exactly where you are, even if there aren't any cameras.
You will have access to a few new moves in PDZ including a roll, a melee attack, and the ability to take cover behind walls. Both the roll and melee attack extremely useful and easy to pull off, but the cover proves more problematic. This is because in order to take cover, you'll need to be in a specific spot to get a prompt to hit the A button to appear on screen. It would have been way better there would have been some way to immediately take cover against any surface instead of having to search for a cover spot. You'll need to use this ability frequently, especially in the later levels where a firefight against multiple opponents will shred you in seconds if you're not protecting yourself as much as possible.
Perfect Dark Zero excels because of its enormous multiplayer aspect. Through Xbox Live players can play cooperatively through the mission modes, play in Deathmatch killcount, team killcount, capture the flag and territorial gains modes as well as Dark Ops' eradication, infection, sabotage and onslaught modes. Each of these modes is different and provides players with a wide range of unique gameplay experiences awaiting them online. In the Deathmatch modes you'll be able to hop into games with 16 players and 15 bots in small levels, which comes to a total of 32 if you include yourself, while larger maps support up to 32 human players plus 15 bots if your online connection is up to it. In Dark Ops you can't use bots, so 32 is the largest amount of players you can squeeze into those games.
How do the bots play online? Well, they're pretty freaking hard to beat. On the higher difficulty settings they will headshot you almost every time they're able to catch you out in the open. And it's not just that they're more accurate, they'll also capture and return flags with surprising efficiency. They'll even hop on the back of your hover tank to man the turret if the spot is open, though they sometimes get confused about this.
Playing online with the rest of the Perfect Dark Zero community has turned out to be a lot of fun. The game runs smoothly and you'll find gun fights when you're using roll, melee, and cover fire techniques are way more intense than in single player. We did notice a few small issues though. Headshots seem really easy to get, which is an annoyance given how powerful they are compared to shooting a person in the chest or arms. One shot to the head and you're pretty much done, whereas entire clips can be unloaded at the body and still have the person walk away. Also, reloading your gun needs to be tweaked. As it is, you'll continue to reload as you perform a combat roll or climb a ladder, which is fairly unrealistic and also unbalanced. For instance, assume you've just unloaded your entire CMP150 clip at an advancing opponent and failed to kill them. If you hit reload then immediately perform a combat roll, you'll find yourself at the end of the reload animation when you pop back up. This move keeps you stocked with ammo while also making you almost impossible to hit. Finally, the imprecision of getting into a cover position is even more pronounced in multiplayer since you'll have way more people shooting at you.
It would have been nice to see a few more vehicles in the game. As it is you'll have access to the jetpac and the hovercraft. The jetpac can walk or fly around levels while blasting machine guns, though is limited by an invisible ceiling. The hovertank is capable of seating one driver and a gunner. As a cool addition, you'll be able to replace the machine gun turret with a plasma rifle or rocket launcher, provided you have the appropriate weapon. The best part about vehicles in multiplayer is that they're not completely overpowered. So, if you're flying around an enemy base in a jetpac trying to kill everyone once they spawn in a team killcount game, you're going to get taken out pretty quickly. Not only are you a huge target up in the sky, but a few well aimed clips from a gun like the P90 will drop you right out of the air.
In online more than in single player you'll also see some wacky death animations. Occasionally you'll see find that when you shoot someone they'll go flying in the opposite direction than they should have or even straight up in the air. Aside from those glitchy animations, the deaths are generally representative of where and how hard an enemy got hit which is especially obvious if you've popped someone with a shotgun.
There's no jumping in Perfect Dark Zero, though in the multiplayer you'll be able to hop over ledges by pressing into a low wall at a perpendicular angle. Though the game only has six multiplayer maps, there is enough variation of each to keep you from getting bored. Also, the multiplayer announcer absolutely sucks and there's unfortunately no way to turn him down short of muting all sound effects. Despite him, the multiplayer modes are still fun to play, just beware when loading up capture the flag and territorial gains. There are also a number of achievements, 50 to be exact, for you to attain. The fact that most of them are based around online play should tip you off as to where you should be spending your time.
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