Perfect Dark [XBLA] Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Mar 17, 2010

With GoldenEye 007's chance of appearing on Xbox Live about as likely as Sean Connery donning the tuxedo again, Rare went with the next best thing: dusting off its unofficial sequel. Perfect Dark makes its auspicious Xbox Live Arcade debut as a near faultless example of how to rerelease a console classic.

The Pros
  • Improved frame rate and textures
  • Multi-function weapons and gadgets
  • Huge assortment of multiplayer options
The Cons
  • Weak enemy AI
  • Clich├ęd storyline
  • Unusual targeting system

Originally designed for the Nintendo 64, Rare’s 2000 hit Perfect Dark helped establish a new benchmark for console first-person shooters. Freed from the limitations of a licensed movie tie-in, the developers created an atmospheric sci-fi themed game with quirky characters, exotic settings, fun weapons, and an ambitious multiplayer component that incorporated both co-op and competitive action, with the latter offering optional bots. Would time be kind to Perfect Dark a decade after its initial release?

Perfect Dark XBLA

Perfect Vision?

Perfect Dark for Xbox Live Arcade features all of the modes, missions, and maps found on its cartridge-based predecessor. Unlike the N64 game, which chugged harder than a freshman at a frat party, this version moves at a noticeably faster frame rate. High-resolution textures have also been slapped onto the 3D objects, making the environments and characters look crisp and clean. Going from the original game to the Xbox 360 version is like walking outside with a new pair of glasses: everything is finally in focus. Of course the characters still wobble like marionettes and have expressionless faces, like they've had one Botox shot too many, but there are bound to be tradeoffs.

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A Shot in the Dark 

The single-player campaign, which can also be played with a friend locally or on Xbox Live, offers 17 main missions as well as four "special assignments" waiting to be unlocked. In a refreshing departure from 99% of first-person shooters on the shelves, Perfect Dark introduces new things to do as you increase the difficulty setting. Like GoldenEye before it, you'll have added objectives to complete on top of existing ones. This means you'll often encounter parts of a level you might have skipped the first time through, or start in a different location, or be given a nifty new gadget to power down systems, track hackers, and so forth. This is how you increase the replay value in a campaign; make replaying a level feel like a new experience.

Yet there are still some issues to deal with in Perfect Dark. The targeting system in the campaign is a bit wonky, and the enemy artificial intelligence could use a brain transplant or two. Enemies in GoldenEye at least ran to alarms and rolled out of the way of gunfire, but Perfect Dark's foes just run to odd places, stare at walls, spaz out, or do this silly gunslinger move that has them bending a knee and shooting from the hip. What's even more bizarre is that on some levels, enemies will go prone on the ground with nothing near them. It's funny yet unsettling. This didn't appear to be a problem with the N64 game, but then again, it just might be the warm feeling of nostalgia fogging up the ol' memory.

Perfect Dark XBLA

Friendly Fire

In addition to playing through the campaign on all three difficulty levels, you can also try to earn high scores and fastest completion times for the online leaderboards, or work on various in-game milestones. You can poke around the Carrington Institute to try your hand at shooting challenges, go head-to-head against a friend in a "counter-op" campaign mission (with you or your friend controlling an enemy while the other player controls Joanna Dark), or go nuts with the multiplayer, which now supports up to eight agents instead of four. Toss in some bots called simulants, and you'll have a party.

Multiplayer games offer a choice of 16 maps, including three classics from GoldenEye, and a wide assortment of adjustable settings, from removing the radar display to one-shot kills. You'll also be able to choose from a variety of game types, from deathmatch and team deathmatch options to variants on king of the hill and capture the flag. Sprinkle in some amusing weapons, such as a rifle that shoots through walls, or a laptop gun that doubles as a sentry turret, and good times are to be had by anyone who spent their formative years clutching that strange three-pronged controller. There are also 30 challenges to complete against the computer, medals to earn, stats to track, cheats to unlock, and other surprises. You can even earn two avatar awards.

Perfect Dark XBLA

Mission Accomplished

Perfect Dark might be ten years old, but it's still great fun with friends. After all, how many downloadable titles support four players simultaneously on a split screen? How many shooters include bots with preset personalities? Which games let you use wrist-mounted lasers, combat knives, tranquilizers, crossbows, proximity mines, and guidable rockets? There's a lot of juicy options here, and while the action is understandably dated, you'll easily get your 800 points worth of entertainment. The improvements to the frame rate, visuals, and multiplayer make Perfect Dark one of the best values on Xbox Live to date.