Sunday, 4 April 2010

Review: Perfect Dark

The year 2000 was a splendid time for a happy go-lucky Nintendo fan. For that summer, they were blessed with the long awaited spiritual successor to the legendary Goldeneye, indubitably the finest console FPS of all time. What they got didn’t disappoint; a deep single player campaign with bond-esque objectives and gadgetry as well as a multiplayer mode that once again pushed the envelope and rekindled the sweaty 4-way fisticuffs typical of a marathon Goldeneye session. To revisit it now on its native N64 is an exercise in disappointment. Sure the look, feel and sounds are all present and correct, but the framerate and murky textures are not what you recall. No, back then all was laser sharp, tangy neon and inky blacks and you certainly didn’t have any framerate issues when you set off 20 remote mines at once. So the rebirth of Perfect Dark onto Xbox Live has been even longer awaited by those who know, promising as it did, the genuine article with HD graphics and, well, that’ll do actually. And now it’s finally here, available at a surprisingly restrained 800 points, has it survived the transition from our sepia toned memories..?

argh, she got me..

Short answer, yes. Its back, it’s looking better than ever and it hasn’t been mucked about with. Forget the ropey sequel spawned of a wholly different era and ethos, and look back to this lovingly crafted original which in many ways remains surprisingly advanced and more forward thinking than most fps' churned out these days. Here, mission structures are difficulty level dependent; meaning the difficulty you select from the menu directly affects the tasks and mission content you’ll see in the mission. (why isn't that a more common concept?) The fully worthwhile cooperative mode returns, now playable over Xbox live, as well as the way-ahead of it's time Matrix style "player 2 plays all the bad guys" mode, again reminding us just how much of a progressive title this was. The familiar blocky headed scanned faces of the old Rare team adorning the henchmen and characters have sadly been replaced by more contemporary fizzogs, and the textures updated, but the overal look remains firmly intact, and the synthy soundtrack and terrible voice acting is better than ever.

I- I haven't seen you before..?

The story is pure sci fi hokum- you are agent Dark, the sassy Victoria Beckham-alike protégé of the mysterious Carrington, a fat beardy Scottish bloke with piles of cash and a secret militarised organisation. Set in the not-too distant future of flying cars and blade-runner style city scapes (as much as that was possible in 2000, this is no Mass Effect 2), your mission is to uncover the conspiracy of a shady industrial organisation that may or may not (may) have something to do with aliens, the US president, and the intervention in an intergalactic war between 2 alien races (maybe). What you bring to the table are an assortment of smashing weapons and gadgets that were an improvement on Goldeneye’s Herculean inventory. Pistols, rifles, laser beams, bombs, mines, launchers, knives, crossbows, heat-scoped rail guns (oh yes) they’re all here, and each one featuring a secondary fire mode that often changes their dynamics in unexpected ways. The legendary laptop gun for example transforms your rifle into a deadly turret, gunning down enemies for you on sight, while you flick through the latest copy of FHM, (ok you’re Victoria Beckham, Cosmo then). And yes you can have it in multiplayer. gun!

The levels are sprawling, meandering mazes, difficult to navigate in comparison to today’s subtly signposted worlds. The opening mission sees us join Agent Dark on top of the Datadyne building which we must infiltrate to retrieve a defecting doctor in distress. For part one of the mission, you descend down through the tower taking out security as you go. Part 2 is the infiltration of the secret basement laboratory, while the final section has you working your way back up the tower. This clever approach to the use of space, revisited a couple of times in later levels, never feels like recycling so different is the challenge for the remix sections. They can feel aimless at times however, and it is only due to the careful training veterans had back in 2000 that we can easily find our way – a newbie gamer today might be tempted to cry in frustration on learning the mission has failed because they didn’t plant that bug on a random console back at the start of the map. We've all been there agent.

But.. I cant throw a bug that high..

Where it was neither progressive nor very successful was in it’s enemy AI. These goons are fresh from an Austin Powers super villain lair; spot you and they’ll either start shooting in 4 second bursts (unless you get one of the buggers that just walks at you firing continually) and then they may leap to the side in a bid to dodge where you’re most likely firing. Half the time their gun may jam, much to their astonishment, before uttering a brilliant soundbyte as you finally off them. No there are no flanking tactics here, no retreat and regrouping – they will run at you until they get shot. What they lack in nouse, they make up for in deadliness, certainly on the fiendishly difficult Perfect Dark agent level, where if they sneak in a hit you will find half your health gone.

Any questions? No, good!

For all the leaps and bounds in the FPS genre over the last ten years, you’d be forgiven for assuming Perfect Dark is a pointless addition to your heaving collection, but you’d be sorely mistaken. The little touches remain as brilliant today as they were then. The way Joanna tilts her pistols sideways, gansta style if you get close enough to a bad-guy. The way you can disarm and knock- out every henchman if you so choose, some of them throwing down their guns pleading for you not to kill them. The ever entertaining shooting gallery, the spy-cam, and the spectacular return to what you thought was just a pretty hub world. No, Perfect Dark remains a quite brilliant and relevant shooter; never less than fun and full of invention, and with quibbles only worthy of mention because the overall standard remains so high, this is an essential purchase.

Treehouse Rating: 4/5

Ah, our star agent..

Perfect Dark is available on Xbox Live for 800 of your Earth points


S1nnerman said...

Surely Goldeneye is the finest console FPS of 'that' time, not 'all' time?

I really liked Perfect Dark. I'm up for a gander at its rebirth :)

Munial said...

ALL time!!
*puts fingers in ears
Lalalala, can't hear you, lalala..