Today, we take the fast-paced intricately-plotted likes of Halo, or the gut-churning realism of the Modern Warfare series for granted. Back at the dawn of the millenium, things were very different. So gather round the campfire, children, and let me tell you a story about one of the best FPS games ever made…
After the groundbreaking Goldeneye for the N64 in 1997, developers Rare issued Perfect Dark three years later for Nintendo’s big black box. The game was a sequel of sorts to its classic 007-based predecessor, and featured the same graphics engine and many of the gameplay mechanics. Perfect Dark however featured an original story: that of Joanna Dark, top undercover secret agent for the Carrington Institute, and followed her adventures in a grand conspiracy-laden tale of alien invasions and double-crosses. Added to that, the title had a brilliantly addictive multiplayer mode, allowing you and up to 3 friends to gather round for endless bouts of split-screen mayhem.
Now, 4J Studios have released Perfect Dark as an XBLA game. Recognising its classic status – and its many fans with fond memories of the original – the title is more or less a direct port, with updated graphic textures and a smoother framerate being the only noticeable differences from the 2000 release.
Anyone coming cold to Perfect Dark may be disappointed. On the surface, it appears dated: repetitive textures, long maze-like levels, a synth soundtrack and a broadbrush plot. Scratch beneath that however, and the core game remains, as shiny and addictive as it ever was.
And there’s a lot of bang for your buck / Microsoft Live Points here. Perfect Dark has been ported in its entirety, meaning the whole single player campaign is here, as well as the fun and challenging multiplayer modes and a host of unlockables (and new achievements).
Being espionage-based, Perfect Dark contains an impressive array of guns and gadgets for you to employ. Each weapon has dual modes, allowing you to switch between its primary function and its secondary use (e.g. pistol-whipping an opponent in close quarters combat). Stealth plays a role too, with some situations requiring you to sneak around, avoiding laser tripwires and silencing unsuspecting enemy agents. In short, the gameplay is a good mix of run and gun action and creep and crouch moments.
The enemy AI is remarkably solid for a game of this age, and I still jumped a couple of times when I opened a door to be confronted by an angry agent with a magnum pointed at my face. Foes run for cover, attempt to circle you and – if up close – will even try and disarm you, making Perfect Dark’s combat challenging and fun, especially on the higher difficulty settings.
Multiplayer is great fun too, with a variety of modes and configurable bots (simulants) if you can’t find anyone to play against. If you do have some willing friends, you can play local matches using the old-school split-screen mode; or jump into XBox Live and play online. Faithfully recreated from the original, multiplayer is highly customisable: with a free choice of mode, map, enemy behaviour and weapons – including the ‘classic’ set, featuring the guns from Goldeneye (enough to nearly make me weep with nostalgic joy from behind my rose-tinted glasses).
It’s almost appropriate to give Perfect Dark two scores. If you’ve never played it before and have been brought up on nutritious next-gen goodness, you may find it a bit dated and frustrating. If, however you spent many special moments with Miss Dark a decade ago, you’ll love the opportunity to be reunited with her and her adventures. Either way, Perfect Dark is an accomplished update and a great-value XBLA package, with the endlessly replayable multiplayer mode likely to appeal to everyone.
Now, someone please release an XBLA version of Goldeneye and make an old gamer even happier…