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Perfect Dark Review

by: Finn Orfano ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Perfect Dark was one of the Nintendo 64’s last and greatest games, and ten years later it’s arrived on the Xbox Live Arcade. While at times it shows its age, it’s still a remarkably fun game, made even better with some well done graphical enhancements.

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    Perfect Dark Ten Years Later on the XBOX 360

    When you think of video game platforms that featured classic first person shooters, the Nintendo 64 probably isn’t the first console that comes to mind. But while it may not have had many quality shooters it did host two famous classics: the groundbreaking Goldeneye and its spiritual successor, Perfect Dark. These innovative games were incredibly well received both critically and commercially, becoming instant classics. Ten years later, Perfect Dark has made its way to the Xbox 360 Arcade as a downloadable title, giving gamers either the chance to relive some memories or experience a part of gaming history for the first time. It shows it age, but it can still offer up hours of gaming that’s as fun as any modern shooter.

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    The New

    While Perfect Dark is mostly just a straight port of the N64 version, there have been a few improvements. The first thing you’ll notice is that the graphics have been touched up. While it’s hardly up to contemporary standards everything looks cleaner and smoother, all the way from the guns and characters right down to the menus. It still looks a little outdated, especially in outdoor levels, but it’s a welcome improvement over the rough, blocky textures of ten years ago.

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    The other big addition is online play, and this is a great feature. Like most contemporary shooters you can either play cooperatively through the story with a friend, or you can take on up to seven different people in the multiplayer modes. There’s also a counter operative mode, where one player attempts to play through the single player scenarios while another human player tries to stop him. For the most part online play is well executed, although with large numbers of combatants in multiplayer lag can become a problem.

    A few other minor things have been changed as well. You’ll be able to choose from three different updated control schemes, making the game much easier to play. Some of the more problematic glitches from the original have been fixed, although others, mostly harmless, remain. A few technical problems have been addressed as well, since the N64 had trouble processing some of the more intense, explosive combat scenes, which the 360 can handle with ease. The graphics and online options are the big new features though, as beyond that it’s mostly the same game it was ten years ago.

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    The Old

    So, the real question is how well the game has aged, and the answer to that depends a lot on what you look to get out of a first person shooter. The single player campaign stands up fairly well, although there are a few noticeable flaws. On the plus side, the core gameplay remains as fun as it was ten years ago. The gunplay is great, there’s a remarkable variety to the levels and their objectives, and it has terrific replay value. Three difficulty levels, each one not just making the enemies tougher but also adding objectives which make you explore more of the level or even approach it in an entirely different way, strongly encourages you to play through the campaign multiple times. (Which is good, because a single run on the easiest difficulty can be completed in just a few hours.) In addition, you’re encouraged to play the levels over and over again to improve your time, which both unlocks amusing cheats and also improves your standing on the new leaderboard system, a great way for friends to compete. At its best, Perfect Dark’s campaign is very fun and satisfying.

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    Unfortunately, there are some aspects that haven’t aged as well. The thin storyline is supported by atrocious voice acting, so don’t expect a very compelling narrative. The mission objectives, while varied and great for replay value, are often vague and confusing, requiring some trial and error to decipher. Perhaps the most frustrating anachronism is the lack of mission checkpoints. Perfect Dark’s levels are mostly short and intense, so in one sense their continued absence is understandable. Still, by modern standards it’s incredibly frustrating to fight through the majority of a level only to be beaten by an enemy near the end, forcing you to start back at the very beginning. It’s especially problematic on higher difficulty levels, where the longer missions need to be taken slower, or when you fail a mission for an obscure reason, such as accidentally killing an important character or misusing a key item. It’s times like that when Perfect Dark really shows it age.

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    The Perfect Dark Multiplayer Experience on XBOX 360

    Perfect Dark’s multiplayer is a bit of an odd experience. On one hand, it’s fun and addicting; it was ten years ago and it is today. The huge variety of weapons and the great mix of maps, the AI combatants that range from hilariously incompetent to flawless killing machines, the sheer number of ways the game can be customized… all of this adds up to make for a great time.

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    But, much like in single player, there are elements that show how old the game is. The large number and great variety of weapons means that there are some serious balance problems: a pistol doesn’t do much against a gun that can kill in one hit, shoot through walls and even track enemies. Players start unarmed, an archaic approach that puts the recently spawned at a huge disadvantage, especially since you can be tracked via radar. Health doesn’t regenerate either, so even if you survive one tough firefight you’ll probably be done for in the next. With all of these problems combined, the end result is that players will die a lot, usually through no fault of their own. Often you’ll just turn a corner and get gunned down before you have the chance to react, or drop dead because someone else guided a rocket into your face from across the map.

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    So, if you’re looking for an experience akin to Halo 3 or Modern Warfare 2, where the appeal is in playing strangers in hardcore matches, then you may be put off by the large elements of chance and balance problems. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to mess around with friends in more casual, light-hearted games, then you’ll have an absolute blast. That’s not to say that you get can’t competitive and still have fun, but Perfect Dark’s best multiplayer moments tend to come from playing around with all the different guns and settings, and in that regard it’s aged beautifully.

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    Not Perfect, but Close

    If you were a fan of the original release then there’s little reason not to pay the ten dollar price tag for the new version. It’s fun, it’s nostalgic, and you’ll easily be able to overlook its flaws while enjoying the new graphics, controls, and online play. It’s probably still worth your money if you’re new to the franchise as well; while you’ll likely find some aspects of it frustrating the gameplay stands the test of time well enough to be worth the small cost, especially considering that there’s enough content in Perfect Dark to rival modern releases. It’s a great opportunity to either check out a part of gaming history for the first time, or relive an old favourite. Just remember that, ultimately, it’s still a game that was made a decade ago.