Being one of the most anticipated and wanted games available at launch for Microsoft’s brand new console, Perfect Dark Zero certainly had everyone’s hopes up that it would certainly deliver in terms of perfection. Brought to us by Rare, the company that gave us the infamous Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64, and of course Perfect Dark for the same system, the game certainly had the force behind it to make it quite an experience. Perfect Dark Zero is a game 4 years in the making, but was it really worth all the effort? Is it anything more than a flashy next-generation first person shooter similar to those that have sold Microsoft’s consoles in the past? Let’s take a closer look at what could beRare’s most important game of the past 5 or so years.
1. STORY & GAME MODES
If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, it’s not likely that you’ll get many first person shooter games with much of a developed plotline. From what we’ve seen in the past and what we’ve experienced, it’s not even that important and isn’t something that’s necessarily expected from a game of the genre. What’s surprising however is that Perfect Dark Zero’s story is so bland and unoriginal that it drags the whole campaign mode of the game down to the extent that you may not want to go through it all unless you’re an enthusiast or simply want some Gamer Points for your Xbox Live Gamer Card.
You play as Joanna Dark: A super-spy in training, sent to save a scientist from an evil madman who wants to take over the world. Accompanied by her Father, things start to go bad after the first few missions and instead you are sent on a huge tangent of missions of stealth, fire-fights, chases and demolitions in order to get down to what is really going on. It’s all fairly typical and has no real driving force with the exception of a few ineffective twists and turns throughout the game’s main 10-15 hour story campaign mode. Players of the first Perfect Dark game will find justice in that the game’s story introduces how Joanna eventually ended up working for Carrington Industries, however, players whom haven’t had the chance to play the N64 game don’t have that much of an introduction to the series or characters at all. Although not essentially bad, or boring, Perfect Dark Zero’s story isn’t anything new and brings down what could have been a fairly decent campaign mode.
Aside from the seemingly bland Campaign mode, the game modes featured in PDZ are what make the game truly shine. First of all and probably most importantly, if like me, you found the main story mode a little dull and nothing short of simple shoot-shoot-bang-bang style play, you’ll probably find a lot of fun in the campaign’s co-op mode of which you can play through with a friend or on Xbox Live with anyone around the world. This surprisingly enough makes the exact same mode an enjoyable and favourable experience to play. You’ll venture through all the same missions, this time with another player by your side, depicted as a different character from the game. Not only does it make it a whole lot easier, but it allows for a good multiplayer experience to be played in a linear and still somewhat new way even though many game developers are incorporating this into their own titles nowadays.
Combat Arena is a totally different ball game altogether. As you would expect, this set of game modes is strictly multiplayer and is indeed PDZ’s driving force. All in all there are 8 different games to be played, 4 of which present users with satisfyingly new and original games to venture into. The first four are under the sub category of ‘Deathmatch’ and they essentially are deathmatches. You have the straight forward Killcount mode (every man for himself, person who kills most people wins), Team Killcount mode (same as Deatmatch, with the exception that the team with the most kills as a whole wins), Capture the Flag mode (each team has a flag and it is up to your and your team-mates to break into your opponents base, capture their flag and return it to your own teams base. Team with the most flag captures wins), and Territorial Gains mode (Capture and control land for points). Although most of the modes are common in every other multiplayer FPS game, there are no faults at all here mainly due to the mega-extensive assortment of weaponry selection at you fingertips and varying sizes of maps based around all different terrains and weather condition allowing up to 32 players to join in. A lot of the team games can be boosted with the addition of a pair of headphones and microphone supplied in the Premium Xbox package, allowing for tactics and other information to be shared directly from player to player within the team at ease.
What really raises the bar for FPS multiplayer games is the other category of 4 modes entitled ‘Dark Ops’. All of these modes are totally different and essentially unique to Perfect Dark. Specific modes in this category include Eradication (same as Team-Killcount, only people don’t re-spawn), Onslaught (Teams take turns to defend their base and attack the opponents, team who survives the longest whilst defending their base wins), Infection (A team of uninfected players, try to battle off the infected team, if an uninfected player gets killed, they become infected and join the infected team), and Sabotage (protect your teams equipment whilst destroying your opponents, team whom causes the most destruction to opponents equipment wins). All of the Dark Ops modes also require a sort of ‘purchase before you use’ style of play; when beginning a game, your team will be awarded with a pre determined amount of credits of which you can buy weapons, gadgets and vehicles. Whilst playing through the actually multiplayer game, you’ll earn credits for kills and wins etc. which strengthens your team through rewards. It’s a good feature but ultimately not that essential. The Dark Ops modes can at times rely heavily on strategic operations but a lot of the times fire-fights will break out and that’s all that will happen, it all depends on who you’re playing with really.
In conclusion, if you don’t have a connection to Xbox Live yet and are simply looking to go through the game’s campaign you’re not going to be totally satisfied. What the game does do however in terms of game modes is offer a more than justifiable reason to sign up to Xbox Live. There’s so much to do and you’ll find yourself coming back for more time and time again.
Story Rating: 1/5
Game Modes Rating: 5/5
Story & Game Modes Rating: 6/10
2. GAMEPLAY & CONTROL
Controls are all fairly basic and refer to much of the original Xbox console’s control style with the addition of the 2 shoulder buttons featured on the new controller. Each weapon in the game has 2 functions and sometimes 3 depending on areas and mission scenarios. Even more of a bonus is the ability to carry 2 single-handed weapons at once, and firing them each with the left and right triggers respectively. Otherwise the left trigger will offer a scope or centred zoom view to strike your enemy down with more accuracy. Some of the more interesting weapons feature laser shots, stealth field generators and electric pulse generators. Alongside these is the basic selection of weaponry from melee, automatics, semi-automatics, rifles and pistols. All in all there is quite an impressive range of weapons available especially through the multiplayer modes which add a whole range of combat options not usually seen in a console FPS.
Original features to the gameplay in PDZ include being able to dive around in all sorts of directions making it hard if not impossible to be shot and a ‘cover’ feature which allows you to hide behind objects. The dive ability has no problems and actually serves as a useful deterrent to bullets as opposed to the usual hopping around that is seen in FPS games to avoid gunfire. The cover ability although very useful in a stealth based situation is flawed by the fact that you can only use it when the game allows you to. So although most of the time you can successfully use the cover ability in the heat of battle, a lot of times it will either take a few seconds to show the ‘Cover, press A’ option which allows you to so, or it won’t allow you to do it at all. It’s very costly to your health and to be honest, doesn’t get used that much in Multiplayer games for that reason.
Outside of all the shooting and sneaking around there’s the gadgets you can use to unlock doors and blow up enemy equipment. Not generally an interesting or stand-out point to the game, it’s still nice to blow things up and see yourself gaining access to enemy bases with force. It adds a sense of realism at least. Finally, the health system is based upon armour damage, ‘shock’ damage and permanent damage. Equipping armour will draw around 70% of damage away from the body and take it away from the armour strength. ‘Shock’ damage is essentially the damage you receive in one period, after an initial blow of permanent damage to your health; the shock damage will disappear back to where it was as long as you stay out of fire and allow it to regenerate.
Featuring a few original aspects of gameplay and implementing a lot of classic FPS elements, this is a game for FPS enthusiasts and those new to the genre. Controls are what you’d expect and new players shouldn’t have that much trouble getting used to them. One thing that can be tricky for newer players on the other hand is the aiming control which can be tricky, especially when aiming for vital parts of the body such as the head, of which professional players can seem to target with ease. Therefore, you may want to avoid playing online until you brush up your awareness of the controls. Essentially this is a good shoot-em-up with some stealth aspects thrown in to create variety.
Gameplay & Control Rating: 8/10
As with most of the 360’s titles released so far, the visuals in PDZ look remarkably impressive and realistic throughout. Character animations such as rolling around or covering behind walls then jumping out to shoot a guard in the head look fantastic, as does the reaction from the enemies. Each weapon also has its own individual load, reload, equip and firing animations each looking very realistic and impressive as far as weapon animations go. Environments look totally realistic and very detailed, with the odd drawback that a lot of it isn’t destructible or interactive. Frame rate can sometimes drop below average specifically during a hovercraft mission or in the heat of a massive battle of around 12+ players on the screen at once. More often than not however, it will remain consistent and shouldn’t prove that much of a problem. Another more noticeable drawback to the game’s visuals is the character models of which can look incredible from a distance but up close things can get ugly. Well, when I say ugly I mean that they look too shiny and smooth to successfully pull off that same sense of realism developed in all the other aspects of the graphics. In all fairness though, this doesn’t affect PDZ that much and it still looks utterly fantastic but other small things including the previous two examples do bring it down just a little.
Graphics Rating: 9/10
Music in Perfect Dark Zero consists of mainly techno and slower tracks more suited to games such as Splinter Cell. As you may be able to guess, the techno drops by when you are discovered and a fight breaks out, and the quieter music kicks in when you’re sneaking around in stealth mode. There isn’t much of a problem with the music at all other than the fact that it isn’t anything special at all, or that there isn’t even that much of it. If you don’t like it however, you can always just switch on your own music from your 360’s hard drive (if you have one). Take into consideration that this is possible with most if not all Xbox 360 titles, so it’s nothing special on PDZ’s part.
Sound effects on the other hand are fantastic and a lot of work has gone into the development of the effects. First of all there are the weapons which sound powerful, realistic and true to all their real-life counterparts (even the made-up guns sound real, somehow) just as a professional FPS should be. As you may have guessed by now, just as each gun had it’s own animations, they also have their own sound for equipping, re-loading and firing. When you combine this with the authentic visuals and you have an ultimate force to admire. Secondly the vehicle effects and reactions to getting shot or hit etc. all sound fantastic and have real depth to them also. For example: Shoot a guy in the arm and he’ll shout back with ‘Argh! My arm! I think it’s broken!’ it may not sound like anything special but it sure is fun. Voice acting is above average but nothing great. It gets the job done, and that’s what matters.
Sound Rating: 8/10
Perfect Dark Zero’s main campaign should take around 10-15 hours to complete depending on your skill level and the difficulty at which you attempt to go through it at. Following completion, you probably won’t be going back to anytime soon other than if you decide to take it on with another player through co-op. Enthusiasts for the game who want to unlock everything will most likely want to complete the game on every level possible which will require a lot of playing time but for the average Joe like me, I just don’t see it happening. The good news however is that Deathmatch and Dark Ops will keep you satisfied for hours on end upon days and months. There’s just so much to do and experience not to mention that the vast majority of the games achievement goals are based in multiplayer, so die-hard fans of the game will no doubt spend a lot of time in here too. So with the exception of the 'one-time is enough campaign', there is a lot of life to PDZ and it should keep you going for a long time.
Lifeline Rating: 8/10
6. DIFFICULTY BALANCE
Firstly, each mission in Perfect Dark Zero’s campaign mode offers you the choice out of 4 difficulty settings, 1 of which you will need to unlock if you’re good enough: Agent (easy), Secret Agent (medium), Perfect Agent (hard) and Dark Agent (very hard). As you progress through each mission they will generally get harder, throwing more enemies and tougher stealth scenes at you but sometimes things will get a little unbalanced and levels with vary in lengths of difficulty from time to time. I played through the game on the default medium difficulty setting (which proved hard enough!) and for one mission, it took me a few days to successfully figure out how to do each part and work my way through it. Then for the following level, I blasted through it in a matter of minutes, so as you can see it’s certainly not that balanced.
In regard to the multiplayer modes, there is no ranking system that allows you to play against players of your own ability unless you find a match and look through all their Gamer Cards to check out their achievements before you join, which really isn’t that helpful. So it’s really just your luck and general skill that plays a part in whether or not you manage to do well or not.
Difficulty Balance Score: 6/10
To be honest it’s not that different from the original at all. What sets it aside however is the obvious face-life and control restructure. Following comparison to the original, the game does offer the odd new multiplayer Dark Ops games and couple of neat 1st person to 3rd style animations and gameplay elements. What is most important however is that it’s your basic conventional 1st person shooter, based upon a game from the past and that’s what makes this game not-so original.
Originality Score: 3/10
As I’ve said throughout this review, enjoyment won’t really be seen in the Campaign side of PDZ. Instead you’ll want to head straight on over to the multiplayer modes and that’s where all the fun is to be had. Perfect Dark Zero certainly won’t get dull or boring and can keep you hooked for a long time without loosing any of it’s appeal. New players to game may feel a little underpowered on their first play due to some of the more experienced Xbox FPS players joining in on the fun but ultimately this won’t happen too often and it’s probably one of the best experiences out there not just for the 360, but for Xbox Live when it comes down to online entertainment. It’s a shame about the single player though, so as I said, if you want to enjoy the game make sure you get online or find some friends to hook up your boxes together and battle it out.
Enjoyment Score: 8/10
Story & Game Modes: 6
XGD SCORE: 7/10
Perfect Dark Zero may not be perfect but it sure is fun to play and does its job when it comes to Xbox Live Multiplayer. If you’re looking for an in-depth shooter with plenty of story and original features, this probably isn’t the path to take. If however you want a game that is guns, fun and more guns then this is what you’re looking for. This is strictly an action FPS with plenty to offer the player as long as they have some people to share it with, ideally through a network or internet connection. Featuring some of the best graphics seen to date on any console, Perfect Dark is a fair representative for Microsoft’s new console but ultimately isn’t the best thing to come out of their production due to it’s faulty plot, lacking campaign mode and small originality features. I recommend this for anyone who wants a solid game with lots to do online but doesn’t care too much for single player modes or story involvement. If you don’t have access to any multiplayer features however it’s probably best you leave this alone or at least rent it out for a few days to get a taste for the next generation of FPS console games and experience some of the games other admirable features outside of multiplayer modes.