bshirk's Perfect Dark Zero (Limited Collector's Edition) (Xbox 360) review

Gamer Referees And PS2 Caliber Visuals

Remember the unofficial sequel to Goldeneye that everyone seemed to pass over?  You know, that Rare title featuring a slender, red-headed chick?  No?  Well I don't blame you.  Despite receiving rave reviews, Perfect Dark was passed over by many due to the launch of the PS2 and the drought of quality titles for the N64.  The title was also plagued by horrible slowdown, so even its inventive weapons and co-op multiplayer couldn't save it.  By the title's small group of fans, Perfect Dark was well regarded, and many hoped that a sequel would be crafted.  Personally, I wanted a new Bond game; not this Goldeneye wannabe, but it was soon announced that Rare was developing a sequel.  Perfect Dark fans were certainly thrilled, but they were in for a major surprise--instead of being developed for the Gamecube, Perfect Dark's prequel, Perfect Dark Zero was coming to the Xbox.  Many Rare devotees were not pleased.  "Rare sold out!" resounded across online message boards.  These rabid fans eventually calmed down, but that's no surprise considering that Perfect Dark  Zero was delayed until the Xbox360 launch.

Perfect Dark Zero was kept hidden from the public eye for many years until an Xbox360 preview event on MTV.  Instead of showcasing the 360 at an actual game industry tradeshow, Microsoft decided to catch the eye of the hipster crowd.  They showed off Perfect Dark Zero in live events featuring "gamer referees".  This celebrity studded event featured the likes of the real life hobbit, Elijah Wood, who proclaimed himself to be a "gamer".  Celebrities, gamer referees, and even gamer girls couldn't save Perfect Dark Zero's poor showing.  With all the years of work behind it, gamers expected PDZ to be a masterpiece that'd put Halo to shame.  Unfortunately, it looked like the backwash your buddy left in your drink.  The graphics were pitiful, and people could barely tell that PDZ was running on a next-gen console.  Many people wondered, why upgrade to a pricey $400 system when you could play better first-person shooters on the original Xbox?  Still, some poor souls took the leap of faith, but sadly, most of them felt like they were dumped by their significant other once they actually played Perfect Dark Zero.

I wasn't one of these early adopters, because I wasn't impressed with the 360's initial line-up, but I decided to give this game a shot when I noticed its eight dollar price tag on Ebay.  I was aware that PDZ received lukewarm reviews, but I figured that maybe the reviewers were just being picky.  Sadly, this wasn't the case.

Perfect Dark Zero made some important modifications to the original to keep in line with modern FPS standards, but unfortunately, these changes didn't help much.  The redesigned Joanna Dark looked fine, there was no longer crippling slowdown, and there were now two analog sticks (goodbye C buttons), but these changes weren't enough to keep PDZ from merely being mediocre.

Graphics aren't the most important component of a game for me, but I do at least expect a decent art design.  PDZ's art looks generic, and almost seems as if it was ripped straight from the N64.  The character models are of poor quality (you can't even tell that the villains are Chinese), the backgrounds and architecture are uninspired, and everything is too shiny.   Fortunately, PDZ features widescreen and 720p visuals, but it merely looks like a hi-res Perfect Dark.  Take away the 720p and this could have easily been produced on the PS2 with no slowdown.

The visuals aren't even the worst part of the game.  Perfect Dark was known for its great gameplay, unique weapons, and plethora of multiplayer modes, but unfortunately, PDZ was stripped down to the point that it was essentially naked.  Just imagine a CEO wearing a ten-thousand dollar suit with twenty dollar pants.  It just doesn't work.  The CEO had the right idea with the suit, but the pants just didn't match.  Likewise, the original Perfect Dark had some excellent concepts, but the execution was flawed due to the N64 hardware.  Some were willing to overlook that fact then, but it's inexcusable that Rare didn't even carry over the good elements of Perfect Dark to this prequel.  The gameplay is so generic that it feels like you're playing an arcade game; very little strategy is involved, and the aiming feels loose.  If you've played any of the Halo games and Call of Duty, you'll find that PDZ's controls simply don't cut it; Not only that, but the enemies seem to be able to pick you off with ease.  They don't use clever strategies like the previously mentioned games, but they are able to pull off instant headshots.  In order to make the game more enjoyable, I decided to play the PDZ on easy.  If the cover system wasn't broken, I may have played on a harder difficulty setting, but this is no Gears of War.  You can also forget using stealth like in Goldeneye--it's simply more effective to charge into battle guns-a-blazin'. 

That takes me to the next point.  Shoot-'em-ups are all fine and good when you have a decent arsenal, as in the original Perfect Dark, but PDZ does away with many of the first game's clever weapons.  You can still set up sentry turrets and use RCP-90s, but many guns (such as the one that can shoot through walls) have been taken away.  So for the most part, you'll find yourself picking up whatever dual-automatics you can get your hands on.  Most weapons also include a secondary fire option, but these alternate fire modes rarely impress.

So the lame duck gameplay won't win over any onlookers, but Perfect Dark Zero must have great multiplayer, right?  I mean that's what carried the original.  Having four players along with programmable bots was a big thing towards the end of the N64's lifespan, but does a feature like that really matter now?  Not really.  If I wanted to fight computer opponents, I'd just play the campaign.  Bots aside, the online multiplayer at least features a massive player count.  Online Perfect Dark bestows you with the option of playing with up to 32 other people, on a variety of bland courses.  The level design for these forgettable courses may not win any awards, but at least the courses expand and shrink to accommodate the appropriate number of players.

Besides featuring unimpressive arenas and lackluster weapons, PDZ includes two standard modes.  One is Deathmatch, with gives you the option of playing Capture the Flag, Territories, Deathmatch, and a couple of other forgettable modes.  PDZ's other main multiplayer mode is similar to Counterstrike.  You purchase weapons before battle, and you're awarded more money depending on how you perform.  In this mode, one side plays as the undead, while the other plays as the living.  The humans' objective is to wipe out the pistol packin' skeleton army, while the undead want you to join their cause.  Neither of these two modes is very fun, especially with the dozens of better games available on Xbox Live.  It's a good thing that PDZ's online mode isn't fun, because its online community is barely surviving.  I could find a few fairly standard game modes, but most of the players were bots.  Luckily, this didn't bother me, as I quickly lost my interest.

Unfortunately, the James Bond-wannabe single-player campaign won't win you over either.  As Joanna Dark (or Jo as she's often called), you're tasked with stopping the evil Data Dyne corporation that is gathering some ancient artifact.  Some lunatic that runs this organization from a palace in China is obsessed with becoming a God, so he needs that stone to accomplish his objective.  Perfect Dark Zero tries to add plot twists and drama, but none of it is moving.  The voice acting sounds like a it was produced by a group of drunk computer programmers.  It ain't pretty.  Even an important character's death wasn't enough to move me, but it did almost make me laugh.  By the time I reached the laughable final boss, my impression of PDZ hadn't changed.  Every vehicle segment, scientist rescue mission, and sniping spree felt uninspired.  The lack of save points and unclear mission objectives certainly didn't help matters any.

Rare did one thing right--they managed to produce an FPS without many technical issues, but unfortunately, Perfect Dark Zero failed as a system seller.  Not only that, but it didn't even live up to its N64 predecessor.  With five years of development time, you'd think that Rare would have crafted a superb game, but either their development model was outdated, or they didn't receive a dev kit in time.  Regardless of what the issue was, I learned that PDZ wasn't worth the eight bucks.  In this day and age of quality downloadable content and instant gratification, there's no reason to spend that much on a mediocre first-person shooter.  If you're interested in throwing your money away, spend it on a friend; not your potential virtual girlfriend, Joanna Dark.


  • No major technical flaws
  • Smooth frame-rate
  • 32 player multiplayer
  • Co-op campaign
  • It eventually ends      


  • Doesn't live up to the original Perfect Dark
  • Features unimpressive weaponry
  • Mutliplayer courses are bland
  • Terrible voice acting
  • Mission briefings are too long and aren't helpful
  • Enemy AI is cheap, not skilled
  • Weak storyline
  • Aiming doesn't feel precise

2 Comments Refresh
Posted by Bigandtasty

It's a shame I couldn't stay in the year 2000 and enjoy Perfect Dark forever.

Posted by bshirk

Haha, well at least you'll be able to play Perfect Dark again on XBLA.  Hopefully it'll be a solid port.  I heard they were fixing the framerate issues, so I'm excited for it.

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