The Very Definition of "Meh"
Within the first ten minutes you'll know that you're not playing on the original Xbox, but it's not a massive leap by any means. The environments look good, but like a lot of 360 games, they are overly shiny for no real reason. Much like Halo 2, the game looks great during play, but somehow the cutscenes look worse than the actual in-game action. Many of the characters look plain ugly when you get up close. The environments are still great though, and the special effects with all the gadgets and surprising function your guns have are excellent.
Perfect Dark Zero doesn't do much in the way of innovating the console FPS gameplay, but it does a lot of things right. Throughout the game you have an unbelievable amount of weapons and gadgets at your disposal. In the missions you must plan ahead by choosing which items to take with you. You have four slots available for weapons, but larger weapons take up more slots. You can dual wield pistols, but only if they're the same type. Joanna also has a evasive roll maneuver that you can use by tapping LB. When she rolls, the camera jumps out to a third-person view then zooms back into her head, which is quite disorienting at first, but actually become quite useful in certain situations. If you're trying to be stealthy and creep over a hill and spot someone, you can quickly roll backward before they spot you then creep back up with your scope ready to snipe. Also, in multiplayer, if you get shot in the back, you can roll and turn at the same time which not only makes you briefly harder to hit, but gives you a wider view of the area to spot your attacker for that split second.
Joanna also has the ability to hide behind just about anything in the environment whether it's a wall, box, tree, or whatever. This allows you to see around corners and attempt to line up your shots before you step around the corner. And although Joanna doesn't really wear much in terms of armor, they have found a way to utilize the Halo-style recharging heatlh meter. The way it works is that most wounds deal a relatively small amount of real damage but a large amount of "shock" damage. If you duck and cover, the shock value will return. This makes it alot easier to survive as long as you play smart. If you're out in the open, you will die quickly because whether it's shock damage or not, if you life meter hits empty, you die. The star of the gameplay though are the weapons, which appear to be modern, but have crazy secondary and tertiary firing modes. A simple sniper rifle may have a radar scrambler function or a handgun may have the ability to project a hologram of yourself to confuse enemies. They're all great, and well balanced in terms of accuracy, stealth, and power.
Well the voice acting is pretty bad and the deathmatch announcer in multiplayer is an obvious Unreal ripoff but worse. The sound effects and soundtrack (except for the title theme maybe) almost make up for it though. The story itself on the missions isn't very engrossing, but the music definitely helps draw you into the action. And again, the sound effects are amazing, especially for anyone with 5.1 surround. Every one of the dozens of slightly futuristic weapons has its own distinct believable sound. It's just too bad the voice-overs are unavoidable in any mode.
Well, the story isn't that great, but it's worth running through once at least. The AI seems quite wooden at times, then in spots they get ultra intelligent which throws your strategy way off. The meat of the game, much like Rare's past FPS games, is the multiplayer. The story is alot more fun if you have someone to play through it with, which you can do online through Xbox Live or with someone at your house. And instead of just giving you a different color Joanna or something, each mission puts the second player in the shoes of someone relevant to the mission.
The rest of the multiplayer games are divided into two groups. Deathmatch and Dark Ops. Deathmatch has your conventional DM games such as Killcount, Team Killcount, Capture the Flag, and a Battlefield style waypoint game called Territorial Gains. Dark Ops is presented much like Counter-Strike, as you are in teams and before each match you must purchase your equipment with an alotted amount of credits. By winning matches your team earns more credits to use at the beginning of the next match, allowing them to start with better weapons. The match types here include a basic elimination which they call Eradication; a siege game where each team takes a turn defending and attacking, which they call Onslaught; and an objective game that has one team trying to destroy equipment, which they call Sabotage. The only non-team game in Dark Ops is Infection, which is a free for all where humans fight against skeletons. Humans can purchase weapons at the beginning of a round, but the skeletons must find their own. If an infected player (skeleton) gets killed, he's out of the game, but any human player killed by a skeleton simply joins the infected side. All of the match types are well thought out and work great with the maps that are available. The only complaint is that there should be more map options, especially with the possibility of recreating some of the classic GoldenEye and Perfect Dark 64 maps. Hopefully they will add some more eventually.
Overall, assuming Xbox 360 owners will be playing online, Perfect Dark Zero is a decent choice for your new system. You'll definitely get your money's worth with the full-featured online game types. One of my favorite things about the 360 is the whole community aspect that they have successfully realized. The Achievement system, while a little flawed by the way some developers assign point values, is an excellent way to show off what you've done in your games. With Perfect Dark Zero, the Achievements both reward you for simply have fun for hours on end as well as encourage you to try other match types that you may not have spent much time on. If you're getting a 360 and like shooters, you might as well pick this up. It's going to be a while before you get another Halo.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***