For almost 10 years, Perfect Dark for the N64 has been my favourite game. I remember all the hype in the magazines, and painfully awaited it, following all of the development and details as they were released. I was in the store the day it was released, and was so disappointed when I was asked for ID (I was 14 at the time, but incredibly huge for my age – I’d never had any previous problems). I was even further disappointed when I discovered that all expansion paks were sold out and I had to wait 3 weeks before I could play it properly.
However, moving on, this review is about the XBOX Live Arcade version of the game. Again, I waited for this for what seemed like an age, expecting the same game with upgraded graphics. Boy was I wrong.
The game has been ported by 4J Studios, who have done little to it other than give it high-resolution graphics, and change the multi-player models to be the 4J team as opposed to the original Rare developers. The gameplay itself has remained unchanged, including all of the bugs and problems present in the N64 version, as they wanted to keep it true to the original.
Despite being unchanged, it is by no means the same game. The XBOX 360 has considerably more power than the N64 did and so in the many situations where the original would slow down (most notably explosions – it couldn’t handle more than 3 at once, and I remember one time setting off 30 mines simultaneously: it took 10 staggered booms for them all to go off), the XBOX version can handle perfectly. This makes a lot of the game easier and more fun, but at the same time, can actually make some things a little harder; the shooting range for instance was slightly easier with slowdown; but overall it’s a huge improvement.
The controls have obviously been changed, and this seems to be a huge problem for many players. I don’t really see the issue with it – dual analog sticks have long been used, and to skip it for Perfect Dark would just be wrong to me. There are 3 options available: Classic, Spartan (for Halo fans) and Duty Calls (for Call of Duty fans). All of these are just options to let people slip straight into whats most comfortable for them. They work well enough, and do the job, the only issue is that using a single analog stick for movement makes it a lot harder for people to use the original’s speed-strafing technique.
Of course, the biggest change to the game is that it is now an XBOX game, which naturally means achievements. Perfect Dark has 20 various achievements – some easy, some hard, and even one which pays an homage to the original game (“Act Your Age, Joanna”), and getting all of them will keep you playing all modes for quite some time.
4J also introduced the concept of “Leaderboard Crowns” to the game, which are basically sub-achievements. Each level contains some task which will net you a crown, and obtaining it will show the levels icon next to your name on the leaderboards to show everyone how good you are. These crowns are unknowns, and you are not told anywhere how to get them – or how you got them, but obtaining them all is the key to a final achievement. These crowns, although a simple idea are part of what keeps so many people playing the game. It’s because of them that after 10 years I have finally managed to unlock the final level; WAR!; and complete the game at last.
For an older game Perfect Dark has definitely aged well, and has definitely deserved to be remade. The mission structure is simple, and although most levels are shorter than the average these days I still feel that it hold up against some of it’s competition. I’m a Halo fan myself, but I think that the gameplay of run and gun through a level is just a little too repetitive, which is where PD wins. Each mission gives objectives to do; keep people alive, save the President, espionage, kill aliens; and this is what mixes up the game a bit more.
If you’re an FPS fan looking for something new to play, I would highly recommend Perfect Dark – particularly if you’re looking for a co-op game. It’s simple and short, but at the same time if you like it there’s so much packed in there for you to do, it can keep you going for ages – a decade for me so far, and it’s still as exciting a game to me now as it ever was.