Perfect Dark is a First Person Shooter for the Nintendo 64 that has been ported to the Xbox Live Arcade by 4J Studios, the same team that ported Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie. But unlike the Banjo ports, Perfect Dark now has updated character models and textures as well as Xbox Live multiplayer support. Is Perfect Dark really as perfect as it’s made out to be? Is the remake as good as the original classic or does it suffer in comparison?
If you’ve ever played 007 Goldeneye on the N64 then you’ll know exactly what to expect from Perfect Dark because both games were made by Rareware, or as they’re called now: Rare. Rare used to be a second party developer for Nintendo but Nintendo sold the company to Microsoft which is why most of Rare’s more recent games are on the Xbox and Xbox 360. 4J Studios were originally going to port 007 Goldeneye but couldn’t for unknown reasons. The most common theory is that one of the parties that were involved didn’t agree the port being produced. It may have been Nintendo, who published the original on their console or it could’ve been Activision, the developers of the current James Bond games, but nobody knows for sure.
Perfect Dark is set in the year 2023 in which a corporation called dataDyne is secretly assisting an evil reptilian alien race called The Skedar in their goal to take over the planet. Fighting against dataDyne is Carrington Institute. Officially, the Institute is a research and development centre, but it also secretly operates an espionage group with another alien race and the Skedar’s arch nemesis: The Maians. You play as Carrington Institute’s top agent Joanna Dark who is codenamed “Perfect Dark” due to her perfect aim with a weapon and the perfect test scores she received when she first joined the institute.
The story is very generic at times but when get used to it, it can be quite entertaining and interesting. If only the script and voice acting were as good as the story itself. The rarely occurring humour is lame and the voice acting is average at best. Unlike some of today’s game voice actors, which often sound cheesy and over enthusiastic, the voice actors in Perfect Dark are bad for the opposite reasons. They aren’t enthusiastic enough and end up sounding lame, but they’re a lot more tolerable than other game voices.
Perfect Dark was very advanced for its time in most aspects, one of which is the variety of game modes available. The first you will see when you enter the main menu is called “Carrington Institute”. In this mode you simply get to explore Carrington Institute. You can complete various training missions, enable and disable unlockable cheats for the other modes, read up on info about the perfect dark universe or just look around at the sights and sounds that Carrington Institute has to offer. Daniel Carrington, the founder of the institute, even gives you a tour of the institute’s facilities the first time you visit, complete with lots of slow walking and barely any information whatsoever. This mode will keep you occupied for a while, but can get boring very quickly.
The next game mode you can choose from is called “Solo Missions”. This is just the single player campaign mode where you complete the main story missions. These missions are very interesting and have a difficulty system unique to both Perfect Dark and 007 Goldeneye. Selecting a higher difficulty setting for a mission does not make the enemies more difficult, nor does in increase enemy numbers. It instead increases the amount of objectives you have to complete before you can finish the level. This means that you have to explore even further to find the other objectives. This also makes the game much harder, even in the earlier levels, because you have to enter more areas and you will come across more enemies and obstacles than in the earlier difficulties. Because of this and the fact that Joanna only has one life, I recommend you play through most of the game on the “Agent” difficulty before you attempt the game on “Special Agent” or “Perfect Agent”.
The next mode is called the “Combat Simulator” and I must say that this is the best multiplayer experience you can get for the N64 and even for Xbox 360 standards it’s pretty good. This is the first multiplayer mode for Perfect Dark, all of which can be played split screen or on Xbox Live for the 360 version. The game modes include; Combat, King of the hill, Capture the Briefcase, Hold the Briefcase, Hacker Central and Pop a cap. The combat simulator has tons of customisable elements. You can choose between a variety of features such as arena, weapons, character head and body, bots (aka simulants) and many more miniscule features. The simulant AI was good for 2000 but seeing it now on 360, it’s obvious how terrible it is.
The arenas are great and very fun to play on for the most part and there are even three arenas from 007 Goldeneye thrown in; Temple, Complex and Facility, which has been renamed to Felicity. Some of the Goldeneye weapons have also been renamed and added to the game which is a great addition. Some of the new weapons aren’t too special and are just like any ordinary gun, but there are some very original and even quite amazing weapon designs too, particularly in alien weapons like the farsight; a Maian sniper rifle that can shoot through walls when aiming. Some of the reloading sequences for the Maian weapons are insane. It almost feels like they gun is alive when you see them absorb those weird alien blobs as if it’s food.
There are also many preset challenges that can be unlocked and played, but they are all single player against simulants. The Xbox Live play, for both this mode and the following modes, is very laggy which gets on your nerves often. If you want to play this game multiplayer, the best way to do so is via split screen, just like the good old days.
The next mode is called “Co-Operative” which simply involves playing through the solo missions with another player. Which character the second player is can be changed in the cheats menu of Carrington Institute once more co-op characters have been unlocked, but normally the second player plays as Joanna’s sister, Velvet Dark.
Finally, the last mode is a unique and very interesting mode called “Counter-Operative”. This takes on a similar role to Co-Operative but the second player instead plays as one of the enemy guards. While Joanna tries to complete the level and only has one life as usual, the other player has unlimited lives and respawns as a different guard each time. The guard’s objective is to kill Joanna before she can complete the entire level.
All of these modes are very enjoyable, especially if you have a friend willing to tag along.
There are three control schemes available in Perfect Dark for XBLA, and four for the N64 version. For the default and recommended N64 control scheme, pressing the B button is reload and use. The A button cycles through your weapons, holding the A button down accesses the quick select menu, Z is shoot, R is aim and holding down R while pressing C-Down is crouch. Thanks to the extra face buttons of the 360, there is room for more commands. On the first 360 control scheme which is called “Classic”, the A button is use, the X button is reload, and the Y and B buttons both cycle through your weapons, one button for forward and the other for back. The Left Trigger is aim, the Right Trigger is Shoot, Pressing the Left Stick Crouches, Left Bumper accesses the quick select menu and the Right Bumper changes the weapon function. The other two 360 control schemes are very similar except with a few button differences. The first is called “Spartan” and is essentially the same as Halo 3, in which Right Bumper and X have been swapped around and aim is now the right stick button. The third is called “Duty Calls” which copies from Call of Duty where B button is now crouch and there is only one button to change your weapons.
One thing that has been removed from the XBLA version of perfect dark is the old thumbstick layout which is commonly known now as “Legacy”. Though I personally prefer the 360’s so called “classic” control scheme, it would have been nice if the game had the N64 control scheme available as well, so that the player can experience the game the same way most people did when the original was released.
The graphics are insanely good for an N64 game and the frame rate suffered in the original because of this. This problem has been eliminated on the 360. The new character models are great and the textures are very good too, but not everything was graphically updated for the XBLA. The animation during cutscenes is bad. Often you will see parts of a character going through another part, lips don’t move when a character talks and character’s hands are permanently stuck in a closed fist position. The level geometry hasn’t been improved either and this is especially noticeable in outdoor stages. It feels a bit strange seeing a high quality character model standing in an incredibly polygonal snowy landscape.
There’s not much to say about the sound. The music is pretty good and feels like something straight out of 007 Goldeneye except with a futuristic twist to it. The sound effects are also not bad, but most of them have been recycled from Goldeneye. As I mentioned before, the voice acting is terrible. It’s understandable that Rareware couldn’t get good actors back then, and most game developers couldn’t. I just think it’s a shame that the 360 version didn’t get new ones.
Both versions of Perfect Dark are brilliant games and come highly recommended, but it’s a shame that the XBLA remake didn’t update as much as it could have. If 4J wanted to retain the feel of the original game by doing this, then they did a fantastic job. The remake is far superior to its predecessor and I’m glad that the dumb AI wasn’t improved because then the classic gameplay would’ve been compromised. I just would’ve liked it if the effort was put in to improve the presentation in some aspects, like the cutscenes. The original game is a brilliant title for the N64 and the remake is certainly worth your 800 Microsoft points. I give N64 version of Perfect Dark 9.5 out of 10 because it is such an amazing title for its time and really pushes the 64, but I’m going to rate the XBLA version as a remake and as a current generation downloadable game instead of rating it higher because it’s better than a game that was made 10 years ago on a 64 bit console. I give the Xbox 360 version of Perfect Dark a 9 out of 10.
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