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Game Profile
Xbox 360
GENRE: First Person Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-32
November 22, 2005
Perfect Dark

Perfect Dark

Perfect Dark

 Written by Nick Doukas  on December 09, 2005

Review: The best shooter since Halo...

If there's one thing Rare knows how to do, it's make a shooter. Creators of the seminal N64 hit Goldeneye, their 1999 follow up ? Perfect Dark ? introduced the gaming world to one Joanna Dark ? superspy, weapons expert and all around badass. With the release of the Xbox 360 and no Halo 3 in sight, Rare's task has been no small one ? create a AAA FPS to be the flagship action title for the powerful new console. Have they succeeded? Absolutely ? while PDZ has its flaws, the fantastic presentation, incredibly fun and satisfying shooting mechanics and stylish missions, not to mention the deep and varied multiplayer component more than make up for them. Simply put; Perfect Dark Zero hits it out of the park.

PDZ serves as a prequel to the Nintendo 64 original, with a younger Joanna working for her father Jack Dark's bail bonds business, hunting down fugitives. In the course of the adventure Joanna will come face to face with the evil behind the Datadyne Corporation and meet her allies ? the fine folks from the Carrington Institute, as well as face some life changing events. The single player campaign (which can also support 2 gamers via co-op play ? either locally or online. It's an absolute rush to play with a friend and stands out as one of the best parts of the game) consists of some 13 missions spanning the globe from a deep sea lab nestled on the ocean floor to the South American jungles. From beginning to end, it's an incredibly fun romp filled with wild locales, futuristic cities full of hi-tech soldiers, hovercraft, jet-packs and the most insanely complete weapons set I've seen yet. The story isn't particularly brilliant, but the plot serves the mission structure well, and overall it's a compelling narrative, particularly if you're a fan of the main character and the PD universe overall.

As I mentioned earlier ? Rare remains one of the top FPS developers in the industry, and they sure as hell know how to create a fun shooter. Fanboys and other assorted pundits can say what they will, but it can't be denied that PDZ hones the act of using a weapon to almost evangelical perfection. With a full assortment of pistols, sub-machine guns and assault rifles, a phenomenal combat shotgun - as well as the heavy stuff (M60 and rocket launcher) - PDZ presents the player with an amazing array of firepower and fashions intense and exciting set-piece gun battles in which to apply it. All of the weapons are gorgeously modeled, and the simple act of reloading is a joy to behold. The animations are insanely realistic, and the reflection of light off gleaming gunmetal is a fine example of pure next gen graphical muscle. All of the weapons have secondary functions, such as silencers, scopes (nothing like laying a clean headshot on a guard from 100 yards away with the P9P) and grenade launchers, and some even have tertiary abilities as well - things like null signature, radar trackers and flashlights for low visibility conditions. Gadgets like the Locktopous and DataThief are loads of fun to use, and add nice depth and variety to the gameplay. You'll also come across a few vehicles during the adventure. Using the Hovercraft (or riding as its gunner) and the JetPac is infinitely amusing and a total panic. They control well and once again add some spice to break up the on-foot gunning action.

The play mechanics are spot-on, including the cover move, which is contextual and accomplished by hitting the A button. You'll be able to duck behind walls or other strategically placed objects and line up your shot, then pop out and blast your foes with pinpoint accuracy. The recoil of the various armaments, combined with the fantastic (albeit somewhat exaggerated) hit animations, realistic location damage and amazing sound effects really come together to create a perfectly balanced combat experience that's second to none. Shooting foes will cause them to stutter back as clouds of blood fill the air and tracers whiz by. Enemies will break cover and rush your position, as well as try to flank you. The physics are excellent and you can shoot out glass, as well as blast boxes and other cover objects to convincing smithereens. This creates some intense battles and judicious use of cover, the rolling dive (accomplished by pressing the left bumper) and smart tactics will help get you through some of the more difficult missions.

The images in Perfect Dark Zero are phenomenal overall, though certain areas of the game could have used a bit more polish. The bump mapping on surfaces is fantastic, and the lighting creates reflections and real-time shadowing that's clearly a step above anything we've seen yet. The particle effects and explosions are brilliant (blowing up a room full of fuel barrels never gets old) and really help sell the combat experience. The character models look fantastic, and simply appear more substantial than past efforts, though the quasi-anime art style is very distinct. However, it suits the near future subject matter well and really looks wonderful, particularly the obvious attention that was lavished on the weapons ? everything about their appearance and operation is top-shelf ? the presentation is unparalleled. As well the locations in PDZ are gorgeous, expansive and thoroughly engrossing; huge sweeping vistas, high tech labs, military compounds and some of the best looking jungle I've ever seen in a game ? trust me, you'll be looking around gawking and taking it all in almost as much as you'll be fighting. Aurally PDZ nails it as well, with intense and authentic gun fire and other environmental effects bouncing through your 5.1 set-up and filling every corner of the room. The voice acting is average at best, but it's convincing enough and doesn't distract from the plot or gameplay. That's not to say it's poor in any way, but it has a certain tongue-in-cheek inflection that's more akin to a Saturday morning action cartoon than serious cinema. The music is infectious, stylish and used to excellent effect throughout the game. From the opening credits featuring a techno rocker that's an obvious and well done homage to the James Bond films, to the repetitive yet likeable dance number that loops while you waste fools in a Hong Kong nightclub, it's great stuff.

While the game's single player campaign is well implemented, it's the extensive multiplayer that really adds lasting value. Perfect Dark Zero features a full compliment of robust online options and extensive matchmaking tools that really work well in creating a cohesive and enjoyable experience. There are two main modes in the combat arena ? Deathmatch and Dark Ops. Deathmatch is straight up, standard team and free for all play, featuring Killcount, Team Killcount, Capture the Flag and Territorial Gains. Dark Ops is round based, and as such it's more tactical and slower paced than Deathmatch. You can purchase weapons and other gear between rounds using cash earned in-game by killing opponents or completing targeted objectives. Game types include Eradication, a last man standing style team-based battle and Onslaught, a team game where you switch between defense and offense ? defenders can purchase their weapons and get only one life, while the attack force gets basic pistols only ? but infinite respawns. Obviously the object is to either defend the base until time runs out, or conversely kill all defenders and beat the clock. Infection is a great variant that has uninfected players joining the infected team once they're killed with the goal of infecting every player on the map. Finally, Sabatoge is a team game of targeted destruction ? the side that eventually causes the most damage to the opposing property wins. You can search for a quickmatch, or specify particular game set-ups using the custom match settings. As well you can create a game and control virtually every option imaginable. Adding bots, private games, vehicles, the size of the map (all the stages in PDZ are fully scalable, and depending on the amount of players you have ? which can be a maximum of 32 ? you can open up or close off certain areas) and weapons sets ? it's all totally customizable to your liking.

Multiplayer games are great fun and the large, expansive maps are well designed and look simply breathtaking. Intense battles in tight subway corridors and other urban settings, sniping across huge, open chasms and mountains as well as assaulting a monstrous tower in the center of a snow covered valley ? it's all good, all the time. The squad based modes are a blast and encourage teamwork, while the shooting mechanics are nicely tuned and balanced. You'll need to practice your headshot, since it takes some time to blast all the body armor off of your foes. Nail them in the dome though and they go down in a jiffy. Heavy weapons and SMGs will deal greater damage and take out opponents faster, and a couple of the assault rifles feature devastating grenade launchers. Overall, there's a huge assortment of fantastic weapons and hours upon hours of online goodness to be found here. It's definitely the definitive shooter to usher in the 360 Live era and will finally pull a lot of players away from Halo 2.

Bottom Line
From start to finish, Perfect Dark Zero stands tall as a high-quality FPS that gets just about everything right. A great single player campaign combined with a near inexhaustible well of multiplayer madness, PDZ should be in the library of every shooter fan with a 360. Brilliant presentation and high quality production values prove that Rare is still a major player in console game development and that the Perfect Dark franchise is alive and well in the new generation.

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