Version tested: Xbox 360
Of all the things I wasn't expecting to stumble across in the XBLA remake of Perfect Dark, Peter Molyneux was quite high on the list. But there he is, the founder of Lionhead, a key creative force behind Populous, Theme Park, and the Syndicate series, waiting patiently in a dataDyne elevator so that Joanna can pop out from a nearby grating and kick him in the head.
Some people, it seems, are still a bit cut up about the fact that you couldn't grow entire trees from acorns in the first Fable.
Odd as it is to come up across a legend of British game development while playing through a first-person shooter - it's even weirder when he turns up in multiplayer, decked out in a white tux, and wielding a sub-machine gun - it's totally in-keeping with Perfect Dark's peculiar culture.
On its first release, Rare's N64 classic featured the scanned-in faces of dev team notables and even a few journalists, so Peter Molyneux's just another way that the crew at 4J Studios, who have handled the XBLA conversion (and before it, the conversions of the Banjo-Kazooie games), are keeping true to the spirit of the original.
And they really are, too. This is, as Kevin McCloud might say while wandering around a modernist cottage hewn out of the clanking guts of an old tyre factory, a sympathetic update. 4J has aimed to present a classic game in the way that you remember it, rather than the way it actually was. (On the N64 in particular, there's often a gaping chasm between rosy recollection and the juddering, artefacted reality.)
That means curation and restoration rather than much in the way of additional design, and most of the team's best work will be all but invisible. There are no new levels to compare unfavourably to the originals, in other words, and no Master Chief armour waiting to be unlocked when you 100 per cent everything.
So what has changed? The frame-rate, for starters. Perfect Dark was always a little ahead of its time in terms of what it wanted to do with its action sequences, and that often meant that, when the big fire-fights kicked off, you could find yourself playing something that looked a flick book operated by an epileptic.
Thanks to the power of the 360, you're now able to blow through the whole thing in 60fps, meaning that you can enjoy the game as the developers intended, even if you will no longer be able to rely on that slightly wonky tactic of using big explosions to enter into a kind of unintentional bullet-time, giving you a smidgen more thinking space when things got hairy.
Textures are all up-rezzed, but retain the distinct feel of the originals, and the geometry has been tweaked very subtly - generally only with the NPCs, skyboxes, and the weapons, by the looks of it.
Faces have been given a once-over - Joanna's new mug is a strange cross between Sandra Bullock and, oh, let's say Michael Jackson - but the new character models have been welded to the old animations, which means guards role in and out of view with the same gymnastic hilarity that they used to, and you can still shoot guns out of peoples' hands if you're feeling spiffy. All of which means that Perfect Dark XBLA retains the look of an N64 game, even if it's something Nintendo's old console would be comprehensively incapable of running.
There are two other changes that are probably worth mentioning, both of them for the better. Practically everything is unlocked from the get-go, meaning you no longer have to slog through the main campaign to piece your multiplayer options together, and the GoldenEye weapons, which were originally only available in single-player, are now up for grabs in multiplayer too, along with three GoldenEye maps. Make the most of it, because you almost certainly aren't going to get Rare's most famous FPS following this down the pipe any time soon.
For the most part, however, this is still the same game it used to be, which is a mixed blessing. While Perfect Dark once seemed to have come from the future, it's now clearly a relic of the past. Like an archaeologist drilling into the earth, replaying Rare's classic will give you a few insights into how FPS games have changed over the years.
Signposting is perhaps the biggest thing I noticed. Games are now so much better at telling you where you should go next and what you should do when you get there. If you miss the sense of exploration and experimentation that a lot of the classics possessed just because their layouts were a bit confusing, this is the game for you.
Branching mission objectives, some of which are removed for the game's easier settings, means that plenty of rooms may have no obvious purpose depending on what difficulty you're playing on; even without that, Perfect Dark's not afraid to throw dead ends at you seemingly for the hell of it, or repeat textures so much in its huge maps that you can get a little dizzy.
DataDyne's own offices are particularly bad at this, featuring dozens of really quite similar rooms where security guards sit behind desks, tapping away at computers (still holding their guns, naturally), and the only way to tell whether you're retracing your steps or not is if there's blood on the walls. Modern games have made us stupid and impatient. Me, anyway.
Then there's aim assist. It was necessary for the N64, certainly, but can take a little getting used to on a 360 pad, particularly if you play the game on easy, where the tug from one target to the next is almost comically powerful. Gone on the harder settings, it's customisable, however - as with the original game, almost everything is - and on top of that, you can choose between a range of different control mappings, some based around Halo and Call of Duty 4 standards.
When you turn to multiplayer, you may realise that doors have been a casualty of virtual wars in the past few years, as online games move towards more open maps, and leave behind a world of endless corridors. Perfect Dark's still filled with doors - some of its arenas, particularly those based on the Carrington building, are practically door museums - and they add a not altogether welcome element of fiddliness to proceedings.
But multiplayer also reveals just how much of Perfect Dark hasn't passed its sell-by date: these battlefields are still devious and riddled with tactical options, the weapons are still brilliant fun to use, and Counter-Op, in which one player takes the role of Joanna while a second becomes all of the enemies, one by one, still feels ahead of its time even now.
With eight-player online games and four-player local split-screen (with each screen fully customisable), and with bot support, two-player co-op, and all the original game's modes available, it's a reminder of just how much content games used to come packed with - and that's before you take into account the fact that the single-player campaign has 17 missions, and most of them are pretty expansive.
Boasting gadgets and set-pieces that the more recent update struggled to improve upon, and multiplayer maps you probably wore ruts into the best part of a decade ago, this is an enviable chunk of nostalgia. Zero may have proved that it's hard to create a fitting sequel to a classic, but to see the original Perfect Dark slotting into place so well on XBLA is enough to suggest that, just sometimes, restoration might be a better solution than reinvention.
8 / 10