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.