Perfect Dark Zero Reader Review
Remember a more innocent time, back when the grass was greener, the sky was bluer and the daffodils stood hand-in-hand in the blazing sunshine? Neither do I, but I do remember what the world was like in 2000, when Rareís eagerly-anticipated FPS, Perfect Dark, made its way onto retail shelves. Back then, the War on Terror was yet to be waged, ITVís ďGladiatorsĒ had taken its final bow and Limp Bizkit ruled the album charts. More importantly, though, first-person shooters still hadnít established themselves as the dominant force in console gaming that they eventually became. But the revolution was coming, thanks in no small part to Rareís spiritual sequel to the globally revered Goldeneye 007.
Fast-forward five years to 2005. The world was a different place by now, with the rise of online console gaming thrusting the FPS genre to the very forefront of the video games medium. Not only that, but Microsoft happened to have a brand, spanking new console on the horizon, one that was set to bring the online experience to a whole new level. The system was called the Xbox 360, and it needed a strong launch if it wanted to assume a competitive stranglehold over its rivals in the latest generation of the never-ending console wars saga. Naturally, a successful launch necessitates the power of name value, and Microsoft, having acquired Rare three years previously, decided that the arrival of its new console would be the perfect opportunity to unleash Perfect Dark Zero, a highly-anticipated prequel originally in development for both the Gamecube and Xbox consoles.
Though its immediate critical reception was reasonably positive, time hasnít been particularly kind to PDZ. In some circles, itís simply become an afterthought and, in others, it makes semi-regular appearances on the dreaded ďMost Disappointing SequelsĒ lists drawn up by gaming sites and fans alike. Needless to say, the game ultimately did little to restore the faith of disgruntled Rare fans who, smarting at the treachery of their heroesí decision to jump onto the Microsoft ship, now had further justification for their scepticism. Were they right? Was PDZ really such a resounding smack in the face to the legacy of its predecessor?
To be blunt, the gameplay does little to allay these fears. Sluggish, clumsy and generally unresponsive, Perfect Dark Zeroís run-and-gun action frustrates more than it thrills, and it comes hand-in-hand with a markedly antiquated style of enemy AI, the kind that sees endless flurries of faceless drones either remaining stubbornly rooted in a stationary position or launching themselves straight into your line of fire. The game does implement a cover system, a veritable staple of shooters nowadays that was considered somewhat innovative at the time of PDZís release, but the flaws in its execution become enfuriatingly apparent when your character opts to take cover on the wrong side of an object for the umpteenth time.
The campaign is no better, either. The game serves as a prequel to the original Perfect Dark, casting the player as Joanna Dark who, fresh from her rigorous super-spy training, is embarking upon what appears to be her first serious mission. Sheís joined by her lumbering, scatter-brained father, Jack, and her Oriental stereotype of a companion, Chandra, who absolutely, totally, positively wonít betray you at the first opportunity. One could attempt to make sense of the ensuing plot, but there wouldnít really be much point. Basically, the adventure is based around Joannaís ongoing struggle to take down DataDyne, the evil corporation from the original game, with any other details seeming rather superfluous and redundant. Youíve got your usual cocktail of conspiracies, deceit and technological squabbles, but what it all boils down to is an incoherent little romp that pits the flame-haired protagonist, equipped with enough firepower to challenge The Beatlesí dubious theory on how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall, sneaking around sterile corridors, military bases and ancient ruins and shooting people in the face if they look at her the wrong way.
What makes Perfect Dark Zeroís campaign all the more pitiful is the fact that it does it all straight-faced. Games like House of the Dead and Conkerís Bad Fur Day were silly too, but at least they knew it and were content to adopt an endearing sense of self-parody. PDZ makes the mistake of taking its incoherent story seriously, consequently taking away much of its charm and impact in one fell swoop.
But that brings me to the main crux of my argument: the original gameís plot, voice acting and characterisation were just as bad, if not worse. And thatís just the point. PDZ may have been far from perfect, but the merciless condemnation it suffered in the gaming community seemed to be unfairly exacerbated by a misplaced sense of nostalgia for a predecessor that was also several steps short of being the flawless chocolate sprinkles on the cappuccino that so many people considered it to be.
First off, letís get something straight: Perfect Dark Zeroís graphics were reasonably good for their time. Yes, technical advancements were quickly made as developers began to get used to the current-gen hardware, but PDZ did, at least, get it right in a few key areas. The environmental textures, from the shiny metallic floor structures to the musty, rain-drenched brick walls, were particularly glowing examples of the Xbox 360ís graphical capabilities, a rare (hold the laughter, please) achievement for a launch title. Thatís not to say that it was all sunshine and rainbows, however, with the jarring plasticity of the character models and facial textures being particularly guilty of souring the party. Still, once again, itís worth remembering that PDZ was a launch title that had been through various stages of development on at least three different consoles, and for it to provide the tiniest of glimpses that it did into the new world of luscious high-definition glory should be seen as a notable achievement.
Itís hard to scoff at the gameís weapons, either. Building upon the examples set by its forerunner, and no doubt borrowing some of those laid out in the fantastic Timesplitters series, Perfect Dark Zero boasts an impressive array of gizmos and gadgets for all oneís sneaking, deceiving and murdering needs. And, unlike some of the more superficial firearms on offer in other games, such as the bloated arsenal of the Borderlands universe, most of PDZís futuristic weaponry is unique and characteristic enough to avoid overegging the gimmick pudding. Thereís certainly a quaint appeal in cycling through various different styles of weapons and finding one with which you end up becoming divinely attached, and Perfect Dark Zero satiates that basic desire admirably.
Thankfully, most of these weapons carry over to the gameís multiplayer component, its most highly-touted feature prior to release. Offering a diverge range of maps, customisation options and victory conditions, Perfect Dark Zeroís competitive mode far outclasses its shallow, underwhelming single-player counterpart. More crucially, though, itís an all-too-scarce example of a current-gen multiplayer mode thatís arguably just as fun to play offline as it is online. Unlike most shooters nowadays, the game features both split-screen multiplayer and AI bots (remember those?), two institutions of the FPS domain that have quickly been fading into obscurity. OK, so online multiplayer may be the order of the day right now, but there must still be masses of people who, like me, find the social conviviality of local competitive multiplayer to be so much more satisfying. Rare obviously knew this when planning out PDZ, and thatís just what they delivered. And stuff it; if I can get away with saying it, itís even better than the iconic fragfests of its original.
There are some games to which Iíve awarded high review scores, despite considering them to be overrated. Perfect Dark Zero is the opposite. To me, itís a game that, when looked straight between its somewhat boss-eyed visage, is never likely to go down as anything special or groundbreaking, but itís also one that gets too much of a hard time just because of who its big brother was. Itís been over five years now. Just accept it for what it is.