I know what most N64-junkie, Perfect Dark fans are thinking. “PD is the greatest FPS evar!” But, let’s take off the rose-colored glasses for a few minutes and remember that this is a pretty old game, and old games tend not to age well (except for freak cases like Mario games). The FPS genre is particularly vulnerable to this effect. Since it’s very popular, and dozens are released every year, the iteration rate is extremely fast, and games that are only two years old can seem positively ancient.
That’s what you have to keep in mind with this remake of Perfect Dark. It’s not that it’s a bad game, or that it wasn’t a great game in its own time. It’s that the times have changed so much that the modern gamer will find it borderline unplayable.
The old Rare FPS games like Goldeneye and PD are structured much differently than modern games. Love it or hate it, modern games have us weaned on hour-long tutorials and overzealous narrators who explain every detail to us ad nauseam. So, when you jump into an older game like Perfect Dark, you’ll be surprised at how self-sufficient you’re asked to be. The level itself is like a puzzle. “Disengage the internal security alarm” they’ll tell you. But, they will give you neither a picture of what it looks like, nor any idea of how to do it once you find it (oh, and they won’t tell you where it is, either).
It’s based largely on trial and error. You’ll often completely ruin the entire mission without realizing you did anything at all. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s also a very rewarding achievement to master a level. It’s no easy feat, and there are zero assists whatsoever to aid you in that quest. This is not a game for the faint of heart or the impatient.
It may take up to two hours for you to get acclimatized to the old school style of gameplay, but once you do, the whole game gets quite a bit better and more easily enjoyable. That said, the trial and error nature of the game never gets any easier, and you’ll still be stumbling over yourself for a long time until you learn every level backward and forward.
This is essentially a remake for fans of the original, not something intended to woo a new generation of fans like, say, Bionic Commando Rearmed. The gameplay itself has been purposefully left completely alone, with only the graphics having received an update.
The problem with an update like this is that if you’re a fan of the original, you likely still own it. It’s probably worth spending a few minutes to hook up an old N64 rather than pay another $10. The update to the graphics, while noticeable, is not jaw-dropping. Most of the textures have seen an coat of paint, and character models all look quite a bit better, though, unlike many other remakes of the past few years, these graphics are nowhere close to being called “good” or on par with any full releases. Whereas Bionic Commando Rearmed and Super Street Fighter 2 HD Remix got a full graphical overhaul, PD’s graphics are just as boxy as ever.
Much of the rest of the game remains as archaic as ever too. Classic odd animations persist, and it’s not uncommon to see enemies jump up in the air and do a 360 as they die (I guess it looked cool back in the day).
The most surprising aspect of PD is actually how well its gunplay holds up. It may not be Modern Warfare, but getting into firefights is still a lot of fun. The “sticky” targeting system remains a satisfyingly challenging gameplay mechanic.
We were also surprised by the variety of gameplay. In any given level there are actually a few different ways to play, whether it’s a run-and-gun strategy or a stealth-based operation, there are several different ways to have fun. The levels themselves are the biggest reason why this is possible. For a game of this age, the intricacy is somewhat surprising. Each gameplay strategy presents different challenges within a level.
If you’re going to sneak through the level, killing as few people as possible, then you’re going to need to disable alarms and alert as few people as you can. Whereas a run-and-gun strategy will trigger several alarms and added reinforcements to battle through.
The number one reason why anybody should buy this game is for the online multiplayer modes. It’s essentially a perfect port of the original multiplayer component except it’s now all playable on Xbox LIVE in four-player matches.
This update really speaks to the incredible strength of Rare’s old multiplayer modes, because they provide an amount of variety in gameplay that is hard to find even today. Of course, it’s not up to the same standards of a Modern Warfare 2 or Bad Company 2, but every new game is a new experience. The immense difference between a rocket launchers game and a match with only Golden Magnums (one shot kills) can’t be understated. It’s far more than we’d ever have expected in a $10 game.
What it all comes down to, really, is whether or not you’re familiar with N64-style FPS gameplay. If you’re someone who just started gaming in the last few years you will probably have a very hard time enjoying this game; the generational gap in gameplay design is just too much. But, this game’s biggest fans are going to be those who grew up yearning to play PD against their friends in another town (or just far enough away to keep them from screen-watching).
There are a few redeeming factors in the single-player, but generally this is only a good value if you plan on playing online for most of the experience, or if you’re looking to educate yourself about a bygone era of gaming.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The update is decent, but ultimately these are still much the same as the blocky graphics from the N64, though we weren’t expecting much from a $10 downloadable FPS. 4.0 Control
Gunplay is still surprisingly fluid and fun. The N64 controller translates surprisingly well to the Xbox 360. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s a somewhat annoying techno-esque soundtrack that plays throughout most of the menus, but otherwise the sound design is decent. 3.7 Play Value
Newer gamers will likely find themselves frustrated by the trial-and-error single-player campaign, though it will be a fun return home for veterans of the franchise. The real allure is the surprisingly robust online multiplayer matches. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.