We’ve been waiting years for her arrival and we’re happy to have her back. by Colin Thames
November 25, 2005 – Joanne Dark has returned. She’s the super sleuth/bounty hunter and star of the game Perfect Dark Zero that debuted on the N64 six years ago. This version is a prequel that attempts to explain how she became the perfect agent. I use the word “attempts” because the story is so convoluted that I’m more confused than ever.
It’s not the storyline that matters in this game. At least you can take advantage of the cutscenes to take a swig of your pop and a few more bites of your submarine sandwich. What really matters is the gameplay and both the single-player and multi-player modes deliver the goods although you are likely to find the single-player mode more of an intense training session for your adventures online where you can play with up to 32 other humans. Be prepared to spend a lot of time online because this game lives to serve up multi-player fun. This isn’t Halo, but you might say it’s related through marriage. I don’t even know what that means.
Perfect Dark Zero doesn’t quite blow the doors off other Xbox 360 titles in terms of visuals but we’ll chalk that up to having spent a lot of it’s development life as a GameCube, then Xbox title. It’s still a damn fine looking game which will increase and decrease in visual glitzy love depending on what kind of TV and resolution you’re playing it on. But it really is mixed bag as some things look incredibly sharp while other textures look like they were lifted from the N64. Okay, that last statement might be slightly exaggerated but in any event the game is up and down.
As far as I can tell, Joanna is set to take over the family bounty hunting business. Large corporations are becoming more brazen as business practices are more focused on world domination causing several warring factions among these mighty empires. With help from her father Jack, Joanna is poised to refine her techniques until she becomes the perfect agent.
Missions are linear, but there’s a good excuse for this that’s built into the storyline. In an effort to perfect her skills, Joanna must accomplish missions is a specific order, graded on difficulty. You can’t move on until you complete the mission. There are four difficulty levels: Agent, Secret Agent, Perfect Agent and the incredibly difficult Dark Agent. Agent level is easy and perfect for beginners. It’s filled with help features and waypoints to point you in the right direction. The aiming system is very accurate for all levels allowing you to make headshots a lot easier than most shooters, which is a good thing because the AI can take plenty of shots to the body before they fall in a heap. The Perfect Agent level forces you to clean up everything in each mission including all of the enemies and hidden items.
You don’t even want to know about the Dark Agent. Only the hardest of the hardcore will see the ending credits on this difficulty level. On Dark Agent, the AI becomes far more accurate with their aiming and they also increase in numbers. This is most frustrating because the AI is not very smart to begin with and doesn’t demonstrate an exponential increase in intelligence, there are just more of them and they shoot first, ask questions never. They are not programmed to react to dynamic situations with various strategies. As soon as they see you they will begin shooting and give chase. They may retreat or take cover when you gain the upper hand but mostly they will just continue rushing at you. Setting off an alarm sends a seemingly endless parade of guards out to get you and they all know where you are. In such situations you can’t stay in one place for long. You have to run, and if possible take cover.
Taking cover is easier said than done thanks to the fact that you must be cordially invited by the CPU to do so. You can’t just perform this move anywhere. Your character must be positioned at a select spot before the CPU prompts you with the icon of the A button which is displayed onscreen when you’ve reached a hot spot. Press the button, take cover and keep your fingers crossed.
Specific weapons will be needed to complete some levels. There are ranged weapons such as sniper rifles and melee, stealth style weapons such as the Viblade. These weapons also include secondary systems such as a radar sweep that can be combined with gadgets such as the CamSpy and the AudioScope. You have four slots per weapon which limits you to carrying only one large main weapon such as a shotgun, Superdragon, P9P, pistols or SMG.
Stealth and puzzle solving are minor elements in the game. They occur predictably in every mission but are a welcome change from the repetitious pace of the core shooting gameplay. One of the most frustrating aspects of the game is having to replay levels when you screw up near the end. There is a checkpoint where you can respawn in the middle of the level but at the expense of keeping your stats. If you want to complete the entire single-level mode in all difficulties, you will need these stats and thus have to start all over again if you get killed. The scripted code requires that your memory is superior to your reflexes since events are not randomized.
Playing through the campaign in co-op mode is certainly a lot more fun than going it alone, although the training you receive will serve you well for online play. The split screen allows each player to tackle different objectives from different perspectives while working toward a common goal. Certain gameplay elements force you to into teamwork situations which helps to solidify the nature of the co-op mode.
Online modes include Co-op, Deathmatch and DarkOps, each with various sub modes. Modes in the Deathmatch category include the basic frag fest fair such as Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, Killcount and Territorial Gains. Customizing features allow you to select the weapons set, number of players and dispersion of bots. DarkOps modes include Eradication, Onslaught, Infection and Sabotage. Eradication is like a team-based last man standing. Onslaught has one team attacking while the other defends. Infection is every man for himself. Each player begins with full health and if he become infected he tries to spread it around so as to infect as many players as possible. Sabotage is similar to Onslaught but teams now attempt to defend property while the other team tries to destroy it.
There are not a lot of vehicles in these modes but you will get plenty of use out of the jetpacks and the hover tank. Using the jetpacks you can take a machinegun with you to do a good amount of damage but keep in mind that you’re a sitting duck in the sky when the other team spots you and gangs up on you. The hover tank accommodates one driver and one gunner who can choose from an assortment of weapons such as turret guns, machine guns or a rocket launcher. The vehicles respond nicely and are a joy to drive but they are vulnerable so you probably won’t be in danger of overusing them.
The online games run smoothly. There are only half-a-dozen maps but they are huge and include a variety of terrain. The Deathmatch announcer really gets on my nerves and there’s no way to get rid of him short of turning the sound off.
The graphics are clean, almost to a fault as virtually every surface displays too much gloss – even on dusty, dirty stonework. The environments display a good blend of natural scenery and human architecture that is consistent with the epoch. Some of the buildings and structures such as some bridges are on such a huge scale that you really need a large screen to do it justice. The animations are great as are the character models. Guns and explosions are crisp and loud and punctuate the soundtrack which features an eclectic mix of techno and rock with traces of twangy spy riffs.
Perfect Dark Zero must be played online to be appreciated. If you don’t have Xbox Live, this is the perfect reason to get it.
By Colin Thames
CCC Freelance Writer