December 10, 2007
Perfect Dark Zero had a torrid time in development before finally hitting shelves in time for the launch of the 360 in November 2005. The sequel to the highly-acclaimed N64 title Perfect Dark spanned three different consoles, two generations and half a decade; yet many still feel it could have used another few months of polish before it hit the shelves. The game may have been received well in 2005, but two years on, is it still worth a purchase?
The game kicks off in 2020 - three years prior to the original. You reprise the role of the bounty hunter Joanna Dark, teaming up with her father to track down a scientist who is in the hands of a Triad crime lord. To be honest though, the storyline isn’t really important; it just allows Rare to send you around the world killing truckloads of henchmen. It’s made worse by a cheesy, clichéd script and lacklustre voice-acting, but we’re not playing an RPG so I won’t let it affect the overall score.
Before you jump into the relatively short single player game - 10 hours or so on the regular mode - you must select your difficulty level. I mention this early because it really does alter your whole experience, due to the unforgivable enemy A.I at the higher levels and the lack of a quicksave option. However, if you are willing to put the time and effort into the game at the higher difficulty settings you are rewarded with slightly more Achievement Points on completion; although this entry in the series doesn’t offer a cheat menu which may disappoint fans of the original.
You begin your first mission with a modest selection of weapons, and by picking new ones up and keeping them in your inventory you get to use them in later levels. This system, along with the fact that you only have four weapon slots (enough for four pistols, two SMG’s or one rifle) encourages you to replay completed missions to gain access to the large amount of diverse weaponry scattered throughout the lengthy campaign. Each weapon has a secondary function, with some also having a third and these help liven the action up, especially in multiplayer. They range from a simple silencer, to a throwaway sentry gun or X-ray vision, and can really affect the outcome of an encounter if used in the correct manner.
The game controls very much like your typical first person shooter in terms of its button layout; but there is a distinct lack of a jump button which could aggravate Halo players. The crosshair at default is also slower than that of Halo’s; although a nice motion blur effect is shown when turning quickly giving the impression you’re moving quicker than you actually are. Secondary fire is mapped to RB which is handy, however tertiary functions require you to hold LT and tap RB and can be a bit fiddly. You can also roll out of the way of oncoming bullets by tapping LB and cover against walls with the A button. These are both excellent additions to the gameplay, especially as the camera reverts to a Gears of War style third-person perspective when using them - which looks really nice and gives you a better view of your surroundings. Overall the controls will take time to get used to, but you never feel hindered by them when in a fierce encounter, be it single or multiplayer.
Another thing to note is the inclusion of a health bar. The health regeneration bandwagon was only just starting to gain momentum when PDZ shipped, so we’re left with a distinctly last generation health and armour meter which will gradually deplete when shot at. This makes the campaign somewhat harder, as unlike in Call of Duty where you could drop down into cover for a few seconds and return fighting fit, you have to be conscious of your wellbeing the whole time. Once your armour's gone, your health will take a great deal of damage when you’re hit, only regenerating a small amount of “shock damage” after each firefight. There are no health pick-ups either, so if you’re down to half-life five minutes into a mission you’ve got to deal with that for the duration. You will find the odd armour vest during a level, but the game tends to make you stay in character as much as possible to avoid injury, you are a spy after all.
Just like the health system, the A.I. in-game is stuck in the last generation. Once an enemy has spotted you, nine times out of ten they’ll blindly run at you ignoring the fact that you and five of your allies are pumping hot lead into them. Even worse, the enemies communicate with each other, but you’ll never see them flush you out with a well placed grenade or attempt to flank you. It’s a shame the dialogues so superficial, as it really immerses you in the environment when you hear an enemy react to your own actions. Your own squad mates aren’t much better, often running ahead of you and getting themselves shot which will result in a mission failure, sending you back to the start. The campaigns saving grace is the inclusion of on and offline co-op. When playing with a friend you can ignore many of the games faults, because you can play on the more challenging difficulty settings without worrying about dying every few seconds. Dark Agent is ridiculously hard on your own, I mean I’ve done the Call of Duty’s and Gears of War on the hardest difficulty and can’t even do the first level here on Dark Agent. Bring in a friend though and it’s actually possible, with enough communication, to gain those coveted 50 points of Gamerscore on completion of the game, you may even enjoy it!
You can definitely waste a good amount of time on co-op, but the multiplayer aspect of the game is where you’ll spend most of your time. Even two years after release, the game still has a cult following which will ensure you get into a match without too much trouble. Before you venture online you must first decide between the games’ two modes: Deathmatch and Dark-ops.
First of all Deathmatch is a traditional selection of game types: Killcount, Team Killcount, Capture the Flag and Territorial Gains: all pretty self explanatory if you’re familiar with online First Person Shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. These modes allow the host to choose which weapons players can pick up, and where they spawn (to a degree). Players will spawn after dying, and this guarantees the games are frantic for the whole duration, especially on the smaller maps where the spawn points are closer together.
For a more tactical affair, players should look towards Dark-ops for their kicks. Rather than having one long game, Dark-ops splits matches into rounds, with players on two teams buying their weapons in between each one based on their previous performance. This places more emphasis on staying alive, as you do not spawn after dying and lose all the weapons you’ve already purchased. Tactics and communication are key here, lose too many of your team early and you’ll be fighting on the back foot not only in this round, but the remaining rounds too as the lack of money limits your attacking options. It’s a great mode for players after a console alternative to Counter Strike, or those looking for a slower-paced affair.
The game offers six basic maps in the retail package, each having three different variants or ‘bases’ that determines which areas of the map are open and which are closed off. The maps range from excellent (Desert or Urban) to downright dull (Subway), and unfortunately you’ll find it hard to get into games online which feature the lesser renowned locations. As a whole there’s enough variation for you to be able to find map to suit your gametypes needs, and the base options ensure the games are never over or under populated. There are additional maps to download from the Marketplace, including a couple of classics from the original game and Goldeneye, which will surely please the older fans of the series. You are not able to customise the base layout on these maps, so they aren’t as universally playable as the six original maps, but you should find a match type to enjoy on each one providing you can find enough players.
The achievements for the game are hard. There’s no getting around it; you will plough hours into completing the single player mode on Perfect and Dark Agent settings. As mentioned above, the lack of a quicksave option will mean you could realistically retry a level over a hundred times before finally nailing it, and all for just fifty points. Multiplayer achievements are slightly more generous, although there are still some real nightmares like the “Play 1000 Dark-ops Matches” achievement. Seeing as some games span ten rounds - with each one lasting a maximum of ten minutes - you’re going to be playing for a long time before attaining that magical thirty points. To put this into perspective – I played the game solidly for three months when it first released, and I’m still lagging behind with just over 600 points – so kudos to anyone who’s managed the full thousand.
The weapons sound really beefy when fired, especially the M60. The voice-acting doesn’t really help or hinder the badly written script - which like the generic spy soundtrack – is largely forgettable. However the game does possess a pretty good title song and decent menu music that isn’t likely to annoy you while you wait to enter a multiplayer match.
The game varies between being really ugly - with some plain textures and pixellated character models (in multiplayer anyway) to being quite pleasant on the eye - using nice lighting effects and excellent gun models that are animated to perfection. Some graphical glitches are present in multiplayer, with floating bodies a frequent occurrence.
Definitely not for everyone, but those who can adapt to the slower pace will find the game enjoyable, both offline and online. A good catalogue of weapons and gametypes will keep you coming back to the multiplayer, but the single-player doesn’t offer much replayability unless you go through on the harder difficulties.
Graphics are outdated when compared to newer titles, but the menu system and multiplayer setup hold up well and should allow you to get into match without too much difficulty. Nice selection of Downloadable Map Packs available via Live. Plot is a bit of a mess, but doesn’t stand in the way of the gameplay.
A nice selection of both online and offline achievements; although they’re not particularly original or imaginative. Completing the game on various difficulties, playing a certain amount of online gametypes and acquiring kills pretty much sum them up; so some boosting may well be in order to reach the harder multiplayer achievements. Prepare to spend a good 100 hours on these.
Ultimately, your enjoyment will depend on your willingness to conform to the tastes of the ailing community found online. The single player game definitely won’t stand up to the likes of Call of Duty or Halo, but if you don’t mind the repetition of playing the same few maps over and over, you’ll find a surprisingly deep, action packed multiplayer mode that’s bound to please all fans of the genre.