(Nintendo 64)

Perfect Dark (Nintendo 64)

Game Review

Perfect Dark Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Suck it, Bond

From its debut in 1997, developer Rare and the terrifying digital avatar of Pierce Brosnan ruled over the console shooter space in the Nintendo 64 tie-in of a then-two-year-old Bond movie, GoldenEye 007. Not only did it justify the genre on consoles while proving that movie games don’t have to suck, it became one of the defining multiplayer experiences of its generation.

Rare and Nintendo eventually seceded the Bond license to EA, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the good folks in Twycross as they were now able to flex their creative muscles without having to worry about fitting a license. Three years later, their new FPS emerged bigger, badder and better than the old king, and that game was Perfect Dark.

Without the restrictions of a license and in the new context of a futuristic sci-fi world where alien technology was within grasp, Rare was able to implement whatever crazy idea they and their vocal fanbase could come up with, exceptionally visible in the arsenal. A laptop that turned into an automatic weapon that could then be mounted anywhere as a sentry gun; a machine gun that could render you invisible for a short while; a one-hit-kill sniper rifle that could track through walls; pinball hand grenades.

The story is part Blade Runner, part Ghost in the Shell with a whole heap of other sci-fi influences. Set in the year 2023, the game opens with Joanna “Perfect” Dark, a promising new agent with the R&D/espionage group Carrington Institute, as she is sent in to the dataDyne Corporation skyscraper to investigate a suspicious signal sent from a company insider named Dr. Carroll. Once inside, Jo discovers that Dr. Carroll is actually a small AI robot with information on a dataDyne conspiracy in cahoots with the reptilian Skedar aliens. Unravelling the conspiracy takes Jo everywhere from the streets of Chicago to the bunkers of Area 51 and aboard Air Force One.

The action is tighter than GoldenEye, the sci-fi theme allows more outlandish environments and architecture that looks much better than Bond's adventure and the weapon set is more imaginative, not to mention that Perfect Dark has more modes and features than Bond could hope for. Rare threw everything and a wheel of cheese into the game, and even ten years on its feature set would be impressive for a new release. In addition to the single player campaign, there is support for two-player co-op as well as the oddly-not-used-very-often-nowadays Counter-Operative mode, which puts one player in control of a random grunt out to foil Jo’s mission. The enemy player is given the same basic weapon set and health as the stage foes, and once killed the player respawns as another enemy until Joanna either completes the mission or dies.

Taking GoldenEye’s multiplayer and running right to the hills with it, Perfect Dark’s Combat Simulator gave players full control over how they wanted to play while adding in 30 Simulant challenges and even a ranking system. Four players can go at it alongside eight Simulants, or if you didn’t have anyone around then you could take them on yourself. There is enough here for a game of its own and it easily puts Turok: Rage Wars, a dedicated multiplayer-only release, to shame. Rare even included three fan-favourite, reworked GoldenEye maps (Temple, Facility and Complex) and a handful of its most memorable weapons.

No matter how great the game was when it first hit, it shows its age pretty clearly nowadays. What stings the most is the framerate; players made due on the N64 because, hey, it was the N64. Putting up with framerates was like blowing on a NES cart — it was all part of owning the console. Now, though, it’s rough going back to a sub-30fps game that sinks further when things get too hectic. It’s something you learn to deal with, but some game types are nigh-unplayable because of it, particularly the co-op and Counter-Ops missions. Loading up on too many bots can drag things down a bit too, turning everything into a real slideshow. Cranking up the visuals to “hi-res” thanks to the required-but-not-really-required Expansion Pak will only further slow things down.

The N64 controller is also something of a sticking point. While the game’s pacing and design were built to accommodate its limited nature, it’s tough to go back to it after spending years with dual analogues and the Wii Remote + Nunchuk setup. There’s a hokey two-controller setup that fakes having two sticks (which was mind-boggling at the time for an N64 gamer), but it’s more novelty than anything. Not counting sniper rifles, being forced to stand still to line up a precision shot is completely foreign to the genre today as well.

And then of course there are the little things like only being able to fall off certain ledges and the absence of a jump button, although the latter has sort of become a series trademark since 2005’s Perfect Dark Zero on the Xbox 360 omitted it as well (although you could roll around like an idiot). Player speed is also a lot faster here than more recent fare, bringing it closer to Doom and Quake than Halo. For some reason we cannot fathom, shooters seem to have done away with fun cheats like big head mode, of which Perfect Dark features a laundry list. The AI isn't much to write home about either, opting to run at you without regard for personal well-being. And, of course, there's the obvious auto aim that helped make the game work with the N64 pad. Console shooters nowadays still use it, but it tends to be more subtle than seeing your gun twitch across the screen.

But then there are the things that make you appreciate just how far ahead of its time Perfect Dark was. Between the plethora of multiplayer modes and weapons, there are things like dynamic lighting, widescreen support (although not anamorphic, so widescreen owners either have to zoom in or put up with more black bars) and Dolby surround sound. Not to forget the little touches like Jo turning her pistol sideways when close to an enemy or the fact that you can run around with Shigeru Miyamoto's face on your multiplayer character. And while it may feel like more of a relic of an underused peripheral than “the future” nowadays, plugging in the Game Boy Color version with the Transfer Pak would unlock some of the harder cheats. If Nintendo's platforms could do something then, so help them, the Perfect Darks would too. Seemingly the only thing it doesn't do is go online, but that's now been taken care of elsewhere.

Conclusion

Perfect Dark was once amazing and as it turns out is still amazing, even though the genre has changed quite a bit since it was originally released in 2000. It's a simpler game, but that isn't to say simplistic, and it'll certainly take some getting used to for those who have not picked up a three-pronged pad in years. It might be tough to step back in time to relive Joanna's best adventure in its original version, but Perfect Dark proves to still have what it takes to be a really fun shooter for solo gamers and especially great with friends. If this isn't in your N64 collection then you're doing it wrong.

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User Comments (41)

the_shpydar

#3

the_shpydar said:

Just downloaded the XBLA release (came out today) and will be playing it shortly.

Love this game so much that i long ago lost count of how many full playthroughs i've done. But i haven't played it in at least 5 years or thereabouts, so am totally psyched they finally released it (i was about to play through it again on the 64 when they first were rumbling about the XBLA release).

XCWarrior

#4

XCWarrior said:

I loved this game for the N64. Improved on Goldeneye in a lot of ways, with bots for multiplayer alone it was a huge upgrade.

So like 10+ reviews since Monday... but where's the Rage of the Gladiator review?

BlueFlameBat

#5

BlueFlameBat said:

I downloaded the XBLA remake, but it feels weird without an N64 controller. I still have the N64 version (...somewhere...) but the sticks on my N64 controllers are pretty worn out.

Machu

#6

Machu said:

"a wheel of cheese" Nice! ;)

Quite possibly my most played game ever. I completely completed the damn thing which took a lot of effort and time, this game is packed! An amazing game, and a worthy review.

Edit: Regarding the controls, I played it like I would Turok. Moving/strafing with the C-buttons, looking around with the analogue. Full mobility. :)

mnementh

#7

mnementh said:

the original is so much better than the remake. it should be on VC but it's not a big deal. there's so much else.

grenworthshero

#11

grenworthshero said:

Easily a 10/10 in my eyes. There are a lot of things I disagree with, like the framerate making the game "unplayable" at some points (it's not NEARLY as bad as trying to play 4-player Unreal Tournament on the Dreamcast), and the common assertion that first person shooters without dual sticks are inferior in controlling. I will always love old-school FPS games infinitely more than modern shooters, and one of the reasons is the controls are less--what's the word--"pretentious" perhaps?

Token_Girl

#12

Token_Girl said:

@Gren

I never thought I'd ever find someone else who prefers the N64 to dual analog. I'm just too uncoordinated for that. Bring on Wiimote controlled, not super duper serious/pretentious shooters! I would love a good, full shooter I could play with non XboxLive addict friends tourney style at a party! (remember local multiplayer FPS devs?) I can't see doing that with the likes of MW2.

It's better than Goldeneye, but it never got all that much playtime at our house. Whenever people came over, we always played Goldeneye tournaments, because we had always played Goldeneye tournaments, and people didn't want to learn a new game when they didn't play the old one all that often.

Probably will have to pick up an N64 for this, because a 10 year old N64 will probably still last longer than a new Xbox360.

Token_Girl

#14

Token_Girl said:

About the xbox360? RROD/experience in owning PC's/experience with old school consoles lasting forever. I've got friends with working NES's and SNES's. I'd imagine most N64's, unless very poorly treated, have a good bit of life left in them.

Slapshot

#15

Slapshot said:

I remember upgrading my N64 with the Expansion Pack just to play this game! Man that was some fun days back then too lol. OMG the war of N64/Playstation and this game was a highlight for N64. Great Game. Oh LOVE the title Johnathan..... Suck It, Bond = Best NL title so Far ;)

CanisWolfred

#18

CanisWolfred said:

I'll be getting the XBLA reduxed version as a little birthday present to myself. I can't wait!:D 007 with a theme that appeals to me and controls that I can actually understand! AND online multiplayer!...crap, I don't even need to get anything else.:P

grenworthshero

#19

grenworthshero said:

It's okay, we can play co-operative, Token Girl. I have my N64 and PD, and play it regularly. You can come over if you want.

Junkface

#22

Junkface said:

Such a great game and soo great with some buddys. Please Nintendo gods cant something be done ?:( Till that day ... I salute you Perfect Dark.

Wardy

#23

Wardy said:

This is my favorite N64 game. I played Goldeneye into the ground, but this game was so much more fun. It didn't have to follow a movie so that was pretty cool. Weapons like the laptop gun were more fun to use in multi player than even proximity mines. There's more strategy involved in Perfect Dark too. The N64 gets crapped on a lot, but this is one of the best games ever, and I still play it today on my old console.

Guybrush_Threepwood

#25

Guybrush_Threepwood said:

I downloaded the XBLA remake yesterday. It's totally awesome. :) I really hope they do remakes of Jet Force Gemini, Blast Corps and Battletoads for Xbox360, too. :)

JimLad

#27

JimLad said:

Best local multiplayer shooter ever made
Still nothing has surpassed it (TimeSplitters came the closest)

As for controls: Dual Analogue gives you more freedom but the N64 pad was much more comfortable to use. The Wii remote gives even more freedom but can get tiring. The mouse is still the ultimate aiming controller, but I'm not sure how you can make something handheld (that doesn't require a flat surface) to match it for consoles. Track ball maybe? :/

Kawaiipikachu

#28

Kawaiipikachu said:

Great review.
I loved the game hunting down all the cheese great voice acting & a nice story to boot.
Anyone who says this ain't better than Goldeneye should really get there & play this game for once.

bestbuck

#33

bestbuck said:

I played this game to death back in the day. If it were to be released on VC I think I would pass. There are a lot of better games out there FPS have moved on big time

Adenn_Solus

#34

Adenn_Solus said:

not to gloat, but... well, i guess it is to gloat, but I have an xbox 360, and I plan on buying this. Gloating aside, I agree with most of the things said in this review other than the framerate, which I never really had much of a problem with when I had this on the N64. I think it would be cool if new first person shooter brought back the counter operative mode, because that is one of the coolest modes that game had.

JulioMorataya

#35

JulioMorataya said:

Great game, it even had a sort of achievements on missions... I remember being the little alien n multiplayer mode, since you were small, it gave others a hard time targeting you...

JDesensitized

#36

JDesensitized said:

This is still my favorite FPS.

Never got why people put GoldenEye above it. The multi is way inferior to PD's.

mariusv

#37

mariusv said:

Even though the reviewer seems to imply otherwise, my opinion is that Goldeneye is (or was) way better than this game (for me it's actually "the best FPS of all time"), and I'll explain why ! First of all, it was extremely innovative for the genre, surpassing not only the console first-person shooters but even the PC shooters of that time. On the other hand, Perfect Dark's impact was not by any means as memorable, and if you already had a PC, there were much better shooters available like Half-life, Unreal Tournament, or Deus Ex at the time of it's release.

Second, while it arguably had better graphics, Perfect Dark's level design was poor compared to goldeneye, and the story was lame to say the least. So while Goldeneye had some very well thought, diverse and interesting scenes to play around (like facility, bunker, silo, control, caves, aztec, and many others!), Perfect Dark's levels on the other hand were pretty dull and uninspiring (and repetitive), and that hurt it's replay value a lot. And the alien levels...let's just not bring them into discussion okay ?

Third, the overall feel of Perfect Dark was pretty chessy, like a very bad movie with poor voice acting and ridiculous plot and characters (by the way, that "Elvis" dude/alien is by far the most annoying and laughable character in video game history!). In contrast, Goldeneye's story was actually pretty good for a video game, especially a first person shooter !

Fourth, the weapons and targeting system. I never really liked sci-fi based weapons, and, while the "terrestrial" weapons in PD were actually ok, the alien-based ones were simply horrendous (just like the aliens themselves!). On the other hand, being based on real world guns, Bond's arsenal was far more rich and compelling than Joanna's
. Not only did the weapons look and sound right, but they also feeled right, and the distinct sound that the bullets made when hitting enemies was especially rewarding (even if it wasn't very realistic). In Perfect Dark that sound was removed, much to the dissapointment of Goldeneye fans. Also, the simple and intuitive red reticule was removed and replaced by a much more complex and pretty much useless one. (guess that people at rare had never heard of the saying "if something ain't broke, don't fix it!")

And last but not least, the gameplay. I'll say this straight: to this date, I have never encountered a fps that surpasses goldeneye in gameplay terms or downright thrills. NONE. I don't know about you, but there's something extremely exciting and rewarding about completing several well thought objectives in a similarly well thought enviroment, dodging cameras, alarms, and bullets, WITHOUT DYING, often within a timelimit, that makes any other shooter out there (including the broken perfect dark) seem superfluous. That said, the adrenaline rush this game inflicts to you is simply overwhelming and almost every level is hugely thrilling in it's own way, making it by far the closest experience to a (albeit fictious) 007 agent that you'll ever get.

Then there's the replay value. Back when it was released, I could play this game (either in the storymode, either in the "timeattack" mode) all day long, for months and months, and not get bored for a second. It was just that good (this cannot be said of Perfect Dark, who's boring level design, disconnected mission objectives and ridiculous aliens made it much less enjoyable) Overall, I think I have finished the game at least 10 times, altough this could be an understatement. Even now I feel like I could play it again, but the very dated graphics keep me from doing so. Recently I have found out that a remake was due to launch this spring, but it was cancelled because a disagreement between Microsoft and Nintendo. "Bugger" is all that I can say.

PS: I'm not going to comment about the multi-player aspect of the two games because I didn't really get the chance to sample's Perfect Dark's multiplayer, and, while I have played Goldeneye in (two person) split screen for a while and I liked it, the singleplayer was much, much more entertaining for me, and it is the reason why I'm writing this review 13 years after it's release !

DarkCoolEdge

#41

DarkCoolEdge said:

For me this is one of N64's best. The lengthy and very varied and fun campaign, the different difficulties with extra objectives, co-op and contra co-op, the graphics, the amazing multiplayer with tons of customization... this game is just plain awesome andworth every cent (well, peseta back then) of its steep price.

Probably in my podium just behind Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time.

The only thing that would make it even better would be the possibility of playing it with wiimote and nunchuck. That'd be a dream come true, sadly it won't ever happen :__(

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