Review: Perfect Dark Zero (XB 360)

Perfect Dark Zero
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Rare Limited
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 11/17/05

Outside of the now delayed Oblivion (sorry, Lee), Perfect Dark Zero is probably the most anticipated launch title for the Xbox 360, and with good cause. Rare originally announced the title when they signed on as a developer for Microsoft some four years ago, so there’s been plenty of time to build up interest. Not that there isn’t a good reason for all that interest; Rare was the developer behind Goldeneye, which is considered one of the greatest console first-person shooters ever made.

/end hyperbole

On the other hand, half of Rare’s staff defected in 2000 to form Free Radical, the company responsible for the “Timesplitters” franchise, and the few games Rare released on the Xbox weren’t exactly taking the gaming world by storm. So, yeah, it’s Perfect Dark, and yeah, Rare made Goldeneye, but so what? Was anyone really excited for “Grabbed by the Ghoulies”? Were there that many people that missed “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” the first time around? So there wasn’t exactly a good precedent set for Perfect Dark Zero. Even so, I was more than happy to pick up PD0 with my 360, if only because I really, really wanted it to be good. So let’s take a look, you and I, and see if Perfect Dark Zero lives up to the hype.


Joanna Dark, ace super spy of Perfect Dark fame, is an ace super spy in training this time around. She, her father John Dark, and their associate Chandra are tasked with saving a scientist from an evil bastard with delusions of taking over the world. Things don’t go according to plan, of course, and Joanna is forced into a plot of mystery, intrigue, and betrayal, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. So, y’know, the usual stuff.

The plot is by-the-numbers, though it does what it does well enough that players won’t really take exception to the lack of depth. Those who have played Perfect Dark will appreciate that the game introduces exactly how and why Joanna Dark ended up working for Carrington Industries, though the game doesn’t really do much to introduce Daniel Carrington and crew to those who might not have played the original game. Also, a lot of the storyline is silly and over the top, like Mai Hem (pronounced “May Hem”, yes, really) and “Deathmatch Headquarters”, though it’s forgivable for the most part. In any case, you’re not really going to be playing this game for the storyline, which in this case is probably for the best.

Story Rating: 5/10


If you’re looking for a game that can be a sort of visual showpiece for the power of your Xbox 360, this game is it. From a visual standpoint, PD0 is absolutely outstanding, and shows off exactly what the 360 can do. The character models are all very well rendered, and their faces are expressive and of obviously high poly count. The main characters all look great, but the random goons you face still look surprisingly high quality, and all of the characters animate very fluidly. Game environments are also very high quality, as are the things that populate them, and a sizeable portion of the game world is destructible in some form or fashion. Clipping is reduced to an absolute minimum and I honestly never even noticed any at all. The frame rate never noticeably dipped when playing, and I never experienced any slowdown either.

The only real complaints I can bring against the game come from the camera. Okay, it’s a FPS, I know, but let me explain. When your character goes behind cover, the game pulls out to a third person perspective, so that you can turn and tilt the camera to see enemies around the corner. This still looks solid, but there were a couple of occasions where I found the camera to be obstructed by something just behind the character, so instead of staring down a hallway, for example, I’d be staring at a palm leaf. This isn’t frequent, but it does happen. Also, for some reason, rag doll physics are all the rage with developers these days, and while they do simulate how the body might move semi-realistically, they still look absurd, especially here. I’d also like to see characters have an actual animation for switching weapons, instead of just magically seeing new weapons appear in their hands, but that’s probably a pipe dream. Overall, minor quibbles aside, PD0 is, honestly, damn pretty, and you wouldn’t be ashamed to take it home to meet your mother.

Graphics Rating: 9/10


PD0’s music consists mostly of cheesy techno beats, though there’s nothing overly disagreeable on the soundtrack. The intro theme is solid (though the band that produces it is from my home state, so I might be biased), and the rest of the music fits the theme of the game well enough. As it is with most (if not all) 360 games, you can use your own custom soundtracks in place of the game music, so if it grates, you can easily turn it off.

The sound effects, on the other hand, are all sorts of aural goodness. Each gun features a distinctly different effect for its discharge, and they all sound appropriate to the weapon in question. Heavy weapons sound appropriately destructive, and pack a definite punch that fits perfectly. The few energy weapons in the game don’t pack as much of a punch, unfortunately, but their effects are fitting. Kudos also to the voice acting; at times it’s cheesy and over the top, but for the most part (except for Jonathan, who sounds like Maculay Culkin) the actors provide solid performances all around.

Sound Rating: 7/10


FPS fans should have no problem adjusting to PD0’s controls right off the bat. Your left stick controls movement, and the right stick takes up aiming duty. The right trigger fires your primary weapon, and the left trigger either performs the gun’s secondary function or, if applicable, fires the weapon in your left hand. The face buttons perform basic functions like opening doors, switching weapons, and punching people in the mouth, and the D-Pad allows you to put your weapons away, as well as use spy gadgets if applicable. The only new features PD0 features over other games in the genre are the ability to dive around, thus making it harder to be hit, and the “Cover” feature, which (unsurprisingly) allows you to take cover behind walls, boxes and other environmental knick-knacks, MGS-style. The controls are all simple to use, and as the first mission acts as a tutorial to the controls, you should be able to pick up the game with no problems.

The game offers two ways to get your shoot on: Campaign, where you go through the story mode (either by yourself or with a friend), or Deathmatch, where you get some friends (or bots) together and start blasting. The Campaign is by far the weaker of the two options in this case; aside from the bland and cliched story, the actual Campaign missions themselves aren’t terribly fun, especially if you’ve played Goldeneye or the original Perfect Dark. Both of the afore-mentioned games offered more interesting plots (I can’t really say BETTER, since… y’know… Elvis. Ugh.) and more of an entertaining experience. The single player campaign in PD0 just seems like it’s here because it HAS to be here. The co-op play option makes it more tolerable, but it doesn’t really make it any better.

A lot of the problems with the single player campaign come from the distinct lack of anything to do beyond shooting people. I mean, that’s fun, yeah, but when there’s really nothing else to do, it can get old. PD0 does little to rectify this, unfortunately; playing with the various gadgets isn’t as entertaining as you’d think, especially since most of them are basically puzzle mini-games that last all of five seconds apiece, or they involve piloting a mobile spy camera. There’s also a distinct lack of vehicular activity in the single player mode; games like Halo 2 and Farcry: Instincts featured all sorts of amusing driving sequences, but in PD0, you’ll really only see two, one of which ends before it begins. It can also be hard to figure out exactly where you’re supposed to be going at times; the game has a tendency to simply expect you to mill around a level, looking for your objectives, until eventually it decides you’ve suffered enough and points the way for you. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, but several of the levels can be very confusing to navigate, because the various rooms look similar to one another. All in all, the campaign is bland and basic, and won’t win any fans, especially since far superior single player FPS games exist.

Deathmatch, on the other hand, rocks. There are two basic options available from the main screen: Deathmatch and Black Ops. Deathmatch offers up your staple DM match types, including Killcount (kill everything that moves), Team Killcount (duh), Capture the Flag (grab the opponent’s flag, run it to your base), and Territorial Gains (King of the Hill; capture and control land for points). Dark Ops really offers you the interesting stuff, though; all of the game modes under this heading are different, if not unique to PD0. The game modes here include Eradication (see Killcount, except people don’t respawn), Onslaught (take turns defending and assaulting a base; control of the base switches between rounds), Infection (a team of “infected” players fights a team of regular players, and regular players killed by the infected become infected themselves), and Sabotage (protect your equipment while destroying their equipment). Each of the Dark Ops modes also feature various vehicles and guns from the get-go, so long as you can sport the cash for them; you’re given a set amount of cash to start out, though you can earn more by either completing the mission objectives or by providing your opponents with lead enemas (I’m running out of creative euphemisms here). These modes tend to be a lot more strategic (well, as strategic as an FPS can be), but they’re no less action-packed.

Once you really get into a deathmatch of some type, all of the major issues you would take with the single player campaign seem to melt away. The levels are all suitably sized, and allow plenty of room for players to run around shooting at each other in. Most of the deathmatch stages offer strategic combat locations (choke points, sniper spots, etc) for those who are so inclined, as well as large open areas for those that just want to run around guns blazing. Diving around and using cover suddenly become a necessity, and you’ll find yourself checking your six on instinct more often than not. The only thing I’ve come to notice is that the strike attack seems a tad over-powered (largely because it ignores body armor), but as most of my time spent in deathmatch was spent clutching a DEF-12 shotgun, I can safely say that a round of buckshot is a nice deterrent to such problems.

I do have to lodge a complaint with the Cover option, however. Cover basically allows you to take cover behind whatever’s nearby that can accommodate it. In theory, you should be able to take cover behind anything of appropriate size, but the game isn’t quite laid out like that. A lot of the things you’ll assume you should be able to take cover behind (rounded walls, trucks, debris) simply don’t accommodate such attempts, and finding this out the hard way will most likely lead to your own frustrating demise. Also, you pretty much have to hit the Cover sweet spot to see the “Cover (A)” option pop up, and with boxes, crates, and other open-air cover locations, you stand a large chance of going into cover, only to find you’re looking out in entirely the wrong direction. You’ll tend to spend most of your time online in pitched firefights, though, so you’ll find that this isn’t something that will really detract from the experience any.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 7/10


Well, the bad news is, you probably won’t find yourself itching to take the Campaign missions on again any time after completing them. The good news is, the Deathmatch is so fun, you won’t need to. The multiplayer options in the game far and away make the game a keeper, and they’ll keep you coming back at LEAST until Halo 3 comes out. If you’re really only interested in the single player campaign or unlockables of various sorts, you probably won’t come back once you beat it, but that’s really not why the game exists, so consider yourself warned.

Replayability Rating: 8/10


There are four different difficulty levels for the campaign missions, which can also be used to customize the difficulty of bots in deathmatch games. Three of those difficulties are available from the get-go, with the fourth, Dark Agent, being locked until you manage to complete the game on the previous difficulties. So, depending on how good you are, you can tailor the challenge to suit your tastes, which helps a bit, especially when you’re trying to fill in spaces in online deathmatches. This will also allow you to hone your skills offline so that you can perform better online, obviously. On the other hand, there’s really no way to handicap good players that I’ve found so far, so players of lesser quality will have to silently suffer the slings and arrows of top ranked players until they improve. Well, not so much “silently suffer” as “scream profanity into Teamchat as they suffer” but I’ve found that other players don’t like that so much.

Balance Rating: 7/10


… I don’t really need to spell this out, do I?

It’s Perfect Dark with prettier graphics and two control sticks. If you’ve played an FPS in the past, oh, five years, you really aren’t going to see anything new here. PD0 does nothing to reinvent the genre, instead simply sticking to conventions, but it does them very well. That said, this game has not a single bone of originality in its body, save for a couple of the Black Ops game modes. It’s more or less the same game we’ve been playing since Goldeneye, but if you’re a fan of the series… well, that’s probably what you were hoping for, isn’t it?

Originality Rating: 1/10


The single player campaign probably won’t keep you coming back for more; most likely, you’ll play through it to beat it, then never touch it again. But the first time you get down in an eight-person Deathmatch, you’ll be hooked. You’ll want to find guns you can use well, people you can team up with, levels you can master, and so on, until you look up one night and realize that “oh my god, I’ve been DMing for ten hours!” PD0 offers a highly addictive online experience, and anyone who has an appreciation for the deathmatch will want to latch onto a copy of this, period.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10


If you have an Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, or if you like Deathmatch gaming, you should play this. If you liked the multiplayer options in Goldeneye or Perfect Dark, you should play this. If you’re looking for the next Half-Life, stay far, far away. Everything here is in the multiplayer, so your interest in the game will be directly affected by that. If you’re only interested in the single player experience, this is a rental, at best, but for everyone who wants to get down on Xbox Live, you really should grab a copy of this, seriously.

Appeal Rating: 7/10


Well, it did kind of break my heart a little that Rare couldn’t put together a better campaign mode than they did, especially considering how good the single player modes of Goldeneye and the original Perfect Dark were. It makes sense that they were under a time constraint, and probably had to toss in whatever they could manage, but I’d still rather something with more meat to it next time around. There are also less weapon options in PD0 (25) than in the original Perfect Dark (30 or so), and while the weapons in PD0 are actually different from one another and show more variation than the guns in Perfect Dark… well, I miss the Cyclone. Still, PD0 is going to stay in my collection for a long time to come, and if that’s not a good enough reason for me to recommend it to others, I don’t know what is.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores:
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 7/10
Control/Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10

Overall Score: 6.8/10
Final Score: 7.0 (GOOD)

Short Attention Span Summary
Perfect Dark Zero isn’t “perfect” by any means, but it is pretty damn fun. If you’re looking for a solid, engaging single player experience, you’re not going to find it here, but if multiplayer is your thing, you should definitely pick this up the next chance you get. There’s a lot of variety in the match types and weaponry, and if nothing else, this should definitely keep you entertained until Halo 3 comes out.



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