Reviewed: July 1, 2001
Released: May 22, 2000
When Rare’s often delayed, unofficial sequel to GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark was released last May it proved that all good things come to those who wait. Indeed, many a gamer had been waiting for a sequel to GoldenEye since that FPS was released way back in 1997. Rare has effectively delivered that sequel, though without everyone’s favorite secret agent.
Replacing Bond, in a near future setting, is Dark, Joanna Dark, code name: Perfect Dark, a 23 year old agent working for the Carrington Institute. The game starts off as what seems to be a simple mission to rescue a scientist before he’s killed, but before long Joanna is going toe-to-toe with traitors, clones, and aliens in an effort to save the galaxy; yes that’s right, the galaxy is saved by someone named Joanna.
Perfect Dark is definitely a cut above GoldenEye in nearly every way and for good reason, as it basically requires you to have the Expansion Pak for your M64 system. The inclusion of in game speech is a welcome addition, as is the new multi-purpose weapon system. Looking at the game, you can tell it was designed by the same group responsible for Bond, though the whole thing looks much smoother.
Perfect Dark combines fun with one of the slickest most intuitive control schemes on any console giving you much more than your $40 worth. Keep in mind though that you will need an Expansion Pak to enjoy all of the features touched upon in this review (see side chart).
When you start the game, you have the option to explore the Carrington Institute. There you can explore the hangars, shoot the breeze with your boss, Daniel Carrington, head down to the firing range, or get in some hand-to-hand practice among other activities. When you're ready you can start your mission. The level setup is just like GoldenEye’s, there are better than 20 mission-based levels, the objectives of which range from search and destroy, to save the hostages, to sneak and steal ala Metal Gear. As you adjust the difficulty setting, the number and complexity of each mission’s objectives increases. For most people the Agent setting will be too simple, this is compensated for by the challenging Special Agent setting and the downright nightmarish Perfect Agent setting.
The other thing that changes between difficulty settings is the enemy AI. Even in easy mode the enemies make the GoldenEye goons look like Special Ed dropouts. In Perfect Dark they won’t just blaze away at you, but use squad tactics to advance and cut you down. As the difficulty setting rises so does the enemies’ durability, speed, and tactics, and in the later levels, they use their weapons just as well, if not better than you do. Charge into a room full of enemies, pistols akimbo and blazing and you’ll likely be looking at the red screen of death momentarily.
Speaking of weapons, Perfect Dark features more than 30 and each one has a secondary function that can be accessed by holding the B button for a few seconds. For instance, the rocket launcher has both dumb-fire and lock-on fire modes, the K7 assault rifle has a threat sensor to locate gun turrets, mines, and bombs. Even your fists have a secondary function, allowing you to disarm your opponent (keep in mind however that, on at least one level, the enemy agents have a back up weapon).
The coolest and most useful weapon has got to be the laptop gun (yes, a laptop gun), which in secondary mode becomes an auto-firing, wall-mounted gun turret, mowing down baddies with lethal precision. In the later levels of the game, mastering the secondary functions of your weapons is imperative for success. In addition to the weapons in your inventory you also carry an array of gadgets to do Q himself proud, including remote cameras, hacker up-links and X-ray glasses.
As Nintendo 64 games go, Perfect Dark is clearly on top of the heap in terms of graphics. The characters are smoothly animated and their skins look great, they also react differently depending on where you shoot them and, unlike in GoldenEye, a shot to their chest is more often than not fatal. The more sadistic gamers out there may want to play around and see how many different wound and death animations they can trigger. Speaking of wounds, the blood spatter looks great.
The cinematic cut scenes are all rendered with the game engine and look great. Facial animation would have been great, but the lack thereof really doesn’t take anything way from the experience. One complaint though; the frame rate can bog down at times, but it stays playable and rebounds quickly.
Perfect Dark supports Dolby and supports it well, the gunfire and footsteps echo off of the walls and shell-casings clatter to the floor. The voice work is superb, the enemy calls out when they spot you and it never seems to get repetitious.
There are lots of ambient noises, like fans, leaking pipes and distant sirens, and like the rest, it all sounds great. The music is in a similar vein to GoldenEye’s electronic spy tunes but naturally sounds better. If you don’t have a surround system for your TV, Perfect Dark is ample reason to invest in one.
If your goal is to simply beat the game, you can probably do it on Agent in a day, but that’s no fun. Crank that sucker up to Special Agent and you’ll be occupied for weeks; longer if you want to unlock all of the cheats, which in turn add more replay value because you’ve got to try them all out.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the game's multiplayer mode, without exaggerating, the options have options! Needless to say this results in A) one of the most flexible multiplayer console games out there and B) endless replay value. As I said before, after you beat the single player missions, what will keep you coming back will be Perfect Dark’s multiplayer modes which are played via split-screen. These range from Capture the Case and Deathmatch to King of the Hill.
Within these game types you can choose human opponents or "simulants". One surprise is that the simulants can put some of your buddies to shame in terms of skills and tactics. Playing against a "PerfectSim" can be downright spooky. After you pick opponents and teams you can choose the arena, weapons, and time limit.
Many of the items and gadgets really come into play in multiplayer, like the Cloaking device. You haven’t lived ‘til you have a "CloakSim" materialize in front of you and flash flame you with a rocket. The same gripe I had before and is worth mentioning here is that sometimes when things get busy on screen, the frame rate will bog down. It's not quite as bad as GoldenEye and it never gets unplayable, but it’s still there.
Aside from standard FPS multiplayer features, Perfect Dark also has Cooperative and counter-operative options. Co-op allows you and a friend or a simulant to play through the game’s missions in tandem. Having trouble with a mission? Have a friend come over and give you a hand. Counter-op is just the opposite. Your buddy can control the enemies as you try to use Joanna to complete the mission. As long as there are enemies left, the enemy player will continue to respawn into their bodies.
Perfect Dark is without a doubt one of the top 10 games available for the Nintendo 64. As the system nears the end of its life, it’s good to see developers like Rare continuing to develop quality software for it. This game is a great buy at any price and you should be able to pick it up for under $40. If you don’t have an Expansion Pak yet here is an excellent reason to get one.
Joanna Dark has shown her self to be a worthy successor to 007. Perfect Dark contains all the flavor of GoldenEye and then some. It is without a doubt the best FPS available for the Nintendo 64 and easily a front-runner on the console scene over all.