For many, GoldenEye was the game they were truly waiting to see on the Xbox Live Arcade, but thanks to Mr Kirby, we won't ever see it, despite being finished and waiting to be released in early 2008.
Fortunately enough, Rare still had an ace up its sleeve, which was none other than its unofficial continuation, Perfect Dark. With no more legal hindrances to avoid, the project for a remake, 10 years later, finally became a reality in the hands of the 4J Studios team (who previously brought us BK and BT XBLA). And, as in the N64 days, PD still feels like a sequel to the Bond title, but with enough improvements to be Rare's topmost of the shoot'em up genre in the past decade.
Perfect Dark is one of those games that you can't find nowadays. It may be just my nostalgia talking here, but, for some reason, no company seems able to produce such a good and complete product like PD was in 2000. Well, maybe Valve, if I had to think of somebody. But, still, a game with so many modes, options, solo and multiplayer entertainment, cheats, secrets and overall quality is a rare gem in today's world. Having that make a return with better graphics in full HD, good framerate and online modes is basically achieving the perfection that wasn't possible with the limitations of the Nintendo 64.
Rare has never stood out for their complexity on their storylines and, to be fair, PD is not an exception. Its plot isn't revolutionary, but makes an effort to give some interesting cliffhangers and narrative logic on each episode to deserve some attention (which wasn't really the case with its 2005 presequel, Perfect Dark Zero, despite the fact that we don't hate its adventure mode at all around here).
The game tells us the story of dataDyne, a multinational company in the near future, whose tentacles reach almost every part of the civil world. We could probably look on Google as a good example of what they are referring to. Except, when the game saw the light of day in April 2000, Google wasn't that kind of monster and maybe -just maybe- there's no "contact with aliens" part either.
Because, yep, dataDyne has established contact with a reptile-like alien race, the Skedar, with no good purposes at all. But hey, this is a videogame, so there are some good guys as well: the Carrington Institute, commanded by Daniel Carrington, has also had their own contacts with the Skedar's friendly extraterrestrial rivals, the Maians. Those two species have been in a war for centuries, and now the Earth and Humanity are the crucibles for their confrontation, with both dD and the CI as their respective human allies.
We are Joanna Dark, the deadly young woman who got the credentials to become Bond's successor in the XXI Century. Jo is a secret spy from the Carrington Institute who will enter her first mission as a AA+ agent without having full knowledge of what's really going on out there. As the game evolves, we discover the true conspiracy and nature of dataDyne, the Maians and the Skedars.
Despite what I have had to read before the game release, PD has not aged bad. Its missions haven't aged either. Anyone who thinks that, and praise Halo as the culmination of the genre at the same time, has no brain at all, in my opinion. Perfect Dark's missions are not just about going from point A to B using some intergalactic weapons. Just like with GoldenEye, you have objectives on each level; the higher the difficulty level is (Agent, Secret Agent, Perfect Agent and, finally, Perfect Dark), the more secondary objectives you'll have to complete. In addition, each difficulty level comes with a whole range of gadgets, weapons and counterparts to do each of the things you're asked to do. This is not about getting less hits to not die or using more ammo to win.
Moreover, the 17 (plus 3 extra) levels are complex and huge; it doesn't have anything to envy of recent shooters in that aspect. Not only that, the way you approach the missions in those levels may be different depending on what you did earlier in the game. If you completed an specific task or entered the following level through an alternate route, you'll have to do things other ways later.
If that wasn't enough, you can play the whole game both in cooperative and counter-operative modes. With the help of a friend, or with him/her making your life impossible, you can enjoy those missions again and get a new experience. Thanks to Xbox Live, these modes have a full sense of being there now, since you can also play them online! Who wouldn't have wanted that with the N64?
Controls are as complex as the original were, with so many options, but they're much more intuitive, I must admit. With three different control styles (Classic, Spartan and Duty Calls) probably everyone will probably find themselves comfortable playing PD without the N64 controller. At first, it can be a bit annoying, especially when you originally didn't have two control sticks. But soon you'll see that the control has been really polished and adapted to the Xbox controller, and if you ever try to return to the cartridge game on your dusty N64, you'll feel stiffed with the old (albeit still enjoyable) controls.
But Perfect Dark also represents the evolution of one of the most acclaimed multiplayer modes in videogame history. PD's multiplayer is not just what GoldenEye was, but much more. The Combat Simulator, as it's called, includes random deathmatches on many arenas (including three of the beloved GoldenEye ones) with some different modes (Combat, King of the Hill, Hacker Central, Pop a Cap, Capture the Case, Hold the Briefcase), Simulants (bots), limits, weapons and even many teams if you want.
You can find 30 Challenges to be played with up to 1, 2, 3 or 4 friends (with a medal for each group of people). Challenges are pre-set games against bots, and the true way of discovering how hard a Rare game could be in the past. Only hardcore gamers will be able to beat four PerfectSims with some guns in a level with no hiding places.
The Combat Simulator lets you save your favourite settings, disable radars, choose your character body and face like it was Lego Star Wars, and even collect medals with the awesome statistics (time played, ammo used, games won, total kills and even 21 ranks in the multiplayer scale to conquer).
Okay, that's all. Right? Well, no. If you still want to discover some stuff, you can try to beat the target times on each level of the story mode to unlock more than 35 cheats to be able to replay those levels with a twist (tiny characters, slow motion, Monkey mode, invincibility, all weapons available...). Or you may want to practice in the shooting gallery to earn even more trophies. And, of course, you must get all the X360 Achievements. And, unlock the new game awards. Oh, and also finding the hidden location for a piece of cheese on each level. And Leaderboards on Xbox Live, of course; they didn't forget that either. And I bet I still missed some things!
No game is this complete nowadays. Really. This is the good old Rare in its full glory. The Rare we all miss, to be clear. The Rare who made Conker, Banjo, Blast Corps, Donkey Kong Country and GoldenEye. And for just 800 Microsoft Points, the Orange Box was probably not even such a good deal in comparison. So, frankly, if you haven't downloaded it yet, or plan not to, what are you waiting for?!
"A game with so many modes, options, solo and multiplayer entertainment, cheats, secrets and overall quality is a rare gem in today's world. Having that make a return with better graphics in full HD, good framerate and online modes is basically achieving the perfection that wasn't possible with the limitations of the Nintendo 64."10 out of 10