Perfect Dark and I have a long history together. Despite me not being 17 when it came out (whoops!), I followed its news around like a hawk through Nintendo Power, other magazines, and the very few times I had internet a decade ago. I loved reading the impressions from E3, mourned its delays, and rejoiced when I had it in my hands and in my N64 for the first time. It even, unlike another series, inspired my first forum username, as well as my current Xbox Live Gamertag. I played it, really enjoyed it, beat it within my abilities (unlike most gamers today, my skill in shooting back then was the equivalent to better than an Agent, but less than a Secret Agent in this game. “Somewhat Secret Agent,” perhaps?), and awaited news about a sequel to the game.
That’s not to say that the original game didn’t have its share of problems, because it certainly did. Before writing this review (and hence, playing PD XBLA), I went back home during my Spring Break to play the original N64 version. What’s most noticeable after all these years is the slow framerate. Even with an Expansion Pak, the multiplayer mode would often grind to a staggering halt. If you were someone who liked using Smart Slow Motion and Fast Movement at the same time, you had a hell of a lot of time between deaths and your respawn to... I don’t know, read a book or something. It was that long a wait, and that irritating. The game also liked to let you keep your status effects even after you died. Some jerk/Sim just punch you in the face, creating blurry vision? There’s a good chance your character will still have blurry vision when you come back. And possibly after you died and respawned again.
That being said, it’s been 10 years since its initial release, and I feel that I’ve gone back in time in a few aspects. I mourned its delay from Winter 2009 to the present, I’m still waiting for a sequel despite Perfect Dark 2 being canceled, and I’m still a Somewhat Secret Agent. But most importantly, I’m playing the game I felt I played ten years ago and more, with added improvements, which are challenging tasks for remakes these days.
The story, mostly explained through cutscenes and in-game dialogue, is of new field agent Joanna Dark (or “Perfect Dark,” as Daniel Carrington calls her). Her first assignment for the Carrington Institute is one that leads her into an underlying conspiracy. Put short: Carrington Institute befriends the good alien life forms, and the DataDyne Corporation gets in contact with the bad alien life forms. Hilarity ensues. When I played the game years ago, the plot didn’t really matter to me. While this isn’t against the game, I still feel the same about it. It’s not incredibly essential to the action, but it is there for people who want to delve deeper.
Whereas BK and BT XBLA had small changes such as the addition of the Microsoft Game Studios logo, PD XBLA, quite obviously, has had major changes done to it. Besides the obligatory logo change from Nintendo to MGS (kudos to whoever thought to have the 4J Studios logo replace the N64 logo), DK Mode has been changed to “Monkey Mode,” for legal reasons, and you no longer need your copy of PD GBC and a Transfer Pak to get 4 Cheats. For the latter, all you need is a Perfect Dark Zero game save. The first major change, of course, is the graphics, which leads me right into the next paragraph.
If you played the original, there’s one undeniable fact: the graphics in this game are utterly gorgeous. When put against the original, you can tell that 4J put a lot of love and time in making the game look as players imagined it ten years ago. Yet, despite the updated graphics, some things haven’t changed. The characters don’t move their mouths, making it look like a very pretty Team America: World Police, and their hands are always clenched in fists. Personally speaking, I find it hilarious to see Mr. Blonde grabbing Cassandra’s arms with his knuckles, for example. It’s unintentional comedy. In the end, the graphics are well done, and it’s not worthy of complaint.
Design-wise, the remake definitely either hits or misses. As mentioned before, Joanna looks like Rhianna, which makes it twice as awkward when I hit someone who’s playing as her, or worse (or like Chris Brown, if you prefer), I punch/disarm her. The new Carrington is great, as is Cassandra. Mr. Blonde looks even more menacing. Jonathan (last name not mentioned, for some reason; I could’ve sworn his “Dark” surname was in the original) looks like he’s in his forties, Trent also looks like he’s aged severely, and Elvis, while the new design is fantastic, looks completely serious. The issue with the latter design is that his voice and his few jokes don’t match the way he looks. In the original, you could relate the charming design to the cheesiness. Undoubtedly, your opinions may vary, but I feel some designs were better in the original.
Up next is the music. One of the only aspects that haven’t changed, Kirkhope, Clynick, and Norgate all did an amazing job with the memorable soundtrack. Fans of techno and the electric guitar will be right at home, as the music can go from being melancholy to suspenseful when the game calls for it.
The controls have been changed for the better. The C buttons have been mapped to the bottom-right stick, L aims, R shoots, the right bumper quickly changes your weapons to its secondary function, the left bumper directs you to your quick menu, A is for action, X is to reload, Y is to change guns, and B is to switch guns backwards. As someone who played the original, I found myself getting adjusted to the game fairly quickly. One small touch I like with the new controls is that changing your weapons to its secondary function appears to be faster than it was in the original. For those weaned on Halo and Call of Duty, control schemes based on those two games were added. While I’m not a fan of modern-day shooters (or shooters besides GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and possibly Metroid Prime, to be perfectly honest), I think it was a smart move for 4J/Rare to do this, considering the amount of Halo/Call of Duty players on Microsoft’s consoles.
PD XBLA mends the biggest issues I’ve had with the original: the framerate, and the amount of visual blurriness. As mentioned earlier, it was entirely possible, under the right/wrong conditions, to read a chapter of a book while waiting to respawn from that explosion you died from in the N64 version. In PD XBLA, this is thankfully not the case anymore. Even playing it at its slowest in the Combat Simulator, you’ll quickly respawn before you can read one page of your favorite novel. Regarding the visual blurriness, that problem was fixed as well, and I’ve never been happier to spawn and have my screen with its perfect vision. Both of these improvements truly make me feel like I’ve been playing the game how it was meant to be a decade ago.
With these corrections in mind, multiplayer, both online and off, is a very pleasant experience. One advantage that PD has over modern shooters (and, hell, its sequel) is the insane amount of customization one can do to their specific games. This gives the game an amazing amount of replay value, and the online mode only adds to that. It’s also safe to say that PD XBLA’s online is the best offering Rare has done thus far. When the promise of online play was around in 2000, I could only dream of what PD online could’ve been. Fortunately, 4J made my dreams a reality, as it’s one of the few games where the players I’ve cooperated with aren’t complete jerks. The addition of the GoldenEye 007 guns in multiplayer, particularly in the Classic levels, truly gives the near-perfect illusion that hell has frozen over by playing what could’ve been GoldenEye XBLA.
Also unlike BK and BT XBLA, the Achievements for PD XBLA are thankfully more difficult to get for a Somewhat Secret Agent. Achievements such as beating the first 29 Challenges will take either a great amount of time/sanity to get, or until someone can join in. What I like about these Achievements is that most of them can also be earned in multiplayer. Imagine my joy when I got the Both Barrels achievement (killing an enemy by dual-wielding) by throwing a knife into some poor Simulant’s head in Challenge 1. The majority of them will be easy to get/easier with friends, while some will take more time. I personally don’t think I’ll be getting all of them this time. On a related note, I like how the seemingly hardest Achievement, Crowning Glory, only earns you 5 Gamerscore points. This also applies to the many Awards that come with the game. If you’re a perfectionist (sorry, sorry), you’ll spend a lot of time getting them all.
Now that I’ve got the good out of the way, it’s time to move onto the not-so-good. For starters, very few of the cut scenes look clippy, for the lack of a better word. In the first cinematic upon starting the game, you can see the edges clip out for a bit. In a few of the in-game cinematics, Joanna’s model looks like she doesn’t belong. It’s annoyingly noticeable. Another issue is that, particularly in multiplayer, the game lags just a bit. Now, given that this game is online, I can forgive that being an issue, especially since it doesn’t happen often. Plus, when you’re a survivor of The Great Framerate Slowdown of 2000, things like that don’t bother you.
Another issue is that the choices of gameplay on Live are seemingly random. Granted, I don’t dislike the options available, but it would be nice to have some good old fashioned Team Combat instead of Capturing the Briefcase for the twelfth time. Perhaps it’s just my luck or lack of, but to 4J’s credit (again), I like the ability to choose how I want to shoot and be shot at, and that includes making a room for other players.
Quite possibly my biggest complaint as a fan of the original has to do with the inability to use cheats in a private match online. Now, I understand that the concept of cheats has pretty much gone the way of the dodo with the advent of this generation (seriously; take a look at your favorite games this generation and compare the amount of cheats/codes in the game compared to previous generations), but is there any reason why I can’t activate Monkey Mode with a few of my closest friends for fun? It wasn’t technically cheating in the original, so why is it the case here?
Finally, level design. Again, as a fan, I don’t feel I qualify, but those that love first-person shooters nowadays will probably get confused at the lack of a regenerating health meter or various routes to complete objectives. If you are a modern-day shooting fan and can be comfortable with the lack of hand-holding (as, for example, PDZ does), then this isn’t really an issue. Yet I can’t imagine the majority being okay in a world of regenerating health and relatively straight and linear paths to shoot. Yet, to the game’s credit, the objectives are much more than “Shoot person/alien A.” The higher the difficulty, the more objectives there are to complete. The amount of variation, to this day, is to be commended.
At the end of the day, you’re going to fall into a few categories: either you think GoldenEye 007 or PD XBLA were the greatest FPSes ever made, that Halo or Call of Duty are the greatest, or you’re not a first-person shooter fan, yet you're willing to delve into the genre every once in a while. For the first and the last one, this remake is for you. For the middle ground, at its asking price, it is, at the least, worth looking into what gamers loved before the Xbox became the dominant shooting system.
To me, PD XBLA is equivalent to an ex-girlfriend that you broke up on good terms with. Sure, there were some issues, but the relationship ended on a good note. Now, years later, you meet her again, and your life experience has shown that she’s as nice as you remember her. She’s also single again.
Besides those niggling complaints (and possible complaint from today’s FPS gamers), PD XBLA is everything I wanted. The price was correct, the improvements were significantly worthwhile, and a game I’d replay any chance I got back home is playable whenever I want. Again, at its price, it’s well-worth looking into and hopefully enjoying. 4J Studios went so beyond the call of duty in remaking this game, that it now holds a standard for past Rare classics to (hopefully) be rereleased on the Xbox Live Arcade. PD XBLA gives you so much bang for your buck, that it brings BK and BT XBLA’s asking prices to shame.
Mark's final verdict
"4J Studios went so beyond the call of duty in remaking this game, that it now holds a standard for past Rare classics to (hopefully) be rereleased on the Xbox Live Arcade. PD XBLA gives you so much bang for your buck, that it brings BK and BT XBLA’s asking prices to shame."10 out of 10