Saturday, July 4, 2015

600th Review! Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA) Retro Review

Here's where the true fireworks are tonight! It's time for SuperPhillip Central's 600th review! Think of all of the books on figuring out world problems like hunger and curing cancer that I might have written with the words used instead for the previous 599 reviews!

...Actually, don't. Instead, let's celebrate this occasion with one of my favorite video games of all time, Perfect Dark! This game comes from a genre I don't hold much love to, so it's obviously something special if it managed to hook your buddy, jaded old Phil! See why I love Perfect Dark so much with my review!

You're really on the mark, Ms. Dark.


I'm a bit of an old fart when it comes to certain gaming genres. For instance, the first-person shooter has come really far as a genre, especially this past decade. However, I still enjoy the basic gameplay of games like GoldenEye, and yes, the subject of this review, Perfect Dark. There's something special about how these games were designed that make them preferable to me than something like Halo or Call of Duty-- though I'm not saying both of the latter series are totally similar. To this day I find Perfect Dark one of the greatest first-person shooters around. It's a philosophy and foundation that developer Rareware had that makes this game still so enjoyable to me that we don't see in first-person shooters of today. A real shame, too, as I'd probably love and play the genre more if more games went the Perfect Dark route with its design.

Perfect Dark has the lead Joanna Dark, an up and coming special agent for the Carrington Institute on her premiere mission, an extraction at the DataDyne Corporation of a person of great interest, Dr. Caroll. What follows is a (pardon the pun) dark scheme and conspiracy that runs all the way to involve the presidency and two alien races. The story unfolds throughout the single player campaign in cutscenes, and these are relatively acted out okay. No big expense was given to the voice actors, as most are from Rareware's own developers. Still, it's an engaging enough story with some clever dialogue sprinkled in to keep players hooked if the missions don't do so themselves.

However, this is probably impossible, as the missions in the single player campaign are absolutely superbly designed. Unlike the majority of first-person shooters out today, Perfect Dark uses an objective-based mission system instead of the typical corridor shooters available en masse on the market nowadays. Levels feature split paths, multiple ways of completing missions, and plenty of ways to succeed and fail at the many objectives in Joanna's missions. Sometimes the objectives can feel a bit obtuse, making the player a bit confused as to what he or she actually needs to do to succeed and complete them. However, most of the time one can simply pause the game and read the mission briefing details to get a better idea on what needs to be accomplished.

A secret agent always has to dress the part, right?
There are three main difficulties in Perfect Dark, and each of these brings a different number of objectives each per mission to complete. Sometimes the location of objectives changes as well pending the difficulty. On the easiest difficulty, Agent, it's usually as simple as doing one or two objectives while not really having to worry about the poor aim and weak damage Joanna takes from gunfire. While on Perfect Agent, there are a multitude of objectives, enemies do greater damage, have better aim, and there are no shields, an extension of Joanna's health bar, to acquire whatsoever. To this day beating Perfect Agent mode back in my younger high school days is one of my proudest gaming accomplishments, as the mode is quite taxing, but all the enjoyable. Sure, it can be distressing to fail at the tail-end of a mission, meaning you have to make up ten minutes or more of gameplay as there are no checkpoints to be found, but the effort and satisfaction when you finally beat a difficult mission are something special.

Though I'm starting to think Joanna's finding
dressing up for missions to be a bit stimulating.
Completing missions in Perfect Dark awards players with cheats that can be used a la GoldenEye 007. These are things like big head mode, using certain weapons that you otherwise wouldn't be able to use in a particular mission, and much more. Also like GoldenEye, the more worthwhile cheats are locked behind beating target times in levels on particular difficulties. These cheats require the most work to unlock, but the rewards are usually well worth it. For example, who doesn't want invincibility, unlimited ammo, or the ability to not need to reload weapons!

Play cooperatively with a friend...
The solo campaign can be played cooperatively or competitively with another player. It is a lot of fun splitting up objectives or teaming up to take down squadrons of enemies effectively and efficiently. Both players have less health to work with than in solo, but if one has a great partner, the cooperative campaign is a hell of a lot of fun. Conversely, two players can compete against one another with one serving as Joanna Dark, trying to complete the mission while the other player has an endless amount of enemies they can play as, trying to thwart the Joanna player from completing their objectives. This is a nice twist to a classic mode offering, and it only makes the entire package all the more enticing an feeling fully loaded.

...Or turn a friend into an enemy with the Counter Operative mode.
An agent's only as good as his or her guns, and Perfect Dark offers a robust set of amazing weaponry. Most single-hand weapons offer dual-wielding functionality, and every weapon in the game brings with it a secondary function. For instance, even something as simple as grenades have a unique hook as their secondary function allows them to bounce off ceilings and walls like a ball in a pinball table until an enemy (or if your luck is bad, yourself or a companion) winds up in their proximity.

There is also a myriad of guns that feel excellent to hold and unleash death with. There are assault rifles that second as grenade launchers, fly-by-wire remote controlled rockets, a gun that takes the form of a laptop which can be tossed onto a wall or ceiling to be used as an automatically firing sentry gun, combat knives that can either slash into or be chucked into a foe's flesh, a gun that can enter an enemy into psychosis, flushing drugs into them that makes them turn on their allies, and so many more awesome guns. The creativity in the weaponry is only rivaled by the Ratchet & Clank series, which is high praise, if not a weird contrast-- one mature shooter and one cartoony action-platformer.

From shotguns to high capacity machine guns,
Joanna Dark has a license to kill and thrill.
What makes Perfect Dark even better and giving players an immense amount of replay value is the multiplayer, known as the Combat Simulator. This multiplayer mode features an abundance of options for players locally and, for the Xbox Live Arcade verison, online to create the match types of their dreams. You can select which of the great amount of weapons they prefer to have in the match; which of the wide range of large, but not too large maps to play in, featuring plenty of hiding spots, points of contention, and places to explore and become familiar with; how many bots (yes, hallelujah! Bots are here as should be mandatory for any first-person shooter) are in the match, what their personalities are (you can make bots go after the player that last killed them, have a bot only use their fists, have a bot that doesn't mind blowing himself up to get a kill, and so on), what difficulty they are set at, and so much more; set up teams; set player handicaps; set the music for the match (or just have what is essentially a mixtape for the match play); and so many other options that cannot fit into just one paragraph. The Combat Simulator's range of options is absolutely immense and might be a bit intimidating at first, and I'd argue that the multiplayer's myriad options have yet to be matched by most first-person shooters since.

Yes, even some GoldenEye relics have returned
for Perfect Dark's multiplayer madness.
Along with matches with other players in the Combat Simulator there are dozens of challenges for up to four players to take on. These put you into different scenarios that pit you against a team of bots with certain victory conditions. Some require a simple kill limit, while others put all players into slow motion, have one hit kills, or utilize one of the multiplayer's many modes, like Capture the Case (a version of Capture the Flag), Hold the Briefcase (the goal is to find and hold onto the briefcase to earn points over time), and Pop A Cap (essentially a mode where you must target and eliminate the person who is designated as the "cap"). Completing challenges unlocks new costumes, new weapons, and in the Nintendo 64 version, new arenas, of which there are over a dozen easily.

Perfect Dark is one of the Nintendo 64's best looking games, and it's because of the expansion pack that so much content is available. For those without the necessary peripheral inside their Nintendo 64, most of the game is locked away, so it's really important to acquire that accessory. Meanwhile, the Nintendo 64 version can suffer some tremendous slowdown at times, putting the game in single digit frame-rates at times. The Xbox Live Arcade version is in full HD, offering little in the way of slowdown. Its controls take some getting used to (it is particularly hard to move at maximum speed with the default controls), but overall it is the better version. Both versions utilize the same extraordinary soundtrack that switches between regular and action-packed versions of themes when the action gets intense.

Not exactly dressed for this sort of thing, is she?
It is for all of these reasons why I still love Perfect Dark and find it to be my favorite first-person shooter of all time. Some things have been done better by future FPS games, but at the same token, a lot of things still haven't been beaten that Perfect Dark mastered. If you're looking for a content-heavy first-person shooter with an engaging single player campaign full of different ways to go about fulfilling objectives and completing missions, a robust multiplayer mode that is bursting with options, and a presentation that is top-notch, Perfect Dark is the game that is most on the mark in those categories.

[SPC Says: A]

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