Console launches are funny things—for the most part, early adopters run out and drop bucketloads of money on new systems not because there's a killer game they have to play, but because they need to have the newest toy before everyone else on the block. Looking back over the years, most of the major console launch line-ups have been pretty abysmal—but this hasn't stopped each new console released from selling like hotcakes right out of the gate. Early in a console's lifecycle, the potential of the platform is apparently as important as what there is to play on it.
There have been exceptions—the Dreamcast launched back in the late '90s with a few good games (and one great one in the form of the original Soul Calibur), and the N64 had Mario 64, but most console launch line-ups look more like the lackluster stuff that came out with the PS2 than what Sega brought to the table. Microsoft (MS) bucked the trend as well when they launched the first Xbox—thanks in no small part to Halo, which was the console's one "must play" game for what seemed like two years. Since MS got it right the first time, I had high hopes for the 360 launch line-up—hopes that have mostly been misplaced based on my experience with the library. With no Halo 3 on the horizon, wowing early adopters fell squarely onto the shoulders of Rare—the company MS acquired from Nintendo a few years ago. Rare brought two titles to the 360 launch—the moderately entertaining Kameo and greatly anticipated Perfect Dark Zero (PD0). Neither game has proven to be a system seller like Halo.
PD0 is a sequel to Perfect Dark—a much loved first person shooter that was released on the Nintendo 64. Like Goldeneye, the original Perfect Dark was a great game showing that FPSs could be done on the home consoles without a mouse and keyboard configuration. The game achieved cult status (not quite on par with Goldeneye, but in the same ballpark), and gamers eagerly anticipated a sequel. It took Rare a whole console generation to do it, but PD0 is that game—and the wait wasn't really worth it.
Perfect Dark Zero is really a tale of two games on one disc—a single player offline mode so boring and banal that slogging through it is barely worth the effort and an online mode that is really fun. Unfortunately, I'm one of those guys who would rather play an offline game than an online one (particularly when it comes to a first person shooter), so I'm more disappointed than anything with this title.
Had PD0 released five years ago, it would have probably been better received. Back in those days, console FPSs hadn't made the huge strides in terms of playability that they have now, and a game like Rare's would have been a decent excursion into the realm of run-and-gun gameplay. However, the game now shows up to the party late—and worse still, in a dress that went out of fashion years ago. The things this game does now aren't innovative at all and are barely worthy of having the term "next gen" put next to them.
Players who tackle the single-player mode will find themselves in the shoes of Joanna Dark, a woman who has deadly gunfights while dressing in clothes that would have made her a raver—if raves were still cool. The story is so ludicrous and stupid it's not even worth getting into. Characters come and go, plot twists are presented then never resolved, the dialogue is laughably bad, and the whole thing made me yearn for a Steven Seagal movie to end my pain. When you yearn for Seagal, things are bad.
The gameplay is a little better—although it does nothing to distinguish itself from the shelves and shelves of "me too" FPSs gathering dust at the local EB Games. Joanna's big innovations are that she can dual wield, she can hide behind cover, and she has a nifty spin roll move for getting out of tight spaces. That's it—really—there's nothing else to see.
The game is broken down into missions wherein Joanna starts out with an objective or two and uncovers more based on the difficulty setting. Playing on the lowest setting makes the game absurdly simple, while the highest, Dark Agent, will have players pulling out their hair by the fistful. Higher difficulties have more objectives, naturally. Once a mission is beaten on one skill level, the next one unlocks, meaning gamers could play through the same mission on each setting before moving on with the story if they felt like it. Some of the mission objectives are optional, while others are mandatory—and failing a mandatory one sends the player back to the start. There's an option to restart at the mid-level checkpoint, but then all stats for that level are lost…nice, eh? Get used to starting over from scratch.
The enemy AI is generally lame, allowing for players to do things like run in front of a guard, get him to chase Joanna, then duck in a door and pop off headshots as each bad guy runs into the room. The harder settings aren't harder because the bad guys are smarter—they're just harder because they'll hit you more often and it does more damage—even on the highest difficulty, they'll still run right into the player's fire nine times out of ten.
Worst of all though is the inclusion of the dreaded "Escort mission." You know, the ones where you have to assist some computer controlled character through a hostile environment? Yeah, this game has a few of those—and boy do they suck. If the enemy AI is stupid, then the escorted characters are the virtual descendants of Forrest Gump. They walk right out into the line of fire, refuse to duck for cover when hit (they have this great habit of just standing there and absorbing shotgun blasts with their face), and just generally seem to have a death wish. These missions are by far the most annoying in the game.
When players aren't shooting stuff (which isn't very often, but it does happen), the game will present some "puzzles." Calling them puzzles isn't really describing them accurately since puzzles generally require some thought to solve and these are painfully obvious (each relies on a "tool" that Joanna starts the mission with—like the "locktopus"…oh, stop, that's too funny). Other missions have Joanna driving vehicles. Why? Because all the other first person shooters these days have vehicles…duh.
Not everything is bad, though— PD0 looks pretty darn spiffy in terms of the graphics. Everything's shiny and bright—almost too shiny in some instances, but we'll let that slide. Guns look great, environments are nicely detailed (and take a realistic amount of damage from the various firefights), and the explosions are pretty. Playing the game is a lot like dating a supermodel—the looks are there, but I'm sure not hanging around for the conversation.
Speaking of conversation, the game's voice acting is pretty bad. It's not "oh my god, where's the mute button" bad, but more cheesy-annoying bad. It's always sad when there's voice acting in a game and I find myself being embarrassed for the voice actors. The music is as all over the place as the game it's in. Techno, southern rock, strange jazz, and all sorts of crazy stuff turns up on this soundtrack whether it fits where it's being used or not.
If this were all there was to PD0 then the game would be getting a lower score. Luckily for Rare, the multiplayer saves the day. Playing this title in the multiplayer set-up is like playing an entirely different game—one that's actually fun.
The multiplayer options are rich and deep. Players can tackle the main game cooperatively (even through Xbox Live) or engage in any number of death matches, capture the flag events, and other assorted game types on Live or offline with friends or solo with some bots For gamers who like to play with online or with friends, this is a game worth checking out.
Perfect Dark Zero is not an awful game—it's just an underwhelming one that spent so long in development it missed its time. Had this game been released a few years ago, people would have liked it and said mostly nice things about it. Releasing it in today's market, though, only shows all the ways it's living in the past. There's nothing "next gen" about this title other than the graphics and sound. The gameplay would barely pass as mediocre on the last generation of consoles. Sure, multiplayer is fun, but the single player mode is so dreadful I'd almost recommend not getting it if you're the kind of person who's only going to play the solo mode. I give Rare a certain amount of kudos for managing to get not one, but two, games out for the 360 launch (although, maybe that's not such a big deal when said games have been in development for years). If MS was hoping these two games would be "must have" launch titles, though, they grossly overestimated each of them. Of course, in eight months, no one will care about what the launch games were.
A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.
Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.
In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.