Perfect Dark

Perfect Darks protagonist: Joanna Dark

Another trek down missed memory lane via XBOX Live gives me the chance to finally put some time into Perfect Dark. Do the high resolution graphics make up for the antiquated game structure?

Another trek down missed memory lane via XBOX Live gives me the chance to finally put some time into Perfect Dark. Sure, I think I’d played it before with friends at one point or another, usually ending with me swearing profusely about getting my ass kicked in the multiplayer.

But now, this digital remastering of Perfect Dark gives me a chance to prove that had I actually properly put time into the game, I wouldn’t be so rubbish at it. No, I don’t believe what I just said either.

Perfect Dark takes Special Agent Joanna dark through a list of spy missions that have some gibberish story about a dude stuck in a computer, the US president, and space aliens. It’s a mess, but this isn’t a game where the plot really matters. The main goal: shoot stuff.

It’s pretty decent in this regard. At the time of its release, the first-person-shooting genre was still evolving, with PC ports like Quake and Duke 3D finding ways to make a suitable shift from the mouse and keyboard, while others, like Perfect Dark and it’s predecessor GoldenEye, optimized the gamepad’s potential.

The controls are pretty par for the course today, but can be overly sensitive. The gun selection screen is a bit agitating, forcing you to hold a shoulder button and choose a direction. It’s not bad with only a few weapons, but get over eight and it’s a mess, requiring subtle pressure on the analog controller to get the right gun.

The real issue with Perfect Dark is the mission and level design. It leaves a lot to exploration and trial and error. It’s better than the “find the blue key for the blue door” school of level design found in, say, Quake 2, but it’s only a small step up. Replace “blue key” and “blue door” with “find hostage” and “door” to get the idea. The mission goals are more cleverly implemented, but the map layout and lack of direction still reeks of the late ‘90s.

By far, this is the most dated part of the game. There are some levels that I had to try repeatedly until I figured out just what the hell I needed to do. “Put on the costume and sneak into a room before the countdown ends.” Sounds simple enough, but I tried the level nearly twenty times before I realized that, even though I grabbed the costume and the countdown began, Joanna didn’t put it on unless I switched to the weapon selector and selected the costume. There’s a lot of, “Go into this room. Nope, not here. Go to the next room” until mission objectives are met.

It’s still a fun game in medium-sized doses. I like that higher mission difficulties add different objectives, so it doesn’t seem like the exact same levels over and over. The updated graphics are nice, too. This is more of a remastering, with higher resolutions and nicer-looking textures. The original blocky geometry remains unchanged. As a result, Perfect Dark is a nicely presented package with a few extras, but remains mostly as it was a decade ago – solid, but not great.

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