Let me speak to you honestly for a moment about fashion. As much as it pains me to admit, I’ve never looked very good in retro goggles. Perhaps they just clash with the shape of my head, which is somewhere between a long rectangle, a rhombus, and a lampshade. Whatever the case, wearing them around is not only painful for me, but also for those who have to witness this fashion emergency.
But I’ve learned to live with this shortcoming, largely by sticking to a more modest style, one that is free from the restraints imposed by retro goggles. Every game I try on is a brand new experiment, and if it looks good on me, I’ll know that it’s truly a good fit and not just a pleasing pairing for my retro goggles.
So, when I tried on the throwback Perfect Dark style, I knew that could view myself honestly. And what did I find? Well, let’s just say that I might as well have gone with the Derelict style from Zoolander.
The honest-to-god truth is that I never played the original Perfect Dark anyway, so retro goggles weren’t an issue. In a way, I feel like that makes this review even more difficult, as I simply have to judge the game as a modern release, not a charming port of a game I loved as a youngster.
So let’s just get this out of the way: as a simple port, Perfect Dark is everything you could want. It faithfully represents the original game, making only the additions that you’ve come to expect from releases of older games on XBLA: leaderboards, multiplayer over Live, shiny HD graphics, and so on. Otherwise, nearly everything is the same. You’ll find the same levels that you remember, and, of course, all of the same old problems that the original suffered from.
The bottom line for fans of the original is that if you want to play this again, there’s really no compelling issue that would prevent you from enjoying the XBLA remake.
That just leaves those who never experienced the original, and for us, the story is quite different. See, Perfect Dark feels very much like you would expect a somewhat early console FPS to feel like, and many of the things that impressed about the original no longer impress at all.
Take, for instance, the shooting itself, which is still based heavily on auto-aim and extreme movement speed. After all, the limitations of the N64′s controller required an approach very different from what we’re used to today. The reticule doesn’t stay in the middle of the screen, but rather moves around as you turn your character, and the reticule will snap to enemies on screen if you look anywhere near them. This makes the shooting feel very awkward and unrewarding, as the game does most of the work for you. You do get used to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any fun. And while most guns have a fine aim option, it’s mostly useless, as it too retains the imprecise control method from the N64 version.
The campaign, considering its short length, ended up being one of the more frustrating gaming experiences in recent memory thanks to some pretty terrible level design (by today’s standards, of course) and a lot of vague objectives. Levels are filled with labyrinthine corridors, many of which lead you in circles and away from any of your mission objectives. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game pointed you in the direction of your objectives, but in the vast majority of cases, you’re expected to figure it out on your own. And the objective descriptions are so vague that, before long, you’ll find yourself running around a level for the fifth time trying to figure out how to progress only to suddenly fail the mission for some silly reason. Then, of course, there’s the embarrassing writing and poor storytelling.
But this game was never loved for its single player campaign: it was all about the multiplayer. And there’s no doubt that the multiplayer modes, which include plenty of room for co-operation and competition, can lead to some ridiculous fun. But, even here, there are plenty of problems. Playing online can be problematic thanks to some lag and a striking lack of players. When it comes down to it, playing with friends on the couch is the way to go here, just as it was back in the days before online play.
The multitude of options available for multiplayer does support a lot of absolute insanity. The counter-operative mode, for instance, allows you to jump into a campaign level and completely jack up the good guys’ progress, which is a hell of a lot more fun than trying to slog through the single player yourself. And 8 player rocket deathmatch needs no introduction.
So, the question becomes this: do you have a set of friends who would rather play Perfect Dark over at your house than, say, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 with you online? Similarly, would you? If the answer is yes, then you will absolutely find a competent video game in this package, and there’s no reason that you can’t get more than your money’s worth out of this $10 purchase.
But judged alongside the other games that scream out for your wallet’s attention, this just doesn’t offer what modern gamers are looking for. I had next to no fun with the single player, and next to no luck playing online. Let’s just say this: thanks to my unique fashion sense, in which retro goggles are not included, Perfect Dark was simply not a good fit, and if your situation is anything like mine, it won’t look any good on you either.
You definitely won't mistake it for a modern game, but the updated graphics and steady framerate work to its advantage - and characters still don't move their lips, which is creepy and awesome.
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Faithful but unexciting and frustrating, the gameplay does little to engage modern players, especially in the single player mode. Multiplayer fares better with varied modes and ridiculous action.
Some of the music is actually pretty decent and sounds good, and the terrible voice acting leads to a lot of unintended laughs. But the guns sound like crap.
The game is short, but replaying levels on higher difficulties can add some playtime. If multiplayer grabs you, plenty of time could be lost there.
Unless you inject nostalgia directly into your veins, you'll find that Perfect Dark just doesn't hold up.