There was a six-year gap between the releases of N64's Perfect Dark and the Xbox 360's Perfect Dark Zero. As any gamer can figure, with more years in planning & development comes an increased amount of hype; furthermore, add that hype in accumulated time with the idea of Rare being one of the first to break in the "next-gen" hardware and you have an average expecantcy of Perfect Dark Zero reaching the same critical rating of Halo: Combat Evolved. The only question that remains is whether or not PDZ (Perfect Dark Zero) succeeds in reaching such great heights.
The story is set in the year 2020, three years before the original Perfect Dark. You take on the role of the bounty-hunter-in-training Johanna Dark, a woman seemingly with an erythrism and appetite for destruction. The beginning of the story has you learning the ropes from both your father, Jack Dark, and your tech assistant, Chandra. Upon uncovering a conspiracy that goes deeper than expected, Johanna's later thrown under the employ of the Carrington Institute, her employer in the original Perfect Dark, who's aiming to stop the corrupt Datadyne CEO Zhang Li.
One of the worst aspects you'll find in Perfect Dark Zero is the story. While the original Perfect Dark certainly disappointed in this department, PDZ had a chance to create a balanced, coherent storyline given that this is a prequel. There are just too many faults in this regard for it to guarantee you will stay glued to the action. To begin the criticism, your father is a complete imbecile that makes you wonder how he's actually made it this far into his job. Every time the game sets up emotion to the make the gameplay visceral, the game greets you with bad dialogue. The story can be respectable if weighed in a certain stance. Upon putting the game in the 360, you're greeted with this overwhelming sense that the game is intentionally campy which makes it seem as if it yearns for this to be the focal point of its comedy; however, this idea falls flat on its face throughout most of the game.
Given that the Xbox 360 was released weeks prior to its release, PDZ offers some of the best graphics for its time. To make matters better, the different landscapes imbued into the level design make this one of the most diverse FPS in regards to locales that ranges from snow-peaked mountains, nightclubs, ancient temples deep within tropical areas, and much more. PDZ is not only capable of offering huge maps, but also offering a great amount of detail. Glossy gun models, fine detailing to brick & mortar walls, and explosions that are pure eye candy are the testaments as to how well the game's graphics really show the 360's capability. The quibbles I have with the graphics revolve around the gauche animations, both in cutscenes and gameplay, and the habit for character models to look ugly upon looking at them face-to-face.
The sound design also offers variety from the subtle background music to all of the gun noises-from both primary and alternate fire-that are executed throughout the game. What's was a fault with the graphics department, the main fault with PDZ's sound design is also tied with the story. The badly timed sound bites in cutscenes and repeated voice acting for sub-characters jut out the instant you hear them. This is certainly not a game-breaking experience but it's just another facet that brings the story to unexpected "new lows". The reason they DO stick out so much is actually a relaxing reason because everything else is just of the highest quality. From the different sound bites of firing guns to just simply reloading them, gun sounds (coupled with the graphics) help the experience feel that much more immersive.
The gameplay offers a vast amount of opportunities for Johanna to tackle each objective. Certain levels can encourage you to take a more stealthy approach to help thin out the enemy, take a more tactical approach with the ability to roll & hide behind cover, or simply run-and-gun that's all dependant on the player's style. At the core, almost everything would seem like it should work; however, that's not really the case with PDZ. Since the maps have a habit of being gargantuan in terms of ability to freely roam, PDZ has an arrow indicator on the floor to help as guide towards your next objective. The problem is the inconsistency with this indicator sometimes not appearing when you need it most. I believe this term best sums up the structure of the level design: There is usually just one or two ways to get to your objective, but a myriad of ways to get lost. Another fault with the game's design would be the huge reticle for all of the weapons. It's certainly disheartening for a game like this to give the same crosshairs for either a shotgun or pistol.
To break up the monotony of shooting, PDZ includes driving and flying sequences throughout the SP and MP portions of the game. The likes of hovercrafts and jetpacks help encourage this pseudo-techno environment to be even more open for you to engage the plethora of enemies on-screen. The problem with these elements is that the controls are clunky. In an endless wave of shooters that only make the difficulty solely about making you die easier, a lauded part of PDZ's mission structure is the extra objective(s) you'll receive throughout each mission depending on the difficulty setting. This structure not only encourages replay value on the SP campaign side, but also the co-op campaign (splitscreen or online). There will be certain missions that neither player will meet up with each other until the end of that level. The gameplay aspect is satisfactory, but it just does not reach those new heights it was anticipated to surmount.
The one option that will keep players coming back again and again is the online portion of the game. The online portion offers an excellent assortment of modes and variations. Dividing the game into 2 different online sections, PDZ is able to segregate standard modes and special modes. As expected, the Combat Arena types resolve around Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and objective-based modes that support up to 32 players (depending if the host allows that many). Added into the Combat Arena modes (though not the Dark Ops modes) is the inclusion of up to 15 bots. These bots are able to be programmed to the host's preference, ranging from personality to difficulty.
DarkOps has an obvious inspiration from Counter-Strike by implementing a system to purchase weapons with credits won through various actions. Scenarios in DarkOps range from Eradication, a team-only game in which the last team with any members left alive wins, to Infection, where players score points by either infecting others or surviving infection; or other team-based games such as Sabotage, where the team that causes the most damage to the other team's property wins, and Onslaught, in which defenders get one life but can be revived and can purchase weapons, whereas the attackers have unlimited lives but basic weapons. All of these gameplay types are heavy on teamwork and tactics compared to the Combat Arena, making them a favorite compared to the established norms. Overall, there's just a profusion of options to be found in PDZ's online that will make a long-lasting experience that will have you coming back years down the road.
Unfortunately, Perfect Dark Zero is first and foremost a disappointment. It's important to note that Perfect Dark Zero is still a great game; however, it's a game that fails to live up to the hype of so many fans. This shooter from Rare, the living legends of GoldenEye 007 (N64) and Perfect Dark (N64), is the perfect (pun intended) example of how a developer reaches that stage of defamation. Make no mistake about it, Perfect Dark Zero has a great foundation in regards to value, visual/audio mastery, and fun; but, it also has an awful story, laughable dialogue, and shows no signs of making this seem like the next "it" FPS for all 360 gamers to own.
coolbeans' *FresH* badge