• If you were, or indeed still are, the proud owner of a Nintendo 64 these three, relatively mundane words are almost guaranteed to stir your Christmas-stuffed brain into some semblance of its once cognitive self.

    For me, these three words were one of only two reasons to get the Xbox 360, the second being the promise of everything I enjoyed about the Xbox crammed into a pretty package and fed on a mix of steroids to rival the results were one to smash Chuck Norris and Mr T into a sharp, yellowy lemon.

    Okay, so right now you may be thinking;

    “Oh no! A PDZ fanatic, surely this can only mean a slew of ignorant PDZ love!”

    Well, you’d be wrong.

    Gather closer those of you debating the purchase of an Xbox 360. You, the boy eating the imported Twinkie and screaming blindly how Perfect Dark Zero is terrible without ever picking up a controller. Put said Twinkie in your mouth and rest a while, as I explain to you with a mix of old school Perfect Dark fan and reasoned logic why, whilst not all of you will enjoy Perfect Dark Zero, you would all be greater fools than a little grey chap called Elvis, were you to ignore it.

    Perfect Dark Zero

    Not everyone who picks up PDZ is going to like it, this I can promise because much like its predecessor on the N64, it is vastly different to your usual first person shooter. Of course, this may not be immediately apparent, but there is something to Perfect Dark Zero, something strange, at times it feels almost mystical, at others baffling and more often than not, a little intangible. It is the logical continuation of Perfect Dark, but its not; it feels like Perfect Dark, but it doesn’t. This likely sounds increasingly negative to you, but actually it’s a very good thing indeed and I’ll get to why in a minute.

    In Perfect Dark Zero as I am sure you are aware, you have 4 flavours of play, single player, co-operative play, standard Deathmatch and a Counter-Strike-esque Dark-Ops mode.

    Much has been said of the single-player and whilst I can appreciate the negativity surrounding it, I don’t personally agree with it. Perfect Dark has a cult following almost, although whilst not a game on the scale of Halo in terms of fans, it is easily a more important title in the grand scheme of things. Rare knows all too well the loyalty of PD’s fans and it knows all too well that most of them were never going to be happy unless all they got from a new Perfect Dark was the same thing, to the last bit of code, with naught but a new story and maybe a few new things in Multiplayer. Indeed, Perfect Dark with online multiplayer and new graphics would likely have been adored by fans and despite a few journalists pointing out the conservative route Rare had taken, little more would have been said.

    Perfect Dark Zero

    But that isn’t Rare’s way. Rare are by many standards an extremely original and innovative developer. Take Blast Corps, Perfect Dark and Kameo for instance: all three critically acclaimed, and all three very different and very daring in some respects. Certainly Perfect Dark did so much for one little N64 cartridge and more importantly, so much that was new, that most contemporary games don’t even begin to approach it. But, you don’t need a history lesson, that’s for another time. Just take my word for it, at the time, PD was an achievement on a grand scale.

    So, given their nature and their drive towards the innovative, could we ever have expected PD1.5 from Rare? Of course we couldn’t, Perfect Dark Zero was always going to be something at once drastically different and reassuringly familiar to any PD fan and that is exactly the game Rare have made. The single player is genuinely fun: I’ve seen a lot of moaning about the quality of the plot, but what this boils down to is that people develop their own ideas of things and they don’t like them being challenged. For example take book to film conversions, very few of which are ever successful. And the ones that are change little and leave much to the imagination. But that’s not the route Rare have taken. In PDZ we find ourselves in a series of missions which will see you having fun and sometimes, especially on Perfect Agent, getting not a little exasperated, whilst getting as involved as you want to in a plot that if you can open yourself to it, is genuinely interesting and relatively deep, certainly deeper than the average FPS – you just have to be willing to let yourself get drawn in.

    There are some issues in single player, for some players they are failings of such weight that they bring the entire game into disrepute. For myself, they can be anything from desperately infuriating to comic. Though I suppose that if I play PDZ as much as I did PD, watching the occasional guard fly into the air spread-eagled when headshot will eventually get tiresome. But this is the crux of all the issues that truly exist within PDZ, bar a couple; they are minor issues that only really impact your enjoyment of the game if you let them. I will agree that in some respects this points towards a lack of finish, that these errors shouldn’t be in a retail game, but if you’re looking to have fun, PDZ will offer it in spades, despite the odd niggle and the stealth aspects to the game are well worked in, even if they are obscenely difficult for some players on harder levels.

    Perfect Dark Zero

    That said, the ending is somewhat out of sync with a game that is in some respects fairly realistic, but equally, as with almost everything in PDZ, it’s a double sided coin and as such fits perfectly with the rest of the game, when you consider its also fairly tongue in cheek and cartoony. The moral of the story here is that it is a fun story, if you let it be. Over analyse and you’re going to spoil it for yourself, but otherwise dig in to a game which is extremely fun and played out to a soundtrack that fits like a tailor made piece of body armour and rocks harder than the annual Highland boulder toss.

    Next you have co-op: It’s the same story as the single player, the same levels, the same dataDyne and Killian thugs just asking for a .45 face slap. But its got a twist. If you ever played James Bond: Everything or Nothing on the Gamecube this won’t be new to you. Its essentially the single player with a requirement that you work together to do more than just kill people. For example on the Rooftops level, you’ll even be completely separated from your partner until the end of the level, whilst other levels will see you having to work together to open doors. That’s not to say it doesn’t carry a healthy pile of ?shoot first, don’t ask questions later’.

    So, now we have the much coveted multiplayer side of things, coming in two flavours, the standard Deathmatch, featuring every man for himself and team modes including CTF and outright kill the most players to win, with some pleasantly intelligent bots to boost numbers if you’re not too well endowed in the friends department, and of course Dark Ops.

    Deathmatch is fun, although its not really anything special. It would have been nice if it had been as customisable as Perfect Dark’s multiplayer, but its still fun and bots round the package out very nicely, but Dark Ops is where its at. If you’re thinking its just another Counter-Strike, you’re not really thinking past the basics. It shares similarities, but it also does bigger, better, newer things and ends up being only slightly related.

    Dark Ops offers the player the kind of gaming experience you can really relish. Its never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, as in some respects its quite slow and that might not sit well if you’re a Quake or Unreal aficionado, but as a multiplayer game its everything that I have wanted in a multiplayer game for quite some time. Where CS offers players an enjoyable team based romp, with an element of one man being able to carry everyone if need be, Dark Ops rewards true team play and smirks at the one-man armies, knowing it won’t be long before they end up as so many surprised screams down a microphone. Teams that really can work together quickly end up acting like a finely honed swat team, in much the way Rainbow Six 3 and Counter Strike would like players to act, but could never quite hit the target. Players develop roles that suit them and they become invaluable if they can just work together and communicate.

    Dark Ops has a great deal to offer players and it will be played for a long time to come, you’ll be able to see that much for yourself if you can just get past the relatively steep learning curve PDZ forces upon you. I will say this now, get your sensitivity right, or you have a big fight ahead of you.

    The only thing I could possibly lament with regards to Dark Ops is the lack of Simulant (or Bots for the uninitiated) support. 32 player games can be hard to put together, and certainly a suitable host is difficult to find, despite even the lowliest connections handling 16 players as though they were facing off at a LAN party, and it would have been great to get 16 people into a room and fill the other team, or half each, with bots. Rumour has it that Counter-Op (a mode that those new to PD will no doubt quickly grow to love) and an expanded multiplayer are on the cards for Downloadable Content pretty soon, so maybe I’ll get my wish this Christmas!

    So finally, the problems, and yes, Perfect Dark Zero most certainly has them, though, not when it comes to multiplayer, which as far as I can see (and I have played it nearly non-stop since December 2nd at 8:30am) is extremely well put together.

    No, the problems are in the single player, where irritating little bugs seem to crawl out from the woodwork – only occasionally mind – but when they do, they can cause things to go a little sour. Take for instance the AI: It is by no means terrible, but it is by no means perfect. It is in fact a relief that snipers are far more sensible than Halo 2’s Jackals ever were, but still, there are only so many times you can watch a guard discover your carefully selected stealth position with his back to you, or run around a corner knowing full well you’re there with five hundred bullets, all featuring his name on the sides, and not be a little disheartened. Similarly, the rag doll physics will bug the hell out of some players and Jack Dark is quite frankly the least capable bounty hunter the world has ever seen. The guy might get shot less if he just painted a target on himself and stood still.

    But, really, the issues are relatively small and though they may by some players reckoning show a lack of finishing work, they don’t have to impact the game unless deep down, you actually want the game to be bad, and there are many people out there who want that desperately for some unfathomable reason.

    Finally, the details. I’ve heard a fair bit of whinging about the graphics in PDZ although why is beyond me, on my screen none of the surfaces are overly shiny and the levels really do look superb (as well as being masterfully designed both in single and multiplayer) and besides, PDZ has a very cartoony feel, which isn’t a bad thing. It makes the game less serious and as such makes it easier to get into. It might lack the grit and darkness of its predecessor, but they’re two sides of a very enjoyable coin. As we all know, cartoons are about exaggeration, and so if we see this in the graphics of PDZ, well, what were we expecting? Rare have tried something new and different, they’ve not bothered to try and update a classic, they’ve successfully produced a game that pays homage the original, but does its own thing and is a damn fine game for it. Oh and before I forget, the sounds are incredible, and the snow is more real than anything I’ve seen in a decade of failed snow falls.

    Will you enjoy Perfect Dark Zero? Yes, it really does have something for everyone, if you give it a chance. Is it a Triple-A game? Well, yes actually, because despite its small flaws and a plot that some players despise, it is easily the most fun I have had since Perfect Dark and possibly more fun because Rare have expanded upon the bits that make it fun. Perfect Dark Zero was never going to live up to Perfect Dark, too many people didn’t want it too, and Rare never wanted to do a simple prequel that took no real innovation. Rare looked at their masterpiece, took the good things, and made a game that everyone can enjoy, but has a different look to what Perfect Dark is about.

    So if you like the occasional shooter, or if you’re a hardcore Counter-Strike monster, pick up a copy of PDZ and just have fun with it, because the fun is there to be had and once you let it find you, you’ll forget anything that really annoyed you and possibly end up playing PDZ for a long time, I know that the single player alone is going to keep me happy for a long time to come.

    Besides, you haven’t lived until you’ve flown a Jetpack, honestly, it is more fun than anything has a right to be.

    Score: 9/10

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