March 23, 2010

Revisiting Perfect Dark

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 4:33 pm

Perfect Dark
I’ve been pretty wrapped up in the nostalgia of revisiting Perfect Dark since it’s revamped release on XBLA, one which gives the series enough relevance that those inclined can wax on about their attachment to Joanna and why the continuation of the franchise should be a top priority for Microsoft – such as myself.

If you only took one element of this release away with you in deciding whether it was worth 800 MSPoints, it’s hard to ignore just how much “game” Rare managed to wedge into that N64 cartridge so many years ago. If the narrative solo missions and visits to the Carrington Institute aren’t enough to keep you occupied, the multiplayer options provide an experience that scream for life on LIVE. And of course Perfect Dark offers up co-op mission play, but more importantly offers the counter-op alternative that is probably one of my favorite multiplayer experiences to date.

Setting my obvious enthusiasm aside however, there are plenty on the flipside of the positive, for whom the game is simply too dated, with a design approach to the genre too far out of line with modern FPS releases. Naturally I don’t agree, but rather than simply telling those people to suck a lemon, it seems worthwhile to revisit an element of Perfect Dark that elevates it’s old school status beyond the age of its release to show that it still has energy enough to teach us something about what the console FPS is capable of.

Perfect Dark
Perfect Dark is an objective based shooter, sizing stages to the capabilities of its original hardware by tasking the player with a grocery list of conditions toward completing each level. That’s not surprising given that the game wasn’t just pushing to develop the PC dominated genre of its time on a console, but also seeking to make it unique to that console – and least I forget that it followed on the success of 007’s trademarked spy actions. Yet this also laid ground to consider a different direction from the “kill ‘em all” bullet fest that began life saddled with the occasional search for a keycard, and has since even left that bit of distraction to history.

The architecture of Perfect Dark is often sharp and angular, with buildings that form complex mazes the player wanders through like a rat – complete with actual cheese. These designs compliment a cat-and-mouse style of multiplayer that has the curious ability to empower the fast and the furious as much as the stealthy. And they also present alternative paths to the player, where entire sections of a level may go completely unnoticed to those in a rush to reach the end, while those with a more leisurely approach to playing will find a myriad of secret rooms and areas waiting to be discovered.

Perfect Dark
Okay, so Perfect Dark was a harsh mistress about its objectives, handing out fail cards without mercy for mistakes, but hear me out. While it wasn’t realized within these spaces, Perfect Dark does offer the chance to envision the continuation of objective based FPS, where side-missions and branching narratives present an opportunity to expand a genre renowned for its straight-forward preoccupations – not unlike the way games like X-Wing and TIE Fighter did the same for their genre.

It’s disappointing that this has gone largely unexplored, and completely mishandled by Perfect Dark Zero, because if someone could successfully take up that design challenge, they’d offer more to players once the exhaustion of constant explosions wore thin, and open the genre up to more gamers.

Can you imagine a Perfect Dark where new levels open up and the narrative changes direction based on the choices made toward smaller objectives and obstacles within the primary mission? I can, and I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty awesome.

This would change the emphasis quite a bit within a genre so preoccupied with making its one driving explosive narrative direction the priority, giving more life to the FPS and making it far less disposable than it seems determined to remain. Favoring skill and exploration in equal measure just seems to make sense, giving the player more control within a genre meant to do so by the very nature of its output visual perspective.

As abstract and far away from the nostalgia party as all of this might sound, it’s what stands out most vividly for me while getting reacquainted with Miss Dark this week.

Side-thoughts regarding this release:

(1)What is that strange red blotch that pops up during cut-scenes?
(2)The 360 controller has redeemed this game both with the new control options and the original scheme – this is Perfect Dark made undeniably playable for all.
(3)Did anyone else get the “grow-up” achievement?


  1. I was listening to the GameSugar podcast (good stuff btw!) and all the Perfect Dark talk went over my head. I didn’t have an N64 as a kid so I missed out on a great game. Reading this was useful though, getting a clearer understanding of the virtues of Perfect Dark.

    Comment by Rey Ortega — March 23, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  2. Eww… you like RARE games? :P

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — March 24, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  3. aw come on Ujn, where’s the love?

    Comment by Jamie Love — March 24, 2010 @ 10:54 am

  4. I’ll definitely get home today and play the original on my N64. It’s been a while but it’s one of those things were time makes everything better… right?

    Comment by EdEN — March 24, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

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