Perfect Dark HD

The original Perfect Dark was a pseudo-successor to the massively popular Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Created by the same Rare Studios team, Perfect Dark took everything that made Goldeneye great and blew it up tenfold.

The result was another cult classic cartridge which pushed the limits of the N64.

With the 007 license tied to the source material, and Rare having been purchased by Microsoft, the dream of seeing any sort or re-release seemed unlikely. Rare had in fact made a sequel with some lineage, Perfect Dark Zero, but it wasn’t the same game – feeling more like the first-person shooters of that era (such as Halo) than the original 64-bit formula that made Goldeneye and Perfect Dark popular.

As an Xbox 360 launch title, Zero was quickly overshadowed as superior titles started flooding the new generation console – the game was solid, but wasn’t remembered as highly as the N64 predecessors.

Then, five years later, out of nowhere (or so it seemed) Perfect Dark HD dropped as a digital-only title on Xbox Live Arcade.

I remember this game sort of flying under the radar despite some moderate success – it wasn’t terribly expensive (I believe $10 USD) at launch too. Yet, I have friends who were never aware this version of the game existed.

According to the game’s Wikipedia entry, the original source code was ported to the 360 but the game engine was completely rewritten. New graphic elements were remastered, and while the “blocky” N64 feel was retained, the game is cleaner is many aspects.

For starters, the graphics are sharp and clear. The game initially ran at 60fps at 1080p, a huge leap from the 480i N64 version. The move to a new engine didn’t sacrifice anything in terms of authenticity – and if anything, the game is just a new layer of shiny paint with an addition on the house.

That addition is the inclusion of Xbox Live multiplayer – something we could’ve only dreamed of in the split-screen world of the N64 and such a noteworthy addition that it changes the game to where I just had to make this its own entry, as it’s simply not a rehash at all.

In fact, the graphics were once again enhanced for 4K native resolution on the Xbox One!

However, there’s still more.

If you remember the N64 only had a single analog stick. While it got us to where we are today with FPS games, the 360 control is damn near perfect for these types of games. Transitioning to Microsoft’s console feels natural and a no-brainer.

I’ve actually come around to this being my preferred way of enjoying the original Perfect Dark in all of its glory. The N64 game was the reason I had bought that console, as its one of my favorite games of all-time.

Therefore, the great improvements to this game a whole two generations later have made it so it can be enjoyed to this day, preserving the legacy of one of the biggest cult classics ever.

If you liked Perfect Dark on the N64, I encourage you to pick up this copy – which is also available on Xbox Game Pass too. (I don’t shill buying games often, but this is one I make an exception for and especially if you’ve never played it!)

Perfect Dark Zero

Here’s a game I had much higher expectations for and wish I had a different rating system to give it a different score.

A thumbs-in-the-middle still seems fair, but a lot of my criticisms with Perfect Dark Zero stem from the large shoes it had to fill from the Nintendo 64 original that this sequel is largely based on.

That N64 title is largely considered one of the greatest games of all time. It was a follow-up to another cult classic, Goldeneye 007, which was also on the N64 and developed by Rare. Without the 007 license, Rare created its own characters, storyline, etc. and dropped it into the same game engine while adding improvements – that game became known as Perfect Dark, headlined by a female secret agent in the future called Joanna Dark.

While that game dealt with Area 51, government and corporate conspiracies, this one lifts a similar concept into a much more powerful set of hardware in the Xbox 360. The result is expected to be more of the same goodness that was on the N64, but the game almost feels like too much of a departure in ways from the original and that’s what left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, the futuristic sci-fi secret agent storyline is still there, as are some of the favorite weapons such as the P9P, Falcon, Magnum, or CMP150. However, unlike the original, you can only carry so many weapons – this is a big downer on the game and actually affects your ability to play through some levels if you choose the wrong gun to walk around with.

Furthermore, dual-wielding guns, a pretty big deal from the Goldeneye era of first-person shooters, requires you to use both triggers on the 360 controller – each gun runs out of ammo independently and zoom/scope functions are neutered in this mode entirely.

I’m sure that was a high concept on “realism” but in a non-realistic setting, it falls flat.

The same can also be said of the bigger guns in the game, such as the sniper rifle “Jackal” or fan favorite RCP-90. Picking one of these weapons up requires dropping the smaller handguns. This also occurs if you want to carry land mines or grenades as well; if you’re like me, you just go on without and totally lose the experience of using those goodies.

That’s a real shame too, because some of the additions may have been worthy, but who knows if they were necessary. In my experience, they were not. Ditto for the secondary fire feature on almost the entire arsenal available to you too. (The laptop sentry gun seems much less effective than in the first Perfect Dark, for example.)

There’s also flash bangs and riot shields, nice for eye candy, but pretty useless over making sure you holster the P9P for its scope function when also wielding a close combat weapon, such as a shotgun. About the only piece that feels right with the weapons is reloading times and how fast Joanna moves on screen. The shotgun will take awhile to load shells, while the M60’s weight slows you to a crawl.

The plasma gun is a nice addition, but if not for the walkthroughs and internet guides, I would’ve had zero clue about several other weapons that are available, notably never coming across the rocket launcher.

And that’s about how this game unfolds too. Often I found myself traveling in the wrong direction or going through a level entirely backwards due to a lack of knowing where to go and what to do next. A lot of the levels are recycled ideas from the first game too, such as ancient ruins, underground bases, and a jungle board.

The most unique level is the second one, the first “true” level (since the first is a simulation). You arrive at a night club and are asked to use stealth to locate your first objective. Good luck with that, as the AI sees you and starts a gun fight no matter what: the shots fired alert other enemies and you’re involved in a button smasher from the get go. But that’s okay: just run to a corner and allow the exhaustive supply of AI opponents to come right to your death trap.

Then you can simply run around the board until suggestive arrows finally send you the in the right direction to complete your mission, should you not fail it first by being spotted.

Spotty AI, confusing level layout and gimmicks, such as strange boss battles or using a special gadget to complete a task, hinder the overall experience. Often, the gadgets won’t work, or a certain area will see an NPC not move into the proper spot, an obvious bug which leaves you stuck and restarting. (Thank God there’s checkpoints.)

In all, I enjoyed the game more as I played through, but realized it was far from the source material of the N64 classic. Those with nostalgic feelings over that game would be best served to approach this with caution while also being thankful you can find it relatively cheap these days.

Otherwise, a full-priced Perfect Dark Zero is simply not worth the price of admission.

Perfect Dark

Easily one of my favorite games of all time. This took Goldeneye to a whole new level and pushed the limits of what was possible on the N64. Heck, replaying this, there are things I stopped and went “whoa” over that were done back in 2000. A lot of those concepts are still carried over to modern games. (I’d bet this game was a huge influence on Halo as well.)

Among the features include the various external tools, such as scanners and portable cameras. The ability to dual wield guns returns along with secondary options for every weapon. There were night vision and IR scanners, X-ray tracking guns (Farsight), sniper rifles, heat-seeking and manually guided missiles, plus so much more than I could possibly list here (or remember!)

This game is so great I may just play through it yet again! (I’ve beaten it several times in my lifetime.)

Note: the graphics are crude, but I discovered halfway through playing that I could increase the emulator settings as well as the actual game having a widescreen mode built-in. Therefore, you’ll notice a huge difference in the graphics when viewing my screenshots.