Perfect Dark XBLA Review

It should be noted, right off the bat, that the re-launch of Perfect Dark on the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) was made for a very specific audience. This is in no way to suggest that if you didn’t play the original to stop reading right now, but I thought it was only fair to warn you. There are online leaderboards, there’s online multiplayer, and there are updated control schemes to work with the Xbox controller as opposed to the classic Nintendo 64 controls. But all that said, this game was made for fans of the original game, the ones who had all-nighter split-screen death matches, and we are very, very happy.

If you’re one of those people and you weren’t waiting up until midnight to purchase the game, go ahead and do so with no hesitation. The 800 Microsoft points are well worth the investment. If, however, you’re on the fence on whether or not you’ll like this decidedly 10 year old update, allow me to enlighten you.

First things first: a little history. Rare, the studio, originally released Perfect Dark on May 22nd, 2000 and the game went on to earn an average review of 9.1 (out of 10), ranking it 4th out of the 537 Nintendo 64 games. It launched a GameBoy Advance game, a series of tie-in novels, comics and a prequel in the form of the Xbox 360 launch title, Perfect Dark Zero. On a personal history note, so you know where you’re author is coming from, I couldn’t even guess at times I played through the campaign, or the number of hours I spent in the combat simulator (multiplayer before the days of online consoles). When Microsoft bought Rare, the reason I bought an Xbox was because the next Perfect Dark was supposedly coming out on it. When the 360 launched, I bought it because Perfect Dark Zero was a launch title. And when they announced they were bringing Perfect Dark to XBLA, I about died of joy. So, being the Perfect Dark aficionado that I am, the only place to go is nitpicking, both good and bad.

From the very opening of the game, even though the publishers have changed, the game “looks” and sounds like the original. Everything from the “boot-up” screen before the Rare/Microsoft Game Studios/4J Studios all mesh into the PD logo, it feels exactly right. But you’ll note I highlighted “looks” but not “sounds”, and that’s for good reason. The Nintendo 64 best seller has been visually revamped – not to today’s high-definition standards, no, but well above what the original was able to present. The sound, for better or worse, has been only slightly cleaned up.

This is going to be a major point of contention for most players, and even one for those of us who grew up on Perfect Dark. The visuals are stunning (in comparison to the what the Nintendo 64 could offer), and I can’t imagine a cleaner look that doesn’t completely change what the original game looked like. But at some point, someone decided, whether for budget or nostalgia reasons, to leave the audio pretty much as it was.

What the issue of sound comes down to is that, for all the Nintendo 64 could do, sound was never it’s strong point. Perfect Dark actually had probably the strongest voice acting budget for any game on the system, but it was muddled at best, and there was no definition to it. There was an excellent restore job done on the audio, as you can hear distinct differences between the voice work and the soundtrack, so someone did spent time making it aurally pleasing, but it sometimes is awkward. For instance, in the third chapter of the game, you start off making your way through a series of rocky alcoves, and gun shots, ricochets and more have a very deep, impressive sound, even down to the echo effects. And yet, the dialogue (still funny after all these years) of someone yelling “she got me!” or “I’m dying!” sounds flat and almost in mono in comparison (it isn’t, in fact, in mono – it’s stereo, but you get my point).

Should the audio have been touched up? Should 4J Studios have brought back the entire cast, or even the cast from 2005’s Perfect Dark Zero to punch up the dialogue? Personally, for nostalgia reasons, I’m fine with the decision to clean it up as best they could rather than re-record, but I can see and appreciate the opposite opinion.

I mentioned earlier that 4J Studios also offered up some new control schemes, and they should be noted. They did a great job remapping the Nintendo 64 control scheme to the Xbox 360 controller, and for any veteran Perfect Dark fan, it might just be the way to go. But they also offered up Halo-style controls (coded as “Spartan”) and Call of Duty controls (namely, “Duty Calls”). As a Halo fan, the controls feel very tight, and I’d happily use them. I can’t say much on the Call of Duty controls as I haven’t played enough the games to make a fair assessment. The most important part to note about the controls, however, and n00bs take note, if you toss a remote mine, just like the original, you can smash A and X down to instantly trigger a fireball. And that’s ALL that matters when it comes to controls! Honestly, if the feature weren’t in there, the score for the game would’ve been docked a full star.

Perfect Dark brings a lot to the table. It has a decent-length single player campaign, fun side missions within the Carrington Institute (getting high scores in the Shooting Range, practicing melee combat and simple exploration) but where’s it real value is in its multiplayer. The newest addition to Perfect Dark is online multiplayer, but the guys over at 4J Studios know that Perfect Dark was the ultimate four player split-screen experience. But for those of you who like to go it alone, the Bots are back in Perfect Dark, too, and it’s a lot of fun to hit up the Combat Simulator on your own against Meat Sims and Judge Sims and Rocket Sims and more.

Which brings me, then, to the conclusion, which you could’ve called from the first paragraph. If you ever played and loved Perfect Dark, you’ve already wasted too much time reading this review. If you want to get a feel for what games were like in the late 90’s, look no further than this great title. For an FPS, in the Xbox world where every third game released is an FPS, Perfect Dark still manages to stand out as one of the best. It’s not the best looking or sounding game on your system, but you’ll definitely revel in the experience.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

GamerSyndrome: 4.5 out of 5

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