Perfect Dark Zero
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1, 1-2 co-op, 1-32 multiplayer
Words By:

There are some games in this world that scream out at you with their goodness, making you want to play them more and more. Call of Duty 2 and Burnout Revenge to name two. These games don’t need to be played for hours and hours on end to get to the meat, you get the good stuff right from the go and it’s bloody fantastic. Then at the other end of the scale there are games that require a lot of work and time to be put in get to interesting bits. Chess and Draughts fall into this category, and so does Perfect Dark Zero (PDZ).

Now you’d think that a game that has been in development for over half a decade and funded by a £350,000,000 buy-out would be beaming with “look at me – look at what I can do!!” moments where the player is wowed and mesmerized by what he or she sees on-screen. You’d think that wouldn’t you? I mean they must have thought up some pretty shit-hot ideas and cool stuff with all that development time huh? Well you’d be wrong. You’d be so wrong in fact that you’ll be booting up Halo 2 to see if what you remember was in fact reality and not all just a dream.

The main problem is that PDZ is a bit crap. No... No that’s unfair. It’s not exactly crap, but you have to dig very deep and play the game so much (like 3+ play-throughs) to find the good stuff that the majority of people won’t believe what they’re playing is:

a) Worth a whopping £49.99 for the “Limited Edition” metal box version (which is a rip off and a complete waste of money by the way – unless of course you have a metal fetish) and:
b) Anywhere near as good as the original Perfect Dark on Nintendo 64 – A game that is nearly six years old. And I can say that with my rose tinted specs firmly in the ‘off’ position.

For a start, if you play the game like any other first person shooter (and why shouldn’t you, you’re in first person, and you have lots of guns and enemies on screen to shoot) the game really is poor. You can instantly see the quite honestly appalling AI, which will simply dodge left and right to escape bullets that you’re firing at them, and you’ll swear, oh my god you’ll swear that you just unloaded an entire clip into that guard and he didn’t drop - he just stood there with his bright white shirt on taking hits, continuing to live and gaily shoot back at you. But you probably did miss because the game has next to no aiming assist, and unless you are pointing EXACTLY at the enemies’ faces then you’ll be hitting the wall behind them. You’ll then spend the next few seconds (which feel like forever, believe me, when you’re in a gun fight) reloading your weapons because they only hold about 20-30 bullets and during this, incoming shots are battering Jo Dark and the next thing you know it’s “mission over”. A general lack of ammo (particularly on “Perfect” or “Dark Agent” difficulty) suggests that the game is intended to be played stealthily, but it really doesn’t work due to a lack of any on-screen help (MGS or Splinter Cell-style) as to what the enemy are doing or which way they’re facing. Movement is slow, sluggish even, and when you see your co-op partner you’ll think they’re running in slow motion. Fun-free, unenjoyable trash. Turn it off and slap Call of Duty 2 in your Xbox 360, yes the WWII FPS has been done to death but you’ll love every loud, well-produced second of it (and the enemies die when you shoot them too!).

Or, like me, you might then recall that fantastic game on Nintendo 64, and remember it in fact being a rather clever and stealthy game - and yes, it was ace, amazing and wonderful because you could use your cam spy (a hovering remote-controlled camera) to look around corners for enemies and so you could see how careful you needed to be. You could even silently drug enemies to remove them from the equation for a short time - that was an awesome idea. Well you can’t do that now, in fact you can no longer use your cam spy where you want to, which is a real shame as it's a great gadget, and you only use it twice during the entire game (once in the training level then in Mission 10). However you do have a “cover mode” that (sometimes) lets you look around corners, and hide behind boxes to check the area out. Now I said ‘sometimes’ because it doesn't always work and appears to be broken. You’ll occasionally get a wall that the game for some reason doesn’t want you to look around, or perhaps a surface that isn’t completely flat, apparently this means that you cannot hide behind it or look around that corner. If an enemy flanks you whilst in “cover” you can’t even pan around and shoot him – how daft is that? In some circumstances you’ll even get Jo’s hair clip through your gun sight so you can’t see a thing on screen apart from Jo’s red mop – you can imagine how helpful that is... The cover mode isn’t the only time the controls hamper your enjoyment either; simply picking up the weapon you want can be a nightmare as the same button (Y) is stupidly used to both toggle between the weapons you’re carrying (you can carry one heavy weapon and up to two pistols to dual-wield) and to swap between a discarded enemies’ weapon. This will often result in you putting down the wrong weapon, then picking up the wrong one and is the cause of a remarkable amount of confusion, hilarity even, all because Rare didn’t think to use another button for “pick up” – it’s a real mess, and totally unnecessary.

According to certain game designers if a first person shooter game is well enough designed it doesn't need a jump button, so PDZ doesn’t feature that ability. It’s a shame as it could have benefited from it because there are large inconsistencies here; some ledges you’ll be able to ‘hop’ up, but others you will not. It’s down to whether the game wants you to or not. They are the same height, but for some reason you cannot get up this ledge. Why not? I could easily get up the other one, what is so different about this faffing ledge? Why can’t I hop onto these crates and get a better view of the bad guy over there? The crate is the same height as that ledge too, yet no matter what I do I can’t stand on it. Aaargh!

So like me you’ll no doubt get drawn back to it and start playing the game again, but this time at a snail’s pace, really taking your time with the missions, making sure there is nobody around when you’re listening in on conversations, and then being sure to take out the security cameras and melee enemies or shoot them with silenced weapons so others near by do not hear your gunfire. Shhhh!! - be real quiet when going past those guys and you’ll get past without being noticed. Put the silencer on the P9P pistol and shoot the lock off the door. Close it behind you so nobody notices.

This is really great; it’s almost like Metal Gear Solid. Then somebody unseen by you spots you and the game falls apart. There is nowhere to hide, so you must have the mother of all firefights and kill every enemy that appears from thin air – and they do, I’ve seen them. Actually, that first bit is a lie. There are plenty of places to hide, but this particular STEALTH game doesn’t allow it. Once you’re seen, you’re seen, and no matter how well you hide in the darkness in a cargo holder or in an air conditioning duct away from sight, you’re stuffed. The AI don’t go off alert, they don’t wonder where you are – they know where you are, running towards you firing and hitting you with every shot. Mission over, restart.

So it’s a stealthy first person shooter that doesn’t allow for mistakes or hiding, has no scanner to indicate which way the enemies are looking… and has boss fights too. Ah yes, the boss fights; No wonder people hate boss fights these days when this is what developers come up with. About half way through the game you come across two cowboys, and you have to kill them. Cowboys y’say, in the year 2020? Where did they come from? How are they involved in the story, who sent them and why? They mentioned something about a bounty, but that was it. THAT took you five years? Absolutely disgraceful. All they do is shoot at you. There is no pattern, no alternate fire, and no bit where they are vulnerable - you just shoot them. Wow - what imagination it took to make that. I don't know what I was thinking banging on about the bosses in Shadow of the Colossus; Perfect Dark Zero is where it’s at!

£350,000,000? Nintendo must be laughing their asses off right now. I could mention the other bosses too, like the one with the hovercraft, where you have to just shoot her, or the final end of game boss, in which you just have to shoot him, or if you’re really adventurous you can hit him with a sword. Oh dear…

The problems don’t end here either. Level design in general is poor. The levels don’t play well, and they aren’t easy to get around. It's a very confusing game to play, and Rare will be the first to admit this, which is why blue arrows on the floor will show your route to the next objective if you wander around for too long - they’re obviously there because so many of the game’s testers got lost, or died of apathy - clearly this aid was put in the game at the last moment because nobody knew where to go. You can turn them off, but believe me you’ll want to leave them on – you will get lost frequently without them, and not have the slightest clue what to do next. This “help” or idiot-proofing is exhibited again by key cards that glow like they have plasma hotter than the SUN burning inside them - so you don’t miss them presumably.

It became apparent to me whilst playing through PDZ for the third time that this game is seriously lost. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. It wants to be stealthy, and an all-out shooter. It wants to be a big epic story-based game with fancy cut scenes and a character trying to get to Lara Croft status. It fails in all of these areas, and to me the game is one thing, and one thing only, a graphical showcase. The texture detail is insane – I have honestly never seen anything like it. Fancy mapping makes bricks walls, tarmac and paint look incredibly real, and the game has some really nice lighting too.

However all these things are also hiding the fact that the game is very basic and closed in – invisible walls and all kinds of old tricks hem you in, and the engine isn’t that great either. For example in the snow level, why aren’t footprints left behind when walking along? Why can you shoot metal padlocks off doors, but not destroy wooden doors with a shotgun – you could do both of those in Resident Evil 4, so why not on this, a game I’ve seen called in more than one place “the 360’s flagship title”? Why don’t leaves and grass move when walking through them in the Jungle? It did that on Metal Gear Solid 3 as well – we have the most powerful piece of home console gaming hardware in existence and Jo Dark clips though leaves and even some whacking great solid looking trees - lovely. One particularly remarkable level even has water that slopes, appearing to gently flow uphill in places! PDZ looks to be running on a very old game engine, but with fancy texturing to cover itself up. The frame rate is shocking at times too, and I have actually had the game lockout for a second or two when the screen gets busy – is that what we have to put up with to get high definition graphics and parallax mapping?

The story (PDZ is a prequel set three years before Perfect Dark and 20 year-old Jo and her Dad are bounty hunters and they get caught up in a plot ironically involving a ‘cutting-edge’ deathmatch video game developed by the evil dataDyne corporation and their evil CEO Zhang Li, who…Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz) isn’t very good either, and Rare couldn’t even be bothered to create a big enough selection of characters for the story. If you play through the game in online co-op (which is PDZ’s only saving grace to be perfectly honest) one of you will play as Jo Dark, and then the second player will swap between her Dad, Jack, Chandra, some guy who looks like a reject from Pop Idol and a couple of other generic characters that also appear at the same time – confused? – Then listen to this: on one level you’ll play as a character who helps Jo save a dropship pilot who looks exactly like, guess who? – yep, you! Good grief, it gets worse: At the start of the early missions you’re being briefed by Chandra, and throughout these missions you’re being spoken to by her. But your mate is playing as Chandra – how is it possible she is there with you playing the game, and working out how to get out of the level and communicating with you on the radio at the same time? Did they not have enough time to make another character up for mission briefings? If you are “Player 2” then you can watch the intro cut scene after which the camera will zoom up behind Jo and into her head (GoldenEye-style) – but you’re not actually playing as Jo – confusing? – you betcha!

The character models are also very cartoony and unimpressive to look at. The ragdoll effects are poor, and although thankfully the game is ‘next gen’ enough that bodies don’t disappear they jiggle around trying to settle into place when dead – it looks ridiculous. The acting is awful – at times so funny that you’ll wonder if Rare were in fact attempting to spoof their own game in some sort of Team America way, and for some reason now Jo Dark has an American accent too, which is lovely – but what was wrong with her English tongue I wonder?

PDZ does feature some fantastic music though, and a lot of thought has been put into setting the right atmosphere. My favourite would be the second mission when you’re trying to get into a nightclub. All you can hear outside is thumping bass, and as you walk in you get treated to the full house-music track – it’s superb and works really well.

As previously mentioned, the game features both split screen and online co-op modes, which allows you and a friend to play through all the single player missions together. This for me saves the game from complete mediocrity. It works quite well, you have to help each other out, and it’s certainly enjoyable to a point. A couple of changes here and there have been made to accommodate the co-op setup, like elevators that require one player to be in, and the other player to operate, and doors that require two buttons to be pressed at the same time. Apart from that, the levels and objectives are identical.

PDZ features multiplayer death match too, with modes like capture the flag, all against all and team games. After nearly 6 years in development Rare have managed to make a grand total of 6 maps to play the game in. SIX. About one for every year of development then. I read somewhere that some face at Microsoft is quoted as saying that “PDZ will be the 360’s Halo 2” - not a flipping chance mate. Most games end up with you simply circle-strafing one or two other poor sods until one of you dies, sniping rarely works because, like the enemies in the campaign, everyone can sustain a stupid amount of damage and even head shots on unarmoured opponents rarely kill in one shot – utterly ridiculous.

So overall Perfect Dark Zero is far from the flagship title we’d hoped for, and is in fact a huge disappointment – merely a very average game with too many annoying flaws, even its better elements will fail to impress you for any length of time. Only its graphics and soundtrack please, which for a next generation game costing forty or fifty quid is simply unacceptable. There are moments when the game works well (if you play it stealthily), but there simply isn't enough of this and the busy parts – including the bosses - are simply not very good. The co-op mode saves the day from complete disaster, but there are already considerably more enjoyable first person games available for your Xbox 360. This could, and should have been so much more.

Best Bits

- The co-op mode
- The music and sound effects
- Some cool weapons like the RCP90
- Bots available in multiplayer
Worst Bits

- Bullet-proof enemies
- General lack of ammo spoils things
- Sluggish movement and controls
- The bosses are pathetic
- Confusing level design
- Inconsistent gameplay and graphics
- Multiplayer modes/maps are a let down

by: DC

Copyright © Gamecell 2006