Perfect Dark Zero Review

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Graphics: 8.5
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : 8.5
Overall : 8.2
Review by Alex Di Domenico
A near-futuristic setting, heavy firepower, kickass explosions and a hot babe; most would find this to be a winning combination of strong selling points when searching for their next video game purchase. Indeed, when the original Perfect Dark hit store shelves in 2000 for the Nintendo 64, the game had a lot going for it. It provided a fresh and amusing single player experience and countless hours of fun while playing head-to-head against friends, and that’s the experience Rare tried to capture once again with its prequel to the original game, Perfect Dark Zero, a title that accompanied the Xbox 360’s launch on November 22 of last year.

For newcomers to the series who haven’t had the opportunity to play the original Perfect Dark, fear not, you needn’t be familiar with the original installment to be able to enjoy the title. It’s meant to serve as a prequel of sorts to the events of the N64 version, even though there are very few parallels between both games. Aside from the single-player story mode, there is also the very strong multiplayer aspect, where most of the fun resides. Featuring the ability to play over Xbox Live or System Link, there are a myriad of assorted game modes to choose from, which will keep players far from boredom.

In the story mode, players will take the role of the fiery redhead, Joanna Dark. Accompanied by her father, the duo acts as a pair of bounty hunters, although there is more of a superspy feel to the game, which veterans of the series will distinguish. Sadly, Perfect Dark Zero’s plot feels rather tacky and like a cheap setup leading up to the action, much like old Kung Fu movies, which can be a good thing, depending on how you look at it. There’s mention of a vile, power hungry businessman on a quest for some sort of artifact and Joanna and her father hunting him down. Really, if you’re playing PDZ for a deep and engaging story, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed.

Seeing as how the game is focused heavily around its first-person combat, Rare made sure they refined their gameplay mechanics as much as possible, and there are certain areas where this really shows. The firefights and explosions are top notch, and there’s even motion blur when moving and heat effects emanating from fire to boot! Another highly important part is the title’s impressive roster of firepower; it wouldn’t be a Perfect Dark title without it. Throughout Joanna’s journey spanning 12 big levels, players will come across a plethora of weapons, ranging from pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles all the way up to rocket launchers. Each firearm has a secondary function, and a few even have a tertiary one, such as the M4-like assault rifle that sports the typical grenade launcher, and a silencer as a 3rd function. Pistols and most SMGs can be dual-wielded and each gun will affect your character’s running speed, depending on the size and weight of it. A good example of this would be someone running around with a pistol as opposed to the rocket launcher; the speed will be vastly different.

Over the course of each level, you’ll face hordes of enemies, all of which usually get promptly cut down unless you get lost in the annoyingly designed levels and end up running in circles. While the AI isn’t bad, it isn’t very good either and provides little in the way of a challenge on the lower difficulty levels. In the rare occasion that you are killed, the chances are high that you’ll be forced to restart from the beginning of the level due to the lack of quick saving, although there are a few checkpoints that are far and few apart.

Another major gripe I have with the game is the controls; there’s an annoying, sluggish, and clunky feeling that you can’t help but shake when moving or trying to aim. Even after tweaking with the sensitivity and control scheme, there was still something that just didn’t feel quite right when playing. In addition, characters appear to move slowly, as if they’re wading through shallow water, which can sound quite silly when described as so, but it’s something that needs to be seen to fully understand.

While some may finish the single player storyline fairly quickly, or just get bored of it, the real fun to be had is on Xbox Live, System Link or against a bunch of friends in split-screen mode. The multiplayer aspect supports the typical variants everyone has become accustomed to, such as: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag and territorial gain-style matches. Additionally, there’s a section titled ‘Dark Ops’ featuring a variety of Counter-Strike inspired, round-based matches, where players can gain money to purchase gear and may only respawn at the beginning of each round. For each game mode, bots can also be assigned to replace players. An irritation I have with the multiplayer though is that it seems to take a very copious amount of ammunition to kill your opponents, which can be quite annoying at times, especially since headshots are difficult to achieve.

Visually, Perfect Dark Zero definitely does not disappoint, unless you have no choice but to play the game on a non-HDTV television set, in which case many parts of the game look a little above a current-generation Xbox title. When you do unleash the power of the 360 with a high definition television, or the HD/AV VGA cables, the game looks incredible. The explosions are some of the best to date and the special effects are superb. While some of the generic models for Joanna’s foes can be ugly up close, the important characters in the game look impressive and the exotic locales that players will visit are even more stunning. Ranging from a nightclub, laboratories, an alpine fortress, urban rooftops and even a jungle, there certainly is enough variety for anyone in here. The framerate is usually consistent, although there are a few occasional slowdowns, but these usually occur in massive firefights while playing online.

In the aural department, PDZ is rather a mixed bag. To begin, the sound effects are great. Most of the guns sound exactly as you’d expect them too, although a few do sound underpowered and weak. The explosions are splendid and fierce firefights are a lot more engrossing thanks to the sound. What really drags the game down in this aspect is the horribly cheesy voice acting. It sounds so forced and unbelievable, much like the dialogue found in a bad western or kung fu movie before a big fight scene. The musical score is also well varied and fits nicely with the context of the game and each level.

Overall, Perfect Dark Zero may be disappointing to some, but this doesn’t mean it’s a bad game by any means. Although it does have its fair share of shortcomings, there’s also a lot of fun to be had, specifically in 32-player matches over Xbox Live. Having been under pressure to make the launch of the 360, PDZ does feel a little rushed in certain areas, which is disappointing as it had a lot to live up to thanks to the original installment for Nintendo 64. The audio-visual department of the game is certainly impressive, even more so if you’re the owner of a HDTV and a good sound system, but the voice acting is just downright tacky.