Perfect Dark Zero (Xbox 360) review
"Co-op modes commonly up the enemy count with the inclusion of a second player, and as well they should. Taking a friend in tow demands more targets to aim at, and Zero obligates. It obliges in the form of crippling overkill."
I was programmed to hate Perfect Dark Zero from the start. Blame the e-crowd I hang out with who have, to a man, declared that anything post-N64 Rare is an affront to everything they hold dear. Poor Zero forever gets the brunt of this attitude and, though it will no doubt clog my IM box up later with numerous insults (mostly pertaining to crude untruths about my sexuality -- I never said they were a high brow e-crowd) I donít think it fully deserves this. Itís not perfect, but itís not a pus-filled affront to FPSí everywhere. This leaves it only one place to exist and, unfortunately for Rare, this place is blinding mediocrity.
Itís a title thatís less broken and more stiflingly ordinary; Joanna Dark returns to run through her story before the adored N64 strain of Perfect Dark where she plays thug for hire with daddy and a sassy techno-chick sidekick. Thereís villains and explosions and innuendo and all the obligatory trappings youíd expect when a game developer tries to reinvent James Bond with 56% more sass and nicer breasts. Itís not an ugly game; the graphics are the expected upscale of the originalís style, but itís not mind-blowing, either. It has its share of good ideas, theyíre just intermingled with some that donít really work.
The first stage drops Joanna into enemy turf, in this case a reinvented oil rig gutted out and refurbished as a top secret science lab. Here, you learn how to do use the gameís cover system, hack into encrypted doors and how to pilot a spy-bot through a series of air vents blasting away fuses with its EMP gun. Youíll use the spy-bot all of one more time afterwards. Then you go to war against a small army of tiny metal spiders which may or may not contain arachnid suicide bombers depending on the difficulty you select. Only really the last section of the stage feels alive when, after saving a bunch of nerdy scientists from the tiny maintenance machines, will you come up against a notable human threat. Itís a jarring change of pace, like being asked to juggle a pair of apples and then suddenly being told to continue atop a rickety stool balanced over a vat of acid while battleaxes are added to the equation. Jarring, but welcome.
Enemy troops in Zero are clearly not as incompetent as they look and have an unnerving ability to actually hit you more often than not while trying to shoot you dead. Each one a master marksman, they can also absorb a respectable amount of bullets before succumbing to death. A lot of them also wear armour of sorts, which will take noticeable damage as you attack; helmets splintering, chest protectors flying off in random angles. It may look a little cheap and plasticky as bits of protective clothing ping around all over the show, but itís an appreciated effort.
On the oil rig, they wait for you on the last stretch before your exit in numbers, making you thankful for the sudden help granted by ally AI. This would be the perfect time to drop into a stealth mindset like the original game, sneak unseen along a wall of cargo crates and capture some easy kills with melee attacks to the back of the skull. But, no. The enemy, as well as a marksmanship stat of 32 and an armour buff of +7, also possess superhuman eyesight, rendering stealth completely impotent for the vast majority of scenarios. Instead, as soon as you step out of the complex and onto the open-air platform, youíll be pinpointed and pummelled from afar while sneaky sneaks creep down the sides and flank you.
The next stage is a pretty so-so siege of a nightclub, which is endured until the next stage throws you up on a rooftop and asks you to protect your AI ally as he creeps through a series of tight back-alleys and open sewer pipes, making you cover him from a faraway roof corner with a sniper rifle from the hordes of security goons swarming in from the opposite direction as he slowly climbs a glass-faced building. Soon afterwards, youíre lulled into a sense of false security as what seems to be the last of the crooked rent-a-cops fall before a dropship equipped with twin mini-guns assaults you in an area suspiciously sparse of cover. Joanna can hide and wait for the ship to loose interest or she can plough bullets into the shipís twin engines, forcing it to retreat for repairs. One of these options will be taken by a smart player, the second by players who donít mind exhausting the vast majority of their ammunition on a tough opponent just for the satisfaction of seeing it retreat in flames, spitting out curses over its PA system.
Then, later, youíre stuck in a wide open military base full of hidden gunmen lurking in the hazy distance. While Zero probably wants you to sneak around the huge hangars eliminating pockets of mercenaries slowly, itís much quicker to stand outside of cover, wait for the bullets to start flowing then zero in on the muzzle flashes you can see from afar.
Perfect Dark Zero is an okay title. It has some great little features, like how you can only add to Joannaís arsenal of pistols, assault rifles, hand grenades and machine guns by keeping hold of them until the level is over, but itís lacking any strong elements to drive you onwards. The plotís basic, the use of gadgets appreciated at times, but overdone at others and the sheer hit-or-miss level design that can have you absolutely loving a stage only to then be thrown into levels you wish would hurry up and end.
And thatís how the review would have ended, unimpressed and ho-hum, if Zero didnít have an absolutely killer multiplayer mode attached.
Online, itís good enough for people to ignore the stand alone game entirely, even if the hosting lobbies are dwindling at a depressing rate, but even offline, death matches can be filled with AI bots of gradable skills, either flooding games with unassailable numbers or sparsely populating arenas with targets you need to carefully stalk.
But even thatís not the highlight.
Zero has a co-op mode that could be considered broken at worst and accidentally awesome at best.
The Bridge is probably ZeroĎs best level by far: the first half is a sniperís paradise where a friendly unit has been pinned down by sharpshooters holding an ancient pyramid from attack. In the single player version, you are but Joanna with the option to nick a downed soldierís laser-powered sniper rifle to pick away at the forces otherwise outside of your reach. In co-op, just one of you takes on this role as the other takes command of a nameless grunt who finds himself at an unknown back-door that grants him access to the very heart of the structure. Gutting the structure from two angles is fun enough, with one of you watching the second cause havoc from within through their sniper scope while the second watches foes a few feet away get struck down via attacks from afar.
But thatís not the highlight, either.
The level borrows its name from itís strongest set piece. Wind your way through the pyramid and youíll come across a huge suspension bridge the enemy have made into a stronghold, forcing you to storm it. In single player, you are backed up by numerous AI allies that either run the bridge with you or take up sniping positions further back. After taking out the guards, soldiers come at you in waves after progressing so far down the bridge cumulating in a platoon of deadly plasma-riflemen who can use their weaponís secondary function to conceal them in a chameleon cloak, making them hard to spot. Itís an intense battle that, after the gunsmoke has cleared, litters the expansive bridge in the bullet-ridden bodies of friend and foe alike.
Co-op modes commonly up the enemy count with the inclusion of a second player, and as well they should. Taking a friend in tow demands more targets to aim at, and Zero obligates. It obliges in the form of crippling overkill
Your AI allies will not last much past the second wave and when the plasma-wielding hotties in skin-tight jumpsuits start invading the scene, you wonít be far behind them. To say the extreme amount of numbers offered at times like these is staggering is the nicest way of putting it. Inappropriate might have been the far more fitting word, but, even if it took us a dozen attempts to survive enough troops to invade a small African nation, the fight was extraordinarily intense. Desperate flights to revive a downed partners are common, as are backpedalling from endless wave after endless wave, falling back to the last stronghold of sandbags or charred vehicle, always with only a slither of health between you and a game over screen.
It was next to impossible. And, when it was completed, it granted a smug sense of self-gratification so deep that I can take the soon-incoming instant messages that will belittle me for daring to praise a post-N64 Rare game in such a fashion. Get it out of your system, guys because, yes, I agree that Perfect Dark Zero has its problems and I can get right behind the notion that the previous title is the superior of the two, but I survived The Bridge in Co-Op. And you didn't.
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