Perfect Dark (Nintendo 64) review
"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Perfect Dark's wicked multiplayer mode, one packed with enough depth and nuance to make bland crapfests like Timesplitters 2's (admit it, you only liked playing as the monkey) squirm. The design is rad; levels such as the glass-intensive Grid, which features two large rooms connected by an elevator and some tight corridors, never fail to amuse, and the weapons fit just as neatly into this as they do the solo campaign."
I probably don't need to tell you about how much Goldeneye rocked. It was the Doom of console shooters, a game that brought popularity to the genre not only because of its relative novelty but also by its superb quality; the fact that it's just as playable today, almost a decade later, is a testament to Rare's brilliant design. But enough about that. I'm not here to talk about that timeless classic but rather its successor, Perfect Dark. Fluff talk about the lofty standards the game was being held to would be pointless, as it simply obliterates every expectation I could have had and then proceeds to kick me in the face for doubting it.
The thing I love so much about it is how it spews out one exciting setup after another, rarely expending effort on any of that "downtime" crap. Just the third of its twenty levels, for instance, starts you off in the foyer of a colossal office building; apparently, your entrance plans weren't too subtle, as it's blanketed in an inconvienient darkness and fortified with a dozen equally inklike shock troopers hiding behind riot barricades and overturned tables. Prepared blokes, eh? Your work certainly won't be over once you make your way to the elevator and ride it skyward, though. Security is equally taut in the upper levels of the tower, which feature myraid foes ranging from shotgun-toting bodyguards to a ferocious attack helicopter that circles the building! Plus, the whole event is accompanied by an exciting, tense drum n' synth song, one of many great tunes that have no damn business being in an N64 game.
Perfect Dark never lets up on the sweet missions. The very next one has you playing sniper to save a negotiator, and only gets better once you move into the ornately decorated villa a short jaunt from your vantage point. Later on in the game you'll get to sneak through an elaborate Alaskan air-base only to blast away with an automatic rifle once corrupt NSA agents swarm through it, and you'll have to swipe some equipment out of a dilapidated storm drain before blasting your way into a seedy Chicago bar that features... a huge chunk of Swiss cheese in one of its lavatories. Suffice to say, the game never takes itself too seriously; where else can you meet a stereotypical grey-style alien named Elvis, or... well, come on! TOILET CHEESE!
Equally "varied" is the exotic array of weapons you'll pick up along the way. Step right up and witness the amazing Cyclone, a one-handed SMG capable of belching out its 50-bullet magazine at the tap of a button! Enjoy the incredibly named Reaper, a massive chaingun replete with barrel blades that lend it the secondary function "GRINDER"! And, of course, I can't forget the lovable Farsight XR-20, an organic rifle capable of x-ray vision, target seeking, and through-walls firing... it'd almost be cheap were it not so much damn fun. Such armaments are a nice change from the usual pistol/shotgun/ grenade launcher assortment found in most FPS games, although those genre mainstays will also make appearances.
Fortunately, Perfect Dark doesn't just rely on its impressive arsenal and extravagant setups; even when it's being something more akin to your average FPS, its virtually flawless design allows it to pole-vault over the quality bar set by even today's blasters. The expansive stretch of snowy, barren wilderness you're tasked with exploring, for instance, is packed with enough crevasses and subterranean tunnels that it never becomes a chore to navigate for you or your opposition. Indeed, you'll have to be extra careful once your foes know you're there, as you never knew where there'll be a sentry hiding, waiting... with an obscenely powerful automatic. The epic, deliberately paced background music and diverse goals (ranging from a retrieval to an assassination) only add to the mission's intense atmosphere, as do the surreal orange sky and intermittent flurries.
Plus, this isn't one of those games you can just toss aside with a big mental checkmark next to it once you beat it; there's plenty to keep you coming back for more. Develop strategies to RACE through the missions and unlock a variety of cool cheats, from the table-turning All Guns in Solo to the masochists-only Enemy Rockets. Play the tremendous and grueling Perfect Agent mode, the short ammo supply and shorter health bar of which mandate nigh-inhuman strategy and reflex. It even shuffles the design around, some missions' moreso than others'; have fun being the negotiator in that villa level! Hope you're good with quick draws... and if you are, you can always use the well-hidden enemy stat sliders to arrange an enthralling one-hit kills mode.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Perfect Dark's wicked multiplayer mode, one packed with enough depth and nuance to make bland crapfests like Timesplitters 2's (admit it, you only liked playing as the monkey) squirm. The design is rad; levels such as the glass-intensive Grid, which features two large rooms connected by an elevator and some tight corridors, never fail to amuse, and the weapons fit just as neatly into this as they do the solo campaign. You can customize everything, too, from the music playlist to where exactly certain items will appear. It might not have the 16-player madness of a Castle Wolfenstein but it's the cream of the FPS crop for when it's just you and those three buddies who spend scary amounts of time in your home. And it's not like you can't just add a bunch of computer opponents to the match... hint hint, Halo.
Is Perfect Dark, well, perfect? Not quite. When the on-screen action becomes too manly for even the N64 to handle, the game can get a bit choppy, especially if you're playing in the glorious hi-rez mode with some explosives-happy buddies. It's never actually a problem, though (it won't be the slowdown's fault if you perish in a fifteen enemy warzone), and despite this negligible technical shortcoming, the game is an undeniable classic. Its design is impeccable, and even after clearing its stupendous hard mode, even after wasting the better part of an entire summer with its multiplayer, I still find something new to do every time I go back to Perfect Dark; I can't say the same of even the mighty Goldeneye.
And, well, come on. Toilet cheese.
Staff review by John L (April 03, 2005)
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