Perfect Dark, developed and published by Rare for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, has come to Xbox Live Arcade ten years later with great anticipation. It also comes with a few surprises, as this isn't a straight port of a classic shooter, such as Doom or Duke Nukem 3d's arcade ports - 4J studios, the team responsible for bringing this revered classic shooter to XBLA, has gone back into the game, improving the graphics, frame rate, enhancing the multiplayer for Xbox live, and adding other goodies throughout. A lot of you spent dozens and dozens of your college days in darkened dormitory rooms, huddled around the N64 with a bunch of your classmates and friends in lengthy, pitched deathmatches with bragging rights and pride on the line - you won't be disappointed with the refreshed Perfect Dark. And for the folks like me who missed it the first time around, it's another chance to play a first-person-shooter that laid a lot of groundwork for every shooter to follow, and raised the bar for console first person shooters for the next decade.
In the game, you play the role of Joanna Dark, a secret agent outfitted with a high-tech kit of gadgets, spy equipment, sophisticated weaponry, and a cool English accent (who says Lara Croft has to be the sole token representation in video game adventuring?) working for an organization called the Carrington Institute. Joanna deploys on a mission to rescue a defector from the company headquarters of DataDyne International, and soon gets caught up in a globe- spannning adventure that involves corporate conspiracy, secret alien visitors, Area 51, and (of course, this is a first person shooter, after all) lots and lots of gunfights. The single player campaign is enormously replayable, as there are three difficulty settings and the mission objectives change and become more difficult with each increase of the difficulty. Additionally, the single player campaign is supplemented with several alternative play modes - Co-operative, both on split-screen and Xbox Live, and Counter-Operative, in which one player attempts to complete the mission and an opposing player controls whatever AI enemy is closest to Joanna Dark at any time and attempts to stop her. And when you've brushed up your skills sufficiently after a few hours in the single player campaign, the same multiplayer the game is famous for is waiting on Live, with up to eight players supported now and up to four players supported on each console. The multiplayer is fast and brisk, with short matches, lots of games available, and with a large array of gadgets and trick weapons with alternative fire modes, so that you never have to frag your opponent the same way twice.
The game is, of course, ten years old, and with Moore's Law a video game's age could be measured in dog's years. That being said, the game is still a treat to watch and play - yes, it does hearken back to the days when video game characters couldn't move their mouths when they talked, but the character models are retooled for the XBLA release of the game, with much more detailed textures, and the character animation is excellent - during combat, for example, enemy characters will duck, take cover, and even roll and open fire with enough realism that almost seem motion-captured. The game features a broad variety of completely different environments that you'll explore and fight it - Rare used the same design philosophy as iD and most other FPS developers in the mid to late nineties - design a whole range of really cool, wildly diverse areas to play in, and then bring them together with a story, rather than plot an entire game and then force the design to fit the plot. Players used to more modern shooters may get the feeling that Perfect Dark is a series of multiplayer environments knitted together with animated cutscenes, but that's partly the way the game was designed. The game's engine is impressive for the day - it supports LARGE levels (this can sometimes be problematic, as players new to the game can get lost trying to find objectives) and renders them prettily, with new hi-res textures, a lighting engine that allows for players to shoot out lights and use nightvision, and a very smooth, fast framerate. Framerate was a beef on the original N64 version, with the game slowing down visibly when multiple enemies were onscreen, and with the graphics for four-player multiplayer seriously stripped down to try and keep the framerate tolerable for deathmatch play. The game features full voice acting for all characters and cutscenes, which was still fairly new for FPS games (Quake, only four years prior, had none, and Duke Nukem 3d very little) and almost unheard of for a cartridge- based game. The music is excellent, and all of these factors come together to give a FPS experience which was very story- driven and cinematic. Combine this with the legendary multiplayer, and you get a console shooter which was arguably the Halo for 2000's N64 - groundbreaking, enjoyable, and setting the standards for all to follow.