Between Halo and Half-Life 2, the Xbox library was crammed full of tremendous first person shooters. With the debut of the Xbox 360, many fans of the genre were hedging their bets on Perfect Dark Zero - Rare?s sequel to their acclaimed game from the Nintendo 64 - to keep the tradition alive. I?m happy to report that Perfect Dark Zero hits the ground running and continues the tradition of top notch FPS on the Xbox platform.
Perfect Dark Zero has everything you could ever ask for in a top notch First Person Shooter ? a terrific set of weapons, great controls, a massive assortment of multiplayer options, varied environments, and some gorgeous graphics that easily top any console FPS to date.
While there are plenty of good points about PDZ, there are a few missteps that keep it from achieving perfection. One of the more frustrating flaws is that there are not enough checkpoints in the single player campaign, and in the event you meet an untimely death you often have to play over a large chunk of the level. I also didn?t find the story to be very gripping and at times I found myself tuning out the plot details out of a lack of interest. It?s not horrible, it just isn?t in any danger of winning a Pulitzer Prize.
The single player campaign has you jetting off to wildly varying locales throughout the 14 missions - from the South American jungle to China and everywhere in between. It?s a slightly slower paced FPS, and there is an emphasis on stealth on most missions. However, on the easy and normal difficulty levels you can generally still go in guns a blazin? without much of a problem. There are a few vehicles, such as a jet pack and hovercraft, thrown into the mix, which are a joy, but the real star of this show is the weaponry. There is a wide selection of guns thrown your way throughout the campaign, and all feel extremely well done. Most weapons have a nifty secondary function - such as adding a silencer, jamming radar, or shooting out grenades. At the end of each mission you are giving a score which, if hooked up to Xbox Live, you can compare with the top players. Also the strategies change a lot between the difficulty settings, which just adds to the already high amount of replay value.
The single player game is a solid experience, but PDZ really hits a homerun in the multiplayer park. If you like co-op, not only can you play on the same Xbox 360, but you can also team up over Xbox Live. Some levels feature branching pathways in which the co-op players are put on separate paths that intersect at certain spots ? enabling you to help out your teammate. It really adds a dimension the strategy and fun, and will give you good reason to play the level twice to experience both paths. I started out with the intent of playing the co-op for a level or two to get the feel of it, but ended up playing it for many more hours than I had anticipated ? it?s just that much fun.
You?ll also find your standard assortment of Xbox Live options, such as your standard deathmatches and capture the flag adventures. You can have up to 32 people in a match, and if you?re short of a few players of whatever number you desire, you have the option of filling out the roster with AI bots. If you haven?t jumped on the XBL bandwagon, you can also play Deathmatches all by yourself against an entire team of bots.
On top of all that, there is a very unique ?Dark Ops? multiplayer mode in which there are no specific set weapons, and you have to ?purchase? your weapons prior to the match using credits earned by your performance in these matches. The better the weapon, the more it will cost you. It?s a unique experience as you must be conscious of your budget and plan ahead.
The game controls like most FPS to grace the Xbox over the past 4 years, except for one feature ? there is no jumping. While I am sure there are those that could argue for days about the pros and cons of this, I will simply say that I found that after playing through a few missions and deathmatches that I did not miss the ability to jump and rarely thought about it. Joanna Dark can easily navigate over small ledges and stairs simply by pushing toward the obstacle, and it did not present any problems throughout the game.
Since this is a new console generation, and we?re dealing with a much more powerful platform, I expected PDZ to look prettier than anything we saw in the last generation of consoles. I was not disappointed as PDZ looks simply gorgeous, especially when playing the game on a HDTV. The lighting effects and textures on the surfaces are terrific. Another positive is the environments, which were very detailed and changed drastically throughout the single player campaign. On the negative side, I did not notice much of an improvement in the character models over the last generation of games. Also, if you?ve been playing the latest FPS on a high end PC, you likely won?t notice that much of a difference between that experience and this one.
In the sound department, the gunfire and explosions are top notch. The music is decent and blends in nicely, although I found myself frequently using the Xbox 360 feature of being able to play your own music during any game. The voice acting is a mixed bag. I found a few of the actors (especially Chandra) to be slightly annoying, but on the whole it was passable.
The bottom line is that PDZ is a top notch FPS and rivals anything we saw in the last generation in terms of gameplay, multiplayer options, and replay value. As the icing on the cake, it?s wrapped in an awfully pretty package. It will likely be a game that will still be played heavily over Xbox Live for several months to come (or until we see Halo 3).