Perfect Dark Zero Review
With the launch of the Xbox 360 comes your usual run of first- and third-party games. Those who have seen console launches over the years know that most of the time, the selection of games on a console's release date is usually slim, and most of the games are boring or just downright lousy. Microsoft has really put some effort into making sure that doesn't happen with the Xbox 360, and one of the main ways they are trying to accomplish this is with Rare, the developer behind many classic console games that Microsoft bought a couple years ago.
Perfect Dark Zero is a prequel to the original PD, an excellent first person shooter on the Nintendo 64. The first game had plenty to live up to, as it was Rare's first FPS to follow the legendary Goldeneye. It included a pretty decent story, plenty of kickass gadgets, and a unique futuristic atmosphere. In the creation of PD0, Rare's done their best to keep these elements together while giving the game a huge boost in visuals and playability. For the most part, they've been very successful.
The first thing you'll notice with PD0 is the graphics. They're just plain awesome, especially if your first impression of it is on a large HDTV. The environments are very detailed and the special effects, which cover just about every surface, bring the game's art and architecture to life. While the very first mission, which has you training in an underwater facility, may not be so visually impressive, the rest of the game does a much better job of this. The outdoor environments really shine in this game, and the gameplay is usually tailored to take advantage of these larger areas.
You may or may not have heard that PD0 doesn't have a jump button. For some reason, this is a complete deal-breaker for some gamers, but hear me out before you decide you'll never play this game. You don't really need a jump button here, because any low wall that you'd otherwise jump over, well, you can climb over it anyway just by walking forwards towards the wall. And otherwise, jumping just makes online gaming silly - just look at the effects of "bunny-hopping" in online games on the PC. Honestly, after I spent 20 minutes in the multiplayer mode in PD0, I didn't miss the jump button in the slightest bit.
Instead of jumping, the A button allows you to get cover behind a wall or pillar. This switches the camera to a third-person mode and lets you do things like reload in relative safety behind cover, and you can pop out to shoot and expose less of yourself. It's vitally important in many places during the single player campaign, and is very handy in the multiplayer modes as well.
As you go through PD0, you'll uncover a storyline that has the game's main character, Joanna Dark, going after a crime lord who's stolen some new technology. Along the way, Joanna's father and fellow operative is captured and she'll have to go after him. The single player campaign will last you somewhere around ten to twelve hours, has unlockable weapons to use in there, multiple difficulties, and can be played in cooperative mode both over a split screen on the same console or over Xbox Live!.
But all those features are useless if the campaign's no fun. Luckily, PD0 keeps the action going by giving you a waypoint (marked by a path along the ground that pops up) to wherever you need to go next. This way, the larger levels don't wind up becoming a huge bore as you search for the next door. The problem comes with some absolutely hideous dialogue and an overall story that's very disconnected. It feels much more like a series of separate missions rather than an overarcing story, and this is only made obvious by the fact that every time you finish a level, it dumps you back out to the game's menu in order to move on to the next mission. While the coop action certainly makes the campaign much more fun, the story just doesn't hold up to what we've been getting used to from PC action games like Half-Life 2 and F.E.A.R.
Firefights are made interesting by the huge arsenal of weapons available to both the player and enemies. We're talking over two dozen weapons here, folks, and all of them have secondary (and some even tertiary) fire modes and/or attachments to stick on. This massive arsenal that you can employ really makesthis game special. Everything from dual-wielded pistols, to a whole set of different submachine guns, to melee weapons, and even some big fat heavy weaponry are all included, and this doesn't even count the vehicles you can also drive. Whether you play in single player or in multiplayer modes, you will not have any problem finding a gun you really like. The only issue I have with the weapons in MP modes is that you can only select five to be available on the map, and only one starting weapon can be set up to start. These limitations do help balance the online play by quite a bit, but it'd be very nice if they were lifted some time in the future.
Most of the weapons look beautiful and sound even better - the sounds of gunfire are modelled in 3D and will sound different based on where it's coming from and how that sound is getting to you. If you hear a submachine gun rattling out bullets around a wall, it will sound very different when you go around that wall and find the guy waiting for you. Likewise, explosions are much more dull-sounding from a distance, but will be not only louder but sharper as explosions happen closer and closer to your character.
PD0 uses many of the new special effects that the Xbox 360's powerful graphics processor can do. My favorite effect has got to be parallax mapping - this can take a simple, two-dimensional texture, like a brick wall, and literally make it 3D. With a couple of "layers" of totally transparent overlays, the game can make the bricks stand out from the mortar and they look correct as you see the texture from different angles and get up close to inspect. This effect also looks brilliant on the cobblestone streets of the Desert multiplayer map.
My only real gripe with the special effects is that they're really pretty overdone in many areas of the game. Sometimes it seems that developers just want to turn up their special effects enough to make sure they get noticed by even the very least observant of gamers out there, and the result is that we get a glut of shiny objects and bloom effects from every light source imaginable. While PD0 will change up the environments many times over the course of the game, this is the most apparent in the city areas, where many surfaces look like they've just been basted in warm Crisco and it seems the magic neon light fairy has been very generous recently. This is more of an idle complaint than anything else, but I hope that in the future, Xbox 360 developers don't go silly in using every possible special effect on every surface just because the system can do it.
I want to take the time out to mention the influence that Halo has had on this game. Many of the things that made Halo unique - recharging shield systems, only a couple of weapons carried at a time, and vehicles mixed into the larger, open maps - are all here. Joanna has both armor and health, and while her health will automatically come back, she'll lose a little bit off of her maximum health every time she gets hit.
This means that the player can still take quite a few hits, but must be careful not to continue getting pummeled over the course of a level or she'll have nothing left to work with. You've also got four "slots" for weapons, where each pistol only takes one, most medium weapons take two slots, and the heavy stuff takes up all of your space. It's a great system that really works nicely once you put it to the test.
Finally, the vehicles in PD0 are fun and interesting, even if they're a bit underused. There's a hovering jetpack of sorts that can be converted into a full-on flying vehicle - guns are mounted on and can be fired, even if the thing makes you a big flying target to most other players. Then there's the hovertank which has a nice top-mounted turret, even if it takes two people to use it correctly.
The multiplayer modes in PD0 are a ton of fun, and Rare has really stacked up a ton of options for players to fiddle with. Not only is the whole single player game available in cooperative mode over Live!, but it can be done by two players on a split screen (and you'll often play as one of the other vital story characters, not just as a copycat of Joanna herself). Competitive modes include Killcount, Team Killcount, CTF, Territorial Gain, and some more original ones like Onslaught, Infection, and Elimination.
The former set of modes I listed are considered Deathmatch and are playable by any combination of bots and players, with up to four players in a split-screen or over Live!. The second set of game modes is called "Dark Ops" and the bots will not work in these modes - you'll need to get other players to do that. The only option I'm wishing for is the ability to combine split-screen and Live! so that my buddies who couldn't get their hands on a 360 could play online with me.
Still, the Live! options are great. You can create your own game with custom weapon sets and your own rules, or search for other games based on these same criteria. There's also the ability to quickly search for a game, which makes it easy for those who just don't care what kind of game they get in. The multiplayer bots work well both in online and offline play, and they're generally not complete idiots as far as getting around the map and using some brains in trying to kill you.
I also want to take the time out to mention that the four-player split screen mode in PD0 is absolutely wonderful if you've got an HDTV. Unlike doing a four-player mode on older TVs, each player can actually really see, even if they only get a quarter of the screen. The frame rate also stays at a pretty solid 25-30fps no matter what gameplay mode you're in.
Many gamers were skeptical over whether Perfect Dark Zero was going to be a solid launch title for the Xbox 360, but I'm here to say that this game is great. Sure, the visuals are absolutely brilliant, but the surprisingly good single player game and huge number of of multiplayer options make this so much better than what many were expecting out of a 360 launch game. Even if you don't have your hands on one of these elusive consoles yet, don't count out PD0 once you do get one - it's an excellent game that also really shows off the system's beautiful graphics capabilities as well.