Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Perfect Dark Zero

Speaking of mediocre shooters that probably would not have impressed on the GameCube, I recently completed Perfect Dark Zero for the Xbox 360.

Where do I even begin in discussing this game? I'd heard plenty of negativity toward it, but I suppose I played it anyway out of a lingering affection for the N64 original. Alas, playing the 360 prequel just made me sad.

There are two good things in Perfect Dark Zero. The first is the melee combat. In truth, it's typical clumsy and ugly FPS melee combat. But on the easiest difficulty, it was actually the most exciting AND most efficient way to tear through the regular grunts. There were moments when I found myself alone as Joanna Dark, "ViBlade" in hand, facing dozens of gun-toting soldiers, and I liked to imagine the bloody dance that ensued as being reminiscent of Uma Thurman's swordplay in Kill Bill. Pretty satisfying, and that's all there is to be said on the melee combat.

More legitimately interesting were the hacking mini-games. Periodically, the game would present the player with a locked door or crate that would have to be opened electronically by hacking it (or sometimes blowing it up) via one of a few different short and simple puzzle mini-games. These brought to mind the treasure chest puzzles from the Onimusha series, and I guess BioShock and other games have included similar elements. Where Perfect Dark Zero got cool, however, was in the very few instances when, in the co-op mode, the game would instruct a player to begin hacking even while enemies were still present. That would leave the other player to take on all the fighting and cover their partner long enough for them to get through the puzzle uninterrupted. I think this happened three times, and none of them quite worked properly--my partner and I seemed to always exterminate the enemies before even figuring out what to hack--but it was a cool idea nonetheless.

In fact, I had a similar idea for my dream take on Resident Evil Outbreak. I envisioned that, within a cooperative team arrangement, certain characters would be limited to non-combat skills like lock picking or computer hacking, which would take the form of short puzzles. I imagined a scenario where the team would be backed up against an electronically locked door, leaving one player to hack the lock while the others fended off hordes of zombies. They would have to buy as much time as possible for the hacker to figure out the puzzle, but they would not be able to hold back the infinite zombies indefinitely, so the puzzle specialist would likewise have to work quickly. It would introduce a thrilling element of absolute co-dependency, while also allowing players of different genres and enthusiasm levels to play together. A casual player having little experience with action games, but who occasionally enjoyed idling away at something like Bejeweled, could still fill a crucial role within this dynamic alongside their more hardcore friends. I digress, of course, as Perfect Dark Zero is definitely not that dream game of mine.

The saddest thing about Perfect Dark Zero is, not that it looks like crap next to true (post-Gears of War) current-gen shooters, but that, in so many ways, it feels like a step back from the N64 game. Perfect Dark Zero's improvements include mid-mission checkpoints, the ability to revive your partner in co-op play, and a far more reasonable endgame. In almost every other respect, it is a lesser title.

GoldenEye 007 and the original Perfect Dark were among the first shooters to blend stealth elements into the design, but the mission variety in this game is far more limited. Gone are the silent assassinations and undercover ops. The soft approach never works in this game. Even if you manage to get the jump on a single frustratingly helmeted foe, his death will always alert all other guards to your presence. Ultimately, it comes down to stage after stage of guns blazing, and the game struggles to keep that interesting. The weapon selection in Perfect Dark Zero is very limited, with even basic grenades only showing up late in the campaign. While the first game's story was nothing amazing, Perfect Dark Zero's seems like a complete afterthought, full of loose ends while barely explaining how characters get from one location to the next.

Despite having been warned about Perfect Dark Zero's mediocrity, I still came away disappointed. I expected more, but it seemed like Rare actually lost a few steps in those five years between the first game and its followup. It will take a lot for me to care about any future Perfect Dark titles.


Czardoz said...

Maybe you need to take a swing at Perfect Dark for the Game Boy Color.
Who knew that extensive voice acting was possible on that system!

Czardoz said...

Oh, you forgot to mention the disappointing bonus disc, or should I say, "unbonus disc."

Henry said...

The best thing about Perfect Dark Zero was the metal case for the limited edition.