One thing I’m glad they didn’t mess with was the sound design. I played the original religiously so every sound effect and note of music is etched into my cerebral cortex, and it was wonderful to hear it all preserved. The distinctive twitter of the CMP150, the crisp low-pitched report of the Falcon 2, the solid alien punch of the Farsight—it’s all there, usually accompanied by the (sometimes humorous) yelps and death screams of the guards. It’s actually kind of funny that the enemies all have new faces scanned from the 4J dev team, but still talk and scream in the voices of the Rare developers of a decade ago. As to the music, it’s probably the aspect that held up best. The original score by Grant Kirkhope, Graeme Norgate and David Clynick was an intoxicating blend of cyberpunk techno and artfully used N64 synth, and it still fits the scifi-noir setting like a glove.
It’s one of the few N64 soundtracks that still sound great today because it matched the game’s setting and pace so well; it was supposed to sound artificial and creepy, unlike the still beautiful but dated Ocarina of Time soundtrack which valiantly mimicked an orchestral sound. I even dug out the old soundtrack CD I bought back in the day and listened to it while writing this review. If you’re a fan of the original like me, don’t be surprised to catch yourself humming the music to yourself again after all these years—it’s been retouched and remixed slightly but is otherwise identical.
Aside from the new graphics and controls the solo campaign is virtually unchanged. The levels are short and sweet, the AI is pretty dumb by today’s standards, the physics and animations are still mo-capped and the story is pure Rare camp and British wit. It’s an interesting artifact of turn-of-the-millennium gaming, and that said it’s still a lot of fun. As Joanna Dark you visit a wide array of exotic locales, rescuing aliens and the president along the way. The plot moves just far enough into cheesy scifi while still staying realistic and violent enough to be believable, in a conspiracy movie sort of way. The only way I can describe it is a Philip K. Dick movie written by the Hot Fuzz guys. The story mode will run you a couple hours, and while the enemies are dim it’s still challenging on the hardest difficulty. You take a lot of damage from sustained fire, and with no checkpoints, health kits or even shields, Perfect Agent mode is an exercise in caution, white-knuckle skill and health conservation.
Of course half of the fun comes from experimenting with Perfect Dark’s eccentric gun collection. The varied and eclectic arsenal doesn’t have the slavish fixation on real-world accuracy you find in modern military shooters. This is a list of guns culled from the dev team’s favorite scifi movies, from Aliens to Robocop to Eraser and everything in-between. A few are based on real weapons but all of them have hi-tech secondary functions, notably the x-ray scoped Farsight that lets you see and shoot through walls. In addition to this you get 8 classic guns from GoldenEye 007—a nice inclusion from the original game and possibly a remnant from the canceled GoldenEye remake 4J were working on a couple years back.
The exotic guns, wide level variety and challenge make what was a groundbreaking story mode in 2000 still entertaining and undeniably well crafted a decade later. Then again, it’s really only half the package—Perfect Dark’s multiplayer has stood the test of time and has gotten a huge shot in the arm from Xbox Live. If you want old-school multiplayer at its best you’ve come to the right place, and veteran players will fall in love all over again.
There are 16 maps in all, including 3 from GoldenEye. A couple are duds but most of them are well organized, with several designed specifically around team play and capture the flag. The map versatility is impressive considering the amount of variables and customizable options. The five main scenarios range from fairly standard like CTF and king of the hill, to creative like the bounty hunter pop-a-cap and the point defense hacker central. A lot of the modes now standard in console FPS were watersheds in Perfect Dark, so you have a very solid foundation to play with in the multiplayer.
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