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Perfect Dark Zero Review

Developer: Rare Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: November 17, 2005 Also On: None

The week of the Xbox 360 launch, I would have been terrified if I were in the shoes
of a Rare developer. Their game, Perfect Dark Zero, was largely viewed as the spearhead
game for the launch. Therefore it was subject to more expectations, more criticism,
and more potential disappointment than any other game on the console. Not to mention,
Rare has been frowned upon for a weak Xbox showing after being bought by Microsoft for
a little short of $400 million. After completing the single-player campaign and
spending hours on Xbox Live fragging both humans and bots, I’ll start clapping
now for the once-thriving British developer. Perfect Dark Zero takes a hopeful look, locks, loads, fires, and delivers a blow as the best Xbox 360 launch game and one of the prime shooters of the year.

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The story, which feels surprisingly tacked-on to an otherwise solid single-player
experience, outlines the bounty hunter life of Joanna and Jack Dark. The Dark pair
is tracking down the actions of Zhang Li, the CEO of the dataDyne Corporation, which
is hell-bent on uncovering and using a secret artifact found in South America. Along
the way, Joanna is sent to chilly mountains of China, steamy jungles in Peru, and
an underwater facility in the Pacific Ocean. Perfect Dark Zero begins as stealth-based
but turns into an all-out hunt at the end of its story. The ending had me rolling
my eyes and shaking my head, but by then the story had already rendered me uninterested.
It was fun to learn why Joanna affiliates herself with the Carrington Institute
and pursues the dataDyne Coproration before the events of Perfect Dark, but the
story just doesn’t make par with today’s standards.

Despite the ridiculous ending Perfect Dark Zero does a fantastic job presenting
and fulfilling each of its thirteen missions. There is a bit of variation from simply
killing the artificially unintelligent enemies. Whether you’re finding an important
object inside a briefcase in the Sewer Retrieval level, sneaking into Zhang Li’s
mansion in the Mansion Infiltration level, or monitoring guards in the Nightclub
Stakeout level, there is a lot to do and each mission plays differently. Each one
is between five and twenty minutes long, making the single-player experience disappointingly
short. Still, with four difficulty levels (including the Dark Agent setting that
is quite excruciating) and more objectives for each setting, Perfect Dark Zero doesn’t
offer a lot. What it does offer you can play with in a few different ways.

What I always loved about the Nintendo 64 classic was its staggering number of guns
and gadgets to use. Perfect Dark Zero returns with another huge offering. Each of
the 20+ tools has more than one use, making for almost fifty different ways to kill
enemies or complete objectives. For example, the high rate of fire and decent stopping
power of the RCP-90 submachine gun is accompanied by a thermal vision that allows
you to differentiate between friends and foes by outlining each in different colors.
The tons-O’-fun rocket launcher is even more explosive with the guided-by-wire
rocket mode that allows you to direct and explode a rocket on your own free will.
The KSI-74 (which is decidedly just a fancy AK-47) is deadly at medium range with
its regular bullets but for when the going gets tough and up-close, you can always
shoot the attached bayonet at enemies. The return of the powerful, accurate Laptop Gun is my favorite, especially in multiplayer–when I wasn’t unloading on enemies, I could always throw the weapon down as a self-activated, defensive sentry gun. It’s this weapon variation that makes every experience different, and I certainly enjoyed the guns in this game more than in Halo 2 and other shooters.

While the single-player might be lacking in length, the multiplayer allows gamers
to increase game time exponentially. Both on and offline, there are two different types of multiplayer modes–Deathmatch and Dark Ops. Deathmatch is quite simply a deathmatch mode. There are a few types of play, like the free-for-all KillCount and a team-based version, Team KillCount. Capture the Flag and Territorial Gains round out the rest of Deathmatch. CTF and Territorial Gains are almost the exact same thing you’ve played in other shooters, and Territorial Gains is blatantly similar to Halo 2’s territories mode. Deathmatch modes are much quicker and are aimed at the less hardcore crowd. Most of my Xbox Live time was spent here, as I appreciated being able to pick up the controller, play a few rounds, and turn the game off without getting too involved.

On the other hand is Dark Ops. This mode features four more gametypes, each operating in tactical rounds rather than all-out battle. Eradication is an elimination-style mode where players are removed from the match after being killed and the team with the last surviving player wins. I didn’t like this mode, as it invites a slow pace and too much hiding. Onslaught, which has teams defending a base against constantly respawning enemies, is the second Dark Ops type. This is much more intense and exciting than Eradication. Third is Infection, which is similar to the popular custom-made game “Zombies” or “Resident Evil”. There is a team of “infected” players and “uninfected” players. The uninfected players try to fend off the infected, but become infected themselves if they’re killed. By the end of the match, infected and uninfected points are tallied and the team with the most points wins. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it’s exciting like it was on Halo 2. Last of all is Sabotage, where teams try to destroy as much property and kill each other as many times as possible and the team with the most demolition wins.

As if these match-based modes weren’t enough, it’s possible to go through every single level from the single-player campaign in cooperative play. The levels are actually a little different in this mode, as switches must be activated at the same time and players can strategize to take out enemies without losing as much health. Some of the weapon functions, like the Falcon pistol’s Firecracker distraction, come in handy in cooperative play more than they ever do in single-player. I like that it’s possible to play cooperatively. Even though PDZ’s missions aren’t as epic as those found in Halo, the fact that cooperative play is available is a sign that Rare worked hard to incorporate a lot for gamers to play in the game.

Huge, wide-open levels, beautiful textures, and detailed character models are only a few visual feats under PDZ’s belt. Details like particle effects, blood spray, muzzle flash, bullet shells, and vision blur are so perfectly done in this game that even without a high-definition television set, you’re getting a visual treat. I got a chance to play this game in high-def and I can’t even believe how amazing it looks. Surrounding the crisp, clear look is a futuristic art style that fits so well in each of the 13 levels. From the neon-lit port in the Nightclub Stakeout to the huge, open canyon in Bridge Assault, every single level looks fantastic. The physics system is a little buggy when a corpse falls and starts to twitch but that is the only visual complaint I can find to mention here. The music serves as a perfect way to set the pace of the action going on. I don’t remember music being so great in a first-person shooter since, well, Halo. The low-key, moody stuff found in the slow, stealthy missions gives you a chance to listen for enemy chatter and footsteps. The electronica-rock that tears out of the speakers when the action gets rough will have your blood pumping hard while you’re shredding enemies with your Laptop Gun. If it weren’t for the annoying voices of Joanna Dark and a few other characters found in the game, as well as some laughable dialogue, I’d say that PDZ is a sonically flawless title.

The only warning I must give my fellow gamers is that Perfect Dark Zero, despite being looked at as the “Halo 2 of the Xbox 360”, isn’t this at all. Perfect Dark Zero isn’t a revolutionary shooter. It can be easily argued that the single-player missions are a joke and the multiplayer is unimpressive. I simply can’t agree with that, but it’s important to remember that Perfect Dark Zero is PDZ, not Halo 2. Perfect Dark Zero is a great shooter on its own right but it isn’t a game that will redefine first-person shooters and it isn’t a game that will redefine the Xbox 360. As a launch title, it’s a huge success. As an anticipated launch title, it’s simply a success. As a title that some people will instantly compare to Halo 2 and Half-Life 2, it’s a disappointment. If you took one of these three routes, I hope you took one of the first two and you check out Perfect Dark Zero. At this point, it’s my favorite Xbox 360 title and it is one of the strongest launch games of all time next to the Nintendo 64’s Super Mario 64, the Xbox’s Halo, and the Dreamcast’s NFL 2K. Play this game because it’s a great shooter. Play this game because it’s got a lot to offer on Xbox Live. Play this game because it’s one of the most impressive visual and audio packages of the entire year. But whatever you do, don’t play this game because you think it’s Halo 3.

Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 9.2
Written by Cliff Review Guide