I actually really did like this game, but it does lack a lot of charm of the original. To date, this is the only other official entry in the PERFECT DARK franchise which is a really sad thing because, by the time you're finished with this game and the original, you'll realize the franchise that a lot of potential that was never realized.
My first frustration with this game came in the form of the story. Joanna Dark is a super assassin/spy mercenary working alongside her father and best friend. They eventually uncover some secret project being carried out by the evil Datadyne corporation, who's leader Sheng Lee (who looks like a cross between Marvel Comic's Leader and Mandarin characters) targets them for extermination. A lot happens, drama ensues, and Joanna gets drafted into a new organization that sets out to stop Lee before he can unlock that ancient alien power that will threaten the world. The narrative is supposed to be a prequel to the original game, but doesn't directly lead into it as one would expect. A lot of questions are left hanging at the end. What annoys me is that, despite the development of the character Joanna Dark, the story doesn't really have much to do with the universe of the original title. Where are the warring alien factions who were such crucial plot elements of the first title? They don't even give them a cameo here! And their lack of presence really removes a lot of personality the first game had (since the scifi elements have been toned down a bit). And the new characters they do have (like Sheng Lee) are just not as interesting or memorable. Why does Joanna sound like an arrogant American teenager when she had an English accent in the first title?? A big deal is made of Jo's relationship between her father and friend at the beginning of the title, but the plot goes nowhere with this other than to push Jo to get revenge on Datadyne. I had many other questions too...but suffice to say, if you were looking for an extension of the adventures of the grey skinned ET Elvis from the first game, you'd better look elsewhere.
My other frustration with this game was the difficulty level...totally erratic. Some levels were pieces of cake while others were nightmarish trial and error events. The funny thing is, being an espionage game, you'd think that the gameplay would focus more on stealth. But firefights seem practically inevitable in this game because the baddies have superhuman senses and if they spot you, they will contact ALL of their buddies and then you've got a war on your hands. This results in these inevitably long firefights which will get on your nerves fast.
This wouldn't be so bad if you progressing ala HALO with some liberally placed checkpoints. Not so. Okay...PERFECT DARK ZERO, unlike its predecessor, at least HAS checkpoints. However it's like only once per level...really not enough given that these firefights with these extremely persistent enemy soldiers will suck most of your time. So imagine...you start a level, guard inevitably sees you, calls his buddies, you get into a long shootout which takes like half an hour, you proceed forward, and then get shot in the back of the head by a hidden sniper. Guess what? You've got to go through that same long shootout all over again. And if you don't catch that sniper this time, you can expect to suffer that shootout a THIRD time. Make no mistake...PERFECT DARK ZERO can be a perfect catalyst for smashing your controller.
At least on the "Special Agent" (Normal) difficulty level. On "Agent" (Easy), the guards are a lot dumber and just asking to be mowed down. But I didn't play the game on Easy because I found it profoundly boring for this very reason. The slim enemy variety makes this mode very redundant, and the sense of satisfaction is almost nonexistent.
But still, there are things that are very cool about this title (besides the cover art).
The levels are extremely diverse with a huge variety of locations and objectives to undertake. And like the first game, the higher the difficulty is, the more objectives. The designers also made sure most of the levels have multiple ways to achieve an objective. So if that long firefight isn't working, there might be another way around (or there might not be or maybe you'll just end up in another shootout).
Because the game is challenging, shootouts require all senses to be active and make maximum use of headshots and other weak points. It also requires you to be aware of all your skills at hand. Don't have ammo? Disarm an enemy to grab his fully loaded gun and blast the dazed sucker in the face. Grab an M60, use the cover system to hide behind a wall, wait for the guards to unload all their clips, and then quickly pop out and mow all the goons down in one stroke. Moments like that can be priceless.
The weapon selection is incredibly diverse and they all sound and look extremely powerful. My personal favorite is the Laptop Gun, an extremely compact and ruthless submachine gun that transforms out of a laptop and even doubles as a sentry gun.
It all looks very polished and nice too with lots of dramatic lighting and quite detailed environments. Remember that this was a 360 launch title, so it's probably not wise to expect modern level graphics. And indeed I must plead ignorant in this area because I haven't played a ton of next gen games (I'm still stuck back in in 2001). But still...I recently completed HALO 4 (which was released only a month or two ago) and I daresay some of the animations (like the hilarious death animations for the enemy soldiers) in this game are actually more satisfying than that one. There's also some unique touches, such as the way an enemy's armor will explode piece by piece like shattered glass as you do enough damage. I also know that around this time, they were still working on getting details like facial movements to be more accurate. For example, games like OBLIVION have some pretty laughable facial animations by today's standards. PDZ compensates though by going for a semi-cartoonish in-game art design that makes the characters look like claymation figures or marionettes. Whatever the case, the awkward facial animations don't look so out of place in this bizarre context.
The music is also very appropriate too, full of groovy, percussion heavy techno cues. It gets your heart beating quite right and fits with the stylish nature of the subject matter (especially areas like the nightclub in Level 2). The sound effects are spot on: the gunfire, melee attacks, etc. all sound quite powerful (and when they don't sound powerful, they sound distinct enough to remember). When you smack or disarm someone in this game, it sounds like it hurts (once again, HALO could take a cue). The voice acting though...could use some work. The actors were certainly trying to make it as entertaining as possible (and appropriate given the absurd nature of the subject matter), but it comes off rushed in some areas. Joanna is especially annoying...she sounds like a spoiled, arrogant 16 year old teen instead of a super agent. Why couldn't they go with the cool, silky demeanor of her counterpart from the first game?
PERFECT DARK ZERO is not a perfect game, and as a sequel (or a prequel) to the gem from the N64 era, it is certainly a disappointment. Still it does enough right to make for some satisfying and wild FPS entertainment. For the prices you can find it nowadays (literally $2 at my local Gamestop), it's difficult to go wrong. So why not give it a shot? Maybe if there's enough of a resurgence of interest, Rare will finally develop that sequel that the franchise deserves.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
What's your opinion on Perfect Dark Zero [Xbox360]?